Marin Bikes Rift Zone 3 2018 Mountain Bike Review

Marin Bikes Rift Zone 3 2018

Reviews / Trail Bikes

Marin Bikes 54,541

At A Glance

In recent years Marin have seriously stepped up their game. The appointment of Matt Cipes as their MTB Product Manager in 2015 putting them on a mission to bring their range back to the top level, where they belong. With a swathe of new bikes over the past 2 years, the output has been excellent, with well-received bikes across the range.

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The new Rift Zone shows evidence of this with an old name, but a brand new frame aimed at tackling the trail bike market. This short travel 29’er has been overhauled to create a longer, lower and slacker ride which Marin believe will keep up-to-date with market trends as well as ensure the user has maximum fun; after all, it does state “made for fun” on the frame.

It’s based around the shapes of the Marin Hawk Hill that we saw launched last year. The frame and linkage are almost identical, using their MultiTrac system adapted to fit 29″ wheels and with a geometry to give a fast, stable, confidence inspiring ride.

This year's Rift Zone line-up has three models – the bike you see here is the Rift Zone 3 and is the highest spec version. There is also a great value model (coming in at just £1350 GBP) and a mid-range version.

The numbers are fresh, fully embracing the modern wave of progressive trail bikes. The Large has a 460mm reach and the XL 490, putting it up there in the mix of long front centred bikes. Head angle comes in at 67.5, chainstays are 435mm and the bottom bracket drop is a healthy 38.5mm. All these numbers fully represent the continuing progression of the Marin range and a bike ready for good times on the trail.

The Rift Zone 3 is pretty well specced for such a reasonably priced trail bike. The Boost rear is controlled by the RockShox Deluxe RT Debonair shock, delivering 120mm of racy travel, while the solid RockShox Revelation RC fork offers 130mm up front. Forward motion creation comes in the form of a Shimano SLX 1x11 drivetrain, whilst the stopping power is provided by Shimano Deore brakes, which are every bit as good as the XT’s were two years ago. Marin’s own 29mm rims are laced to some Formula hubs and wear a set of WTB Trailboss 2.4 light/fast tyres.

Marin has also fitted their own 780mm bars and 45mm forged alloy stem, once again demonstrating an understanding of what makes a bike great. A TransX dropper post only offers 100mm of travel in size small and only 120 on all other sizes. The standover height has been reduced on the new ‘Rifty’ so it’s a shame it doesn’t come with a dropper with enough travel to utilise this new adjustment.

Introducing beefier tubing over the previous model and tidying the cables away with effective internal routing play a large part in the Rift Zones pleasing aesthetics.

On The Trail

As I would hope for a 29 inch wheeled short travel trail bike, power put down through the pedals provides instant feedback of energy and direction. Unlike so many other ‘trail’ bikes, Marin has created a bike which truly is what it claims to be, rather than a tamed down ‘enduro’ bike hoping to fit into the 'trail' category. The Rift Zone isn’t overly slack, because it doesn’t need to be. It doesn’t have the shortest chainstays possible either, because it doesn’t need it.

This is a bike that immediately feels like it would like to carry you a long way and do it efficiently and purposefully. With the seat up and a comfortable position it can munch the miles easily, and you could happily imagine you are on an XC bike. Although it’s far from lightweight, climbing feels light and inviting, the riding position is comfortable with the seat up and the front end holds itself nice and true without wandering. The big wheels provide enough grip and roll-ability to make technical climbs feel both achievable and fun.

The Rift Zone, however, is so much more than an XC bike, and to be honest the label of ‘trail’ bike doesn’t do it much justice because once you tap into its mischievous side you soon realise why they felt it necessary to print ‘MADE FOR FUN’ on the frame.

Open up the throttle and you have a lively and excitable bike, eager to please and charge in any direction. Content on the trail or in the air, the Rift Zone is happiest at speed, either pedal or gravity fed. The steeper front end helps keep things fast at the steering end, and it takes very little speed or effort to make the bike come alive. Although reasonably steep, the head angle is enough to keep things more predictable than twitchy. The bottom bracket height is a winner too, low enough to be stable, but with a height that allows for near constant pedalling through rough ground. This, combined with the long front centre, gives a very stable and confidence-inspiring ride. The modern numbers open up the capability of a short travel bike.

The suspension has been switched from the old IsoTrac to Marin’s tried and tested MultiTrac suspension system, offering a more controllable leverage curve and allowing for much more progressive feel on the bike. This is a big advantage that makes the ride feel very supportive and more inspiring the faster you go. The shock itself is ok for a bike in this price range, but having the ability to fine-tune things further would release even more of the Rift Zones impressive capabilities and allow the tight shock feel to prevent occasionally choking on rougher sections.

For those riders who tend to rely on travel more than skill to get through the rough lines, the Rift Zone will meet its limits when things get really steep or technical. This is a bike that definitely favours speed over a technicality, yet it somehow still manages to hold its own on gnarly steep terrain if the rider is prepared to put a bit of work in. Similar to a hardtail, this bike encourages accurate line choice to get the biggest thrills.


The Marin Rift Zone 3 is, without doubt, a very impressive trail bike mixing clever design and choice of components, which allows those with a lower end budget to access high-end performance. The industry seems to be demanding that bikes get longer and slacker these days, but Marin has stuck with what they think is best for their ‘trail’ bike and good on them. What they have produced is a well-balanced all-rounder that is guaranteed to provide heaps of fun. If Marin were to throw some better tyres and a longer dropper post into the mix we would end up with a bike that would be very hard to fault.

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This review was in Issue 54 of IMB.

For more information visit Marin Bikes


By Charley Oldrid
Charley Oldrid is a man who spends a lot of time in the saddle. A highly experienced Mountain Bike Guide, having led trips all over world riding the finest trails he can find. His personal riding style can only be described as wild, getting sideways isn't an option on a ride with Charley, it's mandatory. If anyone can find the limit of a test bike, it's him.

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