By David Alden-St.Pierre,
Still unsure as to what impact, if any, the change in branding between Gary Fisher and Trek will have on riders, I was eager to test Trek‘s latest entry-level singlespeed 29′er, the Marlin. My first (and second, and an even later) singlespeed bikes were Fishers (two Rigs and a Superfly), and I was curious as to how this bike would compare.
Out of the box, or rather, in the process of getting the bike out of the box, my first impression was "holy crap, this bike is heavy." The 21” sized bike weighed in at just over 31lbs. Had I gotten too accustomed to riding my blinged-out fully carbon, fully rigid personal SS, or was this bike really a boat anchor? Perhaps a little of both were true, but at this price (MSRP $649), I really can’t complain.
Once hefted into the work stand, the bike went together well, and I was impressed with the modifications that Trek had made on it’s sliding rear dropout configuration. The non-drive side has set screws the keep the wheel from moving both forward (from chain pull) and backward (from braking forces). This should be an improvement from the previous design. The build was a bit of a walk down memory lane as I haven’t built up a bike with a square-taper bottom bracket or the old standard 25.4mm diameter handlebar in quite a while. As a side note, I did swap out the stock platform pedals for a pair of Egg Beaters.
On the trail, I would be paying particular attention to whether or not the handlebars flexed noticeably when torquing up a climb, or whether the seemingly narrow tires would hold their lines, and ultimately, if the overall mass of the bike would be a major buzz-kill.
The Marlin’s frame feels similar to the Rigs I had ridden in the past, with Fisher’s 29′er G2 geometry. It’s aluminum, it’s appropriately stiff without being punishing, and overall, provides a platform for a balanced ride. Up front, and contributing significantly to the bike’s mass, you’ll find a SR Suntour XCM suspension fork with 100mm of travel. Despite my lamentation about the weight (6lbs), the fork actually works well. It smoothes out the ride, and the lock-out is a great feature. It only has preload adjustment though, and the "clunk" heard on rebound was, well, clunky.
Another set of components I was surprised to find working so well was the Tektro Novela disc brakes. I’ve ridden some pretty scary disc brakes on entry-level bikes in the past, and the Novela calipers have definitely exceeded my expectations.
On the trail, the Marlin performed admirably. I could bitch some more about the weight, but the bike retails for less than $700; I’m not expecting a lightweight super-bike. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t notice the weight, but I can honestly say that while perhaps slowing me down a bit (the bike’s weight, not my own of course), I still had fun riding. While doing a virtual comparison of other entry-level SS29′er bikes, I can’t imagine the other bikes would do much better with the weight, and, the Marlin does have disc brakes and a suspension fork.
I actually enjoy riding entry-level bikes because I’m reminded that you can still have a great ride without spending tons of cash. I don’t think the Marlin is a race bike, nor is it a weapon for all-day epic mountain assaults but for local rides with friends, it’s working well. It’s not superlative in any area; it’s a predictable, and thus far, a reliable ride.
But, did the tires hold? Did the handlebar flex? Did the sliding drop-outs work? You’ll have to check the print version in Issue #162 for the full report.