2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM
RELEASE | EDITORIAL

Maxing Value - The 2019 Marin Alpine Trail 7

Words Andrew Major
Photos Roo Fowler
Date Jul 6, 2018

Min-Max-Marin

When you aren't one of the big five* bike brands it can be a battle to carve out a place on shop floors, online shopping carts, and indeed in the fickle hearts and minds of the fashion-forward mountain bike ridership. If you're Yeti that means a lightning focus on the 'Super Bike' category to the point that they put it in the names of all their bikes. If you're Knolly that means a persnickety** focus on premium tolerances that gets enginerds [sic] all hot and bothered. But what about California's Marin Bikes?

*or so, depending on your location on Earth
**I only use this word as a compliment

I admit that Marin had been off my radar from the time my friend bought a Quake hardtail in the 90's until I threw a leg over their 1500 USD Hawk Hill. The Hawk Hill is to date my most fun bike review experience, and it ignited a passion for well thought out bikes that maximize performance and value through smart parts spec and good geometry. 

My own bikes are eclectic and I certainly don't have low end builds: a custom Waltworks hardtail and a custom coil-shocked Marin Rift Zone (basically a 29'er Hawk Hill) that I use as a test mule. But off the top of my head, the bikes I'd love to test right now include the 880 USD Rocky Mountain Growler 20, the 1150 USD Trek Roscoe 7, the 2700 USD Kona Explosif, and now the 2750 USD Alpine Trail 7. That's thanks to my experience with the min-maxed Marin.  


2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

The Alpine Trail 29'er platform has 150mm rear travel and is designed around a 160mm fork. It comes in two price points: The AT-7 at 2750 USD and AT-8 at 3700 USD. 

As they did with the 1500 USD Hawk Hill, the folks at Marin have maximized every dollar going into the Alpine Trail 7. Key highlights: The 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper post* punches above its price in terms of performance and reliability. The Tektro (TRP) four-piston Orion brakes are only a pair of Shimano M810 sintered front brake pads away from being the top spec on any bike at this price point. I've had great results from the e13 TRS+ cassette, which Marin combines with Shimano SLX to get an Eagle gear-range from the best-value drivetrain on the market. I've also had awesome experiences with the RC versions of RockShox's Pike and Revelation forks so I think the Boosted Yari is a great spec choice in this price range.

*My review of the 125mm version is here but I've also ridden the 150mm.

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

Marin's new Series 4 aluminum frame uses a one-piece linkage, among other nice detail upgrades. More on the soon-to-be-universal Trunnion mount below. 

Marin Series 4 Frame

The Alpine Trail represents a higher level of aluminum manufacturing than the Series 3 frames I have extensive experience riding. The simple MultiTrac suspension layout continues but there are significantly more forged-and-CNC-machined frame elements, the tube set features much more manipulation, and the pivot points appear more refined. 

The most obvious reflection of the increased design and engineering over the Hawk Hill and Rift Zone / B17 frames is the one piece linkage and the lack of a seat stay bridge which allowed Marin to boost travel to 150mm, without losing stiffness or extending past a 430mm rear center. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

The (threaded) bottom bracket, shock mount, main pivot junction is very clean on the new bikes. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

Tubing manipulation to save weight, optimize stiffness. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

Clearance for a reservoir shock and water bottle inside the main triangle. 

Geometry is conservative as 160mm/150mm 29'ers go. A 65° head angle joins a 465mm Reach and the 430mm rear center for a 1229mm wheelbase on the size large. What would have been a good sized large just a couple years ago now has the Reach and Top Tube numbers of some companies' medium frames. 

That makes this a great time to remind prospective buyers, that frame sizing is more meaningless today than ever before. Test ride if you can, compare numbers to bikes you have ridden if you can't, and ask for advice if you aren't certain. 

Effective seat angle is measured with the saddle level with handlebar height so it is stack height dependent. The small, with a 90mm headtube, is listed as 76.41° and the effective angle decreases to 75.39° for the XL with a 120mm headtube. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

At *cough*almost*cough* 5'10" with T-Rex's ape-index, I'd prefer to ride a large (40mm stem, / 780mm bar) with its 465mm Reach.

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

I'd say there is probably a call for an XXL size with a 130mm headtube and 510mm+ Reach for the truly tall among us. 

Standards With Cips

I'm not a fan on 'Onion Mount' but as it turns out there are layers to this sh*t. While it certainly would have been possible to achieve all their design goals with a regular shock on the larger sizes, Matt Cipes - MTB Product Manager for Marin - is quick to mention how the Trunnion is crucial for hitting targets with the small Alpine Trail. This allows the small to achieve the desired suspension kinematics in a package with 710mm standover, while fitting a water bottle inside the main triangle. Fair enough. It looks like Trunnion is fast becoming the industry standard anyway, just be extra careful when installing them folks because stripping those blind threads in the shock eyelet assembly is an expensive screw-up. 

Suspension-wise, the Alpine Trail is designed to be used with a coil shock or linear air shock. I have an old, updated, Cane Creek CS Coil shock in my Rift Zone and I love it. I haven’t tried my bike with a higher volume, more linear, air shock like a Fox with an EVOL air can or the new X-Fusion 02 Pro RXC that comes with the Attack Trail 7. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

The Fox Racing Shox patent for their air can transfer port is up. That means better balanced and more tuneable positive and negative air pressure in all new X-Fusion rear shocks. 

Speaking of standards, I also asked Matt about two of the big talking points for 2019 mountain bikes: fork offset and Super Boost Plus rear spacing. 

On the Alpine Trail's 51mm offset:

"At the end of the day, we need to judge a bike on the complete geo package – all the numbers matter. While the shorter offset is trending right now at the end of the day the true benefit to the rider is yet to be defined in the eyes of Marin. Especially as it relates to the geo as a whole and how the bike rides. We have been testing with different offsets but the complete geo package and ride we wanted could be achieved using a 51mm offset."

On Super Boost Plus 157mm Spacing:

"At Marin we are going to take a calculated approach to new “standards” (or lack thereof). We want to make sure Marin is delivering the best product we can all while staying within the realm of component compatibility based on current market trends and acceptability as well as balancing performance increases. It seems currently the benefit of SB+ is lost on the end consumer. All comments on the 157 SB+ hub width are driven by people who are so stoked they can now run their old DH hubs, which have flange widths that hark back to 135mm days. It all has to be for the right reasons and with this bike we stuck with 148."

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

2750 USD Alpine Trail 7 colorway. 

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

3700 USD Alpine Trail 8 colorway. 

While I had Matt's attention anyways I also hit him up for a few comments about the Attack Trail 7 & 8 bike build kits.

On The Choice of Rear Shocks:

"We did take a lot of time to custom tune the Fox and XF shocks so the current ride quality is quite amazing. It will be exciting to do the same exercise with a coil shock. I am working with Fox now to get the best coil shock valving."

On the Tektro Orion brake on the AT-7 vs. the TRP Slate* on the AT-8 :

"The Orion is the top of the line Tektro 4 piston offering. It shares some similar characteristics to the TRP Slate but it is not the same brake. The Slate T-4 has a different lever assembly with reach adjust as well as a different caliper. Both brakes are compatible with Shimano pads and use mineral oil, which is great on the shop floor or when on a bike vacation across the world.

The Orion is the best 4 piston that we could find for this bike level [AT-7]. We made sure to test them heavily on our side. There is less power than the Slates but it is still a really great brake for the money and the modulation is really good."

*TRP is Tektro Racing Products. AJ recently tested the Slate T4 here

2019 Marin Alpine Trail AndrewM

The cheaper the bike the more engaged and creative a product manager has to be to maximize experience per dollar. 

Final Thoughts

There's really no cost to trickling down good geometry and suspension kinematics. If anything, in Marin's case, sharing the design and engineering with the lower end models that will sell more numbers helps spread out those costs. So why does it seem so many 'budget' bikes aren't up to date?

To boot, the Alpine Trail 7 delivers good suspension products, with an easily upgradeable fork for the rider who can't get the RC damper to work. SLX is the 2-stroke motor of drivetrains. It works great, it’s very easy to adjust, and it just goes. Combined with the e13 cassette, there's no shortage of gearing. Marin recommends running a 30t or 32t ring on the Attack Trail but the 30t/46t low combo on the AT-7 should work for most riders. The Tektro four-piston brakes are fully serviceable and can use Shimano pads, and the Formula hub and Marin-branded 29mm internal rims aren't light but have proven durable in my experience. 

Frankly, I think the creative effort to mix-match brands to maximize performance and deliver them on a great looking frame with good geometry on the AT-7 makes the effort behind bikes in a similar price bracket look lazy. The creative effort to mix-match brands to maximize performance and deliver them on a great looking frame with good geometry throws shade on many bikes in the AT-7's price range. 

If you agree, check out all the details on Marin's website here.

Comments

AJ_Barlas
+1 Andrew Major
AJ Barlas  - July 6, 2018, 7:45 a.m.

Looks and sounds awesome at agreat price! It’s so good to hear there are brands seeking to provide excellent value without the typical lower quality design we’ve grown accustom to seeing.

Reply

cooperquinn
+1 Andrew Major
Cooper Quinn  - July 6, 2018, 9:19 a.m.

I mean, just based on the numbers and no real world testing, it would be kinda hard not to recommend this bike to.... a lot of people who ask you as the "mountain biking friend" what they should get? Or just someone who is budget oriented - get a new bike, with current standards and geo instead of a used bike of unknown provenance, no warranty, and worn parts? 

This thing looks pretty slick, and even if you threw some upgrades at it, you'd be in for thousands less than a lot of equally capable rides.

Reply

AJ_Barlas
+2 Cooper Quinn Andrew Major
AJ Barlas  - July 6, 2018, 10:55 a.m.

Exactly! It would be hard to recommend something else in the situations you highlight, Cooper. Hopefully it tests as well as it looks on paper for the money.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 6, 2018, 11:47 a.m.

Not certain the best way to say this (as I mean it as a positive) as I’m also really pleased with the cheap tire spec.

I haven’t ridden the tires, and I’d give them an honest go, but let’s face it, with rare exceptions the tires at this price point - and on bikes much more expensive - are often brand-name sh*t, like Schwalbe Performance Tires, and even when they aren’t they’re usually tires that are okay-ish most places but not what anyone would actually buy for local riding.

A bike has to come with shoes, but going cheap - spending the spec $ elsewhere - and letting me choose the rubber I want is a great call at any price point.

I’d buy an AT-7, put on a e13 TRSr up front, Bontrager SE4 in the rear, Saint sintered pads up front, and a pair of good flat pedals and it’s play time. Future wheel upgrade pending $$$.

Reply

cooperquinn
0
Cooper Quinn  - July 6, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

I think there's a few key places product managers can save - tires and cockpit being two key ones. 

Tires are a wear item you're going to have to replace anyway, and at this price point, people who want somethinb better can do it, and those who don't know or don't need to are well suited. 

Same re: cockpit (bars/stem/saddle), really. All personal choices for nitpicky types (like us, really), so saving dollars on the complete purchase makes sense. You're less inclined to personalize it if its got like... some super-high-dollar saddle, even if it doesn't actually fit you properly 

I'd actually be pretty OK with a bike purchase not including tires, bars, stem, grips, seatpost, or saddle? Is that weird?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 tashi
Andrew Major  - July 6, 2018, 3:40 p.m.

I agree Cooper, I’d love to see Marin sell the Alpine Trail as a very affordable frame-only option.

Paint it late-80’s Marin and call it a special edition.

Reply

tashi
0
tashi  - July 7, 2018, 12:04 p.m.

I'm into this!  I can ride reasonably and have been doing so for years but am not interested in the price points where the best of the best has gotten to recently.  For me a frame that's up-to-date with rad parts on it rides well enough that I can save my money for more important things in my life.

I'd love to ride a '80's neon fade Marin or '90's grey with anno Marin...as long as they don't snap like they did in the '90's...

Reply

cooperquinn
0
Cooper Quinn  - July 6, 2018, 11:59 a.m.

I think there's a few key places product managers can save - tires and cockpit being two key ones. 

Tires are a wear item you're going to have to replace anyway, and at this price point, people who want somethinb better can do it, and those who don't know or don't need to are well suited. 

Same re: cockpit (bars/stem/saddle), really. All personal choices for nitpicky types (like us, really), so saving dollars on the complete purchase makes sense. You're less inclined to personalize it if its got like... some super-high-dollar saddle, even if it doesn't actually fit you properly 

I'd actually be pretty OK with a bike purchase not including tires, bars, stem, grips, seatpost, or saddle? Is that weird?

Reply

gdharries
+1 AJ Barlas
Geof Harries  - July 6, 2018, 12:43 p.m.

I think the Norco Sight A (aluminum) series is an equally good value. Add that one to your list too!

Reply

IslandLife
0
IslandLife  - July 9, 2018, 3:10 p.m.

Yes!  Bought one last winter on sale... smoking deal for a very, very capable bike.  Have been slowly upgrading some parts as I go.  So far I've Added a Wolftooth 49t cog (basically now have eagle range), Wolftooth dropper remote (for the best value and so far fault-less Trans X dropper), upgraded rotors and pads (needed upgrade) for what are actually great brakes, and grips.  I also upgraded my stem and bar more for vanity sake just to get rid of the perfectly ride-able Norco generic parts and to make the bike a bit more "mine".

I also installed the 160mm air shaft into the Yari.  I'm not got a 140mm/160mm budget beating uber-capable rock solid bike that I've started Enduro racing.

There are ways to play at this sport for a lot less money than you would think if you do enough research and look hard enough... funnily enough, these Marin bikes were tops on my list until I found my Norco for sale and couldn't pass it up.

Reply

luckyguy19
0
luckyguy19  - July 6, 2018, 3:32 p.m.

There's an aluminum Trek Slash 8 this year for $3500.  For about $220 you can upgrade the stock Yari RC for to a Lyric RTC3.  I'd go with the Trek route over the Alpine Trail 8 for the same money.

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AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 6, 2018, 3:37 p.m.

Once we’re talking about the AT-8 there are a few bikes out there that come to mind value wise although in theory their suspension isn’t as nice as the Fox kit on the AT-8.

I’m specifically talking about the value of the AT-7 in this piece.

I’d be happy with the RC cartridge, lots of other places I’d personally put that $220.

Reply

JVP
+1 Andrew Major
JVP  - July 8, 2018, 9:13 a.m.

Ahh, the RC cartridge.   I got one on my last full bike.  I went with a lower spec since I was swapping over my nicer parts anyway and I'd heard the Lyrik RC was great. 

The real story with the RC.  I'm expert rider, 195 lbs, aggressive, but not a top level racer by any stretch. The fork feels great on rough stuff up to mid-speed, and faster stuff that isn't too rough.  It worked great 95% of the time.  I hated it.

Generally the fork felt lightly-damped and plush, with little low speed compression.  You could turn the dial up for more damping and control, but then you're prone to harshness (spiking) when going hard on DH-type sections of trail.  This is the only situation it was unacceptable, but this is really the only situation when I need my fork to really be great.  I almost got blown off the bars a few times pushing my limits on faster, chunky trail (Predator, for you SEA folks) - even with the damper close to full open.

A fork with the RC cartridge would be great for most of the Shore, most Whistler valley trails (or anywhere not fast), and great for all intermediate and most advanced riders. Experts going fast on chunky trails drop the $$ for the RCT3 cartridge or a 36.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 8, 2018, 9:24 p.m.

My first thought was actually how many of those riders would be in the market for the AT-7. But really, if you put an Avalanche damper in the Yari, upgraded the rear shock to a more DH worthy (coil or air) shock, and threw some good tires on then why not?

Unfortunately being metric/trunnion it isn't as simple as buying a used RC4, having it gutted, and riding off with a big smile on your face.

There will be a wheel upgrade and possibly a crank upgrade in the future but the wheel (or at least rim) upgrade is coming on any bike ridden that hard in chunky terrain, and I know lots of folks with hugely expensive rigs who've had to 'upgrade' their carbon cranks in the same|same situation. 

So yeah, your point is very well taken - thanks!

Reply

rvoi
+1 Andrew Major
rvoi  - July 6, 2018, 5:39 p.m.

The San Quentin seems like another good value from Marin if you are looking on a tight budget. Is it up for review in the near future?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 7, 2018, 1:06 p.m.

The San Quentin is a really interesting looking bike with good geometry on paper. To my knowledge, NSMB doesn't have one coming for review.

Reply

Morox
+1 Andrew Major
Brian Moreaux  - July 6, 2018, 9:14 p.m.

This article (and bike) makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about a hobby that has been feeling more and more like an elitist club. Thank you Marin for making these beautiful bikes and thank you NSMB for recognizing the stars of our industry.

Reply

wishiwereriding
+1 Andrew Major
John Keiffer  - July 9, 2018, 6:26 a.m.

This bike looks great, but is more than I need. I'm hoping that their other 29er will be updated for 2019 as well (with a slightly higher spec).

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - July 9, 2018, 7:40 a.m.

I’ve been on the Rift Zone platform for months - it’s excellent on the trail with 120mm to 140mm forks up front. 

I thought the RZ-1 was well appointed for the price this year but certainly interested to see how the 1 & 2 are equipped this year.

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IslandLife
0
IslandLife  - July 9, 2018, 3:18 p.m.

My 7 year olds are getting into the groove with riding these days... seriously looking at Marin's kids FS offerings as they seem to offer the same great value as their adult bikes.

Would love to see you guys give some brief reviews regarding kids/youth bikes (large growing market).  Not sure who would ride them them though!   But would be great even to just to hear the writers thoughts on specific bike spec and geometry vs price etc...

Reply

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