Marin Hawk Hill 2 2018 Review
Cons: poor front suspension spec, heavier weight
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Hawk Hill 2 underwent some changes for 2019. The frame looks identical, although the geometry has changed with a longer wheelbase, reach, and a slacker 66.5-degree head tube angle. There are some very minor component tweaks. We have recently tested the 2019 Marin Hawk Hill 1 for our budget mountain bike test.
Should I Buy This Bike?
Marin bills the Hawk Hill as their "most playful trail bike", boasting "all-around performance far outstretching the asking price." We find it hard to disagree, as our testers found the Hawk Hill 2 to be just that, a versatile performer that sought the playful line, had us grinning at the bottom of descents, and exceeded our expectations for a bike that retails for under $2,000. We feel this bike is best suited to folks just getting into the sport, or moderately aggressive trail riders who aren't too hard on their gear. That said, our testers, who are accustomed to riding bikes that cost 3-4 times what the Hawk Hill 2 retails for, still enjoyed their time aboard this less expensive rig.
If you're a more aggressive trail rider and you can justify spending $350 more, we highly recommend the YT Jeffsy AL Base, our Editor's Choice Award winner. In this price range, a few hundred dollars goes a long way, and YT has created a beefier ride with an excellent build for an amazing price at $2,300. In this case, $350 gets you a better suspension package, more powerful brakes, meatier tires, fancier wheels, a 1x12 speed drivetrain, and somewhat more aggressive frame geometry that can handle anything the trail dishes out.
If you can't possibly justify spending more than $2,000, the Giant Trance 3 is priced just slightly higher than the Hawk Hill but comes with with a somewhat beefier build and more aggressive angles. The Trance is a better option for more aggressive or heavier riders and we've chosen it as our Best Buy Award winner.
We ride bikes to have fun, and we assume that you probably do too. The Hawk Hill 2 scored pretty well in this rating metric with a versatile and playful ride that begged to hit the alternate line whenever possible. With 120mm of front and rear wheel suspension travel and moderate geometry, it maintained a lively and responsive character at lower speeds, yet still managed to hold its own at higher speeds. A nice modern width 780mm handlebar and a short 45mm stem made this bike comfortable and responsive to steering input, and the specification of 27.5 x 2.35 Vee Tires Crown Gem set up tubeless front and rear gave this bike some of the best and most predictable traction in our test selection. Due to its versatility and playful ride, the Hawk Hill 2 scored right up there with bikes like the Giant Trance 3 and the Kona Hei Hei Trail in the Fun Factor department.
While it is far from a downhill crusher, the Hawk Hill 2 did impress our testers with its performance on the descents. The bike's middle of the road geometry numbers and the specification of a Rock Shox Recon fork tend to hold it back somewhat when the going gets steep and rowdy, but if you're a more casual rider looking for a bike that performs well in most downhill situations, then the Hawk Hill 2 has got you covered. As mentioned before, it is versatile and our testers thought that it performed well in both tighter low speed and technical riding as well as higher speed sections. That said, its cage could be rattled when the going gets rough and that was largely due to the spec of the Rock Shox Recon fork which our testers universally disliked due to its limited tune-ability and pogo-stick feel.
The Hawk Hill 2 isn't a featherweight, but it weighs in at a respectable 31 lbs 8 oz. The reasonably light weight coupled with its shorter wheelbase, 1,167mm on our size large test model, and shorter reach, 452mm, combine to make this a relatively quick turning ride. It handled sharp turns and low-speed technical sections of trail with ease, yet it still felt comfortable at higher speeds until the going got especially rough. A head tube angle of 67.3 degrees helped to keep things moving along as the pitch of the trail steepened or when obstacles came into play. The addition of a dropper seat post helped get the saddle down and out of the way, and though we aren't all that familiar with the TranzX dropper that came on the Hawk Hill 2 it worked reliably during testing, although it could get a little finicky if adjusting saddle height carelessly.
For the same price, the Giant Trance 3 has a beefier build that is capable of riding downhill more aggressively. If you really want to get rowdy on the descents, you'll want to spend a little more coin and take a look at our Editor's Choice Award winner, the YT Jeffsy AL Base or the Top Pick Polygon Siskiu T8 with beefier suspension, tires, and slacker geometry numbers.
Testers thought the Hawk Hill 2 performed surprisingly well while climbing especially when seated. The bike's slacker seat tube angle, 73.2 degrees, puts the rider's weight just behind the bottom bracket, resulting in easy and predictable uphill steering and excellent traction with the rear tire. Out of the saddle, however, the Hawk Hill 2 felt a little cramped, due to the shorter reach of the frame, with the knees closer to the handlebar than we would have liked. That said, when seated it felt comfortable and efficient with a good distribution of weight on both wheels, the front end never seemed as if it wanted to wander, even in the steepest sections. The grippy rubber of the Vee Tires Crown Gem added to the climbing experience and helped maintain traction in all situations.
The Rock Shox Monarch R Debonair is a relatively basic rear shock that only offers a rebound damping adjustment, there are no additional compression damping adjustments for use when climbing. That type of damping would be nice for extended fire road or paved road climbing, but interestingly our testers didn't seem to miss it too much on this bike. The active rear suspension seemed to help maintain traction while climbing by absorbing terrain yet was supportive enough to not lose too much energy to suspension bob. The 1x11 drivetrain spec'd on the Hawk Hill 2 had adequate range for our testers with a 30 tooth front chainring and an 11-42 tooth cassette. That said, this drivetrain may not offer enough range for some riders when the pitch of the trail really ramps up.
The component specification of the Hawk Hill 2 is nothing to write home about but is about what you'd expect in this price range. That said, Marin did a pretty good job picking out the parts for this bike. It took a few years, but modern drivetrain technology is finally making its way down to the less expensive bikes on the market and the Hawk Hill 2 features a SRAM NX 1x11 speed drivetrain paired with FSA Comet cranks. As mentioned above, the drivetrain has a 30 tooth front ring and an 11-speed cassette with an 11-42 tooth range. The SRAM NX derailleur is clutched, meaning that it maintains tension on the chain to decrease chain slap and the likelihood of dropping your chain while riding. The other nice thing about having no front derailleur is that it frees up space on the handlebar for a dropper post remote. In this case, the Hawk Hill 2 is spec'd with an internally routed TranzX dropper post with 120mm of travel and the 1x style remote lever is mounted neatly underneath the handlebar on the left side where the front derailleur shifter used to live.
The Hawk Hill 2 rolls on Formula hubs and Marin rims with a reasonably wide 29mm inner rim width. Marin chose to mount 2.35 inch wide Vee Tire Crown Gem tires both front and back. The Crown Gem tires come set up tubeless and are quite knobby with a relatively round profile offering surprisingly excellent and predictable traction. Our only gripe with the tires is their thinner sidewalls which we found to puncture a little more easily than we would have liked.
Thinner Marin grips are mounted to a modern width 780mm Marin branded handlebar which is attached to a short 45mm Marin stem making for a comfortable cockpit that offers responsive steering.
Suspension duties are handled by a Rock Shox Monarch R Debonair rear shock, rebound adjust only, and a Rock Shox Recon Solo Air 120mm fork with boost spacing. The rear shock worked reasonably well, especially for a bike at this price point, but we found the Recon fork to be the weakest link in this entire build. While it does have an adjustable air spring and rebound adjustment, our testers never felt comfortable on this fork, possibly due to the fact that it feels and sounds a bit like a pogo stick.
Slowing and stopping the Hawk Hill 2 is left to Shimano BR-M315 hydraulic disc brakes with a 180mm front rotor and a 160mm rear rotor. These brakes work, but they definitely felt a little underpowered and weren't as confidence inspiring as testers would have liked. Four of the bikes in our test selection had similar brakes, so we did eventually get used to them, but some more powerful brakes would be preferred.
With a retail price of only $1,949, we feel that the Hawk Hill 2 is a good value. This bike is versatile, well rounded, and comes relatively shred ready out of the box. If you're on a limited budget but still want a bike that's playful, fun to ride, and does everything reasonably well, then check out the Marin Hawk Hill 2.
For the price, we feel that the Marin Hawk Hill 2 offers a well rounded and capable ride that is great for people just getting into the sport or less aggressive trail riders looking for a versatile and affordable bike. It's hard to find a trail worthy full suspension mountain bike for under $2,000, but the Hawk Hill 2 surprised us with a comfortable and playful demeanor on the trail that was relatively good at just about everything.
Other Versions and Accessories
Marin makes three versions of the Hawk Hill including the Hawk Hill 2 reviewed above which falls in the middle of their range. All three models use the same frame but feature slightly different builds.
The Hawk Hill is the base model and the least expensive of the three, retailing at $1,499. The primary differences in the component spec are a downgrade to a Shimano Deore 1x10 speed drivetrain, an X-Fusion O2 Pro R rear shock, and a non-Boost spacing Rock Shox Recon fork.The Hawk Hill 3 is the fanciest of the three models and has a retail price of $2,649. The Hawk Hill 3 has numerous notable component upgrades over the Hawk Hill 2, highlighted by a Rock Shox Revelation RC fork and a Rock Shox Monarch RT Debonair rear shock. The drivetrain is also upgraded to a Shimano SLX 1x11 speed, and the brakes are Shimano Deore M6000. The Hawk Hill 3 is also clad in beefier WTB Breakout tires front and rear. If you're interested in the Marin Hawk Hill and can justify spending a little more for the Hawk Hill 3 we think the component upgrades, most notably the suspension, are worth the price and would improve your everyday riding experience.
— Jeremy Benson