Now here’s an interesting bike, a big travel 29er with a twist...
The Marin Wolf Ridge looks different and is different, as it adopts a big sliding tube as a way of controlling the virtual pivot point, known as the Naild R3ACT 2-Play. The system uses a link-driven shock, combined with the sliding tube (which looks a bit like a secondary shock but isn’t) to promise what we have all heard so many times: ‘pedal like an XC bike and ride like a DH bike’. Let’s see if that was the case.
The Marin has a full carbon frame with a mono-stay swing arm, and there is even have a tidy looking mudguard at the back. The large carbon framing around the secondary shock gives the Marin a unique look. I think it’s one of the better-looking and more distinctive bikes around. My mates, however, think it’s less ‘unique’ and more ‘ugly’, although it’s hard to take advice from them as they ride bikes that looks like traffic cones. I’ll leave it to the readers to make up their minds about the looks, but let’s get back on track because after all it comes down to performance.
Frame and parts
The frame was well complemented with very good parts, starting with the 160mm Lyric RCT3 fork. The wide 29mm Stans Flow MK3 wheel set provided good contact with the ground, a good choice for a 160mm travel bike, especially when DH casing tyres were added. SRAM Guide RS brakes are hard to fault and the XO1 Eagle gears are fantastic. The KS dropper is as good as any on the market, with a user-friendly lever. The Deity stem-bar combo is certainly more bling than an in-house brand combo. The one thing that stood out as being a bit basic was the rear shock – a Rock Shox Monarch R.
Now to the geometry and numbers: the frame is a large, which is my usual size preference (I’m 178cm). At 462, the reach is generous but also part of the new-normal of long bikes and is paired with a short 35mm stem, while the bottom bracket is on the low end for such a long travel bike, coming in at 336mm. The virtual seat angle is 73.5, but because the actual seat angle is 65.5, the seat ends up being a long way behind the bottom bracket once it’s at pedalling height. Although one’s seated position comes down to personal preference, I have always set my bikes up to have my hips reasonably far forward to push down on my pedals. When adding a layback seatpost to the slack seat angle, I found it wasn't comfortable for my pedaling style. To solve this, I spun the dropper post around, making it a ‘layforward’ post, and it produced a comfortable seating position for me. Lastly, the head angle is not breaking any records but neither is it behind the times at 66.5°. Unfortunately, with the suspension design there is no room for any bottle cage mounts; luckily, Marin claim it pedals like an XC bike so you shouldn’t be thirsty…
Getting up to the trails on the Marin is very impressive; 160mm of 29er travel would usually make for a slog up the climbs, but not aboard the Marin. Because of the Naild design it behaves exactly like the marketing blurb says. On gravel roads it stays bob free and it’s noticeable that more of what your legs are doing is being directly fed into propelling you up the hill. On the technical climbs the suspension will track well over bumps and the front wheel stays well planted. This is helped by the better than expected grip from the relatively narrow WTB tyre. The pedals can kick back when putting power down at the same time as the rear suspension is entering its travel, which can ruin your flow, something that takes some getting used to. But up climbs that aren’t littered with roots and rough stuff, the Wolf Ridge is hands down the best pedalling bike I’ve ridden in its class; it looks like an E-Bike and almost pedals like one too.
Now what’s going to happen on the way down? Being a 29er there is already an advantage over chattery braking bumps and roots. It comes with a RockShox Monarch R Debonair shock, which as I mentioned is a bit less impressive then some of the other gear specced on the bike. However, with the suspension design the shock is custom tuned so the damping is very open and that makes the sensitivity amazing. This produces more grip and allows for better braking control and more confidence; the stock 200mm front rotor is a great help.
It took some playing with the shock to get it feeling right, or perhaps that’s an excuse for it taking me a while to get used to it. When setting the bike up, the main tweaking was around getting the shock to ramp up without feeling like I was fighting the travel. When it was too soft it would compress too far into its travel, making it collapse into corners and at times when I really wanted to pump the bike. Once the shock was dialled it performed very well over jumps, bumps, holes and if I’m being honest a massively cased jump or two…
So far it appears Marin have nailed (no pun intended) a bike that really ‘pedals like an XC bike and descends like a DH bike’. Yeah? Well, yes and no. It does pedal and descend well but being a first generation of this design there are bound to be a few teething issues. There is some frame flex - it looks like a combination of the sliding tube and the single-stayed swingarm leads to some side to side flex. When cornering aggressively or slamming into angled roots or rocks it can be a factor. Although the tyres had better than expected grip, their sidewalls aren’t as supportive as a thicker sidewalled tyre, so changing these did help the bikes overall supportiveness. It’s worth noting that the frame build quality is good and during my testing of the bike I encountered no creeks or issues.
Overall, the Wolf Ridge is a truly versatile bike and the suspension design could be a real winner, but here’s one snag – at this stage the Naild suspension bikes from Marin aren’t going to be available in New Zealand this year. But, this could change in coming years… and if so, I eagerly await the future models as they could well be top contenders in the long travel 29er club.
Words & Images: Ryan Lewis & Cameron Mackenzie
Originally printed in Issue 88 of New Zealand Mountain Biker