By David Alden-St. Pierre
My first, second, and third singlespeed mountain bikes were Gary Fishers (two Rigs and a Superfly), so I was very curious as to how Trek’s latest entry-level singlespeed 29er, the Marlin, would stack up against those more expensive models.
The build was a bit of a walk down memory lane, as I haven’t built a bike with a square-taper bottom bracket, or the old standard 25.4mm diameter handlebar, in quite a while. As expected, the components are mostly Bontrager with a mix of Truvativ, Formula, Tektro, and Suntour.
Once assembled, my first impression was “wow, this bike is heavy.” The 21-inch bike weighed just over 31 lbs. That’s much heavier than my personal ride, but at this price, I really can’t complain. Concessions have to be made to keep costs low, and the true test would be in how the bike handled on the trails.
On the trail the Marlin’s ride felt much like the Rigs I had owned. The Marlin uses Fisher’s 29er G2 geometry, which moves the rider’s position back slightly, with a longer top tube, shorter stem, and more fork offset. The frame is aluminum, and it’s appropriately stiff without being punishing, and overall, provides a balanced ride.
I was impressed by Trek’s new sliding dropout configuration. The non-driveside has set screws to keep the wheel from moving both forward (from chain pull) and backward (from braking forces). This is an improvement over the previous design, which, unfortunately, often loosened from pedaling and braking forces. Up front, a SR Suntour XCM suspension fork provides 100mm of travel.
Despite the weight (6 lbs.), the fork actually worked well. It smoothed out the trail chatter. The lockout is a great feature, especially on a singlespeed. The coil-sprung fork has preload adjustment but lacks rebound adjustment. The “clunk” heard on rebound was, well, clunky. Considering the fact that many mid-price 29er forks cost more than this complete bike, I can’t criticize the fork much for its lack of features. More tune-ability would be nice, but I was able to set the preload to a point that worked for me, and the rebound speed was acceptable.
Overall, the Marlin performed admirably on everything you’d expect to encounter as on a cross country ride. My first Rig got me hooked on singlespeeds and 29ers because I felt that the bike did a good job of making the inherently stable larger wheels feel fairly nimble. I feel the Marlin performs just as well climbing, cornering, and descending.
I could bitch more about the weight, but the bike retails for under $700. I think it rode as well as bike costing much more. I did a virtual comparison of other entry-level singlespeeds; the Marlin has disc brakes and a suspension fork, which I could not find elsewhere at this price.
It’s not a race bike, nor is it a weapon for all-day epic mountain assaults, but it’s perfect for having fun on the your local trails. The Marlin Singlespeed proves that you can still have a great ride without spending tons of cash.
- Price: $649
- Weight: 31.2 lbs.
- Sizes Available: 15.5, 17.5, 19, 21 (tested), 23”
- Country of Origin: China
- Age: 42
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 205 lbs.
- Inseam: 34”
This review originally appreared in Dirt Rag Issue #162. You can purchase a copy of that issue in our online store, or order a subscription for just $19.95 and you’ll get all our reviews delivered right to your door.