Marin Bobcat Trail 5 Review
The Ideal Beginners Mountain Bike
This is a product review on the Marin Bobcat Trail 5 after using it for 2 years.
In the middle of 2020 much like the rest of the UK population I was in some element of local lockdown where I was only able to exercise once a day close to home. During this time I took full advantage of exploring every path and track available to me using an Ordnance Survey map I bought. I had recently taken delivery of a Marin Nicasio+ which coped well with some of the gravel routes but struggled on the thick mud due it's 'slick' tyres of the WTB Horizons. I decided I would use this excuse to get a hardtail mountain bike that could be used for the more muddier wooded routes, and also for the singletrack mountain tracks that were further afield, that once restrictions ease I could use there.
After discussing my needs with the Marin rep he suggested the Bobcat. It allowed a perfect blend of cross-country routes and singletrack riding, and is more geared for the recreational rider. Compared to some of the other models which are more aggressive, designed for downhill riding or have a higher price tag, the Bobcat offered a great entry level bike for my needs.
Marin are traditionally a mountain bike brand from California who have a solid reputation of building great bikes. Over recent years we have been fortunate to use some of their gravel and touring bike. This will be the first mountain bike of Marin's we have used. When I used to live in New Zealand I was introduced to the world of mountain biking thanks to the amazing facilities in Wellington, and had the pleasure of riding a Giant Trance on the tracks at Makara, Mount Victoria and Miramar.
Priced at £985.00 the Bobcat 5 is the most expensive within it's series, but in the middle compared to the other hardtail options offered by Marin.
I'm going to go through the categories I find helpful when deciding on a bike so this stays in some sort of order.
Comfort and Looks
Moving from the drop bar position offered by the gravel and road bikes I normally ride, the Bobcat is a lot more upright which allows for a comfortable riding position. All Bobcat frame's have Marin Trail geometry, featuring a long-ish reach, low stand over top tube, a slack head tube angle, and steep seat tube angles. The result of this is a less aggressive set up which gives riders confidence and predictable handling. This is so important for beginners as they are introduced to the world of mountain biking to be riding a bike that gives them the best chance.
Marin often have some of the best paint jobs on their frames in the market which allows the bike to really stand out. The Bobcat 5 has a pretty average look compared to others, which I know doesn't change it's performance, but I do kind of wish I had the option of the blue and pink on the Bobcat 3
We spoke briefly on the effect some of the geometry has on it's comfort, and if that is all the information you need feel free to skip down the article onto the 'Robustness' section, but if you want to know why and how this is offered keep on reading!
As soon as you sit on the bike it really gives the feel of a serious proper trail bike, nothing budget or amateur at all about it. With the slack 67.5° head angle and broad 780mm wide handle bars on a stumpy 45mm stem, letting you know it's designed for mountains and not road.
The medium 29" bike I have has a reach of 445mm, that means there's plenty of room to shift your weight about without unsettling the bike, and on steep trails you are able to control it easier. This stops the feeling it is trying to kick you off should things go a little wrong, which is very reassuring especially for those just starting out.
The steep 74.5° seat angle also puts you in a nice forward position so that when climbing it's easy to maintain traction.
Conclusion: Nice and comfortable with a forgiving geometry
Marin County California is regarded as the birthplace of mountain biking, and Marin have been producing mountain bikes for years so their reputation is proven. You can't be in the mountain bike game for this long producing poor quality products.
I would opt to spend more on a mountain bike versus a road bike because I feel the demands on a mountain bike are greater than a road bike. When you spend more on a road bike you are paying for an improvement in performance mostly, with robustness and reliability less of a consideration - although of course that will still improve if you spend more. Compare that to mountain bikes where an increase in money spent will of course have an impact on performance, but you are paying for a more reliable and robust machine ultimately. The difference between a £500 and £1000 road bike will mostly be performance with the shelf-life of each very similar, however, the difference of a mountain bike in these price points is the ability of the more expensive one to last with the demands put on it.
With my Bobcat I wouldn't have used it in such demanding rides compared to others, and I certainly wouldn't have used it as frequently during my two years compared to pure mountain bikers. With my Nicasio+ to use as well the riding gets split between the both of these. However the riding I have done has not resulted in any breakages or wear-and-tear with the Bobcat. Amazingly it still rides like it did on Day 1, which is remarkable. I never have to worry when I come to ride it that something will break. When I am riding it there is no anxiety or concern it's not sturdy enough for the ride and I always feel confidence with it.
Conclusion: No breakages and a confident ride for a sturdy machine.
We've already discussed the frame in some detail, stuck on the front of this frame are SR Suntour XCR thru-axle forks with a 120mm of travel and hydraulic lockout. The lock it is a nice touch so you can make the riding a little more efficient when not on the trails, which if you bought this bike to double-up as your commuter or to pop to the shops on, it will make a little easier. 120mm of travel is plenty for the riding I am doing and is as responsive now as it was new.
The frame comes with the option to run an internal dropper post which is on my list of upgrades to do, I have just been lazy and also put my money into other project, but helpful to have this option and as you go on more technical single track routes it's a must-have upgrade.
The gearing uses a Shimano Deore at the rear on a SunRace cassette with an 11-51 range. Running only one ring on the front at 32 allows for easy pedal strokes up steep climbs on the big rear ring. This gearing is smooth and responsive with minimal maintenance required so far.
Braking on the bike and Shimano BR-MT201 hydraulic disc brakes which are simple immense. Having used the mechanical disc brakes on the other Marin bikes I have used the hydraulic ones are an absolute pleasure and a real step up in quality. The only problem is that whenever I return to mechanical brakes I am overly critical - I do love the brakes on this bike.
The tyres that come as standard are WTB Trail boss Comp 27.5/29x2.25 which offer great traction and support on the wettest of mud. The rims are Marin's aluminium double wall with a 29mm inner - both are tubeless compatible should you want to upgrade them. The tyres perform well and so far I have had zero punctures and no episodes I can recall where my tyre has lacked traction. The wheels still run true and are as smooth as they were at the start of ownership. I opted for the 29 inch tyre option as the majority of my riding would be on non-technical routes, and for a trail bike it most likely should be your choice as well.
The Bobcat offers a comfortable non-aggressive hardtail option for the beginner. The quality of the kit on the bike is amazing and will certainly offer you the best riding experience as a result. It's ability to be easily upgraded allows the bike to grow with you as your skills develop meaning no need to replace the bike in a few years time. It's reassuring and unsurprising that the quality is high, and you'd expect that from Marin. They design top-of-the-range downhill bikes where the demand on robustness is higher, meaning their cross-country trail bikes are really tough having adopted some of this technology. I would recommend this bike to a beginner who is looking to explore the off-road paths and bridleways locally, and those who are interested in starting their single track adventure.