An all-round, family adventure and commuting bike that brings out the inner hooligan. Bought from a fantastic local bike shop in Swindon centre.

Me and my bikes

So, a bit of history. I love bikes and cycling, as you can probably tell. But my stable has until now consisted of only a cheap Raleigh Pioneer hybrid, and a low-to-mid-range Felt Road bike.

When we first moved to Swindon, the Raleigh was a great starting point, but I quickly become fed up with the upright position – I wanted something more sporty.

This was about 8 years ago when bikes were either mountain, road (or tourer) or simple hybrid. Though Cyclocross bikes were an option too, albeit an unusual one at the time.

So, when I decided to add a second bike, I really had to choose between trail or road. I chose road. Mostly because I’m surrounded by nice, meandering country roads, and most real off-road trail riding is quite a way away.

In the years that followed, the hybrid world seemed to go crazy. I remember seeing a Trek Portland – an urban road/cyclocross combo in retro brown-leather styling, but with disc brakes. WHAT?!?!  And ever since the hybrid spectrum seems to have gone nuts.

More recently, I’ve had a small child to carry around. Deciding that the skinny, lightweight frame of my road bike wouldn’t like a 5kg bike seat and (now) 13kg toddler clinging to the seat tube and wobbling around, the road bike has pretty much been consigned to the shed while I pootle around, commuting in “normal clothes”, on the old faithful Raleigh.  Credit where credit’s due: that bike has taken a beating over the years and held up well for it’s £180 price tag and occasional service and spare part.

And me? I’m truly post-MAMIL. I’m having a mid-life bike crisis. I’m a “Middle Aged Dad in Normal Clothes” – a MADINC! And I need something different.

Choosing a new steed

The Raleigh was getting rusty, and I was longing to get some sportiness back into my commute. I wanted a bike that would:

  • Let me carry Isaac to nursery, and on family adventures
  • Let me cycle to work quickly and efficiently
  • Let me do longer on-road, and possibly off-road (easy trails, not gnarly singletrack) rides for fitness

I was sort-of inspired when I accidentally looked at a Boardman hybrid that seemed sporty but practical and had front suspension forks that with a quick-lock-out mechanism. “This could be it!”, I thought, “the do-everything hybrid”.

So when we came into a little extra cash one day, we decided that we would buy some new bikes. And I got researching properly.

I’ll spare you the long story, but I eliminated a load of bikes, shops, and brands, and ended up looking at Ridgebacks, which seemed to do a really good part of the spectrum of hybrids, and looked cool too. I’m not a visual person but I took a fancy to the X1 (you’ll notice the similarities to the Portland mentioned above), but wanted to check out the MX4 too with more nobbly tyres and suspension fork.

I was torn about the fork. Would my use case really need suspension? Would it encourage me off road more? Or was it an unnecessary extra?

In looking at the Ridgebacks we also came across Marin Bikes. I sat on a Fairfax: a rugged-looking, speedy urban commuter and really liked the feel from the word go. I then tried a slightly-chunkier Muirwoods 29er and wrote it off because I didn’t like the really wide handlebar.

A quick – no, it wasn’t quick, it was quite lengthly – chat with a guy who knows a lot about bikes decided at least one thing for me: I didn’t want a cheap suspension fork, and I couldn’t afford an expensive suspension fork. So a solid fork it was. Which meant the MX4 was out of the equation, and it was between the Ridgeback X1 and the Marins – probably the Fairfax.

So I went back to the shop and tried them all. Initially they didn’t have the X1 in, and I tried the Fairfax and Muirwoods again. And…to my surprise…ended up preferring the more mountain-bikey Muirwoods.  The X1 demo bike hadn’t arrived, so I went away to mull things over.

The Muirwoods just felt…FUN! I looked up reviews. Reviews of the specific bikes I’d been looking at were hard to come across, but the Muirwoods had one:

Fun, tough, practical

said Bike Radar

[The Muirwoods] encourages a belligerent approach to your commute that your mum wouldn’t like. It brings out the inner hooligan as you look for every opportunity to carve a corner or dive through a gap. It’s huge fun.

Yes. Yes it was. I could tell just taking it for a quick spin outside the shop. It was fun. It wanted to play.

And that feeling prevailed when I went back to compare the Muirwoods with the X1. I sat on the X1. It looked great. It was really comfortable. It rode well. It would probably have been a great all-rounder of a bike capable of doing all the things that I wanted to do. But when I sat on it, I felt like I was riding to the office.

When I sat on the Muirwoods, I felt like I was riding to the skate park, or the forest. I felt like I could do Danny Macaskill tricks on my way to work. But also that it would get me around on the roads in speed and with comfort too.

I ordered the Muirwoods. I was undecided for about an afternoon about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I’d never met my inner-hooligan before. What was about to happen?!

The indecision soon passed. It was play time!

The Marin

I’ve had the Marin for a few months now. It’s a great bike. I love it to bits. It’s a true all-rounder. Here’s some of what’s different, good and bad about it.

What’s to like?

I like the extra-wide handlebar. It took a while to get used to, but it adds to the fun of the ride. It does, however, sometimes make it difficult to park in a busy bike rack!

I like the disc brakes. My first experience of them, and I’m totally convinced so far.

I like the big, wide pedals. They make it really easy to hop on and off and just get going.

I like the subtle reflective decals and reflective tyre walls. Neat little touches. And I’m glad that reflective tyres seem more common these days – especially in a town with lots of roundabouts when side-on visibility is key.

I like that it has eyelets and space for mud guards as they’re essential for a commuter. The guys in the bike shop got me some great guards and spent a good time getting them fitted well.

I like that it’s black.

I like the big wheels and choice of tyres. It rolls nicely both off and on-road.

I like the MTB shifters. They’re fast, accessible, accurate. Yes, the cables stretch over time, but these work well. The components are at a good level here.

I like that it doesn’t have suspension. It turns out that I really don’t need it and it’s one thing less to worry about.

I like that I can happily carry my three-year-old around on it in his seat. Fitting the bracket for the seat was easy and he’s quite happy on it.

There’s lots to like! From the bigger-picture overall feel of the thing, right down to tiny details like the decals and reflectives.

It has this steel frame.

Which is kinda weird. Bike nerds please correct me if I’m wrong here but I’ll try to explain what I know.

Steel is less stiff; it flexes more.  But it’s stronger; it’s less likely to break or bend. Steel is also heavier. But because of the increased strength you need less of it. So it has these really thin tubes made of really thin metal. And this makes the bike “ring” slightly. There’s actually this odd noise when the frame is tapped or knocked or it experiences a jolt.  This sound take a while to get used to and it does give the bike a whole different character. I wasn’t sure what I was riding at first.

Steel also feels different. It’s hard to explain this. It’s highly qualitative. It’s just weird. You’ll have to take my word for it. But you get used to it. And it’s not bad – just different.

It feels like it has a “missing gear”.

Between cogs 5 and 6. It needs an extra 5-and-a-half’th gear. Which is kinda awkward because at a reasonable pace 5th gear is too low, and 6th is too high. This comes up in the reviews. And it’s totally true.

I THINK it needs different grips.

The grips are OK but not very comfortable.  They’re round and flat. I always felt like they were intended to make you hold on for dear life, which, given the nature of the bike, isn’t a bad idea. They felt especially harsh at first, but I’ve got used to them.  I’m not sure how I’d get on with them on a longer ride though.

I THINK it needs a different saddle.

This is a similar story to the grips. It felt really harsh at first but I’ve grown accustomed to it. You may want to add a more comfortable saddle of your own choosing.

Stupid cable/hose clips

Details, details. The other crazy thing is the C-shaped cable/hose clips used to hold the cables/hoses to the frame are plastic and, well, they just fall off. Perhaps there’s a good reason for their use, but I quickly replaced them with proper cable ties. A tiny thing, but annoying none the less.

The Bike Shop: @thehub, Swindon

I want to give an extra special plug to the guys that sold us our new bikes: @thehub. They are a new, startup, bike shop and coffee shop in central Swindon.

@thehub is a new business, and I went in to chat with them when they first opened. They’re brilliant. Super-friendly, proper helpful. The staff have gone totally out of their way to give us advice, let us try things out, and generally provide awesome customer service – even down to making sure my mudguards were installed JUST right. Their attention to detail is superb, as is their coffee and hot chocolate.

As a new, and fairly small bike shop they have limited stock. But if you are in the market for a new bike or for a service or parts, I highly recommend them and would urge you to support this new local business. It’s a real asset to our town centre.

In summary

My mid-life crisis is complete. The lycra is gone. I’m a jeans-and-trainers wearing hooligan on a stealthy beast of a bike that goes everywhere and does everything. Family adventures here we come!