The 2018 Marin Rift Zone is a short travel, 29″ trail bike that is (according to Marin) made for fun – it literally says it on the bike. After an all-too-brief first ride on the slaty trails of North Wales you won’t hear any arguments from me.
The 2018 Rift Zone family is has three models – the bike you see here is the Rift Zone 3 and is the highest spec version at £2300. There’s a value £1350 model and a mid-range £1850 version. All bikes come with short stems, wide bars, wide rims and tires that don’t suck.
The Rift Zone isn’t a big, wild enduro bike. Nor is it a skinny XC whippet. It’s a bike for hooning round the woods, big days out in the hills, blasting round trail centers.
I snuck out with photographer Ian Lean for a ride round Llangynog at the British Downhill Series and whilst I didn’t get enough bike time to really explore the bike (or the area!) and definitely told me what I wanted to know … that Marin had done a killer job on the new Rift Zone.
I feel like it’s the sort of bike that almost everyone will have fun on, hammer out miles out, learn a few things on … but a bike that many people will overlook in favour of longer travel, slacker angles and smaller wheels. Which is a real shame.
The back story
Marin has had a Rift Zone in the line up for a few years – a short travel, 29’er that’s meant as a do anything, go anywhere trail bike. It was a bike that was pretty close to my heart and one I spent most of 2016 on.
The old version was very fast, it was fun, it was sketchy, it was sometimes scary, it was a great do-it-all bike that you could pedal for absolutely hours and have a complete blast on. It kicked out a surprising amount of speed and fun from 120mm of travel.
It wasn’t perfect by any means. The shock got out of its depth fast. Tire clearance was too tight. The head angle was a bit too steep. You couldn’t run a decent sized brake rotor. It was great fun and scary fast on surfaced trails and singletrack but take it anywhere steep and rough and you were white knuckling.
That said, it was a bike I would often chose over longer, slacker bikes … including when I raced the Ard Rock Enduro or sampled the Irish Enduro World Series trails.
The next generation
The bike you see here today is a complete redesign of the Marin Rift Zone.
The new bike, the 2018 Marin Rift Zone – is based around the shapes of the Marin Hawk Hill which was saw launched this time last year. The frame and linkage are almost identical – adapted to fit 29″ wheels and with a geometry to give a fast, stable, confidence inspiring ride.
The new bike looses the XC genetics that were lingering in the old Rift Zone, replacing them with far sturdier, more aggressive, more up-for-trouble angles and components.
The biggest changes are that the bike is now aluminium and the suspension platform has swapped from IsoTrac to MultiTrac which you can read more about below.
On paper the angles are bang on … and my first ride backed them up. The head angle is 67degrees with a 130mm fork. The reach is 460mm on a size large. Wheelbase is 1181mm. The back end is 435mm. BB drop is 35mm. Stand over is 719″. Seat tube angle 73.4 degrees.
The bike is never going to feel like a big, slack ploughing machine but there’s loads of stand over, a really modern reach and a comfortable head angle.
In our interview below, designer Matt Cipes talks about the bike being design for stability at speed. That certainly came across on unfamiliar, loose, slaty trails. The bike was easy to hop-on and ride and I was quickly able to start having fun and pushing myself.
I’m excited to get a long term test bike, throw it down our local test tracks and put together a proper long term test of the bike.
A chat with Matt Cipes – Marin’s MTB Product Manager
The Rift Zone and the latest generation of Marin bikes come, in part, thanks to Matt Cipes – Marin Mountain Bike Product Manager since 2015. Matt joined Marin to redesign, revamp and rebuilt the company’s bikes and in turn their reputation amongst riders.
Matt is too professional to admit it but inherited a range of bikes that simple weren’t cutting it amongst riders and the press and he’s steadily working to fix that. He’s designing bikes that are great to ride, are fitted with killer kit, that can win races and are absolutely bang-on with their geometry. Where the old bikes came with narrow bars and long stems, Matt is putting 760mm bars and 50mm stems. You’ll now see bikes that are as long (often longer) than the likes of Santa Cruz, YT or Nukeproof. Those are just a couple of examples of Marin understanding what riders want and making it happen.
One of Matt’s first bikes was the Marin Hawk Hill, a great value full suspension that packs a hell of a punch for £1500ish. He’s also been a huge part of the Wolf Ridge project and in creating the new bikes that will start to appear from today’s launch.
Wideopen: Hi Matt, can you tell us a bit about your background?
Matt Cipes: First and foremost I am a mountain biker, which led me to get a manufacturing degree in college for the sole purpose of working in the industry. I also have about seven years of shop experience working at a local Chico shop during and post college.
After I graduated I was racing DH and Super D (Enduro had not been discover yet in USA at that time) and working for Paul Components handling assembly and some post-CNC operations.
After about a year and a half I got a job at Specialized, starting as a suspension technician and gradually working my way up to managing all technical development for the high-end MTB team. By the end of the seven years I was managing all high end MTB bill of materials and a whole lot of other stuff.
In June of 2015 I started working for Marin as the Mountain Bike Product manager and still hold that position now.
You inherited a range of bikes when you joined Marin that you hadn’t designed yourself. Did you have a plan to move the bikes in a particular direction?
The 2016 line launched right when I started in June 2015 but I did not get any brief on how the company wanted me to build the bikes.
The point of hiring good people is so you don’t need to tell them what to do, and Marin’s upper management team is great about giving the product team the power to make product they believe in.
With that said, the product direction in 2016 was in line with my beliefs on what the modern mountain bike is and what it should be.
As a designer what do you personally think is really important in a bike?
What makes good product is never just one element, but many elements that must come together to create the right rider experience.
For the modern trail bike some critical points are geometry (reach, stack, trail, top tube, bottom bracket, drop etc), dropper post compatibility, rider fit, frame strength, and kinematics; the list is really endless.
The key takeaway is that the devil is in the details and Marin takes those all those details very seriously.
“The key takeaway is that the devil is in the details”
The old Rift Zone was obviously a pretty fun bike – but it had a few limitations. What was your take on it as you looked and it and considered a redesign?
A parent never wants to compare their children, and I think this is the same for product managers. Some key project goals for the new Rift Zone included a more modern trail geometry and better dropper post compatibility. For instance, now a size small fits a 120mm dropper (for most riders) and medium can fit a 150mm and even more on a large and XL frames.
A big part of the change is also on suspension. We moved away from the IsoTrac suspension system for the MuiltiTrac system, giving us a more controllable leverage curve and allowing for a progressive feel on the bike. This really gives huge advancements on how the bike rides when going mach eleven.
Did you start from a blank sheet of paper or rework the old model?
We modelled the new Rift Zone on what we learned with the Hawk Hill (Marin’s 120mm 27,5″ bike) so it wasn’t a complete blank sheet.
The geometry and seat tube length is all based the Marin trail bike geometries of long, low, and slack and the kinematics are based on the Hawk Hill, but with small changes to adapt to the metric shock standards.
Did you have an idea of some fundamentals that you knew you wanted from the bike?
Beyond the more technical changes to suspension, the fundaments were relatively basic: it must fit at least 120mm droppers on small, and longer on larger sizes. Droppers are here to stay, and it is critical to adjust seat tube length to accommodate this. It was very important to go to Boost spacing to keep in line with industry trends and ensure good options for future upgrades at the consumer level.
Other key items like ISCG tabs and keeping the same rear derailleur hanger and hardware that we use on Hawk Hill. This makes it easier for shops and customers to get parts to keep their bike running.
Were there any hiccups?
We have a great team here at Marin and we can move pretty seamlessly and very fast. I’ve been on a test mule since October of last year so we had some time to ride the final geo and get the shock tube dialed before production.
The key is to make the prototype early enough to learn from it then implement those changes into the production version immediately. This is something the Marin team does very well.
Are there any particular challenges with designing 29″ bikes over smaller wheeled bikes?
There are constraints with any bike and this is no different for 29” wheels.
There will always be a sacrifice for shorter chain stays and tire size and clearance but we have got to a really nice place on the new Rifty. All of the pieces came together quite nicely as I am sure you agree.
Who do you think should go for a 29″ wheel bike?
It is very important for Marin to delivery products that riders need. It is also critical that we don’t try to tell people what is best for them. Consumers need to decide on their own which wheel size is best for their terrain and riding style.
It come down to different folks, different strokes. At Marin we try to give information about the intended experience and what they get out of each bike.
For instance the Hawk Hill is our most nimble and snappy bike in the multitrack family while the Rift Zone is the most speed oriented with good stability and roll over capabilities, great to maintain speed.
Here at Marin we really try to go by rider experience, leaving it up to the rider to make the correct choice for their needs.
Can you talk us through the design process very quickly? Where did you start? What steps did you go through?
For me the design process is one that is in constant and on-going, even when we launch a new bike I am trying to analyze it for weakness and areas we can improve. I’ll then take this information into the next project.
It is very important to maintain design continuity but also at the same time let the design language evolve with new projects.
Designing the new Rift Zone was more simple than other bikes for this reason. We knew we wanted to base it off the Hawk Hill for design continuity but then changed small items to make sure the bike was evolving and modern in all its features. Step one with a new project is set out the all project goals, design included, and then balance all elements to make sure the final product meets the project goals within the target timeline.
How did you go about testing the bike?
Testing is a critical part of creating new bikes and we have been ride testing our geometry and kinematic mule since October of 2016.
The testing has been split between our product team and Joe Murray. We try not to test too much with racers prior to a bike launching since they can’t ride it in public.
We also get a lot of feedback from each market; in the case of the Rift Zone John Oldale from Marin’s UK distributor Paligap had a lot of influence of the style and ride characters of the bike. John has also been ride testing a pilot production bike since April 10th.
For final shock testing California was a bit wet this year, so we went out to Tucson Arizona for four days testing with the product team and Joe Murray. After that session we knew we had a winner and locked it all down for production.
And now the bike has reached production – what do you think of it?
Oh this bike is no joke and can handle the business!
In regular speak; the bike exceeded expectations are we are very happy with the final product.
The Rifty is an everyday bike that really can be ridden everywhere. Some trails may tax the bike a bit more and make your rely on personal talent rather than bike travel, yet it is quite capable for a 120mm trail bike.
There’s a lot of hype around 29″ bikes at the moment. Do you buy into it? Are they the future for trail bikes? What about downhill?
There is a heap of hype around 29” wheels and personally I am a 29” wheel rider. However it is critical for me to not look at my needs, but more the needs of the market.
For now it does seem 29” has some real momentum. For most people, anyone over 5’8”, a 29” wheel is probably a better choice, but I say that with hesitation since not everyone rides the same terrain and with the same style.
It really comes back to different folks, different strokes and Marin will do its homework to make sure we are delivering product that people want and not just product that is all about hype.
DH racing is another story as it is essentially the formula one of mountain bikes and it does appear that on some courses the 29er is an advantage. For me if I were to get a DH bike it would not be for speed and racing but more for getting sideways and having a good time and with current market options I think I would still lean to a 27.5” DH sled, but as Bob Dylan says times they are a changing!
Last question. What do you want people to feel when they get on the Rift Zone?
I want people who ride the Rifty to be mega stoked and happy. That’s what our sport is all about!
Thanks to Marin for sharing the 2018 Marin Rift Zone with us. Stayed tuned for a full review.