I’ve got an abiding love for bike touring. I dig it as a concept. I love where it takes you. I swoon for how it opens the self. I revel in it as an exercise in strategy, the route planning, the what of packing, the where of weight distribution and access. So naturally, I love a great touring bike.
But unless you’re buying a bike ahead of a big tour, a touring bike needs to do more than just haul packs. It ought to be a rig that makes for enjoyable riding closer to home. Or, at least, that’s my view, given that most miles people will put on a bike will be ridden closer to home, wanderlust notwithstanding.
When I spied the Marin Four Corners Elite at Interbike I was intrigued. It is, in many ways, a classic touring bike. It’s got braze-ons like my three-year-old has stuffed animals. It’s welded from a tube set stiffer than some English upper lips. It uses an out-swept bar. But it has some very modern touches. It features a 1x drivetrain with a 38×42 low gear. And, no surprise, disc brakes bring it to a stop. What is a surprise? It rolls on the WTB Riddler tire, a 45mm tubeless wonder.
So the Four Corners Elite is a drop-bar bike-packing bike, not your traditional road touring model. Were I striking out on a tour that was going to take in unpaved roads, maybe even a bit of singletrack, I’d choose this over a mountain bike. More hand positions has always been an advantage for long days in the saddle.
As I mentioned in my opening, a touring bike is, on most days, just a bike. It may get ridden to work or the store, or taken out on a group ride and so its important that it be enjoyable even when there’s not 80 pounds of gear hanging on it. The big question on my mind was whether this was a bike that would capably function as an adventure bike. So I took it out on some of my favorite dirt roads near me.
Touring bike handling has always been relaxed, even-tempered. What you don’t want is a bike that’s nervous under load. Any body English can cause a bike with too-quick-handling to shimmy, and that’s roughly zero fun. At low speeds the Four Corners Elite was still nimble enough that I could maneuver around rocks, but with the Riddler tires, I could also choose to go over them, and I often did. A 45mm tire is as big as my first mountain bike’s tires!
I don’t usually spend much time focusing on the parts spec of a bike, but in this instance, given that this bike is so reasonably priced—just $2249!—it’s worth discussing the parts pick some. The bike is built around a SRAM Rival 1x group with an 11-speed 10-42 cassette. I’ve got some concerns about having enough low end for either long or steep climbs when this bike is loaded, but for tackling the fire roads around me it was just fine. The Rival discs had great stopping power.
The wheels are 32-hole WTB KOM rims laced to no-name hubs. Years ago a 32-hole wheel was a racing wheel, not something stout enough for panniers, but rims, hubs and spokes have come such a long way that I’d trust these loaded. Those wheels are clamped into the frame with a truly quick-release thru-axle. Depress that little red lever, give a quarter turn twist and pull the axle out. It’s the best system I’ve encountered.
Given that this is a touring bike, there’s a fair chance that it will be subjected to stretches of extended use and limited maintenance. That can be tough on a bike, especially one that isn’t built from top-shelf parts. What I was impressed to learn is that the frame gets a dip in a rust treatment bath; the inside and the outside is coated in full. No matter how many days of rain this bike is subjected to, rusting from the inside won’t be a threat.
The Four Corners Elite comes in four sizes. The small has a 55.5cm (effective) top tube with a reach of 39cm. The medium is 57.5cm with a 39.7cm reach. The large is 60.0cm with a 40.9cm reach. The XL is 62.5cm with a 41.5cm reach. The distribution of sizes is good, but because there are only four sizes and the smallest has a 55.5cm top tube, it’s unlikely anyone shorter than 5 feet, 8 inches, would be able to ride one. On the plus side, tall people, particularly tall, stocky men who have had trouble finding a bike both big enough and stiff enough would do well to consider this bike.
Those looking for a lightweight gravel bike suitable to competitive events would be disappointed with the Four Corners Elite. This isn’t that bike. But for those who want a single bike that can do anything, and don’t mind a bike that tips the scales at more than 20 pounds, this is a fantastic option. I did a pure road ride on it, tore off on plenty of fire roads and even snuck through some singletrack. If there’s a more versatile bike out there, especially for less than than $2500, I haven’t seen it.
Final thought: A cyclist’s little black dress.
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