Marin Team Marin DH (FRS DH) - my first DH bike

Cloverleaf

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Back when I was a kid we did something like 3000 miles a year as a family, and at ten I could do 60 miles off road quite comfortably. Admittedly that was more estate tracks and such more than the technical mountain trails I'd ride these days, but still. It was as a kid riding these trails that the bug for spinning legs and going quickly bit, and it was reading about the MBUK team in their issues that made me want to try racing. Cross country sounded like hard work based on anecdotes from a guy working for my dad at the time, so downhill it was. And a downhiller I became. A combination of not having single track to ride but rather loose land rover tracks, plus issues of MBUK and the Dirt vid means that two wheel drifting to me is still the coolest thing you can do on a bike, it just looks moto.

This bike here comes from those two worlds coinciding. At 13 years of age my trusty 14.5" framed Trek 850 was coming to the end of its useful life as it was decidedly too small for me (once I've pulled that out the workshop I'll get some pics and write that one up too). Now that size was handy for my first DH race on the original 39 steps at Innerleithen (or at least its size was), but it was less useful for the longer days. That bike was cool, I've still got it, and I'll do a post about it here once I've finished a few small final details. It was tricked out with a bunch of top components like XTR V's, Hope Ti Glides, ceramic rims and M739 XT stuff. So with me needing something bigger we started looking for options to replace the Trek. The original idea was to replace it with something ostensibly similar for days in the hills; something along the lines of a Kona Muni Mula frame (the polished one from '98 ), perhaps with a set of Pace RC36's on the front, and then transfer the parts from the Trek over. But in the winter of '98/'99 I discovered downhill racing thanks to Tam Ferguson who owned Bikesport in Innerleithen and convinced me that despite the lack of special bike one of the Brass Monkeys winter races would be a great start. And then one day not long after I was in the Edinburgh Bike Co-Op with my dad and as this was back when they still had those amazing sales on, we came across a pair of Manitou X-Vert R's for £150 reduced from £450 or so. Sold (or rather bought thanks to my dad's Amex). And in talking to the guy who sold us the Manitous, he suggested that he could also get us a Marin B17 frame but in the orange/white which would match the Manitous perfectly. Doubly sold (thanks dad)! I can still remember walking out of the shop the following Saturday with that frame, holding it as though it was worth a million pounds. I guess to thirteen year old me it might as well have been.

The current build as it sits now...
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Now at this point I should really say that I will forever be grateful that my introduction to mountain biking came when it did; no motors, and before trail centres were a thing, just wheels and hills. My first ride on the Marin wasn't on a DH track, it was the West Highland Way. For all these other avenues help more people get into the sport, it isn't what I enjoy at the core. I've been lucky enough to ride all over the world, be paid by numerous companies for developing products, written hundreds of thousands of words about bikes and raced something like 300 events. In short riding bikes has, and continues to be, bloody awesome. But I love the outdoors above all, and so while riding steep purpose built stuff is good fun, just riding about and dicking about is still the most freeing of feelings. So this bike is the crossover. It started as the equivalent of todays enduro bikes thanks to the big (for the day) travel and low weight, and ended up as a downhill bike that became less and less useful for everything else. And so the need for n+1 was born. Anyway, this idea came about after half heartedly saving an ebay search and early last year this came up. The mango swingarm was a little faded but otherwise it was in great condition. I paid too much but how often do these things actually come up? Anyway, this is the story of my first DH bike…

The first ride, somewhere on the West Highland Way between Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy, some time in 1999...
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Frame and shock: The Marin Team Marin DH is a bit of a mouthful, and the reality is that it was always a little lightweight for anything World Cup related but for UK based racing it was perfect. It was also cheap which definitely helped with the popularity on the UK race scene. Many were also sold as the original red and white B17 full build which came with the basic but effective RST Hi5 fork. For '99 the name of the frame only option was changed to FRS-DH, and that’s what I ended up with in 17.5". One of my mates I ended up racing the SDAs of the era with had the B17 and we used to be fairly close time wise. They were great bikes, although they did break. I think I had three replacement frames after headtube and swingarm failures, and in the end they gave a refund as they only had one frame left and as they expected me to break that too they elected to cut their losses. But the rest of that story is for another bike I'll post about. Where my mate's B17 caused much jealousy was that it was an early one that came with a Fox Vanilla Rx shock on it. Mine had the rather basic and lumpy Shockworks R item, although I did blow it up and receive in return an RC one that Dave Hemming had sat in the back of his van when he was at the shop doing rep things. It wasn't much better but slightly better is still better than nothing.

Same frame, different name. 'Team Marin DH' in 1998, FRS DH in 1999'...
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Back in the day the Fox Van Rx would have been the dream but the Shockworks is what I had at the time and so it's nice that this matches, albeit R only rather than RC...
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Just the one adjuster on this shock. The 450lb spring may be a little soft given that's what I had at the time and it was only just enough for my weight 25 years ago...
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Unboxed. A few paint chips and slightly crushed front mech cable stop seemed to be the only damage...
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Forks: The '98 Manitou range was, along with the Marzocchi Z* range, the start of modern forks as we know them today. Of course they're crap compared to the top end stuff we now have but they were stiff (comparatively), had decent travel (comparatively) and were controlled so they weren't just up and down pogo sticks. The TPC (and later TPC+) damper was pretty much the precursor of many modern fork designs with its proper full size pistons and shim stacks. Manitou even used to publish recommended stack options as well as those used by their pro riders, although how accurate they actually were we'll never know. The X-Vert R was their 'freeride' option; 100mm, dual crowns and rebound adjustment but with proper compression shims despite not being externally adjustable. Below it was the 80mm single crown, and above it the 150mm Ti with twin crowns and 20mm axle but without the lower leg extenders of the later Carbon. Now where these really diverged from our current stuff is that they still had MCU elastomers. These were wonderful on the one day of the year where they provided the correct rate. Outside of that window though and they were either too soft because it was warm out, or solid because it was freezing. What’s cool about these ones here is that I picked up from someone who was working at Edi bikes at the time I got my original ones and thus were the same source. A small link, but a nice one. They were sans boots but I tracked down some boots on eBay for £20 to get them back to original. They're later '00 spec ones so the concertinas are a little more rounded vs the sharper '98 spec ones, but beggars can't be choosers given most of these ended up in the bin back in the day.

Old tech but like the XT M739 cranks, a classic in my eyes...
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Headset: Originally a polished silver Dia Compe DLC that was pulled out the cupboard of bits in Bruntsfield. The top bit is on my Trek 850 while the bottom bit is long gone, stolen many, many years ago along with a load of other stuff. Later on I ended up with an FSA Pig when they were first released but I wanted a silver headset for this and so picked up a used FSA Orbit Extreme for a tenner on ebay. The bearings are far from perfect but a soak in the ultrasonic cleaner and a regrease and they're useable. At least they're a standard size if I do ever want to replace them. I also suspect the head tube may be that slightly classic nineties thing of being a bit bagged out, the headset went in way too easily. Still, it won't get ridden much so I'm not concerned. The old headset may have something to do with that too.

Stem: My dad used to work out in the states a lot, and on one trip to Colorado came back with a bunch of stuff including a Profile BOA stem, although that one was quill. As it happened when we were building this up the shop had one that was in about the right size in Ahead and so duly bought it. It's one of those things that seemed cool to me at the time; having similar components to my dad's bike that I'd looked at and liked. The one fitted here isn't the original and nor is it the original size but I picked up five of them for a tenner so it was a case of right stem at the right price!

BOAs by the dozen. Anyone need a quill converter?...
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Bars: Azonic Singlewall bars were pretty common at the time and so until I changed bike they were what I had fitted, albeit after a few months I did spend some birthday money getting a matching Azonic Hammer stem for £30 or so from CRC. The bars here are a bit more faded than the originals but they're close enough!

Grips: They were originally red and black Yeti lock ons but they're daft money so grey and black ones it is. I need to re-glue them on with some super glue and put locking wire on but I'll do that before I ride it. Nobody likes throttle grip!

Seatpost: This is actually the original X-Lite Clikon post I got based on CRC having them at a good price. It's a bit tatty and it's been on many bikes since, and annoyingly cut down a bit, but it's good to have at least one original component.

Saddle: The one thing I need to get still to match the original build. This X-Lite PSS was from a later bike and originally this had a PSS2 with red corners but I refuse to pay the money the jokers on ebay want. I can still remember throwing the original one out only a few years ago because the nose was torn. What. A. Dick.

NOS goodness...
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Gearing and brakes: A couple of years before building this up I got M739 XT STI shifters and matching V-brakes for my birthday but in less than twelve months the calipers had grown baggy and we'd replaced them with M952 XTR which seemed marginally tougher. These all made their way onto this bike originally alongside the matching XT four arm cranks I'd got for the previous Christmas which IMO are the best looking cranks ever made, or at least one of them. The rear mech was upgraded to a new M952 XTR SGS alongside an IG91 chain, and Shimano PDM 636 DX pedals. The stuff on this bike has been plucked off ebay to match, aside from the STI units which came from a spares box; they'd originally been bought for my mum's bike years ago, possibly from the Wooly Hat Shop, and so were NOS. A waste? Possibly, but who cares? The front mech was an M739 bottom pull item - the biggest issue with these frames was the front mech stop adjusters and the pain in the arse it was to get to them. In the end I took some M4 allen head bolts into school and my CDT teacher helped me turn them down in OD slightly so they didn't foul each other, and then a chopped down allen key made for easy access. Still a PITA but a much slighter one than it might have been!

Classic M739 XT 4 arm cranks. I've got these on four bikes, plus a spare pair and some rings too. I clearly have problems...
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Reasonably good condition PDM-636 DX pedals and M739 Front derailleur to match the cranks. Pivot placement here shows why it pedalled well for the day as in anything but the outer ring the pedal forces would seek to extend the shock rather than compress it...
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Slightly baggy M952 XTR V brakes will get a rebuild with shims to take out the slop. 'Torque Tube' is the bit that always used to crack on the swingarm as there just wasn't enough material for the flex generated by the QR back end. There might be a few chips and the mango might be faded but the paint is in great shape...


Wheels & tyres: The front one was originally the Hope Fatso with Mavic 121 CD Ceramic off my Trek 850 but with doing some more races we took this spare one we had and fitted it in place of the lighter and more fragile Fatso. The ceramic coating is fairly worn, but for originality I don't mind, it's battle worn and tells a story. The rear wheel was originally a Shimano LX M567 hub on Mavic 121 CD rim but that wheels pegged for the 850 rebuild so I picked this M739 XT rear hub on similar 121 CD rim. The original tyres I had were the now rare as hell Specialized Fear Control and Master, followed by Evil Twin SC/HC combo. Maybe one day I'll track some down but for now these second generation Team Control & Master 'Comp' combo do fine. I also used Tioga Factory DH in 2.3" (better than the Specialized but zero mud clearance with V's), IRC Mud Mad DHs, and later pre-production Michelin Comp 16s which at the time were so good they were cheating.

Rear 121 CD with lightly worn braking surface...
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Front wheel taken from this...
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Modifications: After racing the full SDA series in 1999 and really getting into it we started looking at bulking the bike up. In the end we settled on Pace RC150 Monster forks which were on offer from a Wolverhampton based shop I can't remember the name of, Hope Big'Un Mk2 hubs in black built into 36h Sun Doublewides, and Hope Pro DH4 brakes. Not a bad Christmas present! The downside is that this definitely turned it into a much heavier bike that even though I was fit definitely impacted my ability to ride it into the hills which of course then led to the N+1 discussion but that's a bike for another day. Eventually the Marin had AC Pro cranks and an MRP Slalom device too. I've still got the device but that's earmarked for the Animal 222, and in any case I wanted to build this bike up ostensibly as it had first been. The Pace forks were sadly garbage, and I remember chatting to Stefan Gleed at the National Champs that year in Innerleithen and he asked if I'd bought them based on seeing him riding them. He was glad that I hadn't as he felt guilty thinking that anyone bought them based on that, they really were terribly unreliable. By the August that I was on the 2000 7" Boxxer and Pace had sorted out a refund on the forks. And what a revelation those Boxxers were. I've still got them actually, although not quite in box fresh condition.

Another early shot of the original bike. I think this was either late summer or October holidays in 1999, and was at Ballindalloch Station after a ride along the Speyside Way. We'd stayed in the Tomich Hotel for a change from our usual north and west coast haunts for hillwalking and riding. Note the fork boots had already been binned...
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Bikes sure have moved on, and this is closer to a modern enduro bike than downhill, but it was always a great bike to ride even if it was fragile. In this first iteration it was even pretty efficient on rough climbs, especially compared to a lot of contemporary options. When the last one broke and Sandy talked my dad into going for the new 'long travel patriot' that was coming in a few months (the 222), he managed to get Orange to lend me one of the Blue/White Patriot LTs until it arrived. That Patriot came with a Fox Van RC shock and Manitou X-Vert R forks in 120mm guise, but for all the better bike that it was, it always felt heavy and cumbersome compared to the Marin for me given I was relatively small and light. That said, they didn't break as often and these days as a much heavier and stronger rider I'd be able to make a lot more of the Patriot. As to the 222, well I've got a frame and box of bits here but that's another frame for another story…

Some more old shots:

First race on the new bike at Fort William in May 1999. I went from being minutes behind the next rider at my first race to in the middle. Quite some jump, but the loose surface and minimal roots definitely helped as I had a lot more experience of that terrain despite only my 2nd time on anything remotely 'downhill' or even less than Land Rover track...
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Glen Mallie in Lochaber. I can still remember the slog that was on 2.25" IRC Mud Mad DH's, thick tubes, stupid rims and heavy forks. A light hardtail for this stuff soon materialised in true N+1 behaviour...
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Posing stupidly in front of the Luibeilt Bothy between Kinlochleven and Loch Treig although I can't remember which side we went in from. Thanks to @Roly I have a matching front THE fender to now put on this new build. Sadly the bothy is now in much worse state than it was even here in the first half of 2000...
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Ah, I get you. No, this one's the Team Marin DH which is the same as the following year's DH FRS, and the 1998 B17, and they were all the longer travel variants with about 6" rear travel compared to the xc variants based on the Mount Vision/East Peak etc. In 1999 (or possibly 2000) they introduced the Wildcat Trail as a higher spec'd B17 and started using the bent rather than straight 'Torque Tube'. Every aluminium swingarm on the Jon Whyte era FRS range (opposed to the later quad link style or the same era but entry level FRS with the steel swingarm) used the Torque Tube, it was just the marketing name for the bit of aluminium they used to join the two halves of the swingarm together and stop it twisting. Strictly speaking it prevents torquing of the swingarm, especially with a QR rear axle, but like most mtb stuff why let that stop the marketing teams?!

I don't have my original from the couple of old pics above, that thing will have long since been sent to recycling given how many cracks were in it, but the one in the recent pics above, per the thread, I picked up last year and recently rebuilt.
 

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