Field Trip: Marin's $2,849 Rift Zone Is An XC Bike at Heart

May 6, 2021
by Sarah Moore  



An XC bike at heart.

Words by Sarah Moore, Photography by Tom Richards

We're halfway through the full-suspension reviews in our Field Trip value bike series and up next is the Marin Rift Zone 29 3, an aluminum 29er with 125mm of rear travel and a 130mm fork that retails for $2,849 USD. The Californian brand says that it’s an ideal bike for "pushing the limits up and down the trail and chasing personal records."

The 125mm of travel is controlled by Marin’s MultiTrac suspension, a linkage-driven single-pivot layout. As for the frame, it has internal cable routing in the front triangle, Boost spacing, a threaded bottom bracket with ISCG 05 tabs, and room for a water bottle on all sizes. There’s no frame protection on the downtube and minimal protection on the chainstay.
Marin Rift Zone 29

Travel: 125mm (rear) / 130mm (fork)
Wheel size: 29"
Frame construction: aluminum
Head angle: 65.5 degrees
Chainstay length: 425mm
Reach: 455mm (medium)
Sizes: S-XL
Weight: 33.3 lbs / 15.1 kg
Price: $2,849 USD
More info:

With a 65.5° headtube angle, and a 76° effective seat-tube angle, the Rift Zone’s geometry is in line with the other full suspension trail bikes we have on test. On the size medium, there’s a 455mm reach and a 1186mm wheelbase, with short 425mm chainstays across the board.

The Rift Zone is available in a 27.5" version as well as carbon versions, with prices ranging from $1,769 USD for the Rift Zone 29 1 to $4,299 USD for the Rift Zone Carbon 29 2. The test bike we rode on the Sunshine Coast is the Marin Rift Zone 29 3, and it retails for $2,849 USD. It comes with a 130mm Marzocchi Z2, a Fox Float shock shock, a Shimano SLX drivetrain, and Shimano Deore 4-piston brakes. There’s no familiar Maxxis or Schwalbe mounted to the wheels, with the Rift Zone sporting Vee Tire Co tires front and rear.

Marin Rift Zone. Field Trip 2021. Photo by Tom Richards
Marin Rift Zone. Field Trip 2021. Photo by Tom Richards


The Marin Rift Zone has a firm pedalling platform, which means that there's very little movement in the rear end and it feels extremely efficient on fire road climbs. There is a lock out on the Fox Float rear shock, but it's not a bike where you’re going to be reaching down to use that pedal assist very often.

While that efficiency is great on long fire road climbs and smooth, winding singletrack, it does make it harder to stay seated on technical climbs than when you're pedalling on a bike with very active suspension like the Giant Trance X or the Polygon Siskiu T8. It sometimes feels like the Rift Zone prioritizes efficiency over all out traction to a fault. You're more likely to have to get up out of the saddle and help that rear wheel up over obstacles on the Rift Zone. That being said, if you're the type of rider that prefers to push a harder gear and stand up for technical sections, the Rift Zone will reward you.

Marin Rift Zone. Field Trip 2021. Photo by Tom Richards

Marin Rift Zone. Field Trip 2021. Photo by Tom Richards
Marin Rift Zone. Field Trip 2021. Photo by Tom Richards


On the descents, the Marin Rift Zone feels much more nervous and less composed at speed than the other full-suspension bikes we were riding on the Sunshine Coast. It has the shortest wheelbase and the shortest chainstays on test, and that is likely a contributing factor to this feeling when things get rough and fast on the descents.

In the Rift Zone's description on the Marin website, it says that it is "more aggressive than an XC race bike for more control at top speed, and more fun while chasing seconds" and that is an accurate description. Despite having just 5mm or 10mm less travel than the other full suspension bikes, it feels like its roots are in XC and it's not a mini enduro sled. It's not comparable to the Polygon Siskiu T8 or Devinci Marshall on the descents.

The flip side is that the Rift Zone feels much more capable than a traditional XC bike, and it's really fun when you get into rolling terrain and have a series of short climbs followed by short descents. On that kind of terrain, where you can really pump into the downhill and accelerate up the next climb, it feels quick and poppy. It might not be the bike for rough terrain, but if you don't have rough terrain, you're going to be riding a whole lot faster on the Rift Zone than on a more active bike that prioritizes absorbing all of the chatter in the trail over quickness.

Marin Rift Zone 3. Photo Tom Richards


+ Very efficient pedalling bike
+ Great spec


- Nervous descender
- Noisy

The 2021 Pinkbike Field Test was made possible with support from Toyota.

Video: Jason Lucas, Max Barron
Editing: Max Barron


  • 86 5
 Sounds like a good mountain bike for when you don't have mountains. Like most of the country.
  • 62 0
 One man's nervous is another man's playful. I own this bike. On the trails I ride (anything near Portland, OR) bigger bikes just are not as much fun to me. To each their own though.
  • 17 0
 Another pinkbike review on the same bike.
  • 31 0
 @aelazenby: lol. And other people are commenting how vital mtb gives different opinions than PB. PB can’t even agree with itself.
  • 11 0
 @aelazenby: agreed. I spent 2 seasons on the Carbon version and absolutely loved the combo of slack, efficient and playful.
  • 2 0
 @aelazenby: the 31.4lb version
  • 12 0
 I’m sure it is, but I have the previous iteration and I take it out on long distance, big elevation rides and I love it. It’s an awesome peddler but it really is a very predictable, confident, and fast descender— especially on fast flowy/ traversing terrain. Surprised in this review it’s being compared to the polygon and the giant when it’s really much closer to the Ripley. You can’t really find a downcountry/ short travel aggressive trail bike for a better value than this.
  • 2 1
 Or if the up is just as important as the down.
  • 6 0
 @jdendy: Reviewer in UK vs. reviewer in Canada. Maybe what constitutes a not gnarly trail varies by region?
  • 1 0
 @aelazenby: You didn’t hear? Standards have changed sooooo much in the last year with covid
  • 1 0
 @aelazenby: Yep, I thought about this PB review as well) I wish they had done timed testing for these field trip.
  • 1 0
 @jdendy: this is exactly why you must consider the reviewer. So much is just opinion. For example.."your bike sucks." That's just my opinion.
  • 3 0
 @jdendy: This is not a PB review it is a Sarah Moore review, a Levy review may be totally different
  • 2 0
 Having never ridden the bike it's hard to give an opion, but on paper it certainly checks all of the boxes for a reasonable price. I'm surprised no one called out the rear hub and cassette being the old Shimano HG and therefore not upgradeable to any of the new Shimano 12-speed stuff. Seems like an odd decision as a KMC cassette costs the same or more than the Deore.
  • 43 0
 Interesting to see how Pinbike and Vital review products. On the one hand, they almost always do the same kind of testing. Vital has just released a "field trip" of their own. Whenever I see a bike review on PB, 2hours later it is on Vital's Youtube channel. And so on.

On the other hand, their thoughts are quite different. Vital reviewed Rift Zone Carbon last year and they said it was one the best bikes with a very planted feel (the only con was that it wasnt poppy or something). PB rated Norco Optic as bike of the year, Vital said it wasnt good enough.

I am not saying the methodologies are right or wrong, but we cant blindly trust what the reviewers are saying. Ideally, we should all test bikes before buying. Unfortunately, thats not the reality... Ranch over.
  • 77 0
 I think most bikes are so comically close in performance nowadays reviews are more just subjective content that's fun to read at work when you can't ride your bike.
  • 7 0
 Different reviewers/sites definitely favor different things and ride in different terrain. Optic (just as an example) is probably better in BC than a lot of places just due to the way the trails tend to go. A lot more big slogs up and big descents than elsewhere, which would favor a heavy, rowdy bike like that.

The Beta MTB folks freakin love Evils and tend to not like less poppy, longer cs, smashy kinda bikes quite so much.

All in all though probably good for us as a whole. Getting a bunch of different opinions overall really helps when a bike or component comes along that EVERYone is hot on. The Transition Spur comes to mind as one of those where pretty much every reviewer sang its praises
  • 8 6
 Maybe advertising spend had some say?
  • 3 0
 I really enjoy the different opinions from different publications. Keep in mind that terrain plays a huge factor in bike choice. I believe the Vital guys performed their test outside of Boise. So if you live in high desert climates, perhaps their opinions could be more meaningful.
  • 5 0
 Yeah agreed. My friend has this bike (in a carbon model but basically same specs) and I totally agree with Vital. It feels more damped and it is way more planted. I have a rocky mountain instinct and the suspension is way more active and "playful". Obsviously there's a difference of travel between the two bikes, but I would not agree with what pinkbike is saying. That being said, his bike is 2020 and they are maxxis minion tires instead of the vee's from this year, so maybe there is a bigger difference in the specs causing the change in what they feel?
  • 4 0
 Yep I'm pretty much over reviews. Most bikes are decent these days. Same thing with component reviews. One person will say it's the best ever and the next will say it's total trash. Too many preconceived notions. The only way would be to somehow blackout the bikes so reviewers didn't actually know what they were on at all. That said, I'll still read them all haha!
  • 24 0
 65.5° head angle with 130mm up front & 125mm in the rear is a nervous descender? LoL Is this like a new defacto complaint for reviews? This must be a joke. Geometry & travel like that would be more than enough for at least 75% of MTBers.
  • 22 2
 Sooo, it's the kind of bike a very large percentage of riders(to include me) would be just fine with for the type of riding they do.
  • 13 8
 Well, at 15 kg you could just get an enduro bike, that would spare you the ‚nervous‘ descending
  • 6 2
 I totally agree, but I'm learning that other Pinkbike users prefer the confident descending feel over the snappy feel.
  • 22 1
 @TrekXCFactoryRacing: One man's nervous feel is another fun!
  • 11 2
 @Stokedonthis: I think you are missing the point. While some of us (me included) are lucky to have gnarly trails around many others don't or are not interested by riding the gnarliest trails. For those, pedaling efficiency and snappy bikes is often something they enjoy, XC being too specific, Enduro being too "big", cumbersome and slow handling. The weight of a bike doesn't even tell half of the story so judging that bike because of it's weight is irrelevant. I would add that 15kg is probably too light for a proper enduro and at that price point you definitely wouldn't find a 15kg Enduro equiped to actually ride enduro.
  • 3 5
 @Balgaroth: Apparently Norco greased the PB well to get good review.

I mean, every bike magazine/website has some favorites and if you check reviews it turns out that.... *Gasp* all bikes are pretty good which is probably the case and differences between them are minor.
  • 3 0
 @Adamrideshisbike: I like something that keeps me on my toes.
  • 13 0
 Would love to see a bike between the rift zone and the alpine trail. The rift zone is missing juste a little bit of travel for proper AM riding in my taste, but I feel like the alpine trail is too extreme and too long for my use.
  • 2 0
 I am riding the 2017 Marin Rift Zone Pro, 27.5 with 140mm travel. It's a wicked trail bike!
  • 2 0
 @jurassicrider I am riding the 2017 Marin Rift Zone Pro, 27.5 with 140mm travel. It's a wicked trail bike!
  • 1 0
 Haven’t ridden the rift zone but the alpine trail seems to be smack dab in the middle of the all mountain category. Not too sketch for the bike park and still playful enough to where it doesn’t turn an xc ride into a road ride, but that’s for the 2019 version. 2020 version went 1.5* slacker and a little longer
  • 10 0
 I have the Carbon RZ, and it's awesome. I ride on the east coast, rough and rocky for sure, hit some of the bike parks. As someone coming from a bmx background I love the short stays and it's flickable nature. It's certainly got me out of more trouble than in it that's for sure. I don't have the ability to ride a full enduro sled to it's max, but I would say that keeping up with friends on bigger bikes and watching how they ride and then learning how to take my 130mm bike through those same trails, even if a little slower, has been an awesome learning curve. This is not an xc bike, it's a damn good trail bike that you can really push hard on.

Of course there are places where it's outgunned.. but it's also kind of neat when someone says 'you just rode down that.. on that?' Wink
  • 11 3
 I own this bike. It rips up and down the trail. I’d say it’s great value for 90% of riders, most aren’t good enough to need more suspension than this, especially when considering that a 29 inch wheel adds effectively an inch of travel. Have never felt “nervous”.. maybe the reviewers need more time on short travel or hard tail bikes to improve their skills?
  • 3 0
 Little ironic how yesterday the complaint was the giant feeling overly damped and people were saying maybe they'd spent too much time on hardtails haha.
  • 7 0
 I feel like this bike wasn't reviewed for what it is-- an affordable downcountry bike (surprised mike didn't catch on to that). I don't think it was necessarily designed to compete with the plush polygon/giant, and while it can work in "middle America" I think its intent was long days on the mountain and fast trails. I own one and after a little bit of suspension tweaking and a tire swap its incredibly fast on everything but super rough/ chattery descents, and fun even on longer, 30-40 mile type rides. IMO its rare to find a bike in this price point that can actually accomplish both those things, while a plush, heavy bruiser like the Giant is fairly common.
  • 1 0
 What tires are you liking on it
  • 1 0
 @Noah353: I actually threw Bonty XR4 and XR5s on it-- shed about a pound over the stock rubber and have a good grip/rolling mix.
  • 8 0
 I remember looking at this bike. had SLX components but a cheap sun race cassette with a HG hub. This means I have to replace the driver (if possible) in order to use a proper Shimano cassette - fail
  • 4 0
 HA! I was wondering where that goofy looking cassette came from. Good job on missing that, reviewers.
  • 3 0
 this was an issue on mine. The cassette moved around on the hub vertically terribly, I either had the small cog or top cog, but not both when tuned up. Tried a couple of different sunrace cassettes but it wasn't the issue, the tolerances were way out on the hub body. Ended up putting some DT Swiss 240's on and a shimano SLX cassette and it's been amazing ever since.
  • 1 0
 @HoppyUSA: I can't stand cheap hubs. Even my beater bike gets a DT350. Just not worth the headache of messing with cheap CRAP.
  • 5 0
 It seems like a few years back we were looking for trail bikes that didn't bob so much, now when bikes have less pedal bob it becomes a con on challenging sections. I assume that the more active bikes are still fairly efficient, but I wonder how fitness plays a part in these tests. I only push 2watts/kg so I spend longer on the ups than Mike and Sarah. It makes sense that I'll value pedalling efficiency more than they would. Going to try a Troy deore this year, so maybe a better platform will open my eyes, but so far I've been pretty happy with the efficient horst link on my GT.
  • 5 0
 Yeah, 65.5 degree head angle, 130mm travel and 15kgs. Hard to imagine that being a nervous descender on most trails. My mate has one and it feels like a monster truck compared to my XC bike, so I dont know how it is an "XC bike at heart".
  • 1 0
 Probably nervous because of the short chainstays.
  • 5 0
 My son and I have the 27.5 version. The stock Vee were terrible. We put 2.5DHF front and 2.4 DHR rear with new wheelset. He has Hunt Wheels and I run custom Chromag/Hope Pro 4 combo. Huge difference and we go on some gnarly trails with them. My biggest gripe is that they still use a Sunrace boat anchor. In order to replace it, you need a new cassette which requires new wheels to do it correct. The SLX cassette is so much better. Still we love the bikes and will use them for at least a few more seasons.
  • 1 0
 I also have the 27.5 version from 2020, the "Hawk Hill" with your tire combo (2.5DHF front and 2.4 DHR rear) and can confirm, it does rip.

Replaced the fork first, but I have the Hunt wheels on my wishlist next along with a drive train upgrade. Glad the frame supports the 148x12 boost standard, even though it came with a perfectly serviceable, but crappy drivetrain. I've done 25 mile 3000' days on this bike and can mostly keep up with my pals both up and down.
  • 5 0
 I'm a very happy owner of the previous version: cheap, great geometry, 31lbs. in my large custom build: Large RZ 2 frame, SR Suntoir Aion, Box 2 drivetrain, custom economy Hope/Sun Ringlé and SLX/XM421 wheelset.
  • 5 0
 Interesting that Mike Levy - who usually rides a large with the saddle forward - is riding mediums and describing them as nervous descenders. I assume it's so the bikes fit Sarah?
  • 7 2
 This bike is a real nice platform but the 1700 dollar model is a load of crap, the suspension would leave you off better with a 1700 dollar hard tail.
  • 5 0
 Lots of Marin hater I see. Why? They seem like a perfectly good brand to me, although they don't have many expensive dentist bikes.
  • 2 0 clearly don't know how popular PB is among dentists

  • 5 2
 I just got the rift zone 27,5 1 and I must say that I love the thing. Must say having nothing but a beaten up hardtail to compare it to, makes that a pretty easy task for the Marin.
  • 2 0
 Interesting to see so many bikes tested that come out of the box w/o any (or minimal) chain stay and/or down tube protection from the factory. Seems like a low cost addition that would have a high payoff value...especially if it helps frame warranties. Any reason for this?
  • 2 0
 I don't see why downtube protection is necessary on alloy bikes. Maybe a bit of 3m tape but I've never heard of a cracked downtube.
  • 5 1
 I can't believe how much better that Shimano derailleur does on the huck to flat.
  • 2 1
 "[I'm absolutely not shocked] how much better that Shimano derailleur does on the huck to flat." fixed that for you Smile
  • 1 0
 Wait what?? That looked terrible though. The chain literally slapped the ground. Do you think that looked better than the sram drive train? Neither of them looked like they even had a clutch lmao!
  • 3 0
 Perfect bike for most of the Midwest. Not my jam but if your local trails are twisty and winding but not chunky and full or drops and gaps this is a solid spec.
  • 2 0
 midwest here....absolutely agree. Looks snappy and fun on a nice flow trail.
  • 3 0
 I have this bike - I like this bike. I am not a professional and you probably aren't either. You would probably like this bike at this price.
  • 5 0
 Love these Dental Hygienist bike reviews. Keep 'em coming!
  • 1 0
 Good bikes but im so tired of receiving Marins with over dampened suspension. I wish they would step the damping back to a mid or light setup on both compression and rebound. Give the bikes a chance at absorbing fast succession hits.
  • 1 0
 I'm wondering how much of the "XC feel" of this bike vs. the "active suspension" of the Polygon comes down to the tuning of the shock and fork.
  • 1 0
 I own a RZ carbon 2 and this bike is a blast. I don't usually comment on PB, but their description as a "nervous" descender is totally misguided in my opinion. Sure it's not going to descend like a DH or enduro bike, but I swill ride the exact same trails. Have yet to reach a trail I don't feel comfortable riding on it.
  • 1 0
 I second this comment. I've got the same bike and this bike isn't nervous or twitchy at all. I felt like they were reviewing a totally different bike when I read this review. I'm starting to think something wasn't setup correctly with the suspension and/or defective.
  • 4 0
 4.9 kg missing I would say.
  • 1 0
 This bike seems to receive such different reviews depending on who writes them. "jibby", "basic", "playful", "bargin", "aggressive", "cross country"... it's like a Rorschach test.
  • 3 0
 Yeah but can you fufanu a tree stump on it?
  • 3 0
 Loving these value bike reviews, keep up the good work! Smile
  • 2 0
 I have the smaller wheeled version and just so people know, the smaller one doesn't have the same geo. Still love it though
  • 1 0
 fun facts: this bike use exactly the same chainstay unit as polygon siskiu d7. well,they both came out from the same factory after all..
  • 2 0
 Anyone know what type of hubs it has? Not really worth it if you can't get a microspline freehub.
  • 5 4
 How would this platform do with a rear coil set up? It sounds like that would unlock some of its down capability.
  • 8 0
 Matt Jones has a coil version with Ohlins front and rear, google his youtube channel and watch him ride some of the UK bike parks on it... kind of ends the 'xc bikes' comments pretty quick Smile
  • 1 0
 @HoppyUSA: pretty sure he rides the Alpine...
  • 2 0
 @mtbtrekracer: Actually Matt has both RZ and AT
  • 1 0
 @Beskyd: correct.. I'm guessing none of us, or few of us, do what he does on his RZ so I think we're all pretty safe Smile
  • 1 0
 Marin - Rift Zone 3 2020 Bike - REAL WEIGHT FOR SIZE XL
  • 1 0
 Looks like an XC bike on the outside as well.
  • 1 0
 So it's a down-country bike? @mikelevy you've created a monster.
  • 1 0
 So many comments about noisy bikes in review notes.
  • 1 0
 are we not going to talk about the crack in the weld in the seat post???
  • 1 0
 dude theyre killing it lately. great bike for the money all around.
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