By Vernon Felton
If you've been paying attention to all the internet buzz from Interbike/Eurobike/Outerbike, you've probably seen a hell of a lot of bandwidth sacrificed in praise of the Marin Bicycle's new mountain bikes, which, and I'm going to be blunt here, is a major change.
Marin Bicycles has been wandering the desert in search of rider love for almost a decade now—and has come up dry much of the time. This isn't to say that the Marin models of the past 10 years were universally crap. Nope, they had some legitimate winners in the mix. They also, however, had their fair share of bikes that left the cycling world collectively muttering, "Meh.”
Well, that appeared to change this summer. Marin went and got all grown up. New ownership. New coat of paint. New bikes.
We, and the rest of the cycling press, took notice. Which explains why I'm in the process of writing up Marin's 2014 Mount Vision CX-M Pro model (you'll see it in the pages of the upcoming Bible of Bike Tests, which hits the street in January). A group of us beat on that particular rig, over in Sedona recently. While we were flogging said bike, we couldn't help wondering, "What would this Marin be like with a bigger fork on the front of it?"
Here's the answer: the Attack Trail Quad Carbon XT8—the burlier brother to the Mount Vision model.
There are three bikes in Marin's "Mountain Trail" line and the XT8 is the base-level iteration. For entry-level, however, this thing packs some heat. The bike sports 160 millimeters of front suspension, courtesy of the excellent RockShox Pike RC. Squishy duties out back are handled by a high-volume Monarch rear shock. Drivetrain is a SRAM X7/X9 affair and the whole thing comes to a stop via Avid Elixir 7 Trail brakes. It's a solid kit.
The heart of the Attack Trail, however, is the frame. The XT8 features a hydro-formed, aluminum front triangle and carbon rear end (the higher end versions are entirely carbon). It is engineered around Marin's QUAD-Link 3 suspension design—a dual-link, virtual pivot point-ish system. Rear suspension travel on this bike sits at 150 millimeters (six inches).
I've only gotten a few rides on the new Attack Trail, so my first impressions are very premature. I'm still playing with the rear shock, handlebar height and other critical (though seemingly innocuous) set-up details that hugely impact how you feel on a bike.
The Mount Vision that we tested in Sedona sports a newer version of Marin's suspension system, dubbed IsoTrac, that uses flex stays paired to a lower pivot system (rather than an actual lower link) to get things swinging. The small bump compliance felt better on the 140-millimeter travel Mount Vision than on this Attack Trail, but whether you can chalk that up to the new IsoTrac suspension or the Mount Vision's Fox Float X rear shock is hard to say.
I can say this: that Fox Float X rear shock is proving to be one of the best rear suspension upgrades on the market. You can, of course, get the higher end Attack Trail models with either the Float X or RockShox's excellent Monarch Plus RC3 rear shock. While I'm busy touting the Float X, it's worth noting that the Monarch Plus RC3 might be RockShox's best-kept secret.
In an attempt to keep the sticker price on this test bike down (I know people out there are, rightfully, going to burst blood vessels if they have to read another review of a $7,000 bike) I opted for the least expensive model sporting the Monarch.
However, right off the bat, I'd suggest going with either the Float X rear shock or a Monarch Plus. I'm running between 30 and 35 percent sag in this stock Monarch shock (paired with low tire pressures) and I'm still not entirely pleased with the suspension while riding root sections and baby heads. We’ll see, I'll keep fiddling with the rear shock.
The Attack Trail XT8 comes equipped with a 710-millimeter bar, which might be okay on my XC hardtail. Might.
Look, this is an all-mountain bike. Or an enduro bike. Or a big-hit bike or, hell, I don't know what buzz word you want to toss at these things anymore, but when a bike is rocking slack angles and six inches of quality suspension, let's give it some spec that keeps pace with the frame's intentions.
I understand that the 800-millimeter ‘man bars,’ which are en vogue these days, are overkill for 90 percent of riders, but there's a happy medium between super-skinny and stupid-wide bars. Fortunately, a new handlebar is one of the least expensive upgrades you can make to a bike but, shoot, how about kitting bikes out with wide bars and just leaving it up to consumers to cut the suckers down with a five-dollar hacksaw if they see fit to narrow things up? You can always cut a bar down to size, but you can't magically make a narrow bar grow to the proper width.
Okay, rant over.
On the upside, there are some obviously great component choices at play here. Again, I'm going to gush about how good the Pike is. Kudos to Marin on that choice. Likewise, the Avid Elixir 7s offer good power (though they do squeal and moan like crazy in wet conditions). The Kind Shock Drop Zone post is another nice touch, as are the excellent Schwalbe Hans Dampf tires.
The geometry and overall ride position seem well suited to the ride-hard, ride-scary-stuff genre. While I'm still in the getting to know you period with this bike, there's no doubt that both the new Attack Trail and Mount Vision models constitute a serious leap forward for Marin Bicycles.
Stay tuned for a full review on the Attack Trail XT8.