At A Glance
The Rift Zone in its modern form has been a blinding success for Marin, coming right into the heart of the mountain bike market with an affordable trail bike that is both capable and fun to ride. Not setting out to be a race bike of any genre, the bike is simply for riding, and certainly for having fun. Roll on to 2019 and the new version has evolved into an even better bike and is still striking some impressive price points.Buy Trail Bikes on
All that was lacking in the range was a top-end model. The Rift Zone 3 has an excellent spec for the price but what about those riders who have deeper pockets and still want to get on board a Marin? The answer lies in the Rift Zone Carbon, the latest incarnation of a modern classic.
Coming in two specs, Rift Zone Carbon 1 and 2 share the same numbers from the alloy version and still retain an alloy rear end but with a few tweaks. Overall the Carbon model has a lighter front triangle but a more burly rear triangle, creating a stronger, lighter and stiffer package. A saving of 400 to 500g on the frame depending on size and as a complete bike, the Rift Zone 3 (top alloy model) comes in at 14.4kg and the Rift Zone Carbon 2 hangs off the scales at a more svelte 13kg (size large). The rear end takes the rocker link, and seat stays from the Rift Zone (alloy) and combines it with the chainstay of the Alpine Trail to make the back end. Other, stand out features of the frame include a threaded bottom bracket and short seat tubes for long droppers.
Our Rift Zone Carbon 2 sports a Fox 34 in 130mm travel mode and a Fox DPX2 shock giving the bike its 125mm rear travel. The spec, as ever, from Marin, is considered carefully rather than speccing a groupset and calling it done. Significant inclusions are the new Shimano drivetrain which is hooked up to an FSA Gradient crankset. Elsewhere we have a PNW lever combined with the ever-reliable X-Fusion Dropper, a great combo that works very well. The Deity cockpit is always a pleasure, and you can't knock SLX brakes. Sticky rubber and a robust, dependable wheelset set the whole thing off.
On The Trail
So I was a big fan of the last Rift Zone, and I've enjoyed riding the Alpine Trail all year, so it was an exciting box to open. First up, the quality and finish of the frame is high and certainly knocks the aesthetics up a notch from the aluminium version. Not usually one for getting excited about carbon for carbon's sake, the frame offers a weight saving and increased stiffness and strength over the alloy, so there is certainly justification in this case.
The new sizing is what I've been waiting for as a rider of XL-sized frames. The reach is 515mm on the XL, but all the sizes have short seat tubes so essentially you choose the bike by length. This sizing allows a 35mm stem to be used and a 76-degree seat angle keeps you forward when pedalling without banging knees. The Rift Zone felt instantly comfortable and a full size larger than my Alpine Trail in XL.
Pedalling efficiency is good, but this is no XC bike. It's calm and planted as it climbs rough ground, and out of the seat power is rewarded with a surge of speed. When something is in the 'trail' category and the 'middle ground' it's hard to add superlatives, but the Rift Zone Carbon pedals very well, better than an enduro bike, not as fast as a carbon XC bike. Simple.
On steeper climbs, the seat angle feels good, but combined with the super short back end; it can take some body-language to keep the front tracking and on the ground. This will be far less apparent on the smaller sizes. What the bike does do, is keep you engaged and interested in the trail ahead no matter what the gradient and attack the climbs with agility rather than just sit and grind.
Once trails point down, the Rift Zone surpassed my expectations of what this bike would be able to do. I knew it would be fun, agile and playful, but I didn't expect to be using it on the chunkiest and sketchiest trails I could find. Sure, it can whip around a buff trail with intense speed and put a grin on your face in every corner, but it's the ability in the steep and wild trails that got me every time.
With a head angle as slack as some enduro bikes and a long reach, I found I was able to point it down some big terrain safe in the knowledge that the front end would hold it's own and get me through safely. With only 125mm out back it's certainly not wise or safe to blindly smash through rock gardens, but with a little thought and skill, it can be piloted through anything.
My other big learning point from this bike was that the short chainstays work pretty well with a long front centre. This bike has probably the biggest disparity between front and back length that I've ridden, and despite wanting to moan about chainstays being too short, I liked it. The bike felt balanced with my weight through my feet, and I was able to access manuals at split-second notice. Stability through rough, off-camber or flat turns is not as good as long chainstays, but this is a wildly playful trail bike, and I wouldn't want to change it.
Perhaps choosing a bike like this over a longer travel rig may just seem like sandbagging yourself, but the Rift Zone Carbon has injected an enormous amount of happiness into my everyday riding. It keeps trails lively without making them any less achievable. A little less margin here and there is balanced with more fun on almost every terrain.
Spec-wise, having spent some time on the bike I now want a stiffer fork, as the 34 is good at 130mm, but I think a 36 would be great and suit the bikes capabilities. I would also take a taller head tube as my stack of spacers under the stem looks a little ungainly.
The only issue I had with the bike was a rock strike to the down tube protector. Flicked by the front wheel, it collided, (exceptionally precisely) with the bolt that held the guard on and caused some minor cracking to the frame. Marin told me that if this happened to a customer, (very unlikely), they would replace no questions asked. Also, they have already changed to recess the bolt even further into the protector.
Big bike geometry meets short-travel suspension, The Rift Zone Carbon 2 reminds us once more that geometry beats suspension travel hands down. Trail bike performance to put a grin on your face without compromising uphill efficiency or downhill prowess, challenge you to not love this bike.
This review was in Issue 62 of IMB.For more information visit Marin Bikes
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.