Marin Four Corners Review
The best all-round bike in the World?
This is a product review on the Marin Four Corners from my time using the bike over a 15 month period.
The Four Corners is part of Marin's Beyond Road range. Marin are traditionally a mountain bike brand from California who over recent years have been moving into the gravel and touring bike categories. As the lines are becoming blurred as to what puts a bike into the mountain, gravel or road category, Marin have moved their tried and tested methods of building solid mountain bikes and developed quite a range of gravel and touring bikes.
Priced at the lower end of the range the Four Corners is geared (pun happily intended) towards bike packing, touring and commuting. I used the bike on our Camino Quest Journey with most days riding over a 100km on mostly tarmac and some gravel sections. I also used this bike on multiday trips in the UK and France. In total I probably put over 3000km of riding on the bike so feel I am in a good position to give a long use review on the bike.
I'm going to go through the categories I find helpful when deciding on a bike so this stays in some sort of order.
Straight out of the box the Four Corners was an extremely comfortable bike to ride. The forgiving geometry and steel are the two contributors here on this. With a bottom bracket drop out of 72mm, relative short seat tube length, and slack head tube angle, this all makes for a nice upright position, minimal reach for the handlebars and easy manoeuvrability of the bike. If you intend to be on your bike for multiple days, you don't want to be reaching for the handlebars, putting strain on your shoulders and necks.
I remember being halfway through the Journey from London to Santiago and realising I had no aches of niggles (other than fatigued quads!). You expect at some point on a 3 week trip where you are riding 80-130km daily for you to have areas of ache. They amazingly just never came.
Another feature which was very practical from a comfort perspective was the low top tube height. I recall taking it out the box and thinking they had sent the wrong size across, as I had never had a bike geometry like this one. It almost felt like a traditional Dutch step-through women's frame it was so low! Well, perhaps not that low but you get my point. However the more I used it, especially around towns, the more practical I found it. This is something I hadn't considered before, that when you got to your rest stop, waiting for friends, stopping for a photo or whatever it may be, having a more practical bike to get on/off and move around makes for a more comfortable experience.
This low centre of gravity and low centre of mass, created by a large bottom bracket drop out and low top tube height, make the bike easy to manoeuvre. This effects further on the whole comfort of the ride. Getting into towns and cities, and being able to move the bike around with ease, means you don't have to try very hard in these environments. This is crucial at the end of the days riding when you are tired, and you don't want to put any more unnecessary effort into the day.
Finally the frame being made from steel seemed to have a nice effect of dampening the bumps along the way in the road. This was my first ever steel frame bike, and at times it felt like a saloon car on the road. This bike seemed to absorb the small bumps in the tarmac, whereas other bikes I have had in the past would have been more like a tiny little hatchback, jiggling away over every bump. When I returned home off this bike I noticed the difference returning to my old bikes of alloy and carbon. I am certainly a convert!
Conclusion: Super comfortable with no complaints at all.
I can never decide which is more important to me, robustness or comfort. But it has to be comfort as number one, closely followed by robustness.
I'll keep it simple here explaining how robust this bike is. Marin traditionally made bikes that were designed to be thrown down mountains on single track. They are now designing bikes to withstand the demand of tarmac riding and gravel path riding. I did not take particular care of my bike in terms of going up/down curbs, avoiding drops on the gravel paths, dropping it down at the top of the hill versus placing it down. After 18 months there was one noticeable scratch on the whole frame, and the wheels ran true like new. None of the components needed replacing and it still rode as good as new. I had full faith that every day I got on, the bike would be fine - I wish I could say the same for me!
Practicality and Features (non technical)
I gauge practicality from a standpoint that when I take it out the box, how much more work do I need to do, and how many things do I need to change? I also factor in how practical the set up is with the various modes of cycling you want to do e.g. bike packing, commuting, single track etc.
Now the things you will want to change will depend on your individual preference, and the type of riding you intend to do, so bear that in mind that your riding intentions may be different to mine.
I changed the pedals to some touring Shimano pedals so I had the ability to click in. This was the only feature I changed. I will mention here that the stock flat pedals that came with the bike had some crazy good grip, they were not cheap at all. If you didn't want to use clip in I am sure they would be fine.
I found the abundance of bottle holder mounts helpful, if not a little excessive. However with the size of frame I used I had two mounts on my down tube, but spaced in a way I couldn't get a large bottle in the top mount, which was odd. They had mounts for front and rear panniers along with mounts for mudguards also. There probably wouldn't be many things that you'd want attaching to a bike, that the Four Corners couldn't accommodate.
The tyres that came as standard were the WTR Resolute 42s which were amazing. They weren't too knobbly on the tarmac slowing you down, making excessive noise or offering poor grip, and held their own on some silly single track we found ourselves on. This is important as the cost and faff of changing tyres is a factor to be considered.
I also found the saddle comfortable with no need to change it - although this is very personal and perhaps not interchangeable feature between riders.
For me the specification on the components doesn't feature overly high compared to the other points. I do believe that if you have that robustness and comfort nailed, the specifics on the model of gearing will have less of an impact - as long as it works, so ultimately is it robust? I am concerned with gear ratio, type of brakes and whether the cabling is internal or external - however the level of componentry in terms of the hierarchy has less importance to me. For example the gearing for the Four Corners is Shimano Sora, which is four levels lower than the Dura Ace I would normally use on my road bike. But I wouldn't discount a bike on this component if the other elements of the comfort, robustness and practicality have been met. It's all a combination for me.
After riding the Four Corners I certainly wouldn't. I had zero issues with the gearing and shifters. The gear ratio allows for nice easy spins up hills, even in Spain when it was pretty relentless, and not once did I think - "I miss the swiftness or speed of my Dura Ace changes". Perhaps someone more attuned with a bike would be able to notice this, I was too busy enjoying the views to worry about this!
The only component which was OK was the mechanical disc brakes. They were fine and they worked, but I found they needed more TLC than regular rim brakes, and without the responsiveness of hydraulic disc brakes. Other models within the Beyond Range have hydraulic brakes so if this is a deal breaker - check out some of there other bikes.
I was so happy the cabling on the Four Corners is external. This means any work you may need to do on it is much easier than internal routing. Imagine being on a long trip in the middle of nowhere, a cable snapping and having to tackle the repair of an internal cabling! No thank you - not for me.
Another point to consider if that the current set up isn't tubeless ready. So if you were looking for tubeless ready you would need to be thinking of another bike, or be happy to upgrade the wheels that come with the bike.
The Four Corners to me is the one bike that can do it all. It could happily do a day on the tarmac quickly, a multiday backpacking excursion, a long touring adventure, explore on gravel, and even hold it's own on single track.
If you want to do a route that goes across gravel and tarmac, this would transition with ease. I commuted on this bike for 4 months after the trip and it was super easy and very comfortable, along with practical in terms of getting any equipment attached on to it.
Having 3-4 separate bikes specific for each discipline is nice, but incredibly expensive and impractical for storage. It's also now unnecessary where the Four Corners can do it all. I have yet to meet other Four Corners riders who have anything other than super positive feedback on the bike.
The biggest drawback is that now any future bikes has this one as a marker to beat - which is a tough act to follow.