Marin promises a lot from its updated Bobcat Trail range of bikes, including capable, modern geometry and excellent value for money. The Bobcat Trail 5 sits at the top of the range, with the Trail 4 and 3 below it. For the extra £160 to £260, Marin has equipped the Trail 5 with a sound, reliable package. Coming in just below £1,000/$1,000, the Trail 5 is a contender for our 2023 Budget Mountain Bike of the Year award. It sports a 120mm-travel fork up front and the size small (as tested here), rolls on 27.5in wheels. Taller riders have the option of 29in wheels if they can fit onto the medium, large or extra-large frames (though there is a second medium size designed around 27.5in wheels if that’s your preference).
Marin Bobcat 5 frame and specifications
Internally routed cables are a premium feature on this budget bike. The Bobcat is constructed using ‘Series 2’ double- and triple-butted 6061 aluminium. Series 4 is reserved for Marin’s top-tier frames. Marin offers the Bobcat Trail with either 27.5in or 29in wheels, depending on frame size. The size small, as tested here, only comes with 27.5in wheels, though. Up front, the Bobcat Trail has a 120mm-travel coil-sprung SR Suntour XCR LOR-DS fork.
The Suntour XCR 32 fork lacks performance compared to RockShox equivalents. This uses a thru-axle to clamp the wheel in place for a stiffer connection and includes a lockout and some damping adjustment (with rebound adjustment and spring pre-load).The headset is an FSA No.10 P semi-integrated number, which accepts the fork’s straight steerer tube.This means for future fork upgrades, you’ll need to budget for an alternate headset if you’re keen on fitting a fork with a tapered steerer tube.The Shimano Deore 11-speed drivetrain includes an 11-51t SunRace cassette and 32T chainring.
An 11-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain offers great performance.A set of Shimano MT201 brakes use 180mm (front) and 160mm (rear) rotors, and two finger levers. You can alter the reach to suit your hands and fine-tune feel.Thanks to a shortage of mountain bike tyres in the industry, the advertised WTB Trail Boss had to be replaced on my test bike with unbranded tan-wall alternatives.Cables are neatly internally routed inside the down tube, with a spare port for a dropper post should you want to upgrade.
The Shimano MT201 brakes are reliable and perform well, but lack power compared to the MT401s found on other bikes in the same price category.The 27.5in frame gets one pair of bottle bosses on the down tube, while the 29ers have an additional set on the seat tube – a thoughtful touch to avoid the issue of bosses limiting seatpost insertion for shorter riders.The bike is topped off with Marin-branded components. These include tubeless-ready rims, 170mm cranks, riser handlebar (780mm wide with 12-degree rise and 31.8mm diameter), plus a short 45mm stem, grips and saddle.
Marin Bobcat 5 geometry
The Bobcat Trail 5 would be a solid purchase, and some upgrades would unlock more performance.
|Wheel size (inch)||27.5||27.5||29||29||29|
|Seat angle (degrees)||74.5||74.5||74.5||74.5||74.5|
|Head angle (degrees)||67.5||67.5||67||67||67|
|Seat tube (mm)||381||431||431||482||520|
|Top tube (mm)||601||612.5||619.5||640.8||657|
|Head tube (mm)||105||110||110||115||120|
|Fork offset (mm)||44||44||51||51||51|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||48||48||61||61||61|
|Bottom bracket height (mm)||307||307||311.5||311.5||311.5|
Marin Bobcat 5 ride impressions
The tyres lacked grip on more technical terrain.I tested the Bobcat 5 across the range of green to black trail centre trails and flowy natural singletrack that Glentress forest in Scotland has to offer. I included the jump park and paved cycle paths to test efficiency and speed. My size-small Bobcat 5 was one of two 27.5in-wheeled bikes in the Budget Bike of the Year test. The smaller wheels enable Marin to build a small frame with more reasonable proportions, rather than stretching things out here and there to fit bigger 29in hoops. This is something I really appreciated. That said, it does put the Marin at something of a disadvantage when trying to maintain speed uphill.
Nipping around switchbacks or hammering the pedals was great fun. While the smaller wheels might not smooth the trail in quite the same way the larger-frame equivalent with 29in wheels might, the Bobcat Trail’s steep seat tube angle helps position you in a great place to attack the climbs. The seat angle is 74.5 degrees, which puts the rider in a reasonably efficient pedalling position with the seat pushed forwards on the rails. The effective top tube is 601mm, meaning it’s decently stretched out when seated compared to its competitors. Even when coupled with the 45mm stem, this feels quite long for a size-small bike.
A lower stack height (599mmm, size small) made it easier to get over the front. The Bobcat also impressed at the trail centre thanks to the choice of tyres (despite not being the anticipated WTBs) which, when set at low pressures, soaked up the chatter well. This certainly helps make up for some of the trail-smoothing increased rollover you’d get from 29in wheels, but you do have to be more mindful when it comes to avoiding punctures should you do this. I flatted after landing a small drop, though this particular section of trail was included to really push the Marin outside of its comfort zone.
Fitted with unbranded tyres, their performance couldn’t match the likes of Schwalbe and Maxxis. Converting the tyres to tubeless or swapping them for slightly heavier, tougher casings would help solve this if you’re really looking to push the bike further and harder. Turning and maintaining speed through steep switchbacks on the climbs felt instinctive and precise. Equally, the Bobcat inspired confidence when riding banked turns on descents. I was able to ride aggressively, weighting the front wheel and navigating the trail with precision thanks to the wide bars and short stem.
A relatively long reach (435mm, size small) makes it easy to move around on the bike when trails get tight and twisty. The 67.5-degree head angle never felt too unwieldy on the climbs and offered the right balance of stability and playfulness on the descents. It really came into its own with quick changes of direction and when nipping through tight, twisty turns. Tackling steps and drops highlights the lack of adjustability with the 120mm Suntour fork, though. Swapping springs isn’t as simple as adding or removing air from an air-sprung fork, so fine tuning isn’t anywhere near as easy.
Balanced geometry made the Bobcat Trail 5 a blast to ride. As a result, I was regularly only able to access around 60 per cent of the fork travel, resulting in arm and hand fatigue on longer downhill runs. Heavier riders are unlikely to suffer from this issue. There is plenty of support through the fork, however, which helps when carving a corner. Plus it has a lockout, which is a nice addition for flat tarmac climbs or the commute to work. While the internally routed cabling remained quiet and rattle-free, this bike isn’t totally silent on the downhills, thanks to the lack of a chainstay protector. However, this should be a very quick and cheap fix.
Marin Bobcat 5 bottom line
With a playful feel, the Marin is fun on almost any trail. Although the suspension fork spec doesn’t rival the best hardtails in this category, thanks to its good geometry and handling across the board, the Marin Bobcat Trail 5 snuck into third place in our Budget Bike of the Year test. It’s a seriously fun bike to ride, with the stability and manoeuvrability of a cross-country bike, even if it is a touch on the heavy side. The long reach, which is comparable to the medium sizes of its closest competitors, gives the rider space to move around on the bike, along with providing plenty of stability when the pace picks up. While the fork is harder to tune than some and the parts list isn’t quite as fancy as its closest rivals, the Bobcat Trail 5 offers a great foundation for upgrading.