Radical New Suspension Ridden
Marin's 2018 Wolf Ridge
As I listen to the spiel I begin to wonder if this bike is going to spoil me for other bikes. Like a teenage boy who hooks up at summer camp and returns home without warm feelings for his girlfriend. It's clear from the product info that this bike will create a new paradigm. I overhear someone say they wish they had never used to the term game-changer previously - because in this case it's actually true. Levitation is mentioned.
Marin has been working on this bike for five years so the excitement is understandable. And the entire team is clearly optimistic about the bike because they have ridden it and they are thrilled about the way it performs. Looking at the way the bike works is interesting and confusing. At first glance, it looks like two linkages with a low main pivot, but that's no pivot. The monocoque swingarm slides on a large diameter aluminum stanchion, telescoping when a force is applied to the rear wheel, allowing it to move vertically. But that's just scratching the surface.
"Literally one bike to rule them all."
Darrel Voss, the enthusiastic and mercurial innovator behind the R3ACT Gliding 4-Bar rear suspension, is speaking passionately about his design. He's tall, long-limbed and serious. He lived in his Volkswagen van for a time when he was younger, racing bikes and travelling to riding hotspots.
Darrel's company, Naild, makes quick releases (that are idiot proof) and a suspension stem for road applications. His R3ACT suspension system has been in development for years. He believes that most rear suspension systems are overdamped to compensate for bad design. The 3 in R3ACT signfiies Newton's Third Law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Darrel's contention is that other frame designs have left one factor out of the kinematics of the bicycle - the dynamic weight of the rider. He also believes that other designs have been adapted from motorcycles and that his design is "built for bicycles rather than adapted for bicycles." Darrel seems very certain that he has figured out what others have missed.
I've heard presentations like this before. The most similar one was for Kona's Magic Link. It was to solve every issue inherent in suspending a pedal-powered vehicle. And end homelessness. The Magic Link didn't last long, and this design certainly appears to have more merit and elegance, but I remain leary of grandiose claims.
The rear shocks spec'ed for the Wolf Ridge models have only 40% of the damping of most rear shocks. That's right - 60% less damping. And there won't be any climb switches because Darrel tells us they are unnecessary. A gimmick in fact. The design doesn't bob and squish in response to pedalling inputs while remaining (wait for it) active in response to forces acting on the rear wheel. I believe the Magic Link made similarly bold claims.
If you have seen press about Polygon's new bike you'll notice that it also uses NAILD's gliding 4-bar system. While it turns out that Marin and Polygon share a parent company, the two bikes are not identical. The Polygon is a 27.5 and has more travel and the two bikes have been engineered independently. Marin has been working with NAILD on this bike for five years and it is described to us as a "deep collaboration" rather than a simple licensing agreement. The bike incorportates Marin Geometry theory which states that bikes and suspension must be seen as total system with rider producing a consistent centre of gravity across sizes
Riding the Wolf Ridge
Part of the unconventional setup process involves each journalist pedalling into the curb while Darrel watches. It's unclear what he's looking for while we do this. Kyle Warner, one of Marin's enduro athletes, approaches the task with more vigour than the rest of us producing a loud bang, but no damage. I try it myself, first pedalling hard before coasting quickly into the curb. The bike slows down very little, hardly noticing the unforgiving concrete edge. Then I repeat the procedure on the gas, pedalling right through the curb and it feels even better. The wheel gets out of the way with remarkable ease. My interest is piqued, my skepticism dulled.
We climbed up to Santa Cruz's UCSC campus trails as a group. Seated and standing the bike sits high in its travel and transfers power exceedingly well. I stand up on a loose section, willing the rear wheel to break loose, but it continues to dig in. Even with the damping wide open the bike doesn't seem to bob. At least I couldn't feel it, but unlike some other bikes, it was difficult to look down and observe a reference point that revealed how much oscillation was occurring.
On my first descent my fork was oversprung. The bike felt good when I was off the brakes but once I hit the binders the stiff front end made everything feel a little harsh. I also thought I could feel a little flex in the rear-end on a couple of occasions. The harshness ended up being a setup issue and it worked fine when the brakes were applied on the second lap.
Before we dropped in for our second lap I reduced the pressure in the Fox 36 and added a little rebound damping in the rear at Kyle Warner's suggestion - and the Wolf Ridge began to hit its stride. Handling was neutral and predictable and the rougher the trail got the more capable the bike became. After a little air, which is plentiful on Mailboxes, on our second descent, the bike landed and settled with surprising composure. At one point I took a drop a little hot and landed on some steps with wheel-sized holes. I thought I was in trouble but the bike soaked it up without drama. It settled into the travel and levelled out smoothly, as composed as a trophy truck,
I remain wary of the hype. Marin claims that, "travel no longer defines the category," and Darrel Voss calls the suspension platform a "ground tracing device" because of the way he suggests the rear wheel tracks every contour it encounters. It is touted as the one bike to rule them all. These claims remain to be flushed out but this one short ride left me curious and optimistic about the platform and eager to see how it performs on trails I'm more familiar with. I wouldn't hesitate to saddle up this machine to ride in virtually any terrain. There is something unique about the way the suspension performs that I'm eager to explore further.
The two Wolf Ridge models will be available in July. Check the Marin Bikes' web site for more.