So I have a 2004 Marlin frame and a 2001 Big Sur, from what I've been told they are both made from the same material and have the same geometry. The only difference is one is the Marlin is 17.5 and the Big Sur 17. I'm 5'10.
I'd probably go for the bigger of the two - which one feels more comfortable? The marlin is also not as old and presumably has seen less use. Aluminum inherently weakens over time, so I would go with the newer frame.
If you bought them new and thus they have warranty, then I'd keep the Big Sur. It was a higher level bike and I'd expect the replacement for a broken frame to potentially be better than for the Marlin if you broke it. If the Marlin has a warranty but the Big Sur doesn't then I'd probably go with the Marlin.
If they were both used when you bought them then fatigue is a factor and the bike with the least wear on it makes sense. Note NOT the age but the amount of and kind of riding done on it if you know.
If I recall correctly the 2004 Marlin was a 'silver' level frame while the Tassajara was 'gold' and the HKEK 'platinum'. The Big Sur was a step up from the HKEK.
Either of them can be built to a nice bike. The Marlin about that time was typically specced with low level entry components. The Big Sur typically had a better build. That's offset somewhat by the year of production but over those years maybe not much. If there is a real difference in size and it feels different that is something to consider. I kinda doubt a half inch matters much compared to how you build it.
I picked up a 2003 Big Sur and have upgraded it a little. One of my buds picked up a Marlin 2004 and another a Tassajara 2004 while a coworker had the Tass 2003. They were/are all good bikes but the components on the Marlin were somewhat marginal.
Combination of alloy and possibly butting as I understand it.
For example the 2003 Big Sur I've got is listed as: Platinum Series ZR9000 double-butted aluminum while my bud's HKEK from 2002 is listed as Gold Series 6061 T6 aluminum Genesis Geometry.
You end up with the same geometry but with the higher level frame you should lose a little weight.
Probably not a lot. It may be as much components and the fact that it is MINE but I know I like the feel of my Big Sur over my buddy's HKEK even though the bikes are very close. I know there are some differences in the way joints were made between my bud's 2004 Tassajara and my Big Sur but I don't know how much of that was frame level vs. the fact that mine is a 19" and his is 17.5" vs. the year model. The joint I noticed the difference on in particular was the front chainstay joints.
For bikes with different names but the same frame the difference would be in the paint and the build components.
(I think TREK uses the same alloys but calls them Red and White last time I looked.)
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