The Marin Hawk Hill 3 is a 120mm full susser that can hold its own with the big bikes, is well specced and comes in at a very reasonable price too. It’s hard to fault this versatile bike, whilst not ground breaking in terms of design or geometry it does its job of being a fun and capable trail bike very well indeed.
The Hawk Hill 3 is the top of the range bike in a three model line up, sitting at £2,100 with a largely SLX build, Tektro Orion 4 piston brakes and a 130mm Rockshox Revelation fork. the cheaper models are the Hawk Hill 2 with a Rockshox Recon RL fork, a SRAM NX drivetrain and Shimano MT201 brakes and the Hawk Hill 1 with the same fork and brakes as the Hawk Hill 2 but with a Deore drivetrain. Those bikes cost £1,700 and £1,350 respectively and, of course, have similar funky paint fades.
Our Hawk Hill 3 with the aforementioned Rockshox Rev fork, paired with a Fox Float DPS Performance shock, is a well sorted bike from the off. It matches The 1x FSA V-Drive crankset with a 32T chainring, a Shimano SLX mech and an SLX 11-46t cassette. Our test bike was fitted with a Sunrace 11-46t cassette which has a nicer increment between all cog. Bikes sold in the UK will have an 11-46t SLX cassette fitted with that annoying jump between the 37t and the 46t cog.
Braking is dealt with by Tektro Orion (HD-M745) brakes and a 203mm rotor on the front with a 180mm on the rear. The Hawk Hill 3 is the only bike in the range to get four piston stoppers, I’ve used these brakes before on a Norco Range A3 and found them to be reliable, if not the most powerful, on par with something like a SRAM Guide R. The Tektro brakes are slightly less user friendly as there is no option for Shimano iSpec compatibility, meaning lots of clamps cluttering the bars. I also found the underside of the brake lever interfered with the Trans-X dropper post shifter-style lever as it fouled on the underside of the brake. I couldn’t run it close enough to the grips for it to be sufficiently easy to reach for my smaller hands. That said not everyone will have this problem and the bikes sold will have a X-Fusion Manic dropper which has a differently shaped lever and may not encounter this problem. The other niggle with these brakes is that the 3mm allen key reach adjust is super tricky to reach, located behind the lever blade, it’s not an on the fly adjustment with a multitool.
The Hawk Hill runs on Marin own rims which have a respectable 29mm internal width that’ll be good for setting something wider than the 2.4” WTB Trail Boss tyres that come with the bike. The Trail Boss’ are a ‘summer only’, or at very least ‘rear only’ tyre and not really up to dealing with soggy UK winter conditions. I stuck a 2.6” Specialized Hillbilly on the front for my wet test rides and left the rear as it was. The new front tyre bit into the ground well and whilst the rear did slide around somewhat it was pretty predictable in the fact that it was going to slide. If I was riding a Hawk Hill full time I’d swap the rear tyre for something else, say a Minion DHR or a Wide Trail High Roller II. Marin says that the bikes are all able to fit 2.6" tyres front and rear so tyre clearance shouldn't be a problem whatever you choose to fit.
The cockpit is also a Marin affair with 780mm wide bars, a stumpy 35mm stem and Marin grips and saddle. Lastly, the bikes will be sold with an X-Fusion Manic dropper post not the Trans-X one you see here, a 125mm drop for the size small and a 150mm drop for the sizes medium and above. This is especially pertinent as the Manic dropper is in total 437mm long which will allow for more insertion into the seat tube before the post is stopped by the pivot. This Trans-X 150mm post which measures 480mm is far too long for most riders of a size medium bike, it leaves much of the post lower stuck out of the top of the seat tube. In total the whole build adds up to 30.9lbs (14kg) which is not bad at all for a bike of this price.
Take me to the trails
I’ve previously ridden the Marin Rift Zone, a 120mm 29er and really liked it, so I was keen to try out the Hawk Hill for size, although it does seem a little odd for Marin to make a same length travel bike with the same suspension platform, just with smaller wheels. Most brands seem to opt for a shorter travel 29er (120mm) and then a 140mm 27.5” bike, meaning direct comparisons here are tricky. Rocky Mountain do the Thunderbolt which is 130mm front and rear, but only in carbon so that’s the equivalent of megabucks compared to the Hawk Hill, there is the Whyte T-130 and then the Norco Fluid FS 1 27.5 which looks like an interesting value build.
Whilst the Hawk Hill is happy to churn out the long miles, it’s probably the 29er Rift Zone you want if that’s your thing. The geometry (and build) of the Hawk Hill is more suited to getting rowdy on the singletrack rather than going for miles in a straight line. Pointers in the more gravity fed direction are the four pot brakes and the nice, short 35mm stem and 1x drivetrains across the range which are all great additions to more aggressive builds.
Geometry wise the 2019 bike has had a big overhaul compared to the 2018 bike, it's a degree slacker at the head angle (66.5°), longer in the reach (445mm compared to 437mm medium size bike), longer in the wheelbase by 20mm and it also gets a slightly steeper effective seat angle at 74.5°.
With a more appropriate front tyre choice selected the Hawk Hill was impressive from the very start, I like the Rockshox Revelation fork at this price range, with three volume reducer tokens inserted the fork stands up well to abuse. Despite its short travel the Hawk Hill coped very well with some seriously rough terrain, Marin’s MultiTrac suspension was supportive, progressive and it’s sensitive too. I battered the bike through rock gardens and did some serious braking down steeper terrain and the rear end stuck to the ground pretty well indeed. It’s worth noting though for this kind of riding I found the front end of the Hawk Hill a little low, I moved the stem up the steerer to rebalance things slightly.
The Hawk Hill provides a lively well balanced ride, I felt at home pitching the bike into steeper trails as well as cranking on down more mellow singletrack. It’s a well balanced and engaging ride that will have you tempted to push the limits of what you think a 120mm full susser to be capable of! I rode the Hawk Hill on all my normal test trails and certainly forgot I was on a ‘short travel’ trail bike, it took everything in its stride from steep and muddy to tight corners to smooth berms
Climbing hills on the Hawk Hill is averagely good, it’s no slouch but the position the rider adopts could be more efficient if that seat tube angle was a little steeper. It’s not going to be a deal breaker though, the Hawk Hill does winch up adeptly.
I would like to see longer chainstays and a steeper seat angle to aid that climbing ability. It’d also be nice to see the reach and the wheelbase (in conjunction with longer chain stays) lengthened slightly to help the bike be a bit more mannerly on fast descents. As it is when descending at higher speeds was the only time I lost confidence in the Hawk Hill, as it became a tad twitchy making my fingers reach for brakes prior to top speeds being reached.
Upon buying a Hawk Hill 3 there are only a couple of things I’d change, one being the previously mentioned front tyre, but I’d also want to change to shorter cranks from the 175mm ones currently fitted. Shorter cranks will prevent pedal strikes, allow me to run a longer dropper post, with no loss of power, I can’t see a downside.
The last word though is this, the Marin Hawk Hill 3 is a well sorted and good value build that blurs the lines between cross country, trail and enduro bikes. Where the Hawk Hill might not have quite enough travel to take on the latter at race speed, its geometry is good enough that sure will give it a go. This is a trail bike that would rather be rowdy in the turns than go on missions in straight lines and would rather not huck huge drops but it will give everything a go and do all the riding you ask of it in between. If you need a one bike does it all for just over 2k then the Marin Hawk Hill 3 is a good option, it does XC, it does trail and if you ask it, it’ll give UK ‘enduro’ a go too, and you’ll be smiling at the end, guaranteed.
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