Monday, January 20, 2020

Marin Four Corners: Honest Review

The Marin Four Corners: What is it, exactly?

A robust and well built bicycle, the Four Corners struggles to find it's footing in a specific bike category

I really like this bike, I just need an excuse to use it. Is it a mountain bike? Not exactly. Is it a road bike? Definitely not. Is it a "gravel" bike? Maybe. The bike rides really planted on gravel and soaks up the potholes with ease. But is it a fast, race specific gravel bike? It's not even moderately fast. In fact, I'm about 2-3 mph slower on average when I ride it. So what is the Marin Four Corners? What, exactly, was it designed for? Let me attempt to shed some light on a bicycle that was heavily marketed by the Marin brand and see if it lived up to the hype. 

Marin promised us the possibility of a do it all bike that is stable enough for touring but nimble enough for singletrack use and even getting a bit of air on the trail. I've searched all over the internet in hopes of seeing any actual reviews from real people using their bikes this way. Sure, the people in the promotional video (see video shown above) are skilled professionals who can probably bunny hop a beach cruiser and sell it to us as the next progressive travel enduro bike. But are people actually using the Four Corners as intended?

The answer from an extensive search is a resounding no. To begin with, most people who reviewed the bike online are actually from Poland and Russia, so I had to go on context clues to try to understand the YouTube reviews. From what it appeared most people were riding this bike similar to the way most people ride hybrid or path and pavement bikes. Granted most reviewers seemed like they had many positive things to say about the bike, however the gnar factor was definitely missing from their videos. Nobody was sending this bike off jumps or careening into drops and no one seemed to be popping wheelies. 

So what has my experience been with the Marin Four Corners? What, in my opinion can and can't this bike actually do? After a year of ownership, I think I have my verdict. I will eventually attempt a ride on my local mountain bike trail with this bike, so this is still a preliminary review based on all the other forms of riding that I have done with it. 

The Marin Four Corners Is: 

Comfortable- This is a very comfortable bike. It's upright for a drop bar bike, and riding the drops doesn't leave you gasping for air. The bike soaks up a lot of road vibrations and the ride is very forgiving overall. 

Stable: Even unloaded (I have never loaded mine up for bikepacking or touring) this bike is very much planted on the ground. On loose, gravel descents it doesn't feel twitchy or off balance. The back wheel grips well on dirt climbs. 

Durable: Everything on this bike is built to last. This bike is made from quality parts including what is basically a 29er rigid fork and wheelset to compliment the already robust steel frame. Nothing flexes where it shouldn't. The drivetrain shifts under load and doesn't skip gears. The chain doesn't bounce off the bike on big bumps or potholes. Like a Toyota Land Cruiser, everything on this bike looks made to stand 25 years of abuse. 

The Marin Four Corners Is Not:

Light: Weighing in at just shy of 30 pounds, this bike is not light, not by road bike standards, gravel bike standards, touring bike standards,  not even by hardtail mountain bike standards. This bike is heavy, everything about it from the frame and wheelset makes it so. There are no punchy accelerations that can be done on this bike. Rather, it encourages the rider to ride at a consistent pace throughout the whole ride. A day of climbing on this bike will usually result in an evening icing the knees. 

Fast: I have done all of my riding with the stock wheelset and tires that originally came on the bike. So my assessment of the bike's speed comes from the original equipment it came with. Why shouldn't it? It's designed to be a mountain bike with drop bars and road bike gearing. With that in mind, this bike is not fast pointing any direction that is not downhill. Could it be fast with narrower tires and a lighter wheelset? Likely but that is not the point. If you have nowhere to be in a hurry then I highly recommend this bike. This bike will have you finishing your usual routes 20-30 minutes later than you normally would. The rotational weight of the wheels is the biggest cause of all of this and in my opinion the bike is not optimally geared to accommodate for such a heavy wheelset, thereby reducing acceleration and speed.

A lot of marketing dollars went into making the Marin Four Corners. The Pine Mountain, a much more versatile and capable bikepacking bike, did not receive nearly the same amount of marketing. To be fair, the Four Corners seems to sell very well overseas and in areas where the roads are bad or non-existent. Where paved roads and mountain bike trails abound this bike seems to struggle to find it's footing. While there are gravel roads near me, I have to ride my bike 10 miles to the edge of town to get to them. If I lived in Iowa and had gravel roads out my front porch I would see the usefulness and utility of such a ruggedly designed bike. However, being in a densely populated North Texas suburb I have to admit that there is little need for such an overbuilt bicycle. While I appreciate the durability and comfort that this bike can offer I find myself struggling to find an opportunity to use it. This may have to do with the fact that I'm a recreational cyclist living in a well developed area. If I relied solely on my bike for transportation or lived out in a rural village this bike would be a priceless commodity to have. 

In a post-apocalyptic world where the Tour De France is held in Mad Max-type conditions, this bike would reign supreme. For every other scenario, this bike seems a little bit of an overkill. Having said all of that, I really enjoy the bike so I plan to keep riding it for the time being. I will one day write a review on it that does it justice, as soon as I can figure out what it really excels at.