Interview by David Arthur
Marin Bikes have consistently made a name for technical innovation, producing some of the most interesting bikes over the years. So at the UK launch for the new Rift Zone 29er, the company’s first full suspension 29er, we chatted to Mark Vanek, Product and Marketing Manager, and Rob Pauley, Product Manager for Suspension Bikes at Marin. We picked their brains on the challenges of designing 29er mountain bikes, the new Quad Link 3.0, and what the future holds for mountain biking.
We’re here in the Surrey Hills (and it’s not raining!) testing the new Marin Rift Zone 29er. Tell us a little about this new bike?
Mark Vanek: Well, an all-new package for this year with the frameset, and suspension wise with the Quad Link 3 suspension system, it’s very different to the previous generation of Quad Link 2 bikes. We’ve retained all the core principles of Quad 2 in terms of keeping the axle path in a similar fashion, so having an instantaneous pivot centre on the bike.
But some small tweaks allow us to use the Quad Link 3 in a 29er package, and have the same feel that people are used to on a 26in version. With the new design it allows us to have a little more linear suspension rate as well, so the bike feels a little plusher. It gives the rider a little more suspension action further into the travel, so it really evolves the suspension to be a little better for riders doing bigger terrain, or just want a bike that feels more consistent from top to the bottom of the suspension travel.
Were there any challenges adapting the Quad Link designer to a 29er bike?
Mark: Yeah, the 29er chassis, having a greater bottom bracket drop from the axle height, with the Quad Link 3 design it’s really important in terms of having that axle path as well as the pivot centre movement, how it’s moving in relation with that bottom bracket and also with the axle. The Quad Link 3 was really beneficial in that it allowed us to tune that axle path, and having the instantaneous pivot centre move in appropriate dimensions in relationship to the bottom bracket, and with what the rear wheel was doing as well. It was really a necessity to make it work properly and have that same consistent feel that people are used to on the 26in version.
Rob Pauley: Really, in a way the Quad Link 3 is the answer to our problems. We started producing 29er hardtails in the US; they had taken off quite a bit. Plus we had a lot of demand to convert the Quad Link 2 into a 29er, but there were too many problems encountered with it. Probably the biggest was the swingarm, it would have to be so long and flimsy with a 29in wheel. So Quad Link 3 itself was the answer, as opposed to any little problems with Quad Link 3 and fitting a 29in wheel, it was nothing compared to the old Quad Link 2. It really was the answer.
That allowed you to keep the chainstays short then?
Mark: Yes. And plus because it actually doesn’t have the traditional Marin long swingarm of Quad Link 2, the rear end can still be made to maintain its stiffness. You need frame clearance and mud clearance, and it’s much better on the new bike.
Today we’ve also been riding the new Marin Mount Vision, which wears the new Quad Link 3 and offers 140mm travel. It’s a bike that’s changed significantly over the years?
Rob: That one was hard because the Quad Link 2 Mount Vision was so well received by the media, by the public, by everyone. The 2011 edition was my favourite incarnation of the Quad Link 2. It was beautiful. Once we got the first prototypes, I was a little apprehensive, until I rode it.
Getting that same ride out of the Quad Link 3 as we had out of the Quad Link 2 on the 2011 bike, I think people are going to be very happy with it. The spring rate has flattened out a bit, so it is a bit more compliant in the later part of the travel as opposed to ramping up as it did before. That was kind of a love hate relationship for some people; they loved that it felt bottomless but felt like they weren’t getting all the travel. Moving to Quad Link 3 was a big step; it was a risk because of all the love the QL2 got. But I think it’s going to get the same if not better reviews.
Mountain biking is currently going through an interesting wheel size debate. What are your personal feelings on this debate?
Mark: It’s coming down to where riders are settling into what they want to do. The way suspension is moving and the way people are able to build lighter bikes. Like the 140mm Mount Vision, if you took it and put it side by side with a 120mm Mount Vision, and its prowess for cross country racing, the 140mm would outshine it, even as a pure cross country rig. But now we’ve got a slacker geometry, we’ve made a bike that’s much more versatile, more capable of being used for steeper and harder terrain.
In terms of wheel size, it’s going to come down to different user groups and what they feel is the most confident inspiring for them. And then it is optimising product to follow. That’s definite a tide that is still settling at the moment.
Rob: Well, the part that I drew from your question was the personal bit. For myself, five years ago, I couldn’t understand all the hoopla about wheel sizes. But getting on our bikes, the many incarnations of 29ers we’ve had, you really see the benefits of it. And definitely there are certain trails where you feel the benefits; long flowing trails, really cool rippers.
But when I get into the more technical, twitchy trails and bermy trails, I really like a 26. I think because that aspect of the question, being personal, everyone’s got their own little feelings towards it. Who knows, maybe 650b is the one that everyone is going to fall in love with. Maybe that would make me a convert?
I love the fact that they’re all bikes; the fact the argument is still out there, that people are having the discussion about wheel size. That’s a good thing just because for the longest time people just settled into what the norm is. And now people are actually thinking about it, especially companies, they’re thinking ‘what would be the ideal wheel size?’
And does it matter the size of the rider? The really tall guys really benefit. But there’s the little people who need us to be able to package our suspension into a small enough frame, there are still the riders out there who demand it. I definitely think it’s a good thing for the industry. It’s a little hard since every territory is different; people in Spain want something different to those in England, in Germany, that’s the hard part.
All the development into every single wheel size, that’s probably the hardest part for the bike industry, finding that magic number. We all want the genie to say it’s going to be 650b. Or it’s going to stay 26in. Or in ten years it’s all going to be 29in. We all want that bold statement so we can start building it. I guess only time will tell.