First Impressions: Marin Four Corners Bicycle

GRAVELBIKE.com gravel bike gravel grinder touring Marin Four Corners Shimano Sora

Thirty years ago Marin Bikes got its start designing and selling bicycles in the eponymously-named county that’s home to Mount Tamalpais and and the iconic Repack race. And while the company has a deep history in mountain biking, Marin’s lineup also includes models for women, kids, pavement, and mixed terrain. If you’re a drop-bar aficionado there are plenty of bikes to choose from, including the versatile Four Corners ($1099 MSRP).

As part of Marin’s Utilitour lineup, the Four Corners is equally suited to commuting or touring. The bike features a double-butted steel frame and fork, gobs of tire clearance, and the attachment points needed for carrying just about anything. The base model that I tested comes equipped with a healthy selection of Marin’s in-house components and features a Shimano Sora 3×9 drivetrain. Sizing uses the t-shirt scale (S, M, L, XL), and all models come equipped with 700C wheels. If matte olive and orange doesn’t strike your fancy, Marin also offers the Four Corners in a glossy silver finish.

Unboxing and assembling the Four Corners gave me an opportunity to inspect details such as cable routing, braze-on placement, and overall fit and finish. More than once I’ve been left scratching my head by bike designers’ decisions, but that wasn’t the case with the Marin. Assembling the Four Corners was pleasantly uneventful, and installing fenders (Planet Bike Cascadia ALX) was quick and easy. One area that did give me pause, however, was the bike’s weight: 29.6 pounds for the medium size (stock, including pedals, with no add-ons). That’s about one pound heavier than the Jeff Jones 29er I’ve been testing, but lighter than the Specialized AWOL that I reviewed in 2015.

Despite its Utilitour designation, the Four Corners doesn’t have the sit up and beg geometry that you normally find on many touring rigs. My medium test bike featured a 57.5 cm effective top tube, and a stack and reach of 61.7 cm and 39.2 cm, respectively. By comparison, my 56 cm Salsa Vaya has a stack height of 61.9 cm, a reach of 37.1 cm (with a 56 cm effective top tube). To bring the bars in closer, I swapped out the stock 90 mm stem for a 70 mm unit. The stock WTB saddle proved better than many OE seats, but most of my testing was spent perched on Ergon and Selle Anatomica saddles.

First rides on new bikes are often eye-opening experiences, and the Four Corners was no exception. Based on the bike’s weight and puncture-resistant stock tires, I was prepared for a sluggish, unresponsive ride. Turns out, however, that I was wrong. While not as sprightly as my steel-framed Black Mountain Cycles road bike, the Marin rode much nicer than I anticipated. With their smooth, quiet ride, the Four Corner’s Schwalbe Silento tires lived up to their name (and remained flat-free for five months). Mashing the pedals didn’t reveal any unwanted flex, and the bike descended predictably at speeds over 40 MPH (thanks in part to the bike’s flared drop handlebars)

To test the Four Corner’s cargo capabilities I installed a Tubus Ergo low-rider rack and loaded the bike up with my trusty Ortlieb panniers. The added weight of the bags and rack may have slowed the bike’s steering somewhat, but the combination felt solid when cornering hard. If you’ve ever spent top dollar on stiff racks only to have them sway when attached to a flexy flyer frame, you’ll definitely appreciate the Four Corners’ rigidity. That added stiffness comes at a price on dirt or gravel, though. If you intend to ride on unpaved roads or trails, plan on replacing the stock 40 mm tires with wider rubber for a smoother ride on bumpy terrain (there’s clearance for 2.1″ knobbies).

CHASSIS
Frame Double-butted CroMo steel
Fork CroMo steel
Headset FSA No.8D, sealed cartridge bearings
Seatpost Marin alloy, 27.2 mm
DRIVETRAIN
Crankset Shimano Sora Hollowtech II, 50/39/30
Derailleurs Shimano Sora, 9-speed
Cassette Shimano HG300, 9-Speed, 11-32
Chain KMC X9
WHEELS
Rims Marin alloy, double wall, disc specific
Hubs Forged alloy, 6-bolt disc, 32 hole
Tires Schwalbe Silento, 700×40, reflective sidewall, Kevlar protection
CONTROLS
Handlebars Marin Four Corners flared drop
Tape Marin comfort tape with gel pads
Stem Marin 3D forged alloy
Brakes Promax Render R road mechanical disc

It should come as no surprise that the Shimano Sora drivetrain performed flawlessly during the five-month test period. Even when coated with road grime and trail dust, the system shifted quickly and quietly. I found the stock 30/32 low gear to be on the tall side for excessively steep or long hills, but that’s been the case with Shimano’s road triples for years. Swapping the stock 11-32 cassette for an 11-34 will help, but you’ll need to replace the Sora rear derailleur if you want to run a 36-tooth rear cog. In contrast to the mechanical disc brakes often found on similarly-priced bikes, the Four Corners’ Promax calipers exhibited a firm, snappy feel at the lever. The Promax Render’s pads are compatible with Avid BB-5 brakes, so it’s easy to find replacements.

If you’re a commuter or utility rider who wants to do some touring on the weekends, the Four Corners is solid candidate. With a change of tires it’s also a capable dirt-road explorer. A few short years ago a bike of this caliber this would have sold for much more. But despite its base-level designation, the Four Corners performs well above its price point. It’s so capable, in fact, that I often found myself inadvertently comparing it to bikes retailing for $500-$1000 more. Sure, those more expensive bikes might be a little lighter, and come spec’d with fancier components, but the Four Corners gives up nothing when it comes to function and versatility.

Disclosure: Marin Bikes provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

 

3 thoughts on “First Impressions: Marin Four Corners Bicycle

  1. Hallo,

    Nice review.

    Did you find that the steering was affected at all by shortening the stem? I’m considering shortening mine too as I’m a bit too stretched out on the bike, but I also already find it a little bit on the twitchy side for my purposes, and am worried that could make it worse. (Though it could be that the twitchiness is precisely because I’m too stretched out; I also have yet to ride it loaded, which is what it’s actually designed for, not sure if that would make a difference…).

    Like you, I like the bike and think it’s a great bargain (I got mine on sale, so even better; furthmore the 2018 version has TRP Spyre brakes, which make it really great value). However one criticism I have, following from the above, is that I think it could have used a slacker head angle; most of the other bikes I see in this category (eg the Salsa Vaya) have an angle of 71.5 or 71, sometimes even 70.5, which seems more suited to the off-road riding this bike clearly seeks to cater for in other respects.

    Did you ever try 2.1 knobblies on it? I want to get some fatter tires for some MTB routes, and while Marin make clear that they’ll fit the frame I wonder if they would leave enough room for mud build-up/if I should go a bit narrower to be on the safe side.

    1. I didn’t notice any negative effect on the Marin’s steering when using a shorter stem (even with a stem as short as 60mm).

      The widest tire that I tested was a 1.9 touring tire (Terrene Honali)–plenty of clearance without fenders. Since tires’ profiles can vary wildly, some may not fit (depending on side-knob position, etc).

      1. Thanks! Good to know on both the stem and tires. I’m going to try a 70mm stem and some 2″ Schwalbe Marathon Mondials on mine.

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