With elegant steel tubing and vintage-inspired cues, Marin’s Pine Mountain 2 is a capable trail ripper built for bikepacking adventures. However, a few strange design decisions and lack of polish hold the bike back from greatness.
(Note: This review is based on my experience with the 2017 Pine Mountain 2 spec, though I received a frame swap to the 2018. Aside from color, the frame has not changed between years. The 2018 model received several component changes: the Fox Factory fork was swapped for a Rockshox Pike, tires were changed from WTB Trail Boss 3.0 to the WTB Ranger 2.8, and rims were downsized from i45 to i40s.)
Marin’s Pine Mountain 2 is a steel frame hardtail built for adventure with modern features and vintage-inspired touches that celebrate the company’s 30th anniversary. The Columbus Thron steel frame has elegant, sweeping lines that are notably devoid of the gusseted reinforcements the less-expensive Pine Mountain 1 model. The PM2’s thin-but-stiff seatstays are bridged by an “86” badge, and the stout thru-axle dropouts are emblazoned with the brand logo, just one of many fun touches that give the bike a premium feel. A stealth-routed dropper post and partially-internal derailleur and rear brake routing keep things looking nice and tidy while bikepacking-oriented features like framebag bosses on the underside of the top-tube make it clear the bike is designed for adventure. For the 2017 model, the beauty of the frame design was betrayed only by a hokey-looking badge on the seat tube, which I’m excited to see they removed for the 2018 model year.
The bike shipped with a plush Fox 34 Factory fork and Shimano XT drivetrain, neither of which I was able to find fault with. The fork responds wonderfully to small bumps, hard dives into corners and big hits. A KS Lev Integra dropper post makes descents a bit safer (and more fun), a worthwhile addition if you’ve got a seatbag that can function with a dropper. Shifting is precise and required no adjustment even after 90+ hours on the bike. With 180/160mm Shimano XT discs, I had no trouble stopping even when fully-loaded on steep descents. Some bikepackers may gripe about the inability to easily repair hydro brakes in the field, but for me the stopping power and reliability of hydros outweighs the benefits of running cable-disc. The 2017 model came with WTB Trail Boss 3.0 tires, WTB Scraper i45 wheels and generic “Formula” hubs, all of which have performed wonderfully during my time on this bike.
Upon receiving the bike, I immediately made a few changes. First, the contact points: grips were replaced with ESI Chunkies and the saddle was swapped for a Brooks Cambium – my go-to choice for bikepacking and touring. I bolted on a set of the new Kona Wah Wah II Pedals to give myself a large platform for my giant feet and long days in the saddle. I also swapped the 11-42 cassette for an 11-46 – considering many riders are going to be hauling gear up hills, increasing the range is a worthy upgrade that could be done via new cassette or any number of 3rd party systems. The bike has seen several different sets of tires due to chance encounters with sharp rocks on a few spirited rides, but the original WTB Trail Boss tires performed admirably for regular trail riding and light-duty bikepacking.
Light, stiff tubing and conservative geometry mean the PM2 is a pleasure to ride when grinding dirt roads or ripping singletrack alike. The PM2 descends with relative confidence, limited only by the bike’s hardtail nature. I felt outmatched only on the steepest of trail sections, where the somewhat steep headtube angle and short front-center left me wanting more stability. Otherwise, the bike was an absolute joy to ride, snapping playfully around corners and just asking to pop off every little rock and water-bar in sight.
At 5’11 with a reasonably long torso, I’m a somewhat difficult fit for many of the steel frame hardtails in the bikepacking space. I don’t quite have the required standover for most “large” bikes, yet my torso is too long for most “mediums”. The PM2 was a nice in-between for me: a reasonable standover height paired with a shorter top tube for it’s size (L), one of the primary reasons I purchased this bike over its competitors (I also jumped on a season closeout deal). After a few weeks of riding, I found the top tube to be just a touch short so I swapped the 60mm riser stem to a 70mm 0-Deg rise Thomson. Admittedly, the longer stem left the steering feeling a bit more truckish than I’d prefer, but that’s a concession I was happy to make given the improvement in all day comfort. That said, if you have a super long torso you might want to look for something with a roomier cockpit.
Since you’re here, you may be interested in how this bike rides when fully loaded on a bikepacking trip. I’m happy to report that the advertised stiffness of the Columbus tubing rode as expected – even with a full load, I felt none of the ‘wag’ that can be commonplace when too-light tubing is used on a bike built to carry weight. I will caveat this with the fact that I run a relatively light seatbag and carry most of my weight in the front triangle and bars. Nevertheless, I was pleased with how the bike rode and handled while loaded. The bike has excellent stability when loaded, and feels stiff in the climbs and confident on descents.
While it’s hard to find much to complain about regarding specifications or ride quality, some of the decisions on the PM2 were head scratchers. The first issue with the bike was clear about a week after I started riding: I could not get the back half of the bike to shut up. There was a loud creak that I was able to isolate to the drivetrain, particularly the dropouts. Marin uses its own proprietary “Naild” system for the thru-axle, which relies on a quick-release threaded skewer paired with a drive-side tension adjustment knob. The derailleur hangar fits snugly into the interior of the frame’s dropout, a somewhat unorthodox approach. After pulling the plastic drive-side adjustment cover, I found that the lock ring which holds the adjuster nut and derailleur hanger in place had come loose. I called Marin and spoke with Ian, who recommended a dab of blue Loctite, which solved the issue.
Props to Marin for the response, but the real issue here is that to replace the hanger you’ll need to carry a 21mm cone or adjustable wrench (while bikepacking!) for a task that would only require a set of allens on most bikes. Furthermore, if you cross-thread the lockring in the backcountry, you are out of luck, and spares will cost you $80 from a Marin dealer (you are required to buy the whole assembly). Marin claims they are redesigning the drive-side mechanism this summer so there may be changes with the 2019 models [Editor’s Note: Yep, appears they got rid of “Naild” system for 2019, along with some tubeset changes…].
Marin also declined to include cage bosses on the downtube, a feature now commonplace for bikes in this category. The decision was likely made to accommodate the downtube cable routing, but in combination with a suspension fork, it certainly limits your ability to carry gear or water. I ended up using a Bedrock Bags Honaker which worked fine for carrying a spare Nalgene, but it’s an unnecessary workaround. Marin also specced their own aluminum handlebars, and while I appreciate the wide bars and rise / sweep, the decision to make the left-side of the bars smooth (no knurling) means carbon paste is required to keep the dropper lever from rotating under use.
As a premium steel hardtail, the Pine Mountain 2 carries with it Marin’s lifetime frame warranty. About four months into riding, I noticed one of the seatstay welds had a significant crack forming on the drive side. I had never crashed the bike and had been relatively conservative with my trail selection – I wasn’t bombing bikeparks or downhill trails – so this was pretty clearly a manufacturing defect. I dropped the bike by the Marin dealer and, due to the proximity to a big bikepacking trip, I sent Marin an email directly to tell them I didn’t care about the color of the replacement. About a week later, a new frame was on its way. When the rebuild was completed (3 weeks after drop-off), I found that Marin had replaced the bike with the (purple) 2018 frame – as long as it rode the same and the cage mounts hadn’t changed location (they hadn’t), it made no difference to me.
Marin’s handling of the warranty issue was uncomplicated and swift, but having an issue with a frame after only a few months of use wasn’t confidence inspiring. I bought a steel frame partially for its reputation as the hardiest of frame materials, so I’m a bit disappointed (and paranoid) in the longevity of the first frame, even if the bike does come with a lifetime warranty. That said, Marin certainly stood behind their product and the warranty service was top-notch.
Marin Pine Mountain 2: Bottom Line
Frame issues and minor design gripes leave me with conflicting feelings on this bike – great lines, good specs and nifty features are partially offset by a handful of strange design decisions that keep the bike from reaching the drool-worthy status it aspires to. That said, it’s a solid value and definitely a contender in the growing steel frame bikepacking field.
- Elegant steel frame construction and vintage touches are the highlight of this package and set the bike off from the typical builds you may encounter on the trail
- The specifications don’t leave much to be desired: fork, drivetrain, brakes, dropper, wheels and tires match the bike’s intent well
- Loaded or unloaded, the bike handles wonderfully on all but steep descents. The geometry is a fine compromise between comfort and stability on both trail and road
- A few curious design choices and one warranty issue betray an otherwise great value in the bikepacking market
The Marin Pine Mountain 2 is a beautiful, modern steel mountain bike built for adventure. I wouldn’t steer anyone away from buying due to the issues I noted, but I do think Marin has some work to do in future model years to refine the design and make sure it’s up to the challenges that bikepackers will inevitably throw at it.
Disclosure: The Marin Pine Mountain 2 was purchased by this reviewer. We did not receive any compensation in exchange for the content of this review and strive to provide an honest and objective review of the product’s strengths and weaknesses to our readers.