Departure

Departure

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.

IMG_3825

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.

IMG_3829

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.

IMG_3827

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.

IMG_3826

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.

IMG_3832

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.


If you value independent media, please lend your support to RKP.


Subscriber Options



To learn more about our new subscription program, please read this.

, ,

7 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      No. It’s important to recognize that the VR is meant to be Felt’s latest thinking on the Endurance Road, or grand touring category. Think Felt’s answer to the Specialized Roubaix, V2.0. It’s designed to offer improved tire clearance that will give it increased versatility, i.e. unpaved roads, but it wouldn’t be up to the task of the mixed surface events I’m doing.

      Fundamentally, I still think that custom builders are where it’s at for adventure bikes. There are only a handful of production bikes out there that are race-able and offer clearance for 40mm tires, which is my default for many events I do. It’s nice to be able to point to a corner of the market and tell the world that custom builders are still the best way to go.

  1. Jim

    Interesting paint scheme. In the photos, it looks like there are 3 different bikes!
    This does look like a great value.

  2. Andy

    For f*cks sake….38×42..touring? On road…nope. Off road….hopeless. The fork lacks the mounts mandated at this point. The spec is for a gravel race bike on the cheap, not a touring or bike packing rig. Amazing tires for sure and that is the short and long of it. The right idea, the wrong execution. Stick the group on a light weight alum bike that will clear 700×45 or 650×2.1 knobbies and join the club. A good club. Making a 25lb bike that is 1x, with limited mounts, no stock bags, and no real fancy bits seems like a fail. Specialized has already done it. They made a bike, way too heavy at that price point, however they did support it with bags and cages and tools and what not. While the sequoia could have been better (much better with a few modifications) at least the big s had accessories to out fit the rig. When you get down to it a surly LHT is going to haul it all better for cheaper or a lht disc if you want the stoppers. My list goes on and on…i have thoughts and ideas if anybody needs em. No bs here, just plenty of reasons to buy the right bike and a nod as to where it may be..

  3. Ryan

    a maybe slightly more off road oriented setup is the new 2017 Salsa Fargo. their Alternator dropout system allows for true mountain bike sized wheels all the way down to road wheel/tires ( albeit with a wide tire). tons of braze-ons ( including triples for Anything racks), and geometry that’s much more relaxed for long tours. that’s what’s on my radar for purchase this spring. As a 5’7″ guy with short legs, i’m hard to fit on some frames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *