When a large cardboard box scrawled with the name ‘Marin’ on the side of it turned up at Enduro HQ last week, we’ll have to admit that we weren’t sure what to expect. It’s been a while since we’ve had a Marin in for testing, and it would be safe to say they haven’t exactly been at the forefront of the mountain bike market over the last couple of years. However, some recent internal changes in the company have led to a reinvigoration of the brand, and as we reported in this post, the 2014 range looks strong. Time will tell, but we’re hoping they can restore some of the names former glory.

Arriving just in time for the beginning of spring, the 2014 Marin Nail Trail is the latest bike to join the Enduro Test Fleet. The Nail Trail model series is given to Marin’s mid-range hardtail bikes, with the lighter CXR Carbon 27.5 positioned above and the cheaper Palisades Trail 29er sitting below. For 2014, the Nail Trail range has been gifted both 29″ and 27.5″ wheels, with the brand firmly dumping its toes into the mid-sized wheel pool. While many folks out there have their own theories about which wheel size does what best and what type of bike they’re best utilised for, at the end of the day it provides another valid option for the consumer. And while 29ers have ruled the hardtail market for the past 3 years, we’re betting than you’ll see more companies offer a 27.5″-wheeled option for 2014/15, particularly in the smaller sizes and womens specific models that can traditionally be very hard to build right with a 29er wheel.

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“Nail Trail’s are built for fast rolling, with either 27.5” or 29” wheel options. Built from hydroformed and heat-treated AL6061, it’s light enough to race, but doesn’t require a number plate to have fun. Design features race geometry, tapered head tubes, and 15mm through axle RockShox forks” – Marin Bikes.

Features of the Marin Nail Trail 27.5″

– 6061 Hydroformed Alloy frame w/Tapered head tube and 27.5? specific race geometry
– RockShox Reba RL Fork w/Solo Air Spring & 100mm travel
– Shimano 2×10 Deore/SLX drivetrain w/Deore XT Shadow Plus rear derailleur
– Shimano M615 Hydraulic Disc Brakes
– Alex XD-Comp Wheelset w/Marin sealed bearing hubs
– Size Range: Small (15″), Medium (17″ – tested), Large (19″), X-Large (20.5″), XX-Large (22″)
– RRP: $2,099

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While it’s always nice to be able to test the top-of-the-line, the Nail Trail occupies an incredibly important part of the market, and is therefore a crucial model in the Marin lineup. The $2k hardtail market is fiercely competitive, and is where a lot of consumers step into the world of performance mountain bikes. Marin therefore have a responsibility to create a quality bike that is lightweight, strong, comfortable and capable – all without the help of carbon fiber, tubeless tyres or remote lockouts. Their duty is to create a bike that is all that and more – something that new riders won’t just enjoy, but love, and become enthusiastic riders for their rest of their lives, with the likelihood that they’ll end up upgrading to a new Marin at some point down the line.

For us, checking out the Nail Trail provides irrefutable evidence of the ‘trickle-down effect’. We wanted to avoid doing it, but you really owe it to yourself to have a look through some online bike archives to see what $2k used to buy you. The fact that the Nail Trail comes with a tapered steerer tube, QR15 thru-axle forks, hydraulic disc brakes, air-adjustable suspension, a triple-butted and heat treated 6061 alloy frame, 2-piece external bearing cranks and a 2×10 drivetrain – there really are more features than you can throw a bike-balancing stick at.

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RockShox Reba RL forks take care of bouncing duties, with 100mm of Motion Controlled damping. They utilise a tapered alloy steerer tube, QR15 thru-axle dropouts and feature a one-piece, magnesium casting for the lowers that comes complete with the shapely ‘PowerBuldge’ that oversizes the chassis wear the bushings are positioned. You get a crown-mounted lockout, adjustable rebound damping for the low-speed circuit and a Solo Air Spring, which can be adjusted to any rider weight.

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On paper, the Alex wheelset appears to be a potential weak point, and let’s face it, at a bit over $2k with the spec that it has, something has to give right? Well we wouldn’t speak to soon, as the wheelset looks reasonable with its smooth sealed cartridge bearing hubs, stealthy freehub mechanism and Centrelock splined disc mounts.

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The XD rims are sleeved, rather than being welded like more expensive rims. At just under 2kg for the wheelset, it looks like Marin has erred on the side of strength over lightweight. Spokes are supplied via DT Swiss, in the form of straight-gauge Champions that are threaded into brass nipples.

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We tested the Schwalbe Racing Ralphy 27.5″ tyres in Issue #23 of Enduro Magazine, and we found little surprises with the Performance Range tyres. Good to see that Marin has specced kevlar folding beads rather than heavier steel wire bead options – the Schwalbes come in just under 600gm each, and go a long way to keeping the ‘system weight’ of the wheelset reasonable. Combined with the proven Ralph tread pattern, the tyres should help with acceleration duties and handling in dry conditions. Good thing it’s nearly spring then!

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The forged rear dropouts exhibit some nice weight savings, though more importantly provide a large surface for the chain and seat stays to be welded onto. Compared to the cheaper Palisades Trail, the Nail Trail gets “Double Butted E4 Anti-Flex Chain & Seat Stays”, which is a fancy way of saying that the tubes have varying internal wall thicknesses and are shaped to minimise flex at the rear wheel. These tubes join the triple-butted front triangle,  which is also treated to some gentle hydroforming to create square-profile tubing for improved stiffness over traditional round tubes. All of these details might not scream out to you like a bulbous carbon frame does, but they’re all about improving ride quality and highlight just how good alloy manufacturing has gotten.

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Shimano stoppers are a great spec choice for the Nail Trail, with Marin having selected the non-series M615 model. They share a very similar aesthetic with the new Deore brakes, with a chunky twin-piston calliper and the newer style pads that you’ll find in the Ice Tech XTR, Deore XT and SLX brakes. The Centrelock rotors are for resin-pads only, but the brakes do have a lovely feel out of the box and should come with the reliability that we’d expect from a Shimano product.

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The brake lever gives up the tools-free reach adjuster found on pricier models, instead utilising a 3mm hex key bolt for adjustments.

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What is really nice about the setup however, is that Marin have elected for the I-Spec setup that is effectively Shimano’s version of the SRAM MatchMaker system. Rather than two individual clamps, the shifter mounts directly to the brake lever to create an extremely clean cockpit setup. There’s lateral adjustment for the shifter unit, so simply find the position for the brake lever that works best for your hands, then position the shifter body so you can access both paddles comfortably. Nice touch Marin!

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This is our first proper experience with the 2014 Shimano Deore components, and we’re impressed with the double crankset. Compared to the SLX cranks, the Deore’s see forged crank arms instead of them being hollow, so there’s a bit more weight there. While we’re all for it, the double crankset could be a little controversial given that it doesn’t provide the same massive gear ratio range that a 3×10 setup would have, and that could be a real issue on a bike that is likely going to be ridden by a whole host of riders across skill and fitness levels. As a generalisation, many European brands are sticking to triple setups even for 2014, whilst the North American brands are thoroughly embracing 2x and 1x drivetrains. This is likely to be an indication of the different terrain between the two continents, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

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Good to see the Nail Trail doesn’t miss out on the new Shadow Plus Deore XT rear derailleur. Along with the I-Spec brake/shifter mounts and the folding-bead tyres, these are all small details that could have been down-specced in order to trim a few dollars off the bike at an OEM level. It’s clear that whoever is speccing out the 2014 Marin bikes, is clearly a mountain biker and not an accountant.

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The cockpit on the Nail Trail is thoroughly modern and lightyears ahead of the skinny, long and nervous setups we had on our first serious mountain bikes back in the day. The handlebar uses a nearly undetectable 10mm rise, a gentle backsweep and a generous 710mm width. Combined with the short 70mm stem on our Medium test bike, it looks like Marin have designed the hardtail to provide confidence on the steeps over climbing agility. And in our opinion, that’s a very good thing.

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Nice contact points, including a Marin-branded saddle made by Selle Royal, and neat lock-on grips with anodized locking collars. Even the long-arm quick release seat collar is well made, and touches like the labeled headset spacers and twin-bolt seatpost round off a very tidily specced bike.

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We’re very excited to load up the km’s this spring on the Marin Nail Trail, and if early indications are anything to go by, it should be a blast. For us it was great to see a physical example of the changes to the company that Marin have been spruiking since Sea Otter, and from the geometry, to the spec and right down to the little details on our test bike, it appears they’ve at least got the right people in the places that matter. Keep an eye out for Issue #26 of Enduro Magazine, when we offer up a full shake-down review of the Nail Trail to see if the performance matches the initial impressions.

For more information on the Marin range, head to: www.MarinBikes.com
Or get in touch with Oceania Bicycles to find out your nearest Marin dealer in Australia.