When it comes to beyond tarmac riding, no other bicycle brand can make functional, utilitarian, cool and affordable bikes like Marin. Most of the time what amazes people about Marin, a bike brand with such pioneering heritage and dauntlessness, is the affordable prices.
To understand this, we have to look back at Marin’s history, which started back in Marin County, California.
Many consider Marin County to be the birthplace of mountain biking as it was home to numerous informal mountain bike races. This was especially true at Mount Tamalpais - the highest peak of the Northern Californian Coast Range, as people loved to challenge themselves with their bikes at Marin County’s most symbolic location.
Bob Buckley, the founder of the company, saw this trend early on and formed the company Marin Bikes in in 1986. According to urban legend, Bob and Marin helped shape the mountain biking sport into what it is now, especially when they created the Madrone Trail - the first ever Titanium mass produced mountain bike. From there they moved from strength to strength.
This is where Marin excels, as the company is not afraid to be a fish that swims against the current instead of following the rest of the school downstream.
Marin bikes are affordable because they believe in delivering a rider’s bike, namely a perfectly constructed bike, whether it is down to the material or geometry. This is where they concentrate most of their efforts, as they do not believe in ‘blinging’ up bikes with unnecessary componentry. They provide a base and give you a great platform to slowly build a bike of your dreams.
The Marin philosophy has always been about rugged bikes that can go that extra mile and now Marin has once again noticed the resurgence of adventure bikes, be it for off the beaten path or pavement rides. With this trend, they have created some amazing all road bikes ready for those who want to look beyond the tarmac.
Consisting two 650b bikes, a couple of 700c road warriors and an indestructible 29er, these awesome two wheel machines have been stripped of the idea that it can only live in one land, morphing into something that can pretty much go anywhere.
The bikes on test
Colour Availability: Blue
Frame Size Availability: 50, 52
Drivetrain: 8 speed internal hub
Tyre Size: 650b
Colour Availability: Navy Blue
Frame Size Availability: S, M
Drivetrain: Shimano Sora 3x9Tyre Size: 650b
San Rafael DS3
Colour: Navy Blue
Frame Size Availability: S,M,L
Drivetrain: Shimano Altus 3x9
Tyre Size: 700c
Frame Size Availability: S,M
Drivetrain: Shimano EF series 3x9
Tyre Size: 700c
Colour: Matt Black, Green
Frame Size Availability: S,M
Drivetrain: Shimano Altus 9 speed
Tyre Size: 29er
RM2,829 > Long distance steel commuter that’s up for adventure
Highs: Chill AF
Lows: Considered heavy to non-targeted demographic
Is there still room for a steel bike with an internal drivetrain in the fast paced cycling world that we live in now? Marin seems to think so, and you know what? So do we. The Nicasio RC is a laidback fuss-free commuter/adventure bike for those who just like to keep it simple whilst still looking fashionable.
It has puffy, tan walled 650b tyres, a beautiful hipster gloss blue paint job and an eight speed thumb shifting drivetrain governed by an internal hub that surely doesn’t need looking after like a regular Sora or 105. It’s a bike that’s always ready to take you anywhere, whether to Janda Baik on a little camping jaunt, the local shops to grab your favourite magazine or to just gallivant around Kuala Lumpur.
With its riser type handlebar, relaxed geometry and upward riding position there’s nothing not to like about the bike, except for the weight of course. But there is a good reason for that - the frame is made out of steel. Weightweenies will be screeching at this point, but steel really is not all that bad because the bike felt solid and smooth on the road, seemingly eating up imperfections for fun.
This bike is meant for easy riders who just love to explore, and indeed, it really does put a smile on your face. Not everybody likes to wear really tight Lycra overalls and look like they just came off a pro tour bus with bikes that are probably lighter than a plate of dinner.
Some people do prefer heavy bikes that are easy to ride, comfortable and maintenance free. Speaking of up keep, the eight speed drivetrain is pretty much a once a year look over affair, and during our Kuala Lumpur test ride, it did have enough gearing to tackle long flats or city hill climbs.
RM3,017 > For those who like to go on roads least travelled-on drop bars
Highs: Handsome looking bike
Lows: Needs upgrades
Gravel bikes, what can they really do in a country like Malaysia where there are no designated gravel tracks for people to have fun on? Well, in our eyes, the term is just another name for bikes that can travel anywhere for those desperately seeking adventure off the beaten paths. These have all the attributes you need for a day, week or month out adventuring.
One such bike that is especially built for these types of travels is the Four Corners. The Four Corners is a relaxed geometry chromoly adventure bike that has plenty of kit mount points ready for anything that the owner wants to take the bike through. It’s not the lightest bike in the world, but what it lacks in lightweightness; it makes up for by excelling in durability and comfort.
It can either accept a 650b wheelset or a larger 700c pair of wheels making it one of the most versatile bikes available in the market. The Four Corners rides like a heavy expensive vehicle (think Mercedes’ S-Class) but has a wide range (3x9) gear ratio to push through on rough roads or hilly city climbs.
Once moving, it cruises effortlessly and its more upright position is perfect for long haul travelling on the road. It comes standard with 650b knobbly yet simultaneously smooth tyres which double as suspension, which really do save your hands and wrists from a visit to the doctors.
San Rafael DS3
RM2,357 > Happy hardtailing
Highs: Can handle small drops
Lows: Needs component upgrades to be lighter
Although Marin’s San Rafael looks like a traditional hardtail, it’s a faux off-roader as it lives more comfortably on paved roads and easier rough stuff like gravel. Nonetheless, it can travel really fast whichever surface you’re on, which is why it is good idea to include a short travel suspension at the front just in case if you hit a pothole or suddenly encounter a small drop.
Marin calls these sports hybrid bikes and we can’t agree more with this category, as the San Rafael is a road specific bike with added light off-road prowess going for it. The bike does come with hydraulic brakes which is great for control and stopping power, especially if there is an emergency. The DS3 comes with Shimano’s Altus/Alivio 3x9 mix with a wide range of gearing to either help a cyclist tackle steep climbs or do fast road cycling on flats.
The Schwalbe Smart Sam performance 700cx40 tyres are fast rolling but also durable enough to take punishment from the worst of roads. If you have to cycle on a mix of pavements and rough roads a lot, this is the perfect bike for you, especially when the 63mm travel fork at the front helps to soak up the imperfections.
RM 2,399 > best bike for fast pavement cycling
Highs: Feels solid and fast
Lows: Wish it was a drop bar instead
There’s nothing to really complain about when it comes to the Fairfax SC4. Its fast, feels robust and has all the right components for great city riding. The aluminum frame is fairly light and responsive, and can be had either in satin silver or a very shiny gloss blue. Since Marin already has the Muirwood which you can read about in the next page, it’s a shame that the Fairfax SC4 does not come with drop bars.
Having said that, we still think that the Fairfax is still a very useable bike, especially for those who prefer the easiness of the flat handlebars. The trigger type shifters make the 11-34T cassette easily accessible, which can help the rider either go fast on the flats or spin their way up a climb.
The cockpit components are all supplied by Marin, but if you wish to make the bike even lighter, you can do it ever so slowly and replace things like the stem, seatpost, and saddle with better and lighter components. This is a great choice for people who just want a light bike or cyclists that are eager to ride a bike that they can upgrade slowly.
RM 1,885 > affordable Chromoly touring bike
Lows: Heavier than it looks
Last but not least in this fantastic range of adventure bikes from Marin is the Muirwood. It’s made from chromoly steel which Marin says should last you a lifetime and you can pretty much carry anything you want on the bike. You have mounting points at the fork, at the seatpost, at the downtube, underneath the top of the seat post and many more.
Although Marin says this is a pavement bike, the mounting points beg to differ as it seems the frame is always ready to accept panniers, bags, bottle cages and much more. The frame also has 360 degree reflective strips for safe night riding as well as puncture proof tyres to keep you going no matter where you are or what ground you are on.
The 29er wheel size was chosen for the bike so that the it could have a larger and wider contact point to the ground, ensuring stability for those late night city rides when going on and off pavements are a norm. There is no internal cable routing, so maintenance is uber easy. The Muirwoods also comes with three chainrings at the front, giving the biker a wide variety of gears to play with at any given time.