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Radical New Suspension Ridden

Marin's 2018 Wolf Ridge

Words Cam McRae
Photos Dave Smith
Date Apr 20, 2017

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. 

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Kyle Warner warms up - as do the dudes in the sumo suits.


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."

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The 2018 Wolf Ridge wouldn't be described as easy on the eyes but it's much nicer in person than it is in photos. Highlights are 29" wheels, 160mm rear wheel travel, a 66.5 degree head angle a 'gliding four-bar' suspension platform and a full carbon frame. Most of us rode the Wolf Ridge Pro model.

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. 

spec

The Pro model retails for $8599 US and weighs just under 30lbs without pedals.

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.

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The details are very well executed - like this internal routing port.

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Every machined piece is nicely bevelled and the build exudes quality. That little red button is a release valve to bleed of built up air pressure generated by the telescoping structure.

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.

This is what's happening. Watch the telescoping member behind the bottom bracket once the video zooms in.

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. 


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The Wolf Ridge 9 retails for $6799. If this reminds you of Polygon's new bike you are onto something. Marin and Polygon share a parent company and Marins are made in Polygon's factory in Malaysia.

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.

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Nice details.

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The frame is not tuned to a specific ring size. Darrel tells us "you could use a 50 if you wanted to" which sounds crazy unless you are running Eagle which would produce a 1:1 low gear. 

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


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A closer look at the linkages and the extending member. The Wolf Ridge can be set up to perform differently by altering the sag. We rode the bike with 25% but more is also possible. 

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And from the drive side. The BB is a low 366 mm but because the bike sits quite talll in response to pedalling forces clearance didn't seem to be a big concern - and the bike cornered very well.

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.

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On lap two, after a few adjustments, the Wolf Ridge began to sing. 

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.

Geo

Geo Numbers

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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.

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Because of the horizontal surfaces and other areas that would collect mud and debris, the rear fender is mandatory. It is also standard equipment. Hopefully production models will use black fittings here - a small exception to an otherwise thoughtful presentation.

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,

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The Wolf Ridge soaked up sketchy landings like a trophy truck.

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Post ride eats at Taqueria Cabaña - a Santa Cruz highlight.

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The family that kicks together, sticks together.

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.

Comments

Captain-Snappy
+1
Merwinn  - April 20, 2017, 9:44 a.m.

Intriguing. I notice that the frame 'protrusion' in front of the BB has a noticeably chunky frame guard. Any hits to that area on the demo? 

Also any idea what the circular collar does that is just in front of the extending monostay?

Reply

craw
0
Cr4w  - April 20, 2017, 9:58 a.m.

Two days ago you said the Norco Range had unrefined looking cable ports. Today this bikes' ports look almost the same but they're "well-executed".

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+1
Cam McRae  - April 20, 2017, 7:32 p.m.

I can't defend my attention to detail standards because they are personal rather than right or wrong. Many are fussier than I am and I am fussier than others. In terms of the ports, I count four differences visible in the photos and a couple that you can't see. If you don't notice them that's entirely cool.

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cam@nsmb.com
+1
Cam McRae  - April 20, 2017, 7:49 p.m.

Actually I forgot one difference on the Norco side and one on the Marin side. So that's six.

Reply

xy9ine
0
Perry Schebel  - April 20, 2017, 10:19 a.m.

the norco port covers do look decidedly unrefined in the flesh. actually, comes across in the photos as well. 

freaky platform, this. i'm (almost) more intrigued than repulsed.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1
Andrew Major  - April 20, 2017, 10:39 a.m.

I feel the same way re. platform.

I'd like to see some close up of the "aluminum stanchion" out back and hear more about the telescoping. What is the stroke? How do shock settings (compression | rebound | sag) affect the telescoping action and vice versa. 

Presumably the stanchion glides on a bushing? Does it use grease or oil for lubrication? How is it sealed from the elements? What is the life expectancy and how much do replacements cost?

So. Many. Questions!

Always cool to see out of the box thinking though... especially if it mimics the best qualities of a high Pivot combined with excellent pedalling efficiency.

Reply

pedalhound
+4
pedalhound  - April 20, 2017, 10:32 a.m.

This bike has me very intrigued...but also very skeptical. I want it to be awesome....bike design needs a little kick in the pants...

Reply

xy9ine
+1
Perry Schebel  - April 20, 2017, 10:56 a.m.

a part of me misses the primordial days of janky suspension experimentalism.

Reply

FlipFantasia
0
Todd Hellinga  - April 20, 2017, 4:22 p.m.

why spend so much effort on "GAME CHANGING SUSPENSION!!" and then phone in the aesthetic design aspect? Sounds like the suspension is really promising, too bad they look terrible.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
0
Cam McRae  - April 20, 2017, 7:17 p.m.

TBF, as I stated, it looks much less offensive in person. When we first posted photos of Yetis with the Switch Infinity link many of our readers pronounced them ugly. But the bike in person always elicits positive responses. The angles we view bikes at in person are completely different. We rarely look at a bike from below - for example. There is no question the Yeti is much easier on the eyes, but the effect is similar. The Marin isn't that bad in person. I saw photos of the Polygon version before seeing this bike and I may have been a little sick in my mouth (and it's likely better in person as well). The industrial design on the Marin de-emphasizes some of the less appealing lines and shapes, but it's very similar. And in person it's not that bad. I think saying the aesthetic was phoned in isn't entirely fair. The design constraints of the sliding 4-bar are extensive. I'm not saying the bikes couldn't be more elegantly designed, and they will likely get better in the future if the design catches on, but there is only so much you can do with this gliding 4-bar design.

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2
Cam McRae  - April 20, 2017, 7:51 p.m.

Pick one:

1. An ugly bike that rides well.

2. A beautiful bike that rides poorly.

I'm not saying a bike can't do both, but not all bikes can do both. So which would you choose?

Reply

Kieran
0
Kieran  - April 21, 2017, 9:50 a.m.

Very interesting but I can see one smashing the hell out the bottom bracket area here on the shore.

Reply

zigak
+1
ZigaK  - April 21, 2017, 12:35 p.m.

If this design proves to be as groundbreaking (or hugging) as advertised, then should we also expect the same thing in the front? prst-1

Reply

jt
+1
JT  - April 21, 2017, 2:57 p.m.

Aye! I've been wondering why, with all the advancements in frame platforms are we still riding glorified tech from the 50's (and earlier) up front? I get that it works pretty freaking sweet these days, but it can always be better. Full disclosure: I owned a Lawwill Leader. Scary to turn, very composed on the straights. For its time of course. DW/VPP fork anyone?

Reply

fl3tch
+1
Fl3tch  - April 21, 2017, 9:52 p.m.

I can't help but notice how many wolves are on this bike.  Tires, rims, seat, bike name and there are 4 wolves on the emblem.  What is missing is a moon which, in my option, would have tied this bike together.  At minimum, they should given away free shirts...like these 3 wolves howling (don't forget to read the customer reviews).  Cheers.

Reply

Pizza-Diavola
0
Pizza-Diavola  - April 22, 2017, 8:29 a.m.

Thanks for that. Looks like I'm gonna spend the rest of the day reading George Takei reviews on Amazon.com.

Reply

brad-sedola
0
Brad Sedola  - April 22, 2017, 8:50 a.m.

Aluminum stanchion that extends as it goes into its travel. A structural part of the suspension design. Sort of reminds me of the old Maverick strut design, but it compresses as it goes into its travel. Ahead of its time I guess. Would have been interesting if Maverick stuck around to see what they would have done with all the wheel size changes over the last 6 years, let alone + and fat options.

Reply

tungsten
0
Drinky Crow  - April 24, 2017, 12:52 p.m.

lol.... 366mm would be the about the _highest  _b/b I've ever heard of. My Reign at 375mm is higher but that's because I put a 650b wheel on the front of a 26" bike, eh?

Reply

hbelly13
+1
Raymond Epstein  - April 25, 2017, 5:07 a.m.

As I've become more seasoned (older, more mature?) this quote resonates more so than ever: 

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex... It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. "-Schumacher 

I'm sure the R3act platform will ride well, however it does have an awful lot going on to get it there. Ditto for the Magic-Link and the newer Tantrum. On the contrary, the DELTA system has a superb ride and uses a simple single pivot with unique and also simple linkage to drive the shock. Weagle is a brilliant designer and has come up with many highly regarded suspension platforms, but his most simple one IMHO is his best.

Reply

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