From tweens moving up from a 24″ bike to women looking for a great entry-level mountain bike, the Marin Wildcat Trail is a solid choice that packs a lot of punch into its price tag. With three Wildcat models at three different price points, the Wildcat caters to everyone from the recreational mountain biker to the fully committed intermediate single-track rider.
For this review, we’ll be focusing on the perks of the Wildcat for tweens and teens. With 11 and 13-year-old budding mountain bikers at our house, we were thrilled to test out the XS Wildcat Trail. As one of the few legit entry-level mountain bikes on the market that are sized to fit tweens and adults starting at 4’10, the Wildcat is unique in the bike market.
Marin Wildcat Trail 3 (XS)
RATING: Highly Recommended
MSRP: $429 – $899
BEST FOR: Beginning to intermediate mountain bikers, especially kids transitioning from a 24″ bike
TIRES: 27.5″ x 2.25″
DRIVETRAIN: 1 X 11 (Wildcat 5), 2 X 8 (Wildcat 3), 3 X 7 (Wildcat 1)
WEIGHT: 33.3 lbs. (Wildcat Trail 3, XS frame)
BRAKES: Tektro Hydraulic Disc (Wildcat 3, 5), Mechanical Disc (Wildcat 1)
SUSPENSION FORK: SR Suntour coil, varying quality level by model
SEAT HEIGHT RANGE: 31.5″ – 36.0″ (XS frame)
- Available in an XS frame, making it one of few mountain bikes small enough for kids transitioning from a 24″ bike
- Available as 1x, 2x, or 3x drivetrain system – varies by model
- Responsive disc brakes (hydraulic on Wildcat 3, 5 – mechanical on Wildcat 1)
- Wide 780mm handlebars provide a stable, comfortable base for new riders
- On the heavy side
- Components are basic for the true single-track junkies but are in line with the Wildcat’s budget-friendly price point
Marin Wildcat Trail (XS) Review – Results of our Test Rides
Sizing – A Tween on an Adult Bike?
In search of a bike nimble enough for our young tween and teen riders, yet technical enough to keep up with their budding interest in mountain biking, we were stoked to discover the Marin Wildcat Trail was available in an XS frame. Last summer I rented a Wildcat while riding at Whistler and loved how it performed, but assumed it wouldn’t fit my 11 and 13-year-olds.
With the XS frame designed to fit heights 4’10” to 5’2″, the Wildcat not only fit our young tweens (who are 4’11” and 5’0″ in height), it also provides both of them several inches (and hopefully years) of growth!
With our 11-year-old 4’11” tester moving up from a 24″ bike, we were initially concerned about the drastic change in weight and overall size of the Wildcat with 27.5″ tires. We were pleasantly surprised, however, to watch her seamlessly transition to the much heavier and larger Wildcat.
Weighing in at 33.3 lb. the Wildcat Trail 3 XS isn’t a featherweight (especially compared to her 18 lb. 24″ bike), but she honestly didn’t have trouble adapting to the larger and heavier bike. Amidst it all, the added cool factor of the larger tire and suspension fork certainly added to the pure joy of riding and provided a positive mindset which probably helped to offset the weight.
To be fair, essentially any other similarly priced and spec’d bike would weigh significantly more than her 24″ bike. So although we love and will continue to praise lightweight bikes for kids, in the mid to low-range price-point, we knew lightweight couldn’t be a top priority this time around.
Marin Wildcat Trail Models
To meet all skills levels, and price-points, the Wildcat comes in three different models – the Wildcat Trail 1, 3 an 5. All three bikes share the same frame and are available in the same four frame sizes.
The top of the line Wildcat Trail 5 is fully spec’d with hydraulic disc brakes, a 1x drivetrain and an upgraded fork with lockout, adjustable dampening and 120mm of travel for $899. As a comparison, the base Wildcat 1 has mechanical disc brakes, a 3x drivetrain and a basic fork with 100mm of travel for $429.
We chose the mid-range Wildcat Trail 3, priced at $699, which provided us a bump up to a higher quality front fork with lockout capabilities (but no dampening) and hydraulic disc brakes, with a 2x drivetrain.
The 1x drivetrain on the Wildcat 5 was certainly tempting, but with a beginner who is likely to outgrow the XS in several years, we opted to save a few bucks. With only one shifter and derailleur to worry about, 1x systems are by far our favorite for tweens (or any kid just learning the nuances of shifting), but 2x and 3x systems certainly aren’t dealbreakers.
Although a women’s bike, be sure to keep in mind that the Wildcat Trail is available in several gender-neutral colors, making it a fantastic option for girls or boys. In fact, our 13-year-old boy rider had no clue that the Wildcat was a “women’s bike”!
Marin Wildcat Trail Models Comparison
|Model||Wildcat Trail 1||Wildcat Trail 3||Wildcat Trail 5|
|Gearing||3 x 7||2 x 8||1 x 11|
|Drivetrain||Shimano Tourney||Shimano Altus||Shimano Deore|
|Brakes||Mechanical Disc||Shimano Hydro Disc||Shimano Hydro Disc|
|Fork/Travel||SR Suntour, 100mm Travel||SR Suntour, 120mm||SR Suntour, 120mm|
|Handlebar||780mm||780 mm||780 mm|
From rugged and rocky local trails to the smoothly groomed trails of Bentonville, Arkansas, our testers rode the Marin Wildcat 3 hard for three solid months. Clocking over a hundred miles, our less aggressive 11-year-old and aggressive 13-year-old testers both grew leaps and bounds (quite literally) while on the Marin.
With large 27.5″ tires, hydraulic disc brakes and wide 780mm handlebars, the Wildcat helped boost our testers confidence to take their riding to the next level. While our aggressive 13-year-old rider soon learned to pull off some major air (shown above) our more passive, yet determined 11-year-old rider was soon tackling skinnies like a champ. For a bike designed for beginning riders, the Wildcat certainly held up to its promises.
Based on feedback from testers, we can also confidently say the set up and geometry of the Wildcat is better for entry-level riders versus experienced riders. As our aggressive rider progressed on trails, the Wildcat’s overall geometry didn’t allow him to lean into the bike as much as he preferred. With a shallower tire tread than other bikes he has tested (namely the 26″ kids woom OFF), the tires didn’t provide as much traction on loose dirt trails.
The wider 780mm handlebars of the Wildcat, however, were much preferred over the narrower 680mm on the kid-specific woom 6 OFF. Whether he was landing jumps or cornering with speed, the wider handlebars provided a much-appreciated base for added stability.
All three models of the Wildcat feature various grades of Shimano’s entry-level mountain bike line. The Wildcat 1 features the Tourney lines, the Wildcat 3 jumps up to Altus and the Wildcat 5 is upgraded to the Deore Shadow (derailleur). The quality of these components is directly related to the price of the bike, with the higher-end models featuring better quality components than the entry-level Wildcat 1.
All three Wildcat Trail models feature trigger shifters for on-the-fly shifting preferred by trail riders in general. With Shimano components, all models require the rider to shift up with their thumb by pushing a lever below the grips, and shift down by pulling down with their index finger on a smaller lever above the grip.
With a 1x drivetrain (one chainring in the “front”), the Wildcat 5 only has one shifter on the right side for the back cassette. With 2x and 3x systems, the Wildcat 3 and 1 have two shifters with the left hand adjusting the front chainring and the right shifters adjusting the back.
As a result, the 1x system is much simpler for kids to use (essentially all kid-specific bikes have 1x systems) as they only have to worry about shifting one side. But it doesn’t come with added costs.
In our testing, however, our 11-year-old and 13-year-old riders rarely even needed to shift the front derailleur and essentially always rode with the chain in smaller chainring (the Wildcat 3 they tested has a 2x system with two chainrings). The gears offered on the larger chainring were too high and were really only used during steep downhills. As a result, they just lived by the mantra “set it and forget it” with the left hand.
All models of the Wildcat feature responsive and powerful disc brakes. The Wildcat 1 has mechanical disc that offer plenty of stopping power for the recreational mountain biker and even the fitness rider hitting the dirt trail. The Wildcat 3 and 5 boost up stopping power with hydraulic disc brakes.
In addition to increased responsiveness and power, hydraulic disc brakes allow you to feel how much stopping power is being applied to the brake, making it much easier for kids and adults to modulate their braking. As a result, for those planning on riding more aggressive trails, the hydraulic brakes on the Wildcat 3 an 5 is worth the jump in price.
Be aware that hydraulic brakes are more challenging to adjust, which is why the Wildcat 1 was spec’d with mechanical disc brakes instead- to better allow for the recreational rider to be able to adjust the brakes.
There isn’t any question that any tween or teen loves the look and functionality of a suspension fork. From providing a little pop to help catch air on a jump, or to simply smooth our rocks and roots along trails, suspension forks make riding more fun!
As entry level mountain bikes, all models of the Wildcat Trail feature coil-spring suspension forks versus air forks. While air forks are typically lighter and also rebound quicker, for the beginning mountain biker, the coil-spring shocks on the Wildcat 3 and 5 offer great functionality.
The Wildcat 3’s fork features 120mm of travel with hydraulic lockout to prevent compression while riding uphill. Being able to lock your suspension prevents your front end from sagging and wasting all your precious energy!
The upgraded fork on the Wildcat 5 takes it one step further be adding dampening adjustment to control rebound based on how smooth or bouncy your terrain will be. It also offers the additional rigidity of a thru-axle.
All models have forks with proportional weight spring, meaning there is a higher spring rate on larger frames to match the heavier weight of taller riders.
The Marin Wildcat Trail line of bikes offer impressive value in a really well-designed mountain bike. They’re perfect bikes for beginning and intermediate trail and mountain bikers who can live without the highest-end components, but who need a rig that provides stability, confidence, and durability on the trail. While your tween may be able to get by on a recreational mountain bike for kids, this Wildcat will improve their experience and speed up their progress immensely.