Mountain bikes can be very expensive. If you’ve looked casually at the mountain bike market you probably saw bikes that cost many thousands of dollars. These prices can cause potential riders to give up and quit. That’s a mistake. There are many reliable manufacturers that make quality, affordable bicycles that can be used for both mountain biking and daily transportation. These bikes can be as low as $500. This is the price point where the Trek Marlin 4 is an excellent choice.
Trek Marlin 4 is an easy-to-use bicycle. It’s still a machine that shows real quality. It uses parts from top manufacturers, which make the best parts available. That expertise filters down to the entry level components, and while you can’t expect a $500 bike to match a $5000 bike in every way, you might be very pleasantly surprised by what you can do with an entry-level mountain bike.
Quick Overview: What I Think About the Trek Marlin 4.
The Trek Marlin 4 must be rated based on its intended use and its price. This bike is not high-end. If you want a bike for cross country racing or aggressive riding on technical trails, this isn’t it. This bike is affordable and can be used as both a daily transport bicycle and a trail bike. It does both of these functions well and offers real value for money.
You can see the Trek Marlin 4’s value by looking at it as the next step above the off-brand bikes that retail for $300-400 at big box retailers. The Marlin 4 is an enormous step up from the bikes below it. This is a solid mountain bike made by a reputable manufacturer. It may be one of their least expensive models, but if you’re in the market for an affordable bike you will get a whole lot more from the Marlin 4 than you would from a bike only slightly cheaper.
This is a great way to spend $500 if you are looking for a bike. It won’t perform like a $5000 bike, but it will be far, far, better, than a $400 bike.
What You Get
The frame components are the most important aspect of any bike purchase. Let’s look at the key components of the Marlin 4.
Marlin 4 frames are made from aluminum. Trek has been making aluminum frames for decades. The Marlin 4 frame is not the lightest on the market, but the welds are clean and solid, the paint job is first class, and the frame looks like something you’d find on a much more expensive bike. The cable that controls the brakes or gear shifting is routed within the frame tubes. This makes it easier to clean the outside and less likely to sustain damage.
The small and extra small Marlin 4 frames feature a top tube that curves down, decreasing the bike’s standover height and making it easier to straddle the bike without the frame hitting you in the crotch. That’s a detail that smaller riders will appreciate.
Marlin 4 comes with a front suspension from SR Suntour. SR Suntour is a Japanese leader in mountain bike suspension. SR Suntour forks are not as light and flexible as high-end mountain bike forks. However, they can absorb impact and withstand abuse. Although the Marlin 4’s SR Suntour XCE fork will not win you any big hucks or bling points at the shop, it will absorb impact and reduce impacts.
Except for the XS version which has an 80mm fork, the Marlin 4’s suspension travel is 100mm. That’s low by today’s standards, but it’s enough for the type of riding the bike was designed to do.
The drivetrain is the entire system that transfers power from the pedals through to the rear wheel. The crank, the chain and the front and back gear sprockets are all part of the drivetrain.
The Marlin 4 carries a 3×7 drivetrain: there are three gears in the front and 7 in the rear. This gear range isn’t very wide, which could prove problematic if you spend a lot time riding uphill.
The drivetrain components on the Marlin 4 are selected from Shimano’s entry-level Tourney and Altus lines. These are the lowest-priced components that Shimano makes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work. Shimano is known for making some of the finest drivetrain components in the world. This experience is evident in their products, even the most expensive. 7×3 components are generally not compatible with components with other gear combinations, and most higher-end components will not be available in the 7×3 configuration. It would be necessary to replace the entire drivetrain simultaneously. This would incur a substantial cost.
Marlin 4 has mechanical disc brakes manufactured by Tektro. These brakes are reliable and basic, but they will still stop you. Although mechanical discs can stop you as well as hydraulic discs, they won’t provide the same comfort. Hydraulic brakes offer more stopping power, but less strain on your hands. Hydraulic brakes are a great option for riders who ride long hills. Mechanical discs can lead to hand cramping or loss of control when riding up steep hills. You might find it easier to ride on this type of terrain if you have hydraulic disc brakes. The mechanical disc brakes can be easily upgraded to hydraulics.
Trek uses smaller brake levers that have a shorter reach for the XS, and S sizes of Marlin 4. This makes it easier to use the levers for those with small hands.
The Marlin 4 carries wheels and tires from Bontrager, an established manufacturer with a reputation for making quality products at accessible prices..Like many modern bikes, the Marlin 4 uses different wheel sizes for different bike sizes: the XS and Small sizes carry 27.5” wheels, the larger sizes use 29”.
Bontrager XR2 Comp tires are mounted on the wheels. They have low-profile knobs that can be used for trail riding and cement. The wheel-tire combination is on the heavy side, but it’s sturdy and serviceable and will do the job.
Trek returns to Bontrager to complete the parts catalog. Trek sources the stem, saddle, handlebar, handlebar and seatpost from the same manufacturer. That concentration probably provides more competitive component costs – big orders get better prices – and delivers solid, functional components. The Bontrager Blendr stem – the component that links the frame to the handlebars – is designed to allow easy mounting of accessories like lights, GPS, bike computers, or a GoPro or similar camera.
The components that make up the Marlin 4 are all that you would expect – and in some cases a bit more – from an entry level bike from a premium manufacturer. Although the Marlin 4’s features are not extravagant, they are functional and appropriate. All components have been carefully selected and are well-integrated. Although you might find a bike that has better specs in one component of the bike, there is no better overall combination for a bike this price.
Let’s rate the Marlin 4 component mix relative to other bikes in the sub-$700 range.
What are the connections between all these components? And what spices has Trek added into the overall recipe? Let’s take a look!
The most important thing to consider when choosing a bicycle is its size. Even a high end bike will not deliver the ride you want if it doesn’t fit you!
Trek offers the Marlin 4 in many sizes, including XS, XM, M, L and XL. That means there’s a Marlin 4 to fit anyone from 4’6” to 6’8”! This chart will help you choose your size.
If you fall between sizes, you may want to select the larger size if you plan to do mainly distance riding or the smaller size if you’ll be leaning toward trail riding. You can even get the best of both sizes. Locate a dealer near to you You can try both sizes. You can get help from the professionals at a bike shop to choose the right size.
Marlin 4 is designed to accommodate riders up 300 pounds.
Bike geometry can be an intimidating subject, but there’s no need to go into detail. “Steep” or traditional geometry places the rider immediately above the pedals for optimum power transfer and the front wheel almost under the handlebar for optimum control. “Slack” or “modern” geometry may keep the steep saddle position, but rakes the fork forward and places the front wheel ahead of the rider for stability on steep descents.
The Marlin 4 is a traditional category bike with a steep head tube angle at 69.3 degrees (XS and SM) or 69.5 degrees. That’s a good choice for rolling trails and riding around town, but you will have to drop the seat and keep your weight well back to avoid going over the bars on steep descents. A bike with more aggressive angles, but likely at a higher price, might be better if you intend to ride steep terrain on a regular basis.
Trek offers a variety of extras for bikes under $500.
- Trek designed the Marlin 4 to be a town/trail crossover, so they’ve provided a kickstand mount.
- Marlin 4 is ready to mount with a baggage rack. This can be used for everything from bikepacking to transporting school books and groceries. Another feature that underlines the multipurpose nature of the bike.
- The XS and S sizes have shorter-reach brake levers and smaller wheels. They also have a curved top tube that allows for a lower standover height. There is no “women-specific” version, but the XS and S sizes incorporate many features often found on women-specific bikes.
- Multiple accessories can be easily mounted to the Bontrager Blendr stem
- Internal cable routing protects cables from snags and keeps bikes looking neat and tidy.
That’s an unusual package to find on a bike at this price point, and it makes the Marlin 4 a leading candidate in the entry level trail/town hybrid market.
The ride is the heart of it all. You can expect the Marlin 4 to perform as expected given its components, geometry and purpose. It feels familiar to veteran cyclists such as myself. This is a throwback back to when we rode steep-angled hardtails and short-travel forks. There are some things that have changed. Today’s entry-level shifting is infinitely better to what we had in those days! Although the Marlin 4’s low-end Shimano shifters or derailleurs are not as smooth, light, or sophisticated as high-end drivetrains, they are very precise and require very little effort. They can do the job well and will do it well. The 29” wheels hold momentum far better than our old 26”-wheeled bikes, and they roll easily over obstacles, a significant improvement.
One limitation of the 3×7 drivetrain is the lack of very low gears for steep or extended climbs or for long flat-country rides where you want to preserve momentum. These are minor issues considering the bike’s purpose. The majority of people who purchase a cheap hybrid town/trail bike will not place these demands on it.
The Marlin 4 performs well on the trail it was intended to use. The fork can handle gravel riding and occasional roots and rocks. A lack of rear suspension will allow novice riders to learn how to use their legs to absorb shocks. Hardtails are great for trail riders who are just starting out because they allow you to pick lines and adjust your body position, rather than relying solely on suspension. The bike’s steep geometry is not designed for steep descents, but if you drop the seat and move your weight back you can roll some surprisingly steep terrain. Jumps and drops are not recommended.
The Marlin 4 brings quality to the city side of its intended purpose. Novice riders will appreciate the Marlin 4’s upright position and its wide handlebars. This provides a feeling of control and security that is immediately apparent. The luggage rack capacity makes this a great option for utility transport, and it’s tough enough to hop some curbs or plow through broken pavement if you feel like taking some bumps.
You should take your bike to a certified bike mechanic before you ride it. Marlin 4 customer reviews often mention problems or complaints with the setup and assembly of the bike. Bikes come partially assembled and must be tuned by a qualified mechanic. No bike will perform well if it’s not put together and tuned properly.
The bottom line
The Trek Marlin 4 must be evaluated in accordance with its intended purpose, just like any entry-level bike. It’s not a featherweight cross-country race machine or a jump-ready enduro bike. If you’re looking for that kind of performance you’ll need to spend a lot more to get the bike you want.
Marlin 4 is a budget-friendly bike that can be used for cross-country/light trails and general transportation around town. If that’s what you’re looking for and you want to get a solid, credible bicycle for the lowest possible price, it’s one of the best options available. You can get many better bikes, but you’ll spend a lot more. While you may be able to get cheaper bikes the quality is more likely to be inferior.
Trek deserves credit for the Marlin 4 approach. They set out to design a highly functional bike for a specific purpose at the most accessible price point they could manage, and they’ve obviously put some effort into coming up with a package that provides real value. Its not a high-end mountain bike, but it isn’t meant to be. It’s an affordable and very useful bicycle, and if you’re looking for a bike in this niche for under $500, it is definitely one to consider.
Again, let’s rate the Marlin 4’s overall quality relative to other bikes in the sub-$700 range.