“A 29er? Damn.”
This was the first thing I said when the new Marin Pine Mountain first appeared late last year. I’d owned the previous model, a Pine Mountain 1, (the lower specced build is the 1, the 2 has the fancier bits) and it ran on a deliciously squishy 27.5+ platform. Mine was a size L, a bit small for my 6’2″ frame, but it was as nimble and poppy as a steel hardtail could be, with plenty of cushion when things got chundery and rooty.
I’d head rumors of a new Pine Mountain, a bike Marin first sold some 30 years ago, and wondered if the plus-size tire fad, which flamed out seemingly entirely within the space of a few years, would continue, hoping so in the case of this bike.
It did not.
What replaced it is a new bike entirely, built on a 29er wheelset, that’s even more unabashedly committed to adventure riding and carrying a whole lot of stuff with the frame. You just go ahead and try to ignore a frame with that many bosses and rack mountain points. Look at that inner triangle! Absolutely brimming with bosses. Ostensibly, that’s to run a bolted-on frame bag, which I do, but really, let your mind go nuts. And that double-barred handlebar setup is there for one thing—strapping your sleeping bag on and getting out there. Well, they call it the “Bedroll Bar” but you get the idea.
The bike is slacker, with a more upright seat angle, and shorter chainstays (430 mm) than the previous model, as is the case with seemingly every new bike released this year. The steel is different too. A slightly cheaper 4130 Chromoly rather than the buttery Columbus Thron used previously—the bike though is nearly $700 cheaper in the 2020 version, so cuts had to be made somewhere.
The components are no-fuss, and, par for the course with Marin, well thought out for the price. I love Shimano’s SLX 12-speed drivetrain used here, and the Shimano MT520 brakes are something you’ll never need to think about and unless you’re going to push this bike into places it wasn’t designed for, those won’t ever need upgrading. The fork is a meh RockShox FS 35 with 120mm of travel and mine already needs a rebuild after a few hundred miles. I’ll likely upgrade. The inexpensive TranzX dropper post works fine, though I replaced the cheap plastic lever right away with a much better PNW Components Loam lever. I dig how the handlebars look, and like the idea of increased real estate, but they’re heavy with that extra metal and feel a little stiff. With a tent strapped on though, the choice makes all the sense in the world.
Cable routing is mostly along the bottom of the downtube, with internally routed dropper post cabling. This mostly works fine, though it can be a little finicky to get everything all lined properly if you need to move the cables around as I did when I replaced the dropper post lever.
Now then, the tires. Marin specced the bike with Vee Flow Snap 2.6″ rubber which makes sense. If you’re gonna ditch the 27.5+, give us some wide meats. But these tires are a head scratcher when it comes to performance. They grip fantastically well, which, okay, awesome in an adventure rig. But they’re really, really slow. The lugs are so huge you can practically feel each one rolling over the ground, hugging every bit of purchase, reluctant to let go. Running them at low PSI to get the squish you want makes them slower, and threatens disaster with the thin-feeling sidewalls. Running them at a higher PSI, say, near the 30s, makes them a little faster, but now the ride is harsh and there’s little benefit to a tire that thick. I don’t have a ton of experience with 2.6″ tires, so I may try the back with some narrow 2.3″s to see if that speeds things up a bit, or throw a higher quality 2.5″ or 2.6″ set on the wheels to run at the squishy lower pressure a bike like this kinda wants if ride quality is to be improved. As it is, the tires feel like tweeners, and cheap-ish ones at that.
But that’s not to say this bike feels overly harsh. Not at all. The compliance of steel is almost luxurious if you spend most of your time on dirt riding stiffer carbon frames. I’m convinced the almost absurdly thin seatstays are not that small just to reduce weight, but to add some flex in the rear triangle. With a plusher fork, this bike would ride like a cadillac. Well, a hardtail Cadillac, but you get the idea.
I’ve put just about 500 miles on the XL-sized bike so far, over a variety of trails: steep and loose, steep and rocky/rooty/terrifying, gravel roads, winding flow trails, and a combination of all of the above. Throw in plenty of in-town pavement cruising too. My overall impressions are of a confident, stable bike that rides efficiently and can handle almost anything. On flowy trails, it’s a refined hoot, loading up energy in the compliant steel, releasing it after a bank; on punishing climbs, the steep seat angle (74.5 degrees) keeps you in a comfortable pedal position, and the slack (66.5 degrees) headtube angle keeps things playful when pointed down. The reach on the XL is 455 mm, which isn’t very long for an XL; I feel comfortable and ready for long saddle days in the cockpit, and riding it around town it almost feels like a commuter with super wide bars.
It’s just easy to ride. It’s fun to ride. I have a stable of bikes to choose if I want to ride to the coffee place or to grab something at the store, including an e-bike and a Public bike townie thing, and 9 times out of 10 I ride the Pine Mountain. It’s not what I’d consider a particularly rowdy trail bike, but if I just want to cruise in the afternoon on some dirt and don’t feel in the mood for shredding, I’m on the Pine Mountain. If I wanna load up with gear and ride up to a lake to fish, I’m on the Pine Mountain. If I were to be bikepacking this weekend, it would be on the Pine Mountain.
Add all that up, and that’s one bike doing a lot of things.
Right there on the headset cap it reads: Made for fun. And I think that’s exactly right. This is a $2,100 bike that is built to last, comes specced with respectable components, will take you anywhere you could ever want to go, looks great, and is fun doing it. Long term, I’m absolutely swapping the tires, rebuilding the fork (not Marin’s fault), maybe swapping out the bars for something with a little more give. I’m also absolutely having fun.
• Pine Mountain 1: Specs include Series 2 Double Butted CrMo frame with open dropouts, RockShox Recon RL fork, Shimano Deore derailleur, 11-speed drivetrain. $1,050
• Pine Mountain 2: Specs include Series 3 Double Butted & Heat Treated CrMo frame with custom cast dropouts, RockShox FS 35 fork, Shimano SLX 12-speed drivetrain. $2,100.
I had Rogue Panda custom make a frame bag to make use of all those bosses. Went with the double decker, and it will easily fit food, cookset, tube, multitool, and pump for a several day adventure.
The TranzX dropper lever was not cutting it, so I replaced it with the PNW Loam lever. You might not think a dropper lever could be noticeably better—then you try the Loam and find out.
There are a zillion seat packs to choose from, and I went with the 11-liter REI Link because it’s simple, a good price, and it works just as well as far more expensive packs. Felt appropriate with the Pine Mountain 2.