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Value Field Test: Marin San Quentin 3 - The Good Life Behind Bars

May 24, 2024
by Mike Kazimer  

PINKBIKE FIELD TEST

Marin San Quentin 3



Words by Mike Kazimer; photography by Tom Richards


Marin has become a mainstay in our Value Field Test series, and for good reason. They've been consistently producing bikes that come in at a reasonable price tag while also being spec'd with capable components – a feat that's not always easy to pull off.

This time around, it's the aluminum San Quentin 3 that's in the spotlight. The bike is billed as a dirt jumper that was mutated into a hardcore hardtail, but realistically it's more of an all-rounder versus something that's only happy on the steepest trails around.
San Quentin 3 Details

• 140mm fork
• 29" wheels
• 64° head tube angle
• 77° seat tube angle
• Reach: 470mm (L)
• Chainstay length: 430mm
• Weight: 31.9 lb / 14.40 kg
• MSRP: $1,799 USD
• More info: marinbikes.com

Marin San Quentin review

The $1,799 San Quentin is spec'd with a 140mm Marzocchi Z2 fork, TRP Slate 4-piston brakes, and a TranzX dropper post. The 12-speed drivetrain is a multi-company affair, with a Shimano Deore derailleur and shifter paired with a SunRace cassette and KMC chain. Maxxis takes care of the tires – there's a 2.5” Assegai on both wheels. On our scale, the San Quentin 3 weighed in at 31.9 lb / 14.4 kg for a size large.

The San Quentin 3 is available in sizes S, M, L, and XL, all rolling on 29” wheels. The 64-degree head angle may seem relatively slack at first, but that number will steepen up as soon as you sit on the bike due to the lack of rear suspension. The seat angle is a steep 77-degrees, and the chainstays are a fairly short 430mm for all sizes.





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Climbing

The 'hardcore hardtail' term gets thrown around a lot these days, but as much fun as that alliterative phrase is to say, it's not really an accurate description of the San Quentin 3. This isn't some super slack, super long sled that begrudgingly goes around turns – far from it. The San Quentin is a trail bike through and through, with handling that's quick without being twitchy, an ideal trait for tackling a variety of trails. It's still entertaining on flatter, flowier terrain, and it has more compact proportions that makes it easy to pump over natural rollers to generate speed.

The climbing position is quite upright, thanks to the steep seat angle and stubby 35mm stem, but I never felt overly cramped, or as if there was too much pressure on my hands.

The dual Assegai tire combo isn't known for being the fastest option out there, but it sure was nice to have on the fairly wet and slippery conditions that prevailed during testing. Swapping the rear tire out for something a less aggressive would be an easy way to breathe a little more life into the San Quentin, especially for riders who don't need all the traction.

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Descending

I'm always a little skeptical when I read about the supposed compliance of a hardtail frame – after all, triangles (or in the Marin's case, not-quite-triangles) made of aluminum don't typically have that much give. That said, the San Quentin felt much, much less harsh to me than the extra-stout Haro Saguaro. Back-to-back laps made the difference very clear, and I felt much more at home on the San Quentin.

Now, it's still a hardtail, and you'll still want to choose your lines wisely, but the repercussions for carrying too much speed into a rock garden or coming up a little short on a double were much less severe on the Marin than the Haro.

The zippiness that the Marin exhibited on the climbs carried over to the descents; its handling is very intuitive and easy to get along with. It falls into that Goldilocks category, where the head angle isn't too slack or too steep, and the overall dimensions have that 'just right' feel. The shorter chainstays contribute towards its eagerness to get off the ground, which goes a long way towards smoothing out the ride – after all, the more time you can spend in the air, the less time you need to worry about absorbing impacts.

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Components

The overall parts package doesn't have any glaring oversights – all of the components worked well, and are appropriate for the bike's intention. Heck, even that grab bag of drivetrain parts didn't cause any issues. The brakes were strong and consistent, the house brand grips were comfy enough that I wouldn't have any issues running them on my personal bike, and the 140mm Z2 handled everything we threw its way.

The only small gripe we could come up with had to do with the chainstay protection, or lack thereof. Taking the time to wrap an inner tube around the chainstay or adding some mastic tape would help protect the paint from being chipped by the chain.


Who's It For?

The San Quentin 3 would be an excellent gateway into the sport for the rider that's eager to progress, but also doesn't want to completely drain their savings account on a bike. It'd also make a great second bike for anyone that's looking to mix things up by spending time on a hardtail - it's a great way to sharpen skills that may have been dulled by rear suspension. Overall, the San Quentin's versatility is its biggest strength; the fact that it's not that hardcore of a hardtail is part of what makes it so good.




Pros

+ Excellent geometry - shines on a wide variety of terrain
+ Doesn't need any upgrades out of the box
+ Very comfortable ride (for a hardtail)


Cons

- Could use better chainslap protection





Pinkbike's Value Bikes Field Test is presented by Ride Concepts
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Author Info:
mikekazimer avatar

Member since Feb 1, 2009
1,753 articles

71 Comments
  • 68 1
 When the only complaint is about the chainslap guard, you know it's a solid bike. I love hardtails with a solid, well performing spec that can also take a beating without you worrying about spending an arm and a leg to fix it. I'm currently on a Specialized Fuse with a 140mm lyrik select, and SLX/XT components, and I feel like it strikes a really good balance between performance and affordability, especially for a hardtail, and it seems like the San Quentin does the same.
  • 60 0
 hardtail reviews also need comments on:

1) how well they skid in the campground parking lot
2) bikepacking capability
3) suitability for sweet jumps off curb ramps while commuting
4) number of children that can be pulled on skateboard/rollerblades with ropes attached to seat post
  • 6 0
 Nice to see another Fuse rider! 130mm pike ultimate, SLX brakes, singlespeed, and some helicopter tape on the chainstay just in case the chain gets loose!
  • 5 0
 Love my Fuse as well! Keep debating putting a silver 130/140mm Pike on, but the Fox 34 Rythm has been pretty good. Wish they sold a San Quentin 29 as frame only and kicking around the 27.5 for my teen as he grows a bit.
  • 1 0
 @ht808: My girlfriend rides a fuse! Sweet bike. Have a Fox 34 factory with a Grip 2 and 4 piston SLX brakes.
  • 1 0
 Great spec. From my experience though the KMC chain will last around 6 months and the SunRace cassette maybe 1 year. If taken care of
  • 44 3
 My lungs are burning just thinking about pedaling front and back Assegais around.
  • 17 3
 Seriously, I wouldn't run that combo on an enduro bike, let alone on a hardtail.
  • 11 0
 Woops, been running that just because I like to move my front tire to the rear to save tires and money. Not my fave rear tire but it works
  • 6 5
 Yeah, rear wheel traction is almost useless when descending on agro hardtails. You're basically riding your fork.
  • 5 0
 I'm running the Assegai on the front and DAMN, that's a soft compound tire.
  • 5 1
 Looks like they are MaxxTerra and not MaxxGrip. Probably isn't that bad.
  • 1 0
 Buf difference in drag between compounds and casings, EXO DC is far less sticky than the softwr options. I wouldn't dare trying to climb anything significant on 2 maxxgrip Assegais though, esp. if there's any road sections involved.
  • 2 0
 I ran F/R Assegais on my hardtail (Rootdown) for a winter and liked the way it brought back some traction and braking control. Without rear suspension, the rear tire isn’t in contact with the ground as much, so the grip is very welcome.
Went back to the minions to enjoy climbing again, of course.
  • 5 0
 Not a race bike, and if you’re only climbing at social pace your rear tire won’t slip. Ever.

Also easy to put an EXO+ Recon out back and wake up the pedaling performance. You even get to use the other Assegai as a replacement front tire down the road.
  • 10 0
 Im of the opinion that i want more tire, especially rear tire, on a hardtail than a fs bike. Theres no suspension to keep the tire tracking and stuck to the ground. I spin out the rear tire on a hardtail way more often. So a little extra knob on the tire, and a little extra stickiness really helps
  • 3 0
 I slapped a 2.6 dissector (DC) on my burly hardtail and ... Kinda love it? Sufficient traction for my local trails and when the air pressure is dialled in, feels honestly pretty decent.

Will probably try something like a DD casing for more damping next, but sad to give up the bigger tire.
  • 1 0
 The full sus trail bike I bought over the pandemic had dual Aggies on there. The best part was how light the bike felt when I took them off!
  • 1 0
 @Torbo24: but then there is NO traction for climbing. I put Forecaster/Rekon on my Optic for an XC race. They pedal amazing but it sure made it so hard to climb anything technical
  • 23 0
 Everyone should have a modern hardtail in their garage, the smiles per miles ratio is great
  • 2 0
 100%. For anything that’s not super steep I usually find my hardtail more fun to ride
  • 17 0
 Marin is killing it. I won't stop singing praises for my Rift Zone and referring people to the brand for solid best value.
  • 11 1
 Hardtails hurt not matter what, but if you adjust your riding style and are fastidious with air pressure in your tires they can feel surprisingly good. I think small steel tubes have the best feels though. Nothing will make hitting a rock garden at speed feel good though! That said, I find being clipped in is a lot better than riding flats on an HT as you can keep your feet loose.
  • 2 1
 True, my back could no longer tolerate the impact from my hardtail so to keep on riding I had to buy a full suspension. Went from hardtail with 1.5 inch fork to full suspension 7” in back 8” in front. Extended my riding by 30+ years.

Still have that hardtail for casual winter rides.
  • 2 0
 @kingbike2: i still enjoy them on the right ride.
  • 11 1
 A hardtail is an excellent toy to unlock "less engaging" trails into "super fun" trails. Keep trails challenging. This bike sounds like one of those toys.
  • 15 0
 And fully rigid to unlock "boring rocky path" into "I am a god of bike handling to have survived that" lol

I was whooping after not dabbing on the kid's loop.
  • 8 2
 What’s the practical upper limit on fork travel for a hardtail? Beyond 140 seems dubious due to the “stapler effect,” Chromag edits aside.
  • 10 0
 It depends on the bike, fork, and use case. I run a 160mm Ohlins M.2 on my Norco Torrent. I run it a little firm, and a little slow. It doesn't always go through all the travel, but I'm glad to have it when it does. It doesn't feel stapler-y at all, it generally goes through about that 140mm of travel, and when it does go through all 160 it recovers smoothly enough not to feel choppy.
  • 4 0
 What’s the stapler effect?

I’ve got a 150 Pike on my RM Growler & it’s mint.
  • 9 1
 @sportstuff: It's where dudes who run their forks with weird settings think that the front of hardtails go up and down like a stapler. Run them a little stiffer and slow down the rebound one click and they ride great.
  • 3 0
 @sportstuff: It's the idea that on a full-suspension bike, the whole bike moves vertically at once through big landing impacts or g-force compressions while a hardtail only dives on the front, effectively steepening the headtube angle in those situations. Called the stapler effect because the bike moves like a stapler being compressed, pivoting around the rear axle.

Note that it's much less of an issue for generally handling on rough terrain as full-suspension bikes and hardtails both take on impacts from things like roots one wheel at a time. But it can still have some affect on the ride when the object bucks the back end up, momentarily increasing the head angle.
  • 3 7
flag tremeer023 FL (May 24, 2024 at 8:49) (Below Threshold)
 Run too big a fork on a HT and you risk your front end writing cheques your rear end can't cash.
  • 20 1
 im here on a 190mm marzocchi shiver. I use about 170mm of that travel for normal riding. NS eccentric 27.5 frame, probably the most fun ive ever had on a hardtail
  • 4 0
 @tremeer023: I found that getting more fork travel on a hardtail helped the rear end handle things better too. I wonder if there is an upper limit to that?

It felt like my body weight on the pedals acted like a fulcrum so that upward forces on the rear wheel leveraged into downward forces on the fork and it helped absorb them. More fork travel and better setup lead to the rear end feeling better through rock gardens

Also, with more fork travel available you can learn to see that kind of stuff coming to unweight the rear and ride "on the fork"
  • 7 0
 170 travel on my full 27.5 chromag stylus. It's even better than when I first built it up with a 160 fork! Half dirt jumper half freeride bike.
  • 6 0
 I used a 170mm Lyrik on a Chromag Rootdown, initally because it was what I had. My plan was to swap the air spring to a 160mm, but to be honest it felt great and I left it at 170mm.
  • 3 0
 @JazzleSAURUS: This. I use a 150mm Ribbon on my Rootdown, I run it a little harder, add a little more LSC and run my ramp control a little firmer to keep me from blowing though my travel. (I typically run my damping pretty open, I like a quick return speed to keep the fork from packing in) I have a 2.6 tire up front with a slightly lighter casing that I can run pretty soft and that helps keep things muted.

If you've only ever ridden sussers, you probably would have a hard time moving to a hard tail. It requires intelligent line choice, lots of body engligh and skills to cope with the inability to load the rear suspension and pop the bike over things. If the trails aren't overly rocky, I'll take my Rootdown every time. Plus it's like a kilo lighter than my carbon super bike.
  • 2 0
 Slacked out hardtails are the tele skis of the mountain bike world. Slower, less effective, and anachronistic. But also really fun for the right rider. So yeah, stapler effect. And yeah, overworking the fork. But if you’re healthy enough and bored riding black trails on a full squish bike, this can be the cure.
  • 2 0
 @showmethemountains: interesting to see so many people running big forks on ht frames. I'm on 150mm and couldn't imagine needing more really (without wanting rear sus), but have always been curious to try and build a viable ht with duel crown fork.
  • 1 0
 @tremeer023: FWIW, my experience was based on going from 100 to 120 to 140mm. That's why I'm not sure myself if there is an upper limit where fork travel stops helping with the back end of the bike too
  • 4 0
 My wife has a previous gen SQ. Sweet bike, but absolutely echo the criticism of the paint. She's basically never ridden it and it already has some chips. I want one of this gen for sure, especially since I'm a sucker for a good black to white fade, but I'd absolutely ridewrap this bike and add a VHS chainstay protector.
  • 5 0
 I have been waiting for this review. I’m considering this as my n+1 for family day rides and camping/fishing excursions. Looks like a winner.
  • 6 0
 I like the fade paint job. looks like it was dipped in evil.
  • 2 0
 Does this (and the other value bikes) come set up tubeless? If not, you've got your chainstay protection sorted. It's also something worth noting in the review since converting to tubeless can change the ride experience and factor in to the overall budget.
  • 3 1
 64 HTA “all rounder/Goldilocks”!? At this point, what is TOO slack? I’ve been preaching kicked out front ends for a long time, but even 66 degrees will be fine at a terrain park.

I think this warrants an article or 2, maybe with some back-to-back testing of bikes with similar intent and trail numbers, but comparing older models to their more slack replacements.
  • 12 0
 Its a hardtail though, that 64 degrees is more like 66 as soon as you sit on it
  • 8 0
 @Torbo24: Andrew Major’s ‘rule of -2* for hard-tails’.

Hard-tails should have a seat and head angle 2* slacker than their full suspension counterparts to account for the geometry changes when sagged.

It’s worked for my bikes n
  • 1 0
 "but the repercussions for carrying too much speed into a rock garden or coming up a little short on a double were much less severe on the Marin than the Haro."

You guys need to do blind testing. These bikes are virtually identical. There is no way anything is going to be "much less" or "much more" in favor of either. If 5mm shorter chainstays and half a degree slacker headtube makes those situations "much less severe", then something with a 10mm difference and a degree or degree and a half steeper should promptly kill you.
  • 4 0
 It's a good looking bike.
  • 1 0
 Maybe they figured out how to make an aluminum flex stay. Good on you, Marin!
  • 9 1
 Banshee has cracked the code on alu flexstays. Check them out.
  • 5 0
 @ratedgg13: Can confirm, after getting my Banshee Paradox the rear end of that bike feels oddly forgiving for a hardtail.
  • 4 0
 I don't know. Recent model Team Marin bikes were getting the same reviews about amazing compliance from the rear triangle, but dig a little bit and you'll find a lot of people who owned those bikes were breaking the seat stays after 500 miles or so of riding. I hope Marin has solved that issue, but I'd be nervous to have this as my primary bike until I was confident that I wasn't gonna break it.
  • 1 0
 @occasionalcross: Team Marin has gone through 2 updates since the original seatstay design. I hope the last update solved the issues (first update obviously didn't) but judging from looks it will ride stiffer than the 1st version.
  • 1 0
 @ratedgg13: not a flex stay but certainly has a foregiving feel with the design. Combine with some shallow bed rims, 2.6 tires running slightly lower pressure and its s great ride.
  • 3 0
 Not a fan of ASMR Dario.
  • 2 0
 Is an XC FS more capable than an HT trail?
  • 5 7
 Yes.
  • 9 3
 Nope.

I had a Chromag Rootdown with a 170mm fork and sold it after a couple of years because it was aggravating my shoulder issues. Bought a Norco Optic frame and swapped the parts over, with the fork at 150mm.

The Optic climbs better (more traction) and is nicer and more versatile overall, but on gnarly trails it is WAY sketchier than the Rootdown was. When things got hairy, I felt way more comfortable on the Rootdown.
  • 4 1
 Man I've had enduro and trail FS bikes that were less capable than some hardtails.
  • 7 0
 Depends on the geometry and the trail.
  • 4 0
 Depends on the rider. Give me any bike and I’m still less capable than Nino on his race bike
  • 3 0
 Bit worried someone will take this literally and show up to a double black in Squamish on a hardtail brimming with confidence because it's easier and more comfortable than a full sus...and promptly get killed to death. Pirate

Hardtails are rad because they take massive skill and ridiculous body english to survive expert trails, not because they are easier.
That's also why hardtail riders drink the most beer, they're just glad to be alive.
  • 2 0
 @50percentsure:
the same person would probably get killed to death on an XC FS
  • 1 0
 @Buggyr333: Probably true Beer But maybe not on something slack and capable like an Optic? Tried mine everywhere I've ridden my long travel, when it gets dicey I'd put odds at 90% of not being killed from death.
  • 1 0
 @50percentsure: He was asking what was more capable, not what was easier. If you show up to some steep Squamish trails with a proper XC race bike/sketchy tires etc, that's not going to be a nice time, I'd rather be on a slacked out hardtail with big ol sticky tires any day.
  • 1 0
 Bikes going to feel very short when seated. Maybe that's it's selling point.
  • 1 0
 Anyone know what trail they're riding in the video? Looks like a blast.
  • 3 4
 Good bike. Marin certainly didn't drop the soap on this one.







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