Change is afoot at Marin, the long established brand with more MTB heritage than most is returning to form in a gradual and purposeful way. Those who have a keen eye for the detail may notice some subtle changes in the 2017 range, but they won't be found at the top end, rather it's happening where most riding occurs, in those bikes that don't cost the earth but bring bang-for-buck and smiles in equal measure. What we have is a brand in transition, as their new designer gets his paws on the range and starts to tweak things. The Pine Mountain, Nail Trail and Hawk Hill are all examples of this influence on the Marin range, from classic chromo curves to modern trail geometry and some hot price points, all hinting at change of a bigger scale.
The Hawk Hill is a, 'from the ground up' new frame, which although shares the suspension system of the more expensive Marin’s, the new style is sleeker, less boxy and more purposeful. This bike is a one of a kind, due to being only available in one spec as seen here. 120mm front and rear, being driven by a faux bar linkage form the basis of the machine, with geometry that aims to put it in the middle of the road (by modern standards). This means it's not super long, or slack or any of the buzz words, but in fact, is a classic trail bike set up.
Budgetary restrictions are in place obviously, so the Recon fork and X-fusion shock are not top drawer, but offer air-tuneable bounce with rebound adjustability. Wheels are looking good too, with a modern profile, wide profile and tubeless ready, but rubber wise we are left with the Performance range of tyres (which generally don't live up to their name). A one by drivetrain is there with Deore shifting duties, and braking is again Shimano, but they couldn't push it to Deore again here, which is a real shame. The cockpit is a 60mm stem and 780mm bars, which is great, there is no reason to have a rubbish combo here regardless of price. No dropper post, but you can't have everything, just remind yourself of the price!
The package is a great example of how to place your budget in the best parts to create a bike that will give a quality ride to a portion of the market that may rarely experience it.
After 1000m or so of uplifted trails, I was still smiling; repeatedly pointing the Hawkhill into tight swoopy, leaf covered autumn trails all afternoon, my first experience of the bike was a good one! I get to ride some pretty great bikes, with some pretty hefty price tags and the thought of smashing trails on a 'budget' bike doesn't always fill me with enthusiasm. However on one of those rare sunny days in November, with an uplift sorted, John Oldale (UK's main Marin man) promised fun times on a budget bike, and the Hawk Hill didn't disappoint.
The first impressions were of a fun and playful bike, easy to set up with a shock pump and a few clicks on the rebound and it’s ready to rock. Moving the frankly enormous brake levers inboard I was ready. Suspension performance seems to be punching above its weight, and although it doesn't offer the subtleties and sensitivities of their more expensive siblings, they provide a stable and supportive platform. Initial stroke from the rear is stiff, but plush through the middle and rarely plunges to its full depth, giving performance through berms, g-outs and drops but lacking a little rapid sensitivity through the chatter of rocks or roots. Up front, things are also pretty good, not diving at every pull of a brake, and lively enough to eat up what’s coming.
Taking the bike back over Christmas for further testing, I handed it out to a few curious riders, keen to see what the bike could offer. Time and time again the feedback was glowing, and a smile was found on the face of every rider. The same comments on spec came back each time, but a quick reminder of the price soon silenced even the harshest critics.
I didn't like the brake levers, and I longed for a higher end Shimano lever, but I can't say they didn't stop me well and in good time. The non-lock-on grips were a bit too thick and felt cheap, but you have to save money somewhere I suppose...
So for the price you get a very capable piece of machinery, with a suspension system that works surprising well. It's a fun, and engaging bike to ride, and any of the shortcomings in componentry and weight and forgotten by the end of the first railed turn. It's no whippet but is a great base for some upgrades, namely a dropper post, tyres and grips. However, none of these upgrades are necessary to go and hit trails, just add a chain guide and a dropper to go Enduro, lighten up the wheelset and cover some serious ground or even put a bigger fork on and hit the DH trails, the options are endless.
I found the large a bit small, and usually, I would go for XL, but I'd still like the sizing to be bigger, adding 1cm reach between L and XL seems like a token gesture, and if you're going to make an XL then make it long, not tall. The tyres are probably the weakest link, while the tread pattern is proven in the Hans Dampf, the Performance compound is wooden. They also won't go tubeless, so that's a shame, but easy to swap. If I were buying this bike, then the rubber would be the first think I would look at changing, when you consider the whole bike as a package that's an impressive statement!
What a great bike! The Hawkhill has endeared itself to me as a bike with a strong, no-frills personality, not overly produced with carbon and media hype. Just a bike to get people out riding, and riding hard too, not just a dumbed down trail bike for beginners who know nothing better. The trickle down is in full flow, and one by drivetrains, air suspension, decent geometry and proper cockpits should not just be the preserve of the mountain bike elite. Sure it's not perfect, but its a £1200 full suspension mountain bike, what do you want? The moon on a stick?
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By Ewen TurnerEwen Turner is a self-confessed bike geek from Kendal in the Lake District of England. He runs a coaching and guiding business up there and has a plethora of knowledge about bikes with an analytical approach to testing. His passion for bicycles is infectious, and he’s a ripper on the trails who prefers to fit his working life around his time on the bike.
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Dan, Joe and Edgar