2018 Marin Wolf Ridge | First Ride
Marin’s new long travel do-it-all bike the Wolf Ridge was announced last week and holy smoke did it light up those keyboards.
You guys were split – some were straight up and vocally not into it. Others were curious – keen to see a new approach to an old problem but reserving judgement till they’d seen one in action.
Marin invited us to do exactly that. They asked us to come to Italy and test the bike to understand for ourselves what it’s like on the trail. We asked our chief test pilot and ex-World Cup racer Rich Thomas to head over to Italy for the bike’s European press camp to do the honours.
Rich likes brutally honest, no bullshit bike reviews so was perfect for the job…
Riding the Marin Wolf Ridge | Lake Garda, Italy
Words by Rich Thomas / photos by Ben Winder
Marin’s new ‘do it all’ Wolf Ridge then. 29″ wheels, 160mm travel front and rear, 30lbs and, of course, the Naild suspension platform.
I’d been invited as part of a small group of UK press to ride the bike and see how it performed on some proper trails. The venue was Garda in Italy, host to the Garda Bike Festival, the beautiful Lake Garda and surrounded by the Dolomite mountains. There was great scenery and great food but most importantly… big, gnarly trails. Not a bad place to test a bike.
A very unique looking bike
There’s no escaping the fact that the Marin Wolf Ridge is a very unique looking bike.
It’s not just a new design but, according to Marin, a new perspective on what a mountain bike should be. Marin have spent five years designing it and, they explained, have spent more time and effort on this bike than any before.
“They wanted to change that so travel no longer limits what a bike can do.”
Marin’s CEO Matt Van Enkevort told me that they didn’t just want to make another bike – they wanted something completely new and to design something from the ground up.
Matt’s view is that we all decide on a bike’s purpose according to the amount of travel it has. Long travel bikes are for descending, short travel bikes are for big rides. They wanted to change that so that travel no longer limits what a bike can do.
Matt first spoke to Naild designer Darrell Voss 5 years ago about making the bike and they committed to making something that would ride up like a 120mm bike and descend like a 160mm bike.
Matt explained that in the early days of Marin they made bikes that did everything. They had fully rigid bikes or hardtails and there were no such thing as ‘category specific bikes’ like downhill bikes, enduro bikes or XC bikes. They want to get back to the days where one bike does everything. It was “less complicated and more fun”.
“They want to get back to the days where one bike does everything.
It was less complicated and more fun.”
The effort hasn’t just gone into the suspension platform. Marin wanted a whole new bike, not just a means to carry the Naild system around. Marin have spent loads of time on getting the sizing right and biometric analysis means that there’s no more worrying about what size you should be. You follow Marin’s chart for your size and you buy the size they recommend.
Marin’s theory is that you shouldn’t just design a bike and resize the various models from that point. Each size should be built exactly right to keep the rider’s centre of gravity and mass central on the bike.
Naild suspension platform
The big thing about the Marin Wolf Ridge is the Naild suspension platform.
Marin explained that the invention of Naild has allowed them to create a bike that meets their ‘one bike for everything’ mission and what they see as the future of mountain bikes, a do-it-all, long travel 29’er.
Marin were keen that we didn’t get bogged down too much in the technical detail and that we let the riding do the talking. In short though, the bike tries to reduce suspension bob (caused by stamping on the pedals and moving your weight around on the bike) and the effects of chain tension on the performance of the bike’s suspension.
It has a conventional rear shock, a slider inside the swing arm and a rocker link that all work together to (I was told) reduce the ‘bob’ when you climb and help the suspension to be more sensitive to rough terrain.
The proof would be in the riding though, of course.
With the tech chat over we went for a ride. The trails were long, fast, steep and littered with rocks. It’s properly gnarly with lots of fast singletrack and loose, loamy corners.
My test bike was the Marin Wolf Ridge 9, which is the slightly lower spec of the two models available. It comes with a Rock Shox Lyric, Monarch Debonair R and SRAM XO1 Eagle.
The bike felt comfortable straight away. In the pits there was minimal set up needed which was surprising. It’s easy to get lost in the technology behind this bike so it was refreshing to see Marin and Naild have put the time in so I could be comfortable on the bike straight away.
Intense, technical riding
We dropped into the trails and I was immediately hit with intense, technical riding. The bike matched the trails and instantly felt incredibly well balanced. It stuck to the trail whilst feeling nimble and easy to manoeuvre around – despite the big wheels and big travel.
“You can just lean back and smash rough ground and harsh compressions.
Through rough ground the bike just accelerates.”
On one hand the suspension does lack a bit of the ‘pop’ you get with smaller trail bikes. One the other, once you learn to react to it you can just lean back and smash rough ground and harsh compressions. Through rough ground the bike just accelerates.
This was even more apparent when exiting flat corners or where the trail suddenly turned into a short, sharp climb. The bike tracked the ground amazingly well and the forces you create from pumping and from pedalling are delivered straight back into the rear wheel to create speed. The 29″ wheels obviously help with that – but the Naild system seems to boost this to an even higher level.
And back to the top again
Marin suggest that you run very little compression damping on the rear shock. There’s also no climb switch or lock-out – something we’re all very used to flicking ‘on’ when we start the climb back to the top. All of that, plus the big travel, suggests the bike would be a real chore to climb.
The bike flies up the climbs. The suspension sits up when you pedal and the rear wheel tracks the ground amazingly, absorbing chattery bumps on the way up. The bike climbs better than most bikes I’ve ever ridden, even with soft suspension, low tire pressures and a very little compression on the rear shock.
The bike made me feel like we’ve all been barking up the wrong tree by jacking up the tire pressures and obsessing over lock-out switches. The Naild suspension system reduces the effects of pedal bob as you climb whilst keeping the suspension completely ‘open’ to absorb impacts through the back wheel. In a real world setting that means comfortable, efficient climbing with lots of grip.
The Wolf Ridge is obviously a radical design with a slider hidden away inside the swing arm. The Naild system has some components that need to work well and need to be looked after.
A day’s riding in Italy in the sun wasn’t enough to test the long term reliability of the bike. I’m keen to see how the bike stands up to a British winter or a season of racing.
Marin have spent a lot of time on the geometry and have made the bikes to fit a wide range of riding styles, trails and abilities.
Personally, I’d like to see the bike go a little longer and a little slacker for the type of riding it encourages you to do… but that’s personal preference.
The bike’s wheel base is 1206.03mm in size large. That’s probably a reasonable size to cover the variety of trails that riders will take ride the bike on… but an extra 10mm or so wouldn’t go a miss, especially on the long, rough, technical trails in Garda.
The bike’s head angle is 66.5°, which is pretty reasonable for a 29’er and is probably a decent place to cover the massive range of abilities that will buy the bike.
I felt that the design of the bike encourages you to go faster and ride more aggressive lines at higher speeds – a slacker head angle would offer a bit of extra confidence when you’re riding fast terrain. I’d love to try the bike with a 170mm fork and an off-set bush when our long term bike arrives.
Some final thoughts on the Marin Wolf Ridge
As our sport cracks on I hope we see more radical designs like the Marin Wolf Ridge. Designs that are searching for those extra fractions of a second and that make riding less complicated, more fun and give riders more confidence to go harder.
It doesn’t matter if you’re racing World Cups or trying to beat your mates, we all want to be better bike riders and to go faster. Marin have tried to achieve this and tried to take a leap forward, meaning they’ve had to go for a radical design. This might take a while to get used to and to some the design might appear pretty out there, or even ugly. You just have to remember the Honda downhill bike though, it was a radical design but one that was ultimately massive for the sport and did so much for racing.
Just look at how shocked we were when a few teams rolled out 27.5″ wheels on downhill bikes. Or how mad everyone went when Greg Minnaar turned up on a 29’er at Lourdes. Let’s just embrace it all and see where it can take riders and the sport. Light weight materials, new suspension platforms, wheel size, radical geometry. Let’s try it all and see what happens. We’ll only end up going faster and further and doing it more comfortably and having more fun – which is what we all enjoy, right?
I don’t think this bike is perfect. As I’ve said, the bike could be slacker and a bit longer. Nevertheless, fair play to Marin, they’ve been bold and they’ve gone for some radical stuff. The results are impressive and the potential is massive.
I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a long term test bike. I’ll be testing out the reliability of the system, putting my geometry thoughts to the test on some home trails and, if I like the way it goes, I’m hoping to race the bike at the Mega Avalanche.
You can learn more about the 2018 Marin Wolf Ridge here on Wideopen or over on Marin’s homepage.