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Marin Fairfax SC5 2013

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Tested by Simon Bale

Review

I blame Joseph Gordon-Levitt. If he hadn't ridden like a hooligan in the film Premium Rush, I wouldn't have given myself - and car drivers - a scare when my right hand pedal smacked into the tarmac as I weaved between traffic on a roundabout.

I'm normally a fairly tame rider. I tend to ride aggressively enough to show drivers I mean business, but I don't take unnecessary risks, or try to wind them up. It's a balance between making a statement that I 'own' this part of the road and letting them get by without fuss. Because if there's one thing a driver doesn't like, it's a cyclist overtaking them while they're caught in traffic, then blocking their way when they should have a clear road.

In Premium Rush, the couriers ride far more aggressively and consequently have run-ins with car drivers - something I try to avoid! I've bellowed at drivers before, but hopefully haven't cut any up, nor do I ride along the pavement. In fact, the Marin Fairfax SC5 I'm testing doesn't have much in common with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's ride.

He has a stripped-down racer fixie with no brakes, ideal for New York roads, the Marin Fairfax SC5 has a 9-speed drivetrain, Tektro HDC-300 hydraulic brakes and flat handlebars. But it's still a bit of a hooligan bike.

Finished in satin black, with black deep rims and black seatpost, stem and bars, the SC5 is a bit 'stealth'. It's a pure urban machine, with 700x28mm Vittoria tyres sitting within the deep Alex Black Dragon rims. The wheels spin up quickly and are slowed equally fast by the Tektro brakes. They're not quite as good as the company's Draco brakes, but they're powerful enough - I've locked up the rear wheel on numerous occasions on heavy braking, and the front continues to knock the speed off.

Positioning the levers is a bit of a problem. The flat bars are finished with ergonomic Ergon GP1 grips. With their large palm grips, these push your hands slightly further inboard than you'd position them on standard grips. But the 580mm wide 31.8mm oversize bars limit the amount of space you have for the controls, giving you just 15mm of adjustment room. That's just about enough for me, but if you find it's an issue, you'll have to go slightly wider - even a 600mm bar would make a world of difference.

And I'd also think about replacing the Ergon GP1 grips with some with built-in bar ends - they'd add an extra bit of fun to the bike, making it even easier to negotiate commuting traffic, especially as you stand up to ramp up the speed.

Because that's where the Fairfax SC5 is at home. With RFE carbon forks and alloy steerer tube, plus a 71-degree head angle, it's a quick turning bike, making weaving between obstacles a breeze - but it does seem a touch more twitchy in a straight line, something that may be down to the lightweight front end.

Which is a bit strange because although the bike weighs in at a reasonably light 11.6kg (11.4kg with no pedals in size 20.5"), the front end never seems to want to come up when I bunny-hop over speed humps. The back end flicks up fine, but the front stays glued to the ground until the last minute. This may be down to the grips again; their positioning may prevent me from getting my hand placement right, but it definitely seems like more effort is needed.

The lack of weight is a benefit on hilly terrain as well as gravel. Admittedly, the SC5 isn't designed for off-road use, but sometimes you have to jump off the cyclepath onto the gravel to the side and it fair skims along the top of the stones, the Vittoria tyres having just enough bite to grip. Show them mud, though, and it's a different matter and they'll slither around like any other skinny tyre. They do have reflex sidewalls, though, so at least they help car drivers pick you out at night. Because there's nothing else on the bike helping drivers see you.

The black frame and forks are good and stiff, so you know about it when you hit bumps. The rear triangles are slightly asymmetrical with the drive side being considerably wider than the braking one. What's slightly weird is the relationship between the rear triangle and the rear mech. There'd be a thump every time I landed after jumping a speed hump. The wheel was fine, but after a bit of investigation I found the mech cage was crashing into the chainstay. Admittedly, there is a bit of foam padding between the mech and frame, but that doesn't absorb all the impact, so you'll have to live with it. Still at least the gears don't seem fazed by the attention from the frame.

It's got a 9-speed Shimano Deore rear mech and Acera front mech and shifters, with a 48/36/26 chainset and 11-32 rear cassette. They're pretty fuss-free - not quite as nice to use as those higher up the ladder, but not something that'd be top of my upgrades list. The same as the saddle in some ways. Normally I'm quite fussy with my perch, but I haven't taken any notice of the Marin's saddle, so it must be alright!

The frame is built with pannier and mudguard mounts, but I think they would look plain wrong on this bike - it's a lightweight urban rocket, not a slow commuting cruiser. But whichever you use it as, the Marin anti-theft wheel skewers will add a bit of security for when you have to leave it. And the rubber cable bumpers around the headset will keep it looking great.

Overall, the Fairfax SC5 is a great urban hack. It's got a good range of gears, so will suit even the hilliest cities, and the black finish marks it out as being subtle and sleek. And it pushes you to ride quickly. If you're content dawdling along, look elsewhere. If you want a fun commute, this is right up your street. Just don't get too carried away watching cycling films.

At a glance

Verdict A quick urban hack, ideal for speedy commutes through traffic.
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