Weaknesses: Almost too poor a bike to ride--seriously.
I bought one of the black and green versions of this bike on a 'big sale' so that I could try out single-speed riding. At $500 (list price of $650), I did not expect the bike to be awesome, but I figured I'd keep the wheels and the frame for a while, swap out the fork, and upgrade a range of parts. I mean, how bad can it be, right? The answer is: shockingly bad. After one ride on modest trails, I returned the bike. The front wheel went out of true after maybe five miles and so the front disc rubbed. The bottom bracket groaned and clunked after just a few miles. The shock is not only bad but really quite unpleasant. Even locked out, the fork clunks when you hit any bump. It feels like there is a spring but nothing else inside, so you get rebound shocks which basically offset any potential benefits from the shock.
The brakes squealed loudly from the first few miles, too. The chain slacked up during one ride and the adjuster bolts felt as though I was going to rip them off their mounts when I tried to adjust. I did not want to make the bike to be un-returnable.
All I expected was a simple and generally decent bike, similar in quality to the Specialized X4 level bike I bought for my daughter as a get-around bike. Yes, cheap machine-built wheels and very cheap brakes. But I did expect this bike to be reasonably rideable for knocking around easy trails for a bit, so I could see if I liked the SS thing, before upgrading. I simply cannot believe that Trek would sell a bike this poor.
So I returned this bike and got a Redline Monocog. I have already taken the Redline on a much longer and burlier ride than I took the Trek on and it performed flawlessly (for what it is)--I am not being a snob here--I just wanted a solid, basic ride.
I have purchased many bikes over the years--both high-end and low-end (for kids, etc.). The Trek Marlin does not even compare in quality to the little kids' bikes I have bought from REI.
To be honest, I find it a bit sad that a bike that is listed at $600+ without gears, shifters, derailleurs, etc. cannot be expected to be a solid basic ride. But the bike store's response when I returned the bike was basically, "well, its a cheap bike." Huh. The Monocog has restored my faith, though!
a Cross Country Rider
Date Reviewed: March 23, 2013
Strengths: Frame, saddle, fast
Weaknesses: Brakes, tires, crank, stem and handlebars
I have the green and black Marlin SS and have ridden the bike dozens of times over the past year. From the ground up . . . the tires need to go immediately. Bontrager's tires are getting better from what I hear, but the stock tires for me were tenuous at best. The wheels for the price point are fine for now, but the crank is less than stellar; yes, you get what you pay for, but I will need to upgrade the crank this summer to limit noise. The stock brakes are fine but sketchy on downhill sections . . . I plan to upgrade those as well. The stem and handlebars were the first to go, only for aesthetic reasons. The Bontrager saddle is remarkably comfy, which shocked me; their saddles in the past have been atrocious. I bought another just like it for my Kona Hei Hei Supreme. The fork is tolerable but if I ever see a sweat deal on a 100 mm G2 fork upgrade, I'm on that. Bike's weight? Don't care, sorry.
Considering the need for upgrades, I can't justify five chilis. Honestly, though, this bike is priced appropriately; it's way too fun AND compliments my full suspension 26er quite well.
A note to the burgeoning hipster who hopes to hit the mountain with intentions of riding hard: this bike destroys the likes of the Karate Monkey. While on the Surly KM, I frequently felt as though my effort was being wasted on an admittedly fun yet precariously whippy frame. The KM's stock fork felt like it might fold underneath me at any given moment. The Marlin SS conversely promotes confidence and allows me to take more risks with no perception of power loss.
One minus with this bike is that you might need to ride with others who have a similar setup or you will leave the rest behind out of necessity for momentum. A SS like this will make you a better rider. Why? The bike requires true effort and will challenge its rider to dig deep into his or her well to discover what is or is not there. You will explode up steady climbs and slay cross-country single track sections. I feel like I have the best of both worlds now . . . 26er FS and 29er SS.
The sliding dropouts do need to be addressed. One appealing aspect in a SS is supposedly the lack of maintenance . . . funny. Having ridden different single speed setups, two of which had traditional horizontal dropouts, the Marlin SS's slider technology is far superior. Nevertheless, low maintenance in the long run requires patience and precision while setting up the ride. With all due respect to the mechanical mishaps and misfortunes of others, I would suggest thorough scrutiny of chain tension and tension on the bolts which hold everything in place. Trust your LBS to set it up but do not stop there; ride it hard once or twice and then double-triple check the entire setup. After a 1/2 dozen rides or so, along with faithful and careful adjustments, the bike should then be ready for the long haul. See Sheldon Brown's website for advice on chain tension etc.
Don't buy this or any SS if you have a history of serious knee issues. The stock gearing is coincidentally what I had on my custom KM and suits me fine for the trails I ride, but it can be a grind on certain hilly sections. Avoid this or any SS if you are new to mtbing unless you are a natural beast. A broad selection of gears will help a new rider adjust to the nuances of bike handling.
Buy this if you are bored . . . bored with the same old thing and need a new challenge. Buy it if you want a reliable, responsive, predictably quick ride. I bought this because no matter what I buy I usually add upgrades, so why not be frugal at the onset?
Strengths: The frame is very responsive. The G2 geometry does make sharp turn easier. Good BB clearance.
Weaknesses: The chain tension system is ATROCIOUS. Even before I converted it into a fixie the chain would slack out every time I tightened it up. I even bought different tensioner bolt. When I went to a Trek store they told me to go to the hardware store and get locktite and new bolts. I said that they should do it. Their response was "We will have to charge you if you do the work." I used to sell Trek bikes but not anymore. Their customer service is terrible.
Don't buy this bike. After having it for a month I sold it and built a much better SS bike from Surly.
a Weekend Warrior
Date Reviewed: January 27, 2013
Strengths: G2 geometry 29er price gearing
Weaknesses: FORK, grips, handlebars, Botrager stamped on EVERYTHING
Ive been wanting to try two things for a while now 29er's and single speed mtb's. I found this left over 2012 on clearance at my LBS and it was both and cheap! The fork is absolute garbage and makes a terrible THUNK sound on rebound. The brakes work well enough but I prefer hydraulic so i went with Elixir 1's. The single speed is great on my local single track trails. Its a great starting point at $479 ($506 after tax) if I would have had to pay retail I would have started with a different bike. I love the geometry and frame design.
Bike Setup: origin 8 saddle, origin 8 pro-rise bars, Botrager carbon rigid fork, odi rogue grips, avid elixir 1 brakes
a Cross Country Rider
from Tyler, tx
Date Reviewed: September 11, 2011
Strengths: Great frame & ride
Weaknesses: Brakes & rear drop out for chain adjustment
Love the frame and the ride, the brakes are terrible. Replaced with avid 185 on the rear, the upgrade is about $80.00. Yesterday I was riding and the chain came off, I flipped the bike and when I got up the rear wheel was gone. After looking at the rear drop outs, the quick release on the wheel, and the chain tension adjustment my conclusion is it is as bad as the brakes. I like the 29er and the single speed ( simpler & better work out ) but I have had too many problems in less than 6 months. I have had better luck with Specialized and Giant brands. If you are going to buy one, look at the rear drop out and how much of the aluminum the quick release actually grabs on the chain tension assembly - not very much.