Marin calls its 2011 Hamilton 29er an “urban commuter,” and at $485 without the optional Sturmey Archer two-speed kick-back rear hub (more on that later) it’s a sharp-looking ride that won’t set you back too much dough.
It’s a big-boned beast that’s been dressed up in city clothes and instructed to hit all the proper buzzwords at cocktail parties: urban, street, double butted, sealed cartridge and especially 29er.
Almost every single bike manufacturer has delved into the large-wheel phenomenon. These machines have become really hot in the mountain-bike market, as the benefits of the larger wheels appeal to trail riders: the ability to roll over obstacles easier, a larger contact patch for better cornering, and less sinkage on soft surfaces.
So at first look, the Hamilton appears to be a commuter–urban explorer for the mountain biker who has embraced the large-wheel world and is now looking for something to throw a leg over and bolt to the coffee shop or across town. Unfortunately, in the case of this steed, looks are deceiving. You won’t want to roll over any obstacles or attack any rough stuff on this bike.
Because the fancy tube shapes Marin has applied to the Hamilton’s design do nothing to keep the weight down, getting the front up high enough to hop a curb is not a feat for those with a weak abdominal fascia. And because of the limited gearing selection (a flip-flop single-speed hub is standard) this ride is meant to go straight ahead on smooth roads or trails.
Marin seems to have countered the slower steering by employing an exceptionally wide bar. This made the Hamilton seem fun at first, but in the long haul made me crave something a little less twitchy.
If you are looking for sharp-looking cruiser that your kids won’t be embarrassed to see you ride, this might just be the ticket. But if you are looking for a street-wise stand-in for your dirty mud-thumper, you’d better look elsewhere.
Now about that Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic hub. It’s equal parts glorious invention and absurd annoyance.
There are two speeds in play — a 1:1 direct drive, and a second gear that gives you a 38 percent boost — and no cables or shift levers. You just to kick back about a quarter turn on your cranks to switch between gears. When you’re cooking down an avenue and you want a little extra go-power, it’s awesome. Or when you find yourself running out of steam, you can just kick back the cranks and enjoy a less painful gear selection.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but no matter how hard I tried, I still found myself inadvertently changing gears. I couldn’t break the habit of backpedaling while coasting. Worse, I’d be prepping a pedal stroke at a red light and hear that click from down below.
In the end, I decided the Sturmey Archer was like a good marriage. You stick it out in good times and in bad, and just deal with the annoyances as best you can.
Photo by Jon Snyder/
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