At Spotted Dog Cycles we carry two brands of bikes, Esker Cycles and Marin Bikes. Esker is a relatively new company based in Columbia Falls, Montana with an innovative suspension design and a love for steel. Marin is a brand that has been around since the mid 80’s, but may not have that household name the same way Specialized, Trek, or Giant does. Because of this, finding comprehensive reviews for bikes within these two brands can sometimes be tricky. Finding multiple reviews for certain models to compare, sometimes impossible. Over the course of the Montana riding season we plan to bring many of our rental bikes into the field for both trail riding and bikepacking. Our hope is to provide multi-dimensional reviews that don’t drain the soul for those looking for a new ride or within the cycling community, starting with the Marin Pine Mountain 1.
Touted as a do it all bike, the Pine Mountain 1, has the DNA of a bikepacking rig with the flair of a trail-slaying hardtail. Marin refers to the Pine Mountain as a bike ready for trail riding, all-day epics, adventure, and bikepacking. It is clear that the steel frame, suspension fork, and modern geometry make for an incredibly versatile bike with an eye on adventure.
The Bike: They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this is our review series and I intend on giving you my first reactions of bikes directly out of the box. My first thought as I pulled the Marin Pine Mountain out of its cardboard carrier, “damn this thing is heavier than I anticipated. I hope I didn’t make a mistake in buying these.”
As I built the first Pine Mountain I was impressed with the details Marin took while designing this bike. The look of this thing screams bikepacking rig, and the bikepacking eccentric within me was really excited about the myriad of mounting points and tiny BMX-like riser bars that will allow me to attach whatever I want to them. But, the Pine Mountain also features an adjustable air-sprung RockShox Recon and some seriously aggressive 29 x 2.6 Vee Flow Snap tires that will devour most technical terrain. Oh, and those tires, they come stock in skinwall, a bit of flash that cannot be ignored.
To keep everything in one place I’ve added full list of specs on the Pine Mountain 2 below:
Frame: double butted CrMo, 73mm threaded BB, a shitload of braze-ons
Front Suspension: 120mm RockShox Recon RL, 110x15mm boost spacing, 42mm offset
Wheels: Marin branded hubs/rims, 32 inner diameter rims, 32H, bolt on rotor and boost hubs
Tires: Vee Tire Flow Snap, 29” x 2.6”, wire bead
Derailleur: Shimano Deore Shadow Plus SGS
Shifter: MicroSHIFT 1x11
Cranks: Marin forged alloy, hollow spindle, 32T chainring
Chain: KMC X11
Cassette: Sunrace 11 speed, 11-46T
F. Brake: Shimano MT420, 4-piston hydro, 180mm rotor
R. Brake: Shimano MT400, 2-piston hydro, 160mm rotor
Levers: Shimano MT400
Handlebar: Marin Pine Mountain Trail Bar, 50mm rise, 780mm wide,
Stem: Marin Ally, 35mm
Grips: Marin Bear Claw locking
Seatpost: Marin Alloy, 30.9mm
Saddle: Marin Pine Mountain Trail
Singletrack: Having a fondness for steel hardtails I was excited to get this bike out on the trail. Most of our trails in Missoula don’t start to open until early April so getting really rowdy with the Pine Mountain will have to wait until later. I elected for our go-to after work/short-on-time beer cruise destination. A trail at lower elevation, that on a smaller scale offers everything a good singletrack demands: climbing, descending, cornering, and some neat little built features.
Like most trails in Missoula, you can reach this spot from your front door, job site, trailer park, or favorite brewery. The pedal to the trailhead acts as a nice warmup or first introduction to a bike. The first thing I noticed was how sluggish the Vee Tire Snap Flow was on the cross-town bike path. Vee considers these tires a “gravity” option and they definitely have the look of a burly Maxxis DHF. They left me with high hopes for their performance on the dirt, but It seems to be a pretty aggressive choice for a bike that Marin is defining as an all-day-in-the-saddle, bikepacking machine.
The next thing that I was quick to notice was the somewhat unique riding position. As I hopped on and began pedaling I found myself in a very upright position. The surprisingly short effective top tube length gives the rider the feeling of riding that sit-up-straight comfort bike, but it certainly handles and pedals much more efficiently. After a bit of experimenting I was pleased to find getting low behind the saddle was a dream. My guess is that Marin’s push towards this shorter cockpit comes back to its bikepacking and full day epic roots.
Now, finally the dirt. Dropping into the singletrack that upright riding position mostly faded away. Getting behind the saddle at speed made this thing feel incredibly quick and responsive. The cornering felt natural and easy. Even though the frame is a bit of a tank, the Pine Mountain had a nimbleness that would put a smile on anyone’s face.
The first feature on this Sunday afternoon trail is a small stretch of rock garden and boy howdy did the “sluggish” Flow Snap tires eat it up! Maintaining my speed throughout I was in and out of the garden with little effort. Heading fast into a loamy bank both tires hooked up with the dirt magically. The beefy Vee tires really add a trail bike element to the Pine Mountain that many other hardtails don’t have.
A fast and flowy section of the trail allowed me to open up and see how the bike handled at speed. The snappy steel frame and nearly 29+ wheels made for an incredibly stable ride that picked up speed really quickly. Moving directly into some punchy uphill stints I found that the topography of this section left me wishing I had a dropper post, but this is an add on that is becoming more and more affordable.
After a few easily navigated root drops, wall banks, and rollers the trail exits the gully on a brutally steep and abrupt climb. If you aren’t prepared to shift ahead of this climb you may be walking. The MicroShift 1x11 mountain bike shifter really surprised me here. Hooked up to the Shimano Deore Shadow I had no issues quickly dumping a bunch of gears and rallying uphill to the exit.
Bikepacking: Because so much of who we are at Spotted Dog is bikepacking and exploration we will always try to review a bike in the lens of a bikepacker. With an aim at backcountry features and application, the Pine Mountain checks quite a few bikepacking boxes. The first obvious adventure specific feature is the steel frame riddled with braze-ons. With bolt on frame bags becoming more popular this bike has mounts for both a full frame bag and top tube bag. The attachments for a rear rack and multitude of braze-ons makes for endless setup options while bikepacking.
Though comfortable, the double butted CrMo frame means that when this thing is loaded it is HEAVY. Crossing creeks and hike-a-bike sections will be truly grueling. But, when on the bike the weight seems mostly unnoticeable due in part to the upright riding position and fast rolling 29ers. Furthermore, the steel frame and riding position make long, loaded days in the saddle more manageable. Lack of pressure on the shoulders and wrists is absolutely noticeable.
The Marin Pine Mountain Trail Bar is a unique component that offers trail bikepacking versatility. Built to look almost like a stretched out BMX bar, Marin provided a cross bar where you can mount all sorts of electronics, bells, or straps without getting in the way of your handlebar roll. This is a design other brands like Surly and Salsa are also offering, but not many are coming stock on bikes. The bar comes in at 780mm which provides for great handling on single track even while bogged down in gear.
Fit: After working in bike shops and helping fit bikes to thousands of people I have found one thing to be true, fit can be very relative and personal. I’ve had a 6’3” tall man insist on a medium bike, kids wanting bikes that will take years to grow into, and men buying women specific bikes. It is all relative. At an average height of 6’ and an even more average inseam of 32" I fit pretty squarely in the large (19/20”) bike frame window.
The large Pine Mountain I have been test riding fits like I would have expected. Similar to my Advocate Hayduke or old Surly Karate Monkey I had plenty of room for full leg extension without having my seatpost headed towards the moon. The tighter cockpit was noticeable and initially made me feel like I was on a frame that was too small. Not being a fan of riding a size up I stuck with the large frame. After the first few miles it was easy to tell I was in fact on the right size. If you are a height that is in between sizes and taking this bike on a parking lot test ride at your LBS definitely keep this in mind. You can’t change the size of the frame after you buy it, but there are many things you can do to custom fit the cockpit of the Pine Mountain.
For many riders, the modest geometry differences between contrasting bike frames will go unnoticed. This bike is different, the sit-up-straight riding position it offers while pedaling seems truly unique. I can’t really tell you exactly why this bike felt so different. The geometry has similar numbers to other steel bikes in its category like the: Surly Karate Monkey, Jamis DragonSlayer, or Esker Hayduke. The 35mm stem certainly plays into this. For those not vibing with the upright position a 50 or 60mm stem may stretch you out a bit while still offering aggressive handling.
So who is the Marin Pine Mountain for? Coming it at a steal of a price, $1350, the Pine Mountain 1 would be great for someone who is looking to keep their bicycle quiver to one. It will allow for long, loaded days in the saddle, but is absolutely capable on even the most rugged single track trails. You can keep a set of less aggressive tires handy for a gravel or asphalt day or throw a dropper post on this thing and you’ve got yourself a unicorn of a bike for under $1500. This bike may not be best for the weight weenies out there, but after one day on the local trails the versatility, capability, and snappiness of the Pine Mountain 1 had me eating my own words about whether or not it was too heavy.
Reach out to us if you have any questions about the Pine Mountain. Be sure to stay tuned for review updates as we ride more over the summer months. Cheers.