2020 Marin Rift Zone 3 Review
For 2020 Marin has revised the Rift Zone line which is their 29" wheel mountain bike. With 130 front and 125 rear suspension travel Marin says "it represents the most modern 29” short travel trail bike possible." The Rift Zone line consists of 3 aluminum and 2 carbon builds but does not come as frame only. The Rift Zone 3 in our review is the top spec aluminum build that Marin offers and comes in at $2649.99 MSRP.
Looking at the overall quality and finish of the frame I did feel that it was more on the budget end of things. The frame had a few crumbs on the aluminum from welding which is a minor point, but kinda gives that rushed vibe. The paint work seemed pretty well done and color scheme seems as if it may have been decals under the clear coat but I would take that over decals over the clear coat. All internal cable routing ports were accessible should you need to swap something but looked like it might be more of a chore compared to other higher end frames with bigger ports and covers. None of these are deal breakers at this price but notable if comparing to a bike that may be $1000 more with similar build spec. The frame can hold a water bottle inside which is a big plus. I will say that it looks a lot nicer in person than it does in photos and the paint has a bright poppy vibe to it.
Geometry on the Rift Zone is in line with modern trends for our size Large frame. 65.5° head tube angle is on the slack side for what you may expect in this travel category. 76° seat tube angle is more on the modern trend although we are seeing 77° and even pushing nearly 79°. Shorter 425 mm chain-stays with 1213 mm wheelbase makes a decently compact package. Reach on our Large was 480 mm which felt comfortable for my 5'11.5" height.
I ran the bike pretty much stock aside from tires and wheels. I read the VEE Snap Flow tires were pretty draggy so I pulled them for other tires that rolled a bit faster. After tearing my front tire during my initial ride I put the Snap on front. I expected the stock wheel-set to be heavier than they were so I put a set I had been riding from my last bike. The stock wheels seem to be of decent quality and came taped for tubeless. I counted the rear hub at 15 POE (clicks of engagement) which seemed low in my opinion, but nothing I would worry about. I ran rear shock pressure 10 psi higher than Marin's recommendation to help keep it from bottoming out. Rear shock came with .4 volume spacer and quickly found I needed to bump it up to .6. The Marzocchi Z2 came with 1 volume spacer and I added 1 more for my 205 lbs of girth and I ran it at the recommended psi for my weight.
Having completed some homework before purchasing I read from reviewers that the Rift Zone wasn't a climbing superstar. Being a bike with travel that seemed like a longer legged XC bike I was skeptical of these claims. The bike feels comfortable on climbs and the 76° seat tube angle puts you nicely above the cranks. I did find that coming off a steeper angled seat I pushed the saddle more forward to get a little more above the cranks. After riding trails I am very familiar with aboard the Rift Zone I would have to somewhat agree that the Rift Zone isn't the climber that the travel would suggest. I found that the 33.5 lb trail bike showed its weight on the climbs. With the rear shock in the open position this bike had quite a bit of bobbing on the climbs. Switching it to the middle position helped, but still had a bit of bob remaining. I also noticed that the front end wanted to come up a bit on steep punchy climbs more so than other bikes with similar head-tube angles. The raising of the front end is likely due to the slack headtube angle and the short chainstays. Nothing that was too problematic but I did have to adjust my riding to suit. To me this bike is more of a sit and spin your way up the climbs rather than get out and go. On longer road climbs the firmest position is mandatory to get you to the top. When the trail levels out and getting on the gas, the Rift Zone doesn't have the snap at the pedals. All that said its not a bad climbing bike and gets you to the top just fine, just wasn't what I thought it would be for the category it sits in.
When ready to sail down, Marin's tag line "Made For Fun" really shines with this bike. Similar to my expectations on climbing, the Rift Zone isn't what it seems on the downs. On the downs it is far more capable than it's big XC travel numbers suggest. I would say it is a micro enduro bike the way it handles chattery and rocky sections. It was pretty surprising what it was able to handle for such a short travel bike. It carries speed very well and will pucker you up if you are not ready for it. On the jumpy bermy trails this bike is also fast and changes direction easily due to the short chain-stays and wheelbase. Taking the bike into chunky fast trials you will want to choose your path more carefully than you would on a bigger bike but it will gladly handle black diamond chunk if you are up to it.
There are times where you get reminded you are on a short travel bike as it pushes you to go faster but it does not have that extra travel to get you out of those tough situations. Also that short wheelbase and chain-stays won't have the same stability that a longer enduro bike has. I also found that it isn't as poppy as I would have guessed. It will jump and you can throw it around but I found the rear wasn't as ready to pop and play as easily as I thought. Landing jumps on the bike felt good and supportive but it was the drops where I found the bottom of the shock frequently. It never felt harsh on those landings and bumping up the volume spacer was helpful.
Comparing it to our most recent reviews, 2020 Orbea Occam H20 and 2020 Nukeproof Mega 290 I would slot this between the two. Compared to the Occam I would give the all out DH performance nod to the Rift Zone as it absorbed chatter better than the 140 mm Occam. The Occam was more poppy, more playful, and was snappier at the pedals. Climbing the Rift Zone couldn't compare to the Occam as that bike climbed great even in the open position.
The Mega obviously being a superior descender but what was shocking is that I felt the Mega climbed better and had less front end wonder on the climbs. Both bikes coming it at the same weight, the Mega felt lighter on the climbs with more traction.
SLX shifter and derailleur were solid performers but were let down a bit by the Sunrace cassette. The shifting wasn't as crisp as with the full SLX 12 speed group and any back peddling in the 50 or 42t cogs would result in the chain dropping down the cassette.
Xfusion Manic dropper was flawless and the remote lever is able to positioned in many ways to suit your preference.
Marin branded parts such as bars, stem, and grips seemed of great quality and only need to be replaced if you had other preferences or wanted to fit in with your Yeti buddies.
VEE Snap Flow tires seemed to be an overly aggressive choice for this bike but I did not feel they were out of place considering the Rift Zone's ability on the trail. I recommend a faster rolling rear and keeping the spare for the front.
Shimano MT420 brakes were the surprise of the group. The 4 piston caliper brakes are on the lower end of Shimano's hierarchy yet I found these brakes to be plenty strong. I have found the limits of my share of brakes and never had issue with these. Only gripe is that they have a more unrefined feeling at the lever but I could gladly take power over that any day.
Marzocchi Z2 was a solid performer. It had minimal flex from it's 34mm stanchions and felt plush through the chunk. It is not going to give you the same feeling or support compared to a higher end fork but is enough fork to please anyone in this price category.
Solid DH performance
Water bottle inside frame
Gotta give it up to those brakes
Cassette lets down great shifter/derailleur
Not the most eager climber
The Rift Zone 3 at $2650 packs a pretty great punch for what you get. This is a bike you can get at a bike shop and ride right away. The Rift Zone would be a good one bike option as it can handle long climbs and chunkier descents. Direct to consumer brands may offer a bit better value but it does have the edge on some of the bigger name brands. The Rift Zone has modern geometry and a great part spec for the price tag which should appease beginners as well as seasoned riders alike.