Last week, we saw two more affordable and completely capable trail bikes reviewed by RC, and this week we have two hardtails that bring the dollar figure down even more while remaining highly capable right out of the box.
Both the San Quentin and the Fuse offer a lot for what they cost, and while they don't have rear suspension, they aren't going to stop riders from honing their skills, riding a wide range of terrain, and most importantly, having a good time out on the trails.
The San Quentin 3 features an aluminum frame and sells for $2,000 USD. The Specialized Fuse Comp is also aluminum-framed but with bigger 29" wheels, and goes for $1,675 USD. What separates these bikes besides the $325 difference in price and 27.5" and 29" wheel sizes? Let's break it down.
Marin San Quentin 3: $2,000
Marin's name and location are intrinsically linked to the birthplace of mountain biking, Marin County, California. While mountain biking nowadays conjures up images of pricey full-suspension bikes laying over the tailgate of a Toyota Tacoma, driven by bros with flat-bill hats en route to slay the local trails, its roots are far more humble. The San Quentin speaks to those roots, as Marin says that the bike was developed for "downhill trails, light dirt jump, and enduro."
While some will certainly balk at that description being paired to a bike with only front suspension, there's a lot to be said for the simplicity and reliability of a solid hardtail. With the San Quentin 3, Marin has built a bike that has the geometry, componentry, and durability to tackle a variety of trails and still leave the rider with a smile on their face.
San Quentin 3 Details Construction:
6061 Aluminum frame, internal cable routingWheel size:
(med.) Head angle: 65º, seat angle: 75º, reach: 444mm, BB height: 310mm, chainstay: 425mmSizes:
S, M, L, XLSuspension:
130mm RockShox Revelation RCKey Components:
Shimano 11-speed drivetrain, Shimano BR-MT400 brakes (180mm rotors), 150mm X-Fusion Manic dropper postContact: Marin Bikes
The San Quentin gets 27.5" wheels, 130mm of front suspension, and an aluminum frame that's designed to be durable and plenty stiff. It's a bike made for riding in technically challenging situations and to allow riders to learn, progress, and hone their skills without fear of mechanical failure.
Marin chose to give the San Quentin an aggressive 65º head tube angle, 425mm chainstays, a reach of 444mm, and a seat tube angle of 75º on the size medium we tested. While a 75º seat tube angle isn't exactly what we would call progressive on a full-suspension bike, it's important to remember that on a hardtail you're not sagging into the suspension, so it's right in line with where it should be.
What it Does Best
A RockShox Revelation fork is a big bonus to find on a bike at this price point. The Vee Flow Snap tires are robust and have a lot of tread for gnarly conditions.
The San Quentin has internal cable routing through its aluminum frame.
The San Quentin 3 feels stout from the start, and there's no question that it's up to the task of going a lot of places in the hands of a capable pilot. Its progressive geometry and 27.5" wheels, coupled with the aggressive 2.6" tires and a 130mm fork, helped provide the confidence necessary to steer the bike into rough terrain, knowing that it can make it through.
The smaller wheels help the bike feel nimble, and taking it from the trail to the dirt jumps or flow trail in the bike park is as simple as pedaling from one to the other. Even after a day's worth of laps on flowier trails in the Whistler bike park, the San Quentin felt as solid as could be. The tires do get a little bit skate-y on looser terrain, but overall the parts spec is well-suited to the bike's intentions.
Specialized Fuse Comp 29: $1,675
Specialized designed the Fuse Comp as a versatile and aggressive hardtail (seeing the theme here?). The bike, as tested, uses Specialized's aluminum M4 frame, can run either 29" or 27.5"+ wheels, and has chainstays that offer 15mm of adjustment, ranging from 420mm-435mm.
The Fuse comes in two different builds as well as a 'frame-only' option. Our more affordable Comp build sells for $1,675 USD and comes with a 130mm RockShox Recon RL fork, SRAM 12-speed drivetrain, SRAM Level brakes, and a 120mm TranzX dropper post.
Specialized Fuse Comp Details Construction:
M4 Aluminum frame, internal cable routingWheel size:
(medium) Head angle: 66.5º, seat angle: 74º, reach: 440mm, BB height: 315mm, chainstay: 420mm-435mmSizes:
XS, S, M, L, XLSuspension:
130mm RockShox Recon RLKey Components:
SRAM SX Eagle 12-Speed, SRAM Level brakes, TranzX 120mm dropper postContact: Specialized
29" wheels provide a little extra help in rolling over rough terrain, which is especially welcome on a hardtail. Specialized finishes out the build of the Fuse Comp with a mix of house-branded components, including their own tires, seat, and grips.
The geometry of the bike lends to versatility. A 66.5º head tube angle, 74º seat tube angle, and reach of 440mm is again right in line with what we would expect in a capable hardtail. Like the Marin, there are no toss-away parts on this bike, and everything about it is functional, capable, and durable.
A 12-speed Eagle drivetrain gives riders a ton of gearing to get up steep pitches of trail. The adjustable dropouts allow for the handling of the bike to be tuned to some extent, as well as leaving the option for easily setting it up as a single-speed.
Clean internal cable routing is a nice added touch to the Fuse.
Specialized opted for adjustable chainstays on the Fuse. This not only gives riders the option to fine-tune the geometry of the bike via how long the rear-end is, which directly correlates to nimbleness on the trail, it also allows riders to easily swap the bike into a single-speed setup without the need for an additional chain tensioning device.
The Butcher and Purgatory tires use Specialized's Grid casing, which is a more durable option than the often seen Control casing. Additionally, Specialized's Bridge saddle is an exceptional offering that will provide most riders with a comfortable ride with a design similar to their higher end Hinge saddle.
The RockShox Recon RL fork isn't top-tier but it is adjustable, rebuildable, and tunable. It's built on the Reba chassis and features a Solo Air damper that's tried and true.What it Does Best
Up, down, and all around. Like the San Quentin, I spent time on the trails in and around Whistler on the Fuse riding everything from flowy park trails to more technical singletrack. With a hardtail, most riders can ride most of trails they would on a full-suspension bike, but the pace is different. The 29" wheels of the Fuse, along with capable geometry and tires that performed well allowed me to ride highly technical trails without fear of mishap.
I'm happy to say that not only did the Fuse hold up well, but it also performed well and was a blast to ride on just about any trail we encountered. The 29" wheels of the Fuse along with better tires and more gearing gave it a bit of an edge over the Marin when it comes to all-around trail riding but, at the end of the day, both bikes were fully capable and dependable when it comes down to it.
Full suspension isn't a requirement to have a good time on the trails, as these two bikes prove. While it is important to invest in a quality bike if you're looking for durability and dependability, there are options out there that can tick those boxes without requiring a second mortgage or the sale of a kidney.
Along with being more affordable, hardtails can help even the best riders improve their skills and learn to ride with a lot more finesse. Plus, there's more to mountain biking than being the first rider to skid to a stop at the bottom of a trail.
If I were to choose one bike of these two for how I like to ride, it would be the Fuse Comp 29. The larger wheels carry a little more speed and make rolling over and through more technical sections of trail a little bit easier. The parts spec is also more what I would consider ideal, thanks to the increased range of gearing with the SRAM Eagle drivetrain and better performing tires. The Marin, however, would likely be a better choice for the rider looking to spend more time at the local dirt jumps while adding in a mix of trail riding.