hawk hill

2017 Marin Hawk Hill

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date May 12, 2017

"No matter how much you spend, we feel that everyone deserves an awesome bike..." - Marin Bikes

Part One...

To begin with I'm looking at the 2017 Marin Hawk Hill as an out of the box, $1500 (USD)/ $1900 (CDN), full suspension mountain bike. Thanks to some assistance from Marin's Chris Holmes and Matthew Cipes I'll also be following up shortly with an editorial piece about min-maxing component spec; getting the maximum on-trail performance from the minimum cash outlay. 

Without pushing the bike out of its price point I am going to nitpick Marin about a few details I think they should change but at the end of any ride, I really like this bike. Enough so that, not to give the ending away, I've asked Marin to hang on to it as an excellent, neutral, smile-inducing platform to test other price-point components. Yes, it's that good. 

For more info on the spec of the bike, check out Dave's first impressions here...

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

A nerdful eye will likely note a few components swaps already in this photo. I enjoy the Hawk Hill so much I've asked Marin to hang on to it for a while as a test platform for lower price-point parts. 

Hawk Hill Day

When I first put my hands on the Marin Hawk Hill it was in rough shape to say the least. I booked some bench time at Bikeroom for a little Wrench Now, Ride Later action. A basic service on the fork and shock, a new shifter cable and some grease in the frame bearings and it was a whole new animal. 

Everything I need for tonight's Spring Service

My Marin experience started with a basic service on the fork and shock as well as a new shifter cable. Been riding sweet since then. 

Still. This is the cheapest spec bike I've ridden on trail in almost twenty years. Shimano Deore? That's for other people. RockShox Recon suspension fork? Isn't that for commuter bikes? 

Before I turned my first revolutions on the trail I made a pact with the black-and-blue budget machine. No matter the group, day or night, any mountains, any trails and any conditions. If it's a ride I would take my personal trail bike on and it was a Hawk Hill test day then without a whimper I'd take the Marin. 

Price Point Philosophy

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

The Hawk Hill went on a few real adventures with bikes whose wheels alone cost more than the whole Hawk Hill package. 

The Hawk Hill is a 120mm travel full suspension bike. The geometry chart (67.5° HTA, 337mm BB Height, 450.9mm Reach - Large, 430mm Stays) tells a story of a bike that is more aggressive than a lot of bikes in the category regardless of price. It has burly rubber, a 780mm wide bar and it's designed around a 60mm stem. 

So I wasn't shy about where I rode the bike. I pointed it down challenging North Shore trails like Pipeline and 7th Secret on Fromme, Severed Dick, Dear John, Pangor and a variety of XXX-C on Seymour. And some trails further afield. 


Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

As I previously noted the basic Shimano hydraulic brakes were surprisingly good. But there was an easily fixed problem with them. 

I'm very conscious of the $1500 (USD) / $1900 (CAD) price point of the Hawk Hill and how easy it is to say "just change this - just change that" until the bike in question is a thousand dollars more. As such I've really drilled down to two things I'd change on the bike before I took it home and in the turn the things I think Marin should change on the production model. 

The first is really cheap and simple. Galvanized shifter cables have no place on performance bicycles. Even ones that sell for less than 2k. I'd expect any shop I was buying this bike from to throw in a stainless cable and I wish Marin would just sell it that way. 

The second is those POS Resin only rotors. It's a big OE pricing jump to Shimano's proper rotor price point to fit the Hawk Hill's Center Lock hubs but it would be worth it to anyone whose riding the bike offroad. Especially if that person ever sees moisture of any kind. Shimano's RT67 rotor fits the bill. Better yet, ditch the Center Lock hubs and open the Hawk Hill, and its future owner up to a plethora of 6-Bolt rotor options. 


Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

The Hawk Hill doesn't have a particularly steep seat tube angle (74° effective / no actual STA provided) but is spec'ed with an offset seat post. It would fit a wider range of riders to just have a straight post - I don't love super steep STAs and I was running the saddle quite far forward. 

To maximize the experience-per-dollar there are a couple of less essential changes I'd love to see on the Hawk Hill. 

Marin came up with a nifty way to spec the 142x12 compatible rear end with a much cheaper 135mm QR hub using steel adapters that thread onto the hubs steel axle. It's a smart way to hit the price point (especially as they've made some awesome choices like spec'ing a proper sealed cartridge bearing headset) but it is very heavy. When I swapped it out for an aluminum Shimano axle I also found that the original was notably less stiff.

Kudos for making it an easy swap and using a non-proprietary axle system to do it.

Independent of compound or casing I'm not a fan of Schwalbe's Hans Dampf tires. I am glad Marin spec'ed aggressive trail tires on this bike but looking at who is going to be buying it I think confidence trumps a bit of rolling resistance. I'd like to see a new Nobby Nic out back with a Magic Mary up front. I think the combo rolls faster, corners more predictably and basically is better in every way. 

Set Up - Shock

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

Marin tested three difference tunes from X-Fusion before settling on the valving for the Hawk Hills O2 shock. It's a basic affair with air pressure and rebound adjustable but it works really well with the Marin's suspension. 

Perhaps it's a philosophical trickle-down from Marin's new Wolf Ridge. Maybe it comes down to budget. It could be both. The Hawk Hill has a very basic X-Fusion O2 shock with only rebound and air pressure being adjustable. No magic pedaling switches or compression adjusters here. But the real story is that they aren't needed. 

There is no question that good suspension bikes are easier to design these days thanks to 1x drivetrains. Marin makes no secret of it: 

The ride quality is less based on shock tune and more based on a solid kinematic package that is built around a 1x specific drivetrain. This really allowed us to create a bike that pedals well, but still absorbs bumps easily. - Chris Holmes, Marin Bikes

The effect is that the shock is easy to set-up and the bike rides very neutral in a wide sag range. I was quite happy, and used full travel, with 25% sag and the rebound set fairly open. This gave very good support standing climbing out of the saddle and pumping the Marin downhill. With more sag (30%) the bike is more comfortable cruising around but the performance was not as good climbing or descending.

Set Up - Fork

The Marin's RockShox Recon Silver is as cheap as trail worthy forks come. Considering the Recon costs half as much as many budget forks this fork was clearly chosen to hit the price target. The Recon wouldn't make my short or long list - even in the budget category. It isn't a RockShox Revelation, an X-Fusion Sweep RL2 or a similar budget fork and this frame is worthy of such an upgrade.

With that out of the way and the price point in mind, the Recon is not a total piece of crap. That's better than expected and as I'll talk about in my Min-Max follow-up, the fork is one area where an upgrade bumps the price of a bike significantly. It is not at all a match for the impressive performance of Marin's rear suspension but it is fully possible to get enough traction, support and comfort out of the thing to ride the trails I mentioned above. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

High & Open. I ran the bar higher than was optimal for climbing in order to maximize fun on the descents. I went with 25% sag, zero clicks of compression and the rebound as wide open as I could control. 

As much as it adds weight I think the Recon Silver's steel stanchions contribute greatly to its ride-ability. Combined with the 15mm thru-axle this ultra-budget RockShox fork is actually reasonably stiff rolling into steep chutes and cornering. 

I set the excellent feeling Solo Air system up with 25% sag and then started playing with the damper. There's no way to sugar coat how basic the RL damper in this fork is and if I try to set it up like a higher end product it beats the snot out of me on successive hits. 

I found my best results came from running the compression adjuster wide open and the rebound as fast as I could control it. With the least amount of restriction, small bump compliance is really good. I raised my bar significantly higher than I normally would on a 120mm bike and combined with the fast rebound I always felt like I was in a good attacking position on steeper downhills. 

RockShox fork service. Basic lower lube.

The basic lube I did was a five minutes job requiring a bit of Slickoleum. It made a huge difference but that could be a result of the condition of the bike when I received it. 

UP, UP and UP

I've ridden some pretty luxury bikes in the 120mm category and none of them pedals better out of the saddle with the shock wide open than the Marin. I've had lots of opportunity to test it because I often just leave the saddle in descending position for short climbs or flats rather than getting off and opening the quick release. I've happily mashed my way along a few different sections of Mount Seymour's Bridle Path connector trail pedaling standing up and it's impressive how responsive the chassis is to inputs. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

The Marin branded 4-Bolt 24mm cranks are stiff and the steel narrow-wide ring shows zero signs of wear.  

Despite sporting big tires and being a little hefty it was a very rare day that the Marin's 32t x 11-42t gearing wasn't sufficient. I'm not complaining about the 30t I'm running now though and there was no impact on suspension performance making the small swap. 

The Deore drivetrain shifts the chain up and down the Suntour cassette quite deliberately. The shifts are sluggish and I was careful about pushing through multiple gears under load but all in there is nothing I would change until I wore it out or wrecked it. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

The Hawk Hill is happy to spin along in its lowest gears but it really likes to be hammered out of the saddle particularly up short technical sections where it efficiently rewards the extra input with momentum. 

I had no issues flowing up tight switchbacks and the steering responds well to a light touch. Aside from only being as fast as the engine it's an easy bike to navigate up hills and responds predictably to and body English. 


The Marin carries speed very well. It's stable and planted in corners and I'd sum it up as being very easy to ride. I could jump on it from any other bike and instantly be right up to speed pumping down the trail. 

With about 25% sag front and rear I set up the X-Fusion O2 shock a little faster than I normally would, to balance it out with the fast-as-I-could-control front end. The Recon Silver SL rides surprisingly smoothly with the compression wide open and the rebound as fast as I could run it and the balance of traction, support and comfort is good. That's good without taking the budget into consideration. For $1500 I can't believe how well this thing goes down. 

Ridden downhill in anger I'm certain the Marin would blow the doors off bikes many times its price with a higher end fork up front but I always felt in control with the Recon and the aforementioned chassis stiffness was fine riding down some pretty steep and gnarly trails. I just kept the speed in check, which is easy to do with the excellent $45-per-wheel-cheap Shimano brakes. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

Traction and support were surprisingly good. The rear suspension works really well and the fork holds its own. 

Braking doesn't seem to have much effect on the suspension and the geometry is at home cruising along down steeper rockier sections. There is nothing weird happening here except adults having fun in the woods.

The Hawk Hill is playful and likes to be jumped. I found it best to land with a slight rear bias as again the rear suspension is more controlled than the party up front. The few small crashes I have had were the result of not getting over the front of the bike enough which I'd attribute to a lack of faith in the fork and/or a failure to muscle it into position with the fast rebound. 

I found the stock grips weren't comfortable for long descents and switched them out for my personal preference; not a big deal. The only other issue is the Deore shifter trigger is a bit of a reach with the brake levers moved in for one finger braking. It isn't an issue on trail because shifts need to be planned. 

The Ideal Buyer

Anyone in the market for a $1500 mountain bike is doing themselves a disservice by not considering the Marin. At this price, the travel doesn't even really come into the equation. This 120mm bike is more capable than anything I've seen in the range, regardless of travel, thanks to its suspension and geometry. 

The ultimate beginner trail bike? A great choice for your kids or a partner you're trying to introduce to the sport without the huge initial investment in something they may not love (if they are crazy people)?  If it can be ridden on fairly aggressive terrain here on the Shore it would be a great welcome-to-mountain-biking bike anywhere. 

Marin Hawk Hill 2017 NSMB AndrewM

Made For Fun. 

But it is also a lot more than that. Slap on a good fork, a couple hundred dollars in rubber, a set of mean brakes and a dropper post and I truly believe the Hawk Hill would hold its own downhill against virtually any 120mm bike on the market and be a tonne of fun doing it. 

The Future

There are upgrades to be made but as a package, I'd say replace the rotors and hit the trails with no excuses for not having fun. See how many carbon super bikes you can catch going up and down the hill. 

Eventually I'd suggest coming up with the funds for a budget dropper post like the X-Fusion Manic. Do some research into fresh rubber. Stay on top of the basic fork and shock service. The upgrade potential with the Hawk Hill is very deep indeed.

The Hawk Hill isn't just an awesome value at US$1500 or CDN$1900. It's an awesome mountain bike. It's playful and poised anywhere a 120mm bike with a slack (67.5°) head angle and aggressive tires can go. The frame design reflects a level of thoughtfulness that is often missing from bikes more than twice the price. Three times the price. Four times... 

For more information please check out the Hawk Hill here

*Shimano's SM-AX58 for anyone who needs one. 

Trending on NSMB


+3 Tehllama42 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
Endur-Bro  - May 13, 2017, 10:58 a.m.

Kudos to NSMB and DrewM for reviewing a price point FS bike.  And also for not getting excessive on the upgrades.


+3 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major Metacomet
Tehllama42  - May 13, 2017, 12:27 p.m.

I, for one, would not have had the restraint.

If I was getting a bike for a family member, or advising a friend getting into the sport:
It would be a Hawk Hill with a Manic dropper, hands down after this review.


Andrew Major  - May 13, 2017, 4:04 p.m.


I think Min-Max-Marin (coming soon) will appeal! 


+1 Endur-Bro
Andrew Major  - May 13, 2017, 4:09 p.m.

@Endur-Bro, I'd love to take all the credit but Cam, Pete & Fergs spotted this sucker at Interbike and immediately recognized the potential. 

It's been a tonne of fun to review. The engineer deserves a raise because the frame is awesome.


+2 Andrew Major Cam McRae
Endur-Bro  - May 13, 2017, 5:32 p.m.

Well hats (of the flat brimmed variety) off to the squad then!


+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
stinky_dan  - May 13, 2017, 12:12 p.m.

Lots of great things coming out of this review and it dovetails into the precept review as well inasmuch as the upgrading route always appears when a lower pricepoint bike is looked at. Even Dave's column touches on this. There is a decreasing return as more upgrades are added; forks and wheels could bring the total to a point where another complete bike might be a better idea at but it sounds like the Marin is an excellent frame/bike to begin with so upgrades would accentuate not deviate.

Interesting to see that the forks and shocks were not binned straight away and they worked on the same trails I ride; much of this sounds like a core element of the design. Would the same fork/shocks hold up on other bikes?


Andrew Major  - May 13, 2017, 7:16 p.m.

I've experienced the X-Fusion O2 on a few bikes over the years and normally it is undergunned - hence one of the reasons I'm so impressed with this bike.

Regarding upgrades. My follow up piece on Min-maxing will demonstrate the potential of OE purchasing power BUT at the same time, at the end of the day, if someone has $1500 + tax (USD) right NOW and buys a Hawk Hill even putting a decent amount of $$ into upgrades I think the bike represents a lot of value.


+2 Pete Roggeman Andrew Major
Tehllama42  - May 13, 2017, 12:37 p.m.

I'm trying to math out what an ideal build would look like at the $2000-2500 price point on this frame - obviously very little would need to really get changed out.

I think pimping it out of the X-Fusion catalog is a good start, just adding a dropper (Manic - $200 - done) and bumping up to a Trace HLR with a touch more travel would be a hit.  Bump up to SLX Brakes (and rotors).  I'd concur with the tire shift - either MM/NN, Vigilante/TrailBoss, or DHF/Aggressor.  It's 100% areas where performance gains are not diminishing returns yet really.

Add a couple of color options (Keep the classy grey/black/teal - I'd add one in the same Black/Red-Orange Fade colorway as the WolfRidge - and maybe do a lavender accent variant of the current one as well), and be done.

For all the nonsense about trying to develop women's specific stuff, THIS is a bike that can be a better answer.  It's just an outright good bike, doesn't come with any parts which suck, and with the simple addition of a custom saddle (see Enduro-MTB's survey of what shows up at women's group rides - you'll see what I mean) it would be a better way to bring more ladies into the shred-iverse.


Pete Roggeman  - May 13, 2017, 2:10 p.m.

Good comment - just one thing to add to what you said, which is that you shouldn't assume ladies getting into the sport are looking to spend less than men. Lots of women coming in hot, dropping good $ because they make good $ or just prioritize sports over leather seats and sat/nav in their vehicle or whatever. As evidence, Juliana and Yeti (Beti) are selling plenty of carbon only bikes to ladies.


+1 Andrew Major
Tehllama42  - May 13, 2017, 2:48 p.m.

Bah - didn't mean to insinuate that.  The ladies that are confident about getting into the sport, they're usually locked in and love it, and after the first good group ride they're hooked for life.  Given the demographics of who is actually finishing up with higher education and landing solid jobs, you're going to be increasingly right on the money.

I think the bigger gap is that the good executions of women's-specific bikes don't start until you're up in the Juliana/Beti/Contessa/Liv offerings that are twice the price of the Hawk Hill - the rest are currently biased towards the S.I.A.P.I. strategy -- I feel that this is the bike which can break that mold, for the better.

I'm thinking more in terms of a vehicle to get more ladies who aren't already bikers into the sport - in terms of a 'one bike to do everything' solution for somebody who already does some hiking, running, surfing, skiing/snowboarding, or other outdoor sports, this is arguably one of the best, because it doesn't immediately ask for a big tradeoff committment to get into the sport. I credit those types who are already active in adventure/outdoor sports to know that they need to spend enough to enjoy it correctly, but something like this where somebody wouldn't have to invest the equivalent of a mediocre automobile but isn't a rolling example of questionable tradeoffs - I think that can be a really good thing in general.

In a more general sense, I could be way wrong, but I think a lot of the reason hardcore MTB is so isolated as a community is how big a cost barrier there is between path bikes ($50-400) range that will, for the most part, implode if ridden hard, and the area where bikes are actually good enough to take on blue trails and enjoyed if pushed.  With the information requirement AND cost (or just higher cost) barriers to entry being so high, it's harder to bring in new people [and small isolated groups are easier to marginalize when it comes to silly things like access]... with a real, viable, and awesome tool being available at a really good price ($2000 USD puts you on a Hawk Hill with a dropper, good tires, and sorted brakes, with spares and must-haves), that barrier isn't really there anymore.

I'd love to see a hardtail specced identically - a Recon Silver, 1x Drivetrain, Good Cockpit, and Deore brakes equipped bike is exactly what that market space needs.  At my tubbiest (253lb rider + gear weight) I ran that exact setup, and was only ever disappointed in brake performance of Avid's on 160mm rotors when trying to decelerate from 40mph on long road descents.

As far as OEM order lead-time consideration, I think this type of spec isn't going out of style anytime soon - just put the pro riders on these things and make some standard shredits of the bikes in totally stock form - the point will be made that this bike won't hold you back if you're just getting into the sport.


Andrew Major  - May 13, 2017, 4:11 p.m.

$2500 (USD) with an HLR Fork, Manic, Magura MT Trail Sport brakes, good tires, and GX shifting? Do-able!


+2 Tehllama42 Cam McRae
Geof Harries  - May 15, 2017, 9:34 p.m.

For a lot of people, including myself it's very hard to spend CAD $5,000+ on a bike and that seems to be about the entry point these days for a solid bike. Most bike reviews are actually on models upwards of that cost...and sometimes way, way upwards. I seriously have no idea who buys these types of bikes except for doctors and dentists.

I have three kids, a mortgage, investments, groceries, vehicles, insurance and all of the other costs associated with raising a family. A lot of people say it's about your priorities - meaning, having a fancy bike should be right up there too - but there's my priorities right there. Family first.

As such, I applaud nsmb.com and Andrew for reviewing this bike. The price of this Marin is much more in the neighbourhood of what's realistic for guys like me and I bet a big chunk of the consumer market, including the silent majority who likely come to this website but don't comment.


+2 Tehllama42 Andrew Major
Riley  - May 15, 2017, 11 p.m.

This is a great review and I really like this bike but how could you justify buying this bike and then throwing in an extra 500-600 dollars on upgrades when you could just buy a let's just say for example Kona precept 150? That bike has more travel, better suspension, dropper, some what better drivetrain and tires. I remember seeing that bike featured on this site by Dave. How would the Hawk Hill stand in comparison next to a 2017 precept 150?


+1 Andrew Major
Tehllama42  - May 15, 2017, 11:19 p.m.

Great point, and a question I'm curious about as well.

I think the Hawk Hill beats the Precept 120 and edges out Precept 130 as a value proposition (with the 1x drivetrain, wheels/tires, and brakes - though the suspension might edge towards the KP 130).

The Precept 150 - I'd be curious about that against the Min-Max-Marin, because the Hawk Hill, after being dragged through an upgrade catalog, would be the more expensive one, but hopefully have a better (longer, better actuated) dropper post, brakes, tires, and kinematic setup.

They're an inch apart in travel, and to a degree intention, but those two bikes would be exactly where I'd point people looking to get into the sport.
I think the Hawk Hill is intended as more of an all-around bike, while the Precept 150 definitely has that feel of being enough bike to let you embarrass well-heeled riders on descents and laugh all the way to the bar with how much less it costs... but I'd like to see that comparison and/or those two bikes be the type used as test mules for reasonably priced components.

Either way - with two good bikes, both at reasonable price ranges - it's a good time to be a mountain biker.


Andrew Major  - May 16, 2017, 8:19 a.m.

Hawk Hill and Precept line are both examples of well engineered but simple suspension designs and frame layouts as a foundation for an awesome riding lower price platform. No custom hardware or fancy machining to raise the price for limited ROI and good geo all around.

I agree they're both easy recommendations for best-budget-bike.

Just budget to ditch the Resin Only rotors.


Andrew Major  - May 16, 2017, 8:10 a.m.

Thanks guys,

I really like the Precept bikes - and Kona as a company - so I think they are a great choice.

The Precept 130 is the better comparison to the Hawk Hill by build and price point - though it does have a bit more travel. Same brakes, same drivetrain (2x not 1x but call it a draw for argument sake) and I'd call the rear shocks a wash as well.

The Sektor is a chassis upgrade over the Recon. The hubs are arguable a slight upgrade. It's $500 (CAD)* more.


The Process 150 has an upgraded fork (Suntour Aion) and a basic KS Eten dropper. Assuming the High Rollers are the 60-compound they're maybe a slight upgrade over the Marin's Schwalbes.

The NX drivetrain is okay. Throw on a GX shifter and improves greatly - but that's an upgrade - I'd personally choose it over Deore so I'll call it an upgrade but others might not.

Otherwise for $1100 (CAD)* more you're getting the same brakes (which is fine -they work great with a rotor upgrade) and again a similar quality rear shock and a slight hub upgrade.

The Precepts ride awesome have have great geo - not trying to take anything away from them. The Precept 150 is a significantly longer travel platform. But with the cost differences even aftermarket you can equal out the spec differences?

In the min-maxing piece Marin ran the numbers for me so it's what the bikes would sell for on the floor vs. us looking at the price differences and going "oh, it's + $280 for a dropper post". 

*I used CAD because it was easy to grab the Kona pricing vs. $1900 for the Marin.


0 Johnny Krawczyk Dpaulsco
Riley  - May 17, 2017, 1:25 p.m.

When can we expect to see the min-max hawk hill? I am looking forward to seeing it!


jeffgicklhorn  - June 6, 2017, 12:06 p.m.

Great review. I've been considering a Hawk Hill as an upgrade for my GF from her current Ragley hardtail. Do you have any basis for how the Recon Silver (now with the Motion Control damper) compares to the older Sektor Silver with TurnKey damper (what she's currently on)?

For reference, I'm riding a Revelation and am familiar with setting up and maintaining Motion Control forks.


Andrew Major  - June 6, 2017, 1:20 p.m.

It's a more basic damper than the Revelation (same name or otherwise) ...I run it as open as possible or it's pretty rough.

The air system is an improvement over the Sector though. The Silver (steel stanchions) with 15mm is also stiffer (braking and cornering) than the Sektor as I recall but it has been a few years since I road one.


+1 Tehllama42
jeffgicklhorn  - June 6, 2017, 1:26 p.m.

Thanks. Unfortunately it's a bit misleading when RS calls everything the motion control (from Recon to Yari) when they obviously have vastly different damping capabilities.


Tehllama42  - June 6, 2017, 1:30 p.m.

@jeffgicklhorn:  I totally agree that they need to come up with something different... although it is a shared damper architecture they use, so not technically disingenuous.

Considering that it's SRAM, I don't know why they haven't just added some alphanumeric designations at the end to simplify it [and do the same with the Charger setups], which would a) denote the actual type and parts used, b) convey a key figure of merit or dimension, such as stanchion size, and c) look more technical and awesome to anybody who encounters them.


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