Marin Bicycles is one of the few brands that carries a weight of heritage in its name. Marin County, after all, is arguably the place modern mountain biking was born. Fast forwarding four decades and change brings us right here to this bike: the 2017 Hawk Hill. The Hawk Hill model has been hanging around the Marin Bicycles stable for years, but for 2017 the bike comes in a different guise. This latest machine is a full-suspension, trail bike on a budget. Marin, however, promises that its price doesn't undercut the Hawk Hill's performance.
The Hawk Hill lives up to most modern standards, features a solid build kit (including an easily-adjustable air suspension) and offers the potential for upgrades... all for a measly $1,499 USD from your local dealer.
Details: • Intended use: Trail, budget shredding • Travel: 120mm front and rear • Series 3, 6061 butted and hydroformed aluminum frame • MultiTrac suspension • Wheel size: 27.5'' • XS - XL sizing • 135mm Open Dropout (upgradeable to 142x12mm Thru-Axle) • Weight: 31.11lbs / 14.37kgs, (XL with tubes) • MSRP: $1,499 USD / £1200 GBP • www.marinbikes.com / @MarinBikes
The Hawk Hill is constructed from Series 3 6061, butted and hydroformed aluminum tubes. The bike also features a tapered headtube, 73mm, threaded bottom bracket and 30.9mm seat tube. Rear dropouts begin life with inserts to create 135mm quick-release spacing to match the supplied wheel. These inserts, however, can be removed to upgrade to a 142mm x 12mm bolt-thru hub.
The rear brake is routed externally and the rear derailleur routing is internal. Though the bike doesn't come with a dropper post, there's provision here to run one. And, yes, there are water-bottle cage mounts...blessedly located on top of the down tube.
Marin offers exactly one version of the Hawk Hill, which probably helped them keep the price under control. Many of the parts are in-house branded affairs, but they are also more contemporary than many 'cheap' offerings that get lumbered with junk from a previous generation of bikes.
At the top, Marin's dual-compound grips push onto a wide, 780mm handlebar with a 31.8mm clamping stem in 60mm length – a good start.
The wheelset is comprised of a rim with a 27mm internal width, combined with sealed-bearing hubs. Front spacing is 100mm x 15mm bolt-thru and the rear is 135mm quick release. Chunky Hans Dampf tires from Schwalbe are specced in a 2.35" size. The raw wheelset weighs in at 2,050g, so if you are a weight weenie, this could be your first port of call to speed up acceleration.
The crankset is another burly Marin component, equipped with a single, steel, narrow/wide ring – currently one of the most popular upgrades in mountain biking already fitted to this budget machine – good work.
10-speed drivetrain duties are shifted by a Shimano Deore Shadow Plus derailleur that slides the chain up and down a wide-range, 11-42t Sunrace cassette. Braking duties are also handled by Shimano Deore brakes, biting against 180/160mm Centre Lock rotors.
Geometry and Sizing
The Hawk Hill is offered in five sizes, from XS through XL. Geometry is on the trail bike side of the agenda, which compliments the 120mm of travel. A size Medium bike sports 67.5º head tube angle, 69º seat angle, 430mm chainstay and 437mm reach.
A single-pivot chainstay connects above the rear-wheel axle to drive the seat stay and short rocker link to the shock. Marin has coined the system 'MultiTrac', which they say provides similar characteristics to the 'IsoTrac' system found on the company's higher tier Rift Zone and Mount Vision bikes.
It's great to see the use of air-sprung suspension on a low-end bike; hopefully, this means that consumers will leave the shop with a great start on their suspension setup, rather than leaving that shop with a coil spring in their fork that is either over or undersprung for their weight and which will likely stick with them for the duration of ownership.
Preparing the bike for its first ride was a cinch and simply required setting the air pressure setting and adding a few clicks of suspension damping. X-Fusion recommends starting with 80 percent of your weight in pounds, RockShox's air pressure guide is located on the back of the fork leg. I found I had to drop from the advised 132 psi in the rear shock down to 115 psi, and add an extra 10 psi in the fork (up to 100 psi) to get the sag and balance I preferred.
Dialing the rebound into the X-Fusion shock is simple, as it features a wide range of adjustment over its ten clicks. The clicks aren't very pronounced, but after finding a base you are happy with, you should never need to move more than one click either way. The same is true for the fork, which has five clicks of rebound over a wide range, and five clicks of low-speed compression, which takes it from open to near lockout. That said, both of these adjusters stayed wide open for all of my riding.
On The Trail
It's hard to judge a $1,500 bike against carbon superbikes costing four to five times as much...the kind of bikes we test riders are often fortunate enough to test. The Hawk Hill is fairly efficient considering the weight and does a good job of munching up the miles. I found that my tall seat height, combined with the slack seat angle and short chainstays, added up to a compromised, seated-climbing position and front wheel wander when compared to some modern, forward-geometry bikes I am used to. Sliding the seat to the front of the rails helped, but for the L/XL sizes, I feel this could be sharpened up with a steeper seat angle.
The weight isn't a hindrance if you put it out of your mind and get on with the job. I spend most of my time riding long travel bikes over the 30-pound mark, so that wasn't an issue; just don't expect this thing to race out of the blocks like some kind of sub 20-pound XC whippet.
The first thing that had to go was the 60mm stem. I'm a sub-50mm stem kind of guy, on any bike, and don't like heading into corners or steeper drops and chutes with my hands so far over the front axle. I swapped to a 45mm stem, and rolled the handlebars back which helped with balance and moved my hands further behind the front axle, a change that allowed me to weight the front wheel more in turns and when braking with less of an over-the-bars sensation.
The suspension has an easy-to-find balance, front to rear. The fork is supple, reactive and holds itself well in the mid stroke. The rear suspension has more stiction and less sensitivity. Coming, as I do, from riding longer-travel bikes, I had to remind myself to dial in my expectations a bit--this is a shorter-travel, 120-millimeter travel bike with an inclination towards trail riding and it rides like one. The Hawk Hill, however, seems to get on with everything in hand. It has no standout features--good or bad--when it comes to its handling. It's a very neutral bike.
Marin has brought the Hawk Hill up to a fairly modern standard with the wide bar, one-by drivetrain, and chunky wheelset. In fact, the capability of the componentry outperforms the trail-orientated geometry. To align these two, and put this bike in line with growing trends, I would like to see Marin slacken the head angle a degree or add a longer-travel fork. While they're at it, the seat angle can be steepened a couple of degrees, even if this is only for the larger sizes. Adjusting these numbers would ease climbing, settle descending and increase stability – factors important for beginner or novice riders who are probably most attracted to this model, given its price tag. Sizing isn't far off, but like many current bikes, I think a bigger difference per size is needed – S, M and L sizes are in the ballpark but the XS and XL need adjusting. Other bikes use extra stem length with each size, but if Marin continue to spec a 60mm stem on all sizes, the frames need to compensate with their measurements.
Should I Buy a Hawk Hill?
$1,500 is still a large chunk of cash, even though this bike could be called a bargain. Should a beginner buy this over a new hardtail? For people interested in upping their game from hardtail hooning, the Hawk Hill would be a positive move. Spending the same number of dollars on a hardtail would only net you a few upgrades in componentry with no real ride improvement.
Is the Hawk Hill better than a used bike? There are some amazing deals to be found in the classifieds. A 3/4-year-old, well maintained, high-end trail bike would share a similar shape, but higher-quality suspension, components and lighter weight. Then again, buying used requires some level of expertise to choose the right steed. That kind of expertise will hopefully be given to you free on your local Marin dealer's shop floor. And there's always the joy of collecting your own brand new bike, warranty, and even financing, organized through the shop.
Is the Hawk Hill better than its direct-sale competition? Yes and no, depending on which bike you choose. Buying online will achieve 'better' components in terms of dollar value, not necessarily performance, and could fall foul to some of the same downsides as buying a used bike. Buying these types of bikes direct may still leave you with long stems, narrow handlebars, clunky front derailleurs and feeble wheelsets that will quickly be due for a pricy upgrade – all pieces of the puzzle nailed here by Marin.
• Shimano Deore Brakes: The Deore brakes are surprisingly good, though the resin pads and pressed steel discs don't quite have the bite and friction found on higher end brakes. The inclusion of Centre Lock adaptors with the bike would be a great help for people changing rotors or wheelsets in the future.
• Marin Components: Fair play to Marin, all of their products did a great job. These items may not be the most refined or flashy, but they set a standard that makes me question if we need to spend small fortunes on high-end componentry. I'm glad to see them erring on the side of strength and caution, especially with the cranks and wheelset, over low weight. The Hawk Hill is ready to take a pounding out of the box.
• Dropper Dismay: Dropper posts can be taken for granted when you have the joy of using them for years and years. Jump on a bike without one, and you're constantly hassled by the fact that the saddle is always up when you want it down or vice versa. Or even worse, when you set it in a middle position, leaving you stuck in no-mans land. A quick release clamp on the production bike lessened the blow. Easily the most important upgrade to make to the Hawk Hill.
Marin has played a strong set of cards in the budget-bike battle. The in-house componentry saves money, but gains performance and durability. Air-sprung suspension makes set-up a breeze. The geometry is rounded for general trail riding, but I would like to see it modernised on future models to really let this bike push novice riders on to their next level. - Paul Aston
About the Reviewer Stats: Age: 30 • Height: 6'1” • Ape Index: +4" • Weight: 73kg • Industry affiliations / sponsors: None • Instagram: astonatorPaul Aston is a racer and dirt-jumper at heart. Previously adding to the list of non-qualifiers at World Cup DH events, now he's attacking enduro and has been since before it was fashionable. Based in the UK, but often found residing between mainland Europe and New Zealand allows him to experience a huge variety of terrains and trails.