Marin Gestalt Review
The worlds best tarmac specialist adventure bike?
This is a product review on the Marin Gestalt from my time using the bike over a 13 month period.
The Gestalt is part of Marin's Beyond Road range. Marin are traditionally a mountain bike brand based out of 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 and middle end of their Beyond Road range the Gestalt is designed for adventure road riding and all-weather pavement riding. The Gestalt we used was the cheapest of the four Gestalts within the range, with a further two options available in the Gestalt X range.
I used the bike on our John O' Groats to Lands End trip, bike packing within UK and France, and for my Germany cycle trip which was 600km over 36 hours. In total I probably put around 2500km 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.
We used the Gestalt the following year after having the Four Corners - check out the review of that bike here. We decided to pick the Gestalt as the trips we had coming up were more road based, with generally slightly longer days distance wise compared to the year before, so we thought that having a potentially 'quicker' bike would match the riding we were doing. It appeared closer on the spectrum to a road bike than pure tourer or gravel, so we felt it would have the best of both worlds for us.
The geometry of the frame is nice and forgiving for an upright riding position. With similar headtube angle and bottom bracket drop out distance as the Four Corners, it allowed for a nice comfortable riding position. A longer seat tube length gave it more of a traditional road bike look and feel. Similar to the Four Corners this forgiving and non-aggressive set-up resulted in neck, back, shoulders and knees never giving any issues when riding .
I talk about practicality on the bike later in full detail, but this out of the box feature sits within the comfort category. The stock seat that comes with the bike was not comfortable. Now I understand that bike seats are very personal, and what is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for the next. I also understand the position you intend to ride in can effect the comfort of the seat for what it is designed for. However myself and my wife, along with quite a few number of people on internet forums really struggled with the seat. I have a decent understanding on how to do a bike fit, and even with some tweaking it never sorted the problem. Both my wife and I swapped ours for ones we had on some other bikes, and never looked back.
The other element which effects the comfort is the material of the frame. The Gestalt is an aluminium frame which makes it lighter than steel, but without the comfort of absorbing those bumps along the way compared to that of either steel or carbon. This was definitely noticeable coming from the steel Four Corners and compared to my carbon road bike. If you had no other bike to compare it to perhaps it would not be an issue, but having ridden steel or carbon frames for the last few years, it was a noticeable change.
Conclusion: A gentle set up resulted in no aches or pains, however poor stock seat (for my anatomy) and a frame that was less forgiving gave an average ride for comfort at times comparable to other frame types.
For those that have read my other reviews know how important to me robustness is. This is ultimately the trust factor a bike gives you, that you can set off for any ride and not have any concern about the bike.
I'll repeat something here from my Four Corners review as it's still applicable for this, I will then go through the Gestalt specifically:
"I'll keep it simple here. 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, not avoiding drops on the gravel paths, dropping it down at the top of the hill versus placing it down."
So after 15 months of riding I had no failures resulting in me needing to replace any parts or stopping me from any rides - other than overuse repairs such as replacement chain and sprockets. On the last day I rode the bike the only part that was near it's end of life was the bottom bracket that would need replacing. The groupset (gearing and braking) on the Gestalt is of lower quality than the Four Corners. From a performance point of view, I couldn't notice much difference, however I did notice I needed to tweak and maintain them more frequently than I did on the Four Corners. This did leave sometimes an element of doubt that on a multiday trip, I would need to do some tweaking of cable tension, indexing etc while I was on the trip, which is not ideal, however these were small jobs.
The other element of uncertainty came from the frame. Not from a fear of it braking, just linked to the comfort you would feel. As I mentioned you would feel the bumps more frequent than in other types of frames, couple this with the increased frequency of minor maintenance, it did sometimes make me worried more repair jobs were on the way.
Any work I did you could argue was part of owning a bike, and given the distance covered in multi day trips things may go wrong. But I didn't experience this with the Four Corners, or with my current road bike, so l don't feel that risk or worry should be there. I will also link the price of the bike here as well. This is priced the same as the Four Corners, where there was zero worry or risk. I feel this is super pedantic considering I used the bike to cycle 720km in a little over 2 days from England to Germany, where the only issue was a puncture! I did zero maintenance or work during that trip, so I am not suggesting here it was a ticking time bomb. Perhaps if I hadn't had ridden the Four Corners as much as I did I wouldn't have had my standards so high.
Conclusion: A robust bike with only routine maintenance required over a 15 month period of riding. A higher frequency of work done compared to the Four Corners with similar riding distance completed.
Practicality and Features (non technical)
As I mentioned I used this bike for my Germany cycle where I was on the bike pretty much non-stop for 48 hours - obviously I had a few hours off during this time but I was still on it a lot! On this trip I had a frame and handlebar bag, along with "aero" bars - I pretty much leant on these with minimal aero-ness towards the end! Anyway, the point that I could attach a load of kit onto the bike and it performed well is a testament to it's practicality. My wife used the bike for her tour from England to Ireland putting a pannier rack and mudguards onto the bike, again with no issues.
The Gestalt is geared up for touring and bike packing, and can do these well. The only point to bear in mind, which is the same for the Four Corners as well actually, is the handlebar width is "normal" - not particularly wide. This may limit the type of handlebar bag you could go for. Mine fit with no issues, but I know there are wider bags out there in the bike packing world which may be really important to someone when picking a bike.
I mentioned in the Four Corners review that the specification on the components don't feature overly high for me, as long as the comfort and robustness has been addressed.
I highlighted earlier the gearing on the Gestalt is the Claris, which is one level below the Sora in the Shimano hierarchy of groupsets. It felt more than that in terms of upkeep. I mentioned that once it was working it generally worked well with no issues, but I needed more effort to keep it there compared to the Sora. On my Four Corners review I mention that my road bike is currently Dura Ace, and going down to the Sora on the Four Corners didn't bother me at all, because it worked day in day out, so it isn't a case of me being a Shimano snob here.
The mechanical brakes used on the Gestalt is also of a lower level quality compared to the Four Corners. I had no issues with them being functional, but again they needed a little more TLC compared to the Four Corners. As with all types of mechanical disc brakes they were work OK, but obviously not as good as hydraulic.
The gearing on the Gestalt is 34 on the front and 34 at the back at it's lowest. This was fine for the hills I encountered in France, Germany and UK with my bike packing amount of load. If l were to be fully loaded, or on longer steeper climbs I may wish for a few extra teeth on the back! Compare this to the Four Corners which had 30 on the front and 34 at the back at it's lowest - allowing for an easier pedal on hills.
The other stock feature to talk about is the tyres. These were Schwalbe G-One which are great tyres. But the bike is focused on tarmac riding, whereas the G-One is an all-round gravel tyre. So I needed to change this to a more specific tarmac tyre. The latest Gestalt now uses the WTB Exposure Comp as stock which has a smooth centre line and rough outer tread, so an improvement than before but still not a sole tarmac tyre. I understand having a tyre to be able to do both tarmac and gravel, but I feel if you bought the Gestalt you are committing to tarmac with the very few occasions of gravel riding. There are some great tarmac tyres which have the ability to do gravel tow path riding no issues, which is pretty much all you need if you are picking a tyre for a bike like the Gestalt. You aren't going to primarily do any gnarly wet rides on thick mud, in which case having either the Exposure Comps or G-Ones would still not allow you to either. It seems strange to pick a tyre that isn't designed for the specific function of the bike.
My rationale to use the Gestalt was to pick a bike that was closer to a road bike on the gravel bike spectrum. This was because of the high proportion of road touring I could see myself doing in the coming year.
The bike performed well overall on that front, and I feel that it was a better choice for the specific trips I did that year versus the Four Corners, as it was a more efficient choice of bike.
However, I don't feel the Gestalt is particularly head and shoulders above other bikes for the category it sits. I was also not blown away with the quality of it compared to the Four Corners as it required more frequent tweaking and maintenance. It also has the potential limit that if you bought this bike and wished to do proper gravel riding or long loaded-up touring, you would need an additional bike. I know the Gestalt isn't trying to be the 'one bike that does it all' like the Four Corners, but I don't feel it offers a pure monopoly for road touring compared to other options. I would recommend the Four Corners bike in a heart beat, it was amazing and it blew me away. I never had that with the Gestalt. The Gestalt was good and treated me well, and after our epic trip to Germany over Christmas all the those years ago it will always hold a soft spot in my heart, and from that performance it clearly has something to bring to the party. But for the same price as the Four Corners, to me the decision is easy, and I would spend it on the Four Corners.