Road Cycling

Marin Headlands 2 Review – Best Gravel Bikes – Bicycling

Takeaway: A fast, carbon all-road bike and stellar parts package for a great price.

  • Modern parts package: 1x drivetrain, dropper post, and hydraulic disc brakes
  • Super lightweight, vibration-damping frame
  • Rolls smooth and fast on grippy 40mm Schwalbe tires

    Price: $2,850
    Weight:
    21.2 lb.


    Back when I used to race ’cross (RIP), people were always reminding each other: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.” Well, skip the slow part—this bike smooths everything out so you can just go freaking fast on rough surfaces.

    The vibration-damping carbon frame and 40mm Schwalbe G-One Performance tires let me bomb through rough trails and gravel sections so much faster than I would on a road bike (and without my teeth chattering around in my skull).

    The wide rubber felt fantastic on the gravel paths I was riding, and pretty great on the smooth dirt singletrack, too, but they began to lose grip on loose, steep climbs where I needed to stand out of the saddle, getting a little skittery. But on fast, windy descents, they surprised me with how they surely they gripped the ground and kept me feeling in control.

    The full carbon frame feels lightweight, which made it easy to hop over logs and rocks. And when trail got technical, I found that the proprietary aluminum rims can take really a beating—which I gave them (poor things) on some rooty, rocky singletrack. As usual, I took it to the edge of its comfort zone on some slightly technical singletrack, and it hit its limit (or rather, mine) climbing uphill through loose or rooty stuff.

    The 11-speed Shimano GRX drivetrain performed smoothly and efficiently. The cassette has a cog range from 10 to 42 teeth, ideal for both pushing the pace on flat pavement as well as spinning up gravel climbs. The hydraulic disc brakes are great for riding in messy conditions or mud, since you’ll always grab a handful of control, rather than squealing a pad along a wet rim. Marin shaved a bit off the price by using its proprietary seat, stem, handlebar, and wheels—those choices (and the dropper post) make the Headlands 2 among the heavier carbon fiber gravel bikes, but those choices hardly affect the ride quality.

    THE BREAKDOWN: MARIN HEADLANDS 2

    Frame and Fork Carbon
    Rims and hubs
    Marin aluminum
    Drivetrain
    1×11-speed Shimano GRX Shadow
    Cassette
    SunRace 11-Speed XD, 10-42T
    Crankset
    FSA Gossamer Pro, Megatooth 42T
    Brakes
    Shimano GRX Hydraulic Disc, 160mm rotors
    Brake levers
    Shimano GRX Hydraulic w/ Shifter & Integrated Dropper Lever
    Tires
    Schwalbe G-One Performance, 700 x 40mm
    Tire clearance
    700 x 45mm or 650B x 50mm tires
    Seatpost
    TranzX YSP11 Dropper Post, 105mm travel
    Handlebar
    Marin Butted Alloy flared drop bars
    Stem
    Marin 3D Forged Alloy
    Headset
    FSA Orbit IS
    Saddle
    Marin Beyond Road Concept Elite

    The Headlands 2 comes with a dropper post that Marin seamlessly integrated into the left brake lever—since the drivetrain is a 1x, the “shift” motion you do with the left-hand lever activates the dropper. I test-rode a size 49—the smallest Marin offers—and the seat post hit its maximum insert height at a little taller than my saddle height, which is 64cm (I’m 5-foot-3, for reference). I could just shrug the dropper down to where I could reach the pedals comfortably, but shorter riders should note the minimum saddle height.

    Aside from the saddle height issue, the Headlands was super comfortable to ride. The handlebar is wider than a road bike set up (42cm to my road bike’s 38) and also a bit higher up to give you a little more control in an upright, open position. Plus, the wide tires and carbon frame smoothed out the gravel road beneath me so well that I was no less comfortable than I am riding on pavement.

    If you’re looking into bikepacking or touring, the Headlands 2 is ready for that, too. The removable seat stay brace and tons of bosses on the frame (15 on the front triangle alone) can be decked out with fenders, racks, bottle cages, and frame bags. And if you’re coming to gravel from mountain biking, you’ll love the Headlands 2’s ability to conquer light singletrack, gravel, and pavement.