It was reassuring to see the movie “First Man” win an Oscar for visual effects this year. A character drama set against the backdrop of the Apollo mission somehow was deemed more visually impressive than both a Marvel movie and a Star Wars movie. “First Man” featured no aliens, no transformers, and no supernatural powers of any kind. You might not even consider it a ‘special-effects movie’ at all, which is exactly why it deserved to win.
It's when technology becomes invisible that it's the most remarkable. When we stop thinking about what's going on under the hood and just drive. That was exactly what happened once I got to know the Marin Mount Vision and its version of R3ACT-2PLAY, possibly the most unique suspension design in circulation today.
R3ACT-2PLAY (pronounced "react to play"), originally debuted in early 2017 on the Polygon Xquarone (pronounced "square one") and appeared soon after on Marin's Wolf Ridge (pronounced "wolf ridge"). The 160 rear/160 front 29er was, at the time, a surprising choice for R3ACT-2PLAY's first home in a mainstream brand. The world was a different place back then. Twenty-nine-inch wheels were not the safest platform for launching a new long-travel bike. But the Wolf Ridge's strength is its ability to utterly devour rough terrain on both climbs and descents, and those big wheels were chosen to play to that strength.
Briefly, that strength stems from a linkage kinematic that adeptly isolates pedaling forces from suspension motion and vice versa. But R3ACT-2PLAY isn't into the whole brevity thing. It's got a lot going on under the surface of what is essentially a modified four-bar design. The swingarm is attached to the front triangle with what looks like traditional parallel links, but the upper link connects to the rear shock and swing link instead of to the mainframe. The swingarm gets extra stability and guidance from a telescoping shaft that extends from inside its forward end and connects to the front triangle. Once you pick apart the linkage motion, the result is far simpler than these Rube-Goldbergian mechanisms would imply. Thanks to its painstakingly tuned axle path, the R3ACT-2PLAY linkage will neither hang up while you're mashing up a rough climb, nor will it compress under the load put on the chain. That's why Darrell Voss, industry veteran and R3ACT-2PLAY's designer, believes it's a dish best served with no compression damping. Although these bikes are supported by a relatively shallow recommended sag setting, their natural pedaling efficiency means they don't need help from the shock itself. The goal is ultimate sensitivity to whatever the trail may bring, and the Wolf Ridge succeeded. It is one of the supplest, softest, ground-huggiest bikes I've ever ridden.
That's why, two years later, we were again surprised that Marin's new R3ACT-2PLAY offering not only sports smaller wheels than the Wolf Ridge, but also shorter travel. The 150/150 27.5-inch-wheeled Mount Vision seems to take R3ACT-2PLAY into thrasher-bike territory. Buttery-smooth suspension performance might pair perfectly with a bike that's meant for high precision and a heavy hand. But it also might not.
One fringe benefit to the R3ACT-2PLAY concept is its short rear-center. The Mount Vision's elevated chainstays allowed them to shrink to 425 millimeters. And that still offers enough clearance for the 2.6-inch WTB Trailboss spec'd on the Mount Vision 9 I tested. And the 65-degree head tube angle implies it's meant to get rowdy, as does its Deity cockpit, low bottom bracket and accompanying 170-millimeter cranks.
I set out with hopes of bringing the BMX out of this big BMX bike, and it took some doing. Abiding by Marin's insistence on leaving the compression wide open, I found it far too easy to blow through the Mount Vision's travel. In some scenarios, that was not a bad thing. Despite its small wheels, it floated through chaotic chunder with calm indifference. But in the moments when that calmness inspired me to force the bike into a pocket berm or off the ground, it would collapse under the effort. After a long and sometimes philosophical conversation with Voss, I learned R3ACT-2PLAY plays perfectly well with volume spacers. I had already added one, and he suggested adding another given my riding style and my 6-foot-2-inch height. I might have added another, but the relatively short non-trunnion 210×60-millimeter shock only has room for two. It was only during the most extreme and perhaps ill-advised maneuvers that I wanted more support, so I took it as a sign that the Mount Vision is optimized for a style just short of full BMX. I made one last ditch effort by decreasing my sag a fraction below the recommended 25 percent, and though it didn't sacrifice its small-bump capability, it ceased to have the flotation that I think truly sets it apart.
And the Mount Vision has one other trait that suggests it's only meant for a limited level of mischief. It weighs 34.3 pounds. Without pedals. While I don't believe weight is as important as most people think, I do have my limits. And on a bike with such sprightly potential, the weight put a damper on what I believe this bike could be best at doing. The top-end Mount Vision Pro gets a set of carbon wheels and some lighter bits throughout, but that's an $8,900 bike. The Mount Vision 9 I rode is already $6,800, and if you're used to a 170-millimeter dropper post, you'll have to add it to that price because even my XL comes with a 150. If you're buying this bike, you're buying it for what R3ACT-2PLAY does best, and that is hug the ground. I returned to a sag somewhere between 25 and 30 percent and left the two volume spacers inside and the compression wide open, and took a different path. That being, whatever damned path I chose. For those who want precise control over their lines, but aren't looking to slash and style their way down the trail, the Mount Vision is a unique alternative to biting the bullet and going to 29-inch wheels. And of course, its sensitivity extends to the uphills as well.
In contrast to its precision-oriented descending capabilities, the Mount Vision has the makings of an all-day backcountry machine. Large and XL models have room for two decent-sized bottles in the frame, both on the downtube. And despite the slack actual seat tube angle, the effective angle is around 75 degrees. And Marin measures that angle in a way so that taller riders like myself aren't extended too far behind that virtual effective line. That said, on long fire roads, I would have liked to have the benefits of a two-position lever conspicuously absent from this build's Float X2 shock. No matter how perfect its anti-squat values, this bike still sags deeper as the terrain gets steeper. "Lockout" levers are antithetical to the R3ACT-2PLAY concept, but active suspension under pedaling loads does me no good when the ground is smooth and steep.
But that's not what R3ACT-2PLAY is built for. It's built for rough climbs where traction and momentum are under constant threat. Not so on the Mount Vision. I'd have to stretch to come up with a 27.5-inch bike that did as good a job at floating up rough climbs. It was as though the shock tune would immediately adapt to whatever size bump I needed to pass over, keeping the frame geo optimal throughout. And the harder I pushed, the more impressive it was. On those unbeaten-path epics where I found the Mount Vision so adept, I was able to save energy when the trail was most taxing.
It got me thinking about the issues I had on the descents. Maybe they're not evidence of any shortcomings in the Mount Vision. They're evidence of its purposefulness. It is not a thrasher like I thought. And it's not a sled. In the truest sense of the word we so love to use, it is a hover bike. And hover bikes have the unique ability to allow you to ignore what’s happening between you and the ground. All of that technology disappears, and you’re thinking about your line, not your bike.