I’ll admit it, the bike I most often ride is a close-to-$8,000 trail-shredding, carbon-clad, beauty of a dream bike. I still haven’t paid off the credit cards, but dang have I gotten my money’s worth—many times over. But, and this has been a reoccurring nagging question in the back of my mind, did I really need to spend that many hard-earned cash greenbacks on a rig when there are bikes out there for less than half the price? The answer has been hard to pin down; I’ve ridden quite a few of the so-called budget bikes, and while many have been quite good, they’ve all had issues that are annoying enough to hold them back from truly competing with the fun factor of higher-end rigs.

The mostly SLX drivetrain performed well despite the occasional dropped gear in rough sections.

Enter the Marin Hawk Hill 3. It’s not a new model in Marin’s line up, but it has been heavily revamped this year. The 27.5-inch-wheeled Hawk Hill is designed to be an affordable, puts-fun-first-and-foremost, kind of bike. No frills, but all the thrills just the same. This year, Marin’s goal was to update both the specs and geometry of the Hawk Hill to keep it on par with current trends and still keep the cost down.

The fork travel jumped 10 millimeters—up to 130—which nicely compliments the 120 millimeters of squish out back. The head angle of the 2018 Hawk Hill range slackened from 67.5 degrees to 66.5 degrees while the seat tube angle steepened about a degree depending on the frame size you’re riding. My extra-large test bike came in at a 74.1-degree effective seat tube angle. Not groundbreaking, but passable for a moderate-travel creature like the Hawk Hill.  The reach also increased across the board: My test bike grew from a stubby 465.5 millimeters to a much more respectable 485 millimeters.

780-millimeter bars and a 35-millimeter stem? Yes, please.

In addition to a growth spurt, the Hawk Hill got some new attire, namely acquiring a Fox DPS rear shock and a set of big kid shoes with 29-millimeter-inner width house-brand Marin wheels. The Hawk Hill 3 comes stock with a 780-millimeter-width bar and stubby little 35-millimeter stem—both Marin branded as well. Rounding the spec off is the tried-and-true Shimano SLX drivetrain, a Rockshox Revelation fork, X-Fusion Manic seatpost and Tektro Orion brakes.

Riding the Marin Hawk Hill 3:

My time on the Hawk Hill 3 was spent in the bike park at North Star Resort, a dusty, rocky, dust-covered network of dusty trails. Did I mention the dust? The trail conditions looked to be about as tacky as a mouthful of cinnamon, so I was expecting to spend a lot of time with wheels unglued from the terra firma. To my surprise, the Hawk Hill 3 stayed stubbornly planted on whatever line I chose, the WTB Vigilante tires only breaking free when I wanted them to. Even the rear wheel resisted skidding during hard braking in washboard, the suspension remaining quite active over the high-speed stutter. The Tektro Orion brakes are nothing to write home about, but they certainly do their job well enough that I didn’t think about them after the initial lever reach set up; that’s more than I can say about some brakes.

When I did let the brakes open again and the Hawk Hill encountered a jump, it happily took to the air like its namesake, (the hawk, not the hill) and gracefully came back down to earth with minimal fuss. I purposely cased a 15-foot jump to see how the Hawk Hill would react, and while I was treated to the “thunk, thunk” of a double bottom out, the Hawk Hill shrugged off the hit with a casual, “meh” attitude. Frame flex was hardly noticeable, and for a bike with only 120 millimeters of travel, I was impressed with how well it could take big hits.

I didn’t think twice about the Tektro Orion brakes while riding—the sign of a well spec’d brake.

However, the Hawk Hill liked to stay on the ground as much as being in the air. The RockShox Revelation did a decent job of soaking up the hits on the front end, although it’s not quite as stable as the similarly priced Fox 34 Rhythm. The rear suspension did a marvelous job keeping things in check out back. Traction came in gobs, but standing up on the pedals to hammer didn’t induce too much bobbing. Flick the switch on the DPS from open to medium, or even climb if you’re into that sort of thing, and the rear end firms up substantially. It’s not a feather weight, but it isn’t exactly portly either. The shorter amount of travel is nicely suited to fit a wide variety of riding; just enough to handle the gravity-oriented roughs with care, but with enough ramp up and support for comfortable climbing. A jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, the Hawk Hill isn’t made for one style of riding in particular; it’ll suit just about anyone that throws a leg over it.

I was able to take the Hawk Hill on a variety of trails from steep and rocky to mostly flat with punchy little climbs. The Hawk Hill felt most at home on the latter, liking to pump and move with the terrain rather than let gravity do all the work on its own. At cruising speed, it was easy to let the suspension and geometry do the work and simply relax. Focus back on the trail and put the power down though, and the Hawk Hill was only happy to answer. Charging through rock gardens was just a fun as doing so on longer-travel enduro bikes, albeit with a bit more spice if I overcooked things a bit and lost my line. But even if I did, I always came out the other end just fine with only a cloud of dust and maniacal laughter left behind.

There are a few things about the Hawk Hill 3 that I don’t like. The front end is too low for my liking, a 150-millimeter dropper is too short for an extra-large frame and the SLX derailleur kept dropping a gear or two in the rougher sections of trail. No, it’s not a perfect bike, but it’s pretty dang good and that far outweighs its shortcomings. All the little nitty gritty that I’d usually gripe about on a bike faded to the back of my mind because, in the end, Marin accomplished what they set out to do. They made a damn fun bike, and whether it costs $8000 or $2500, that’s all I want—to have fun, and the Hawk Hill 3 delivers that without a doubt.