Bike Test: Marin Headlands 2

More slack, more adventure

Marin’s Headlands 2 is ready for adventure

For all the drop-bar riders out there with any knowledge of the mountain bike industry, the Marin brand will certainly ring familiar. As the name implies, Marin is a NorCal bike brand that entered the sport back in the late ’80s. Like many early adapters, over the years the brand has exchanged ownership hands, but it has always remained a medium-sized enthusiast brand that’s maintained its hand in the sport.

In addition to their catalog filled with every type of modern-day mountain bike, for 2020 you will also find a selection of six different drop-bar bikes that range in purpose from city commuting to back-road adventure. Guess which one we’re here to talk about today?

“The long top tube and short stem trend (aka “modern geometry”) is all the rage with the mountain bikers transitioning to gravel, as the head angles have slackened dramatically.” 

THE BIKE

Start with a carbon frame that’s not black (and truth be told, it arrived in a colorway that was both celebrated and scorned). From there add a collection of eyelets—21 to be exact—to accommodate every type of rack, fender or bag/pack imaginable.

The very first thing we noticed about the bike from when we pulled it from its box was the stubby 70mm stem. A 70mm stem on a 56cm frame—what the?! The long top tube and short stem trend (aka “modern geometry”) is currently all the rage with the mountain bikers transitioning to gravel , as the head angles have slackened dramatically. So yes, this is where Marin is letting some of their mountain bike design influence creep into their gravel bikes.

As out of place as it looks, in conjunction with a long 56.6cm top tube, it measures out comparatively to a more traditional frame design that runs a shorter top tube and a longer stem.

The wide rear end provides plenty of clearance to run big tires. Marin provides a snap-on seatstay bridge for a fender mount.

THE PARTS

The Headlands 2 takes advantage of the new age of gravel-specific parts by using a Shimano GRX drivetrain. Well, at least the GRX brake levers and rear derailleur. Up front you’ll find a 175mm FSA Gossamer Pro crank with a Megatooth 42T chainring mated to a 10-42t SunRace cassette. The GRX Shadow rear derailleur is equipped with a clutch mechanism, which helps limit chain slap over the bumps.

Out of the entire GRX parts catalog, it’s the newly designed levers that everyone seems to admire most. If ever there were a gravel equivalent to the fingertip-friendly design of Campagnolo Double Curve levers, it would be these. The angle-cut surface provides ample interface when reaching for the levers over the rough stuff.

Thanks to the 10-42 spread of gears, the 1x drivetrain was never short of having the right gear. The performance of Shimano’s GRX shifters and derailleurs were also always on the money.

With no front derailleur, the left-side lever instead actuates the 105mm TranzX dropper seatpost with internal cable routing. Pretty cute! Both the wheels and the rest of the cockpit are made up of Marin-branded aluminum parts.

THE RIDE

With a 103cm wheelbase, you can be sure the Marin was both stable over the stutter bumps while also requiring some extra effort to make tight turns.

As for the long top tube/short stem combo, we were initially unsure about how the bike would steer, but in the end, our only complaint was simply that the stem was indeed on the short side, especially when we were using the Headlands as a road bike where a stretched-out position is optimal.

Though it wasn’t a universal problem, we noticed more frequent pedal strikes, which could at least be attributed to the long 175mm cranks that seemed like an odd spec. Unlike the confused gearing on the Cervelo Apsero (RBA, March 2020), the Marin’s gearing was everything we could ask for on a true dual-purpose bike, holding its own at speed in the group ride and capable of easy climbing with the 1:1 low gear.

THE VERDICT

Simply put, the Marin Headlands 2 can be classified as a true adventure bike. As such, it’s not our kind of bike. And that’s why we like it so much. Wait, what?! Although we are slowly growing to embrace the type of riding that an abundance of rack mounts and flared handlebars serves best, we still see the world of gravel bikes through a SoCal lens that leans heavier towards road bike performance.

Regardless, owing to the parts spec and price, there’s no denying that this is a lot of bike for the money. Marin’s gravel offerings also include the carbon Headlands 1 at $2,399 with a tad lower spec and the aluminum Gestalt X11 for $2,199.

And no, we still haven’t found a need to use a dropper post on any of our rides, but it definitely brings added value (and weight) to the package. As with the eyelets, we figure with an optimum touring adventure bike, it’s better to have the added features than having a bike that goes without.

PUNCH LINES

• Good adventure/dollar value

• Eyelets galore

• 50/50 on the color

STATS

Price: $2850

Weight: 21.5 pounds

Sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56 (tested), 58, 60cm

www.marinbikes.com

THE GEAR

Helmet: Bontrager Velocis              

Jersey: Flying Machine Factory         

Bib: Flying Machine Factory               

Shoes: Sidi Dragon       

Socks: Save our Soles

Gloves: FXR         

Glasses: 100 Percent

ShimanoSchwalbeGravelgravel bike1XMarinMarin BikesHeadlandsFMF RacingDropper Post