Photos: Emily Walley
Marin designed the Four Corners and Four Corners Elite for the daily commute and the weekend adventure, and it couldn’t be more on point. I’m testing the lower priced model, with an MSRP of $1100. It offers all the bells and whistles for fully-loaded touring in an affordable package. The Four Corners is an all-steel frame with mounts for a front and rear rack, fenders and three bottle cages.
Saddling up, I immediately noticed the upright riding position facilitated by the long headtube. The bars sit higher than what I’m used to and have a 20-degree flare to the drop. On other bikes, I’ve trended toward riding primarily on the hoods and tops, but the Marin’s upright position had me comfortably riding in the drops for long stretches of rolling hills and rail trails—a welcome change. The reach on the size small frame was a little long for me, so I put on a 20 mm shorter stem.
To get a sense of the bike’s touring capabilities, I added fenders and a front rack and loaded it down with gear for a mixed-surface tour from Cumberland, Maryland, to Pittsburgh. The ride included crushed limestone rail trail, rolling hard roads, dirt roads and railroad ballast. I carried my weight low on the front rack and the bike handled very well while weighted down.
On the small-sized frame, I was unable to include a water bottle underneath the downtube because it hit the fender. Though I haven’t tried yet, I’m speculating that the tire will come very close to hitting even a short bottle without fenders. On my trip, I used a stem-mounted cage for a third bottle.
The other two bottle mounts are placed so they’re easy to reach for day-to-day use, but they’re not in an ideal location for a frame bag. I zip-tied a cage lower on the downtube, closing up the unused space and allowing room for my frame bag.
I found the stock Schwalbe Silento 700c x 40 mm tires to be an appropriate spec, rolling well in a variety of terrain and adequately burly, so I wasn’t overly concerned with getting a flat. The Four Corners has clearance for up 45 mm tires with fenders or 29 x 2.1 knobby tires without fenders.
The Shimano Alivio 9-Speed with 12-36T gearing was adequate while weighted down over Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, but I’d go with a lower gear range for an extended, fully-loaded tour with sustained climbs.
I was thrilled with the stock WTB Volt Sport saddle. One of the biggest pains of rail trail riding are the long, flat sections of saddle time. The WTB is comfortable and supportive and I didn’t find myself sitting gingerly.
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There’s a reason Ortlieb is the gold standard in touring panniers, as seen on countless bicycle expeditions around the world for more than a decade. Built to last, entirely waterproof, and available in a few iconic colors, they are instantly recognizable on or off a bike.
But let’s face it, not all of us are going on extended, cross-country journeys—most of our trips are to the office and back, and I would imagine the vast majority of Ortlieb’s products are actually used for commuting rather than touring.
In the past year or so we’ve seen many brands adding more and more reflectivity into their products, and some, including Ortlieb, have gone as far as making the entire product reflective. The new High-Vis series uses the standard reflective patches found on all Ortlieb panniers, but also uses a reflective yarn woven right into the cordura outer to cause the whole bag to pop under a streetlight or car’s headlight.
Since these Back-Roll bags are of course mounted on a rear rack, the huge amount of reflective real estate makes you and your bike much more visible from both the rear and the sides. During the day the neon yellow color is so bright that it’s difficult to photograph, and at night it’s like a pair of glowing orbs floating above the road.
If you’re familiar with the classic Ortlieb roll-top bags, you’ll instantly recognize the main features, including a universal fit that is super-secure on nearly any rack ever made using the QL2.1 fit system.
The hooks come with spacers so they can tightly grip nearly any diameter of rail (up to 16mm)—and they latch on, only to be released by pulling on the grab handles.
Inside you’ll find a zippered pocket that hugs the wall of the bag. It’s a good place to tuck smaller items that would otherwise filter their way down to the very bottom. The outside is reinforced with plastic bumpers on high-wear areas.
Because the body of the High-Vis bags is made from a PU laminated, water-resistant Cordura instead of the PVC-coated polyester, they are actually a bit lighter (850 grams each) than the Back Roller classic bags (1,900 grams claimed weight, per pair). They all share the same 20 liter capacity per bag, and they can be used with the same compatible accessories.
The extra visibility does come at a price. A pair costs $260, compared to $180 for a pair of classic Back-Roller bags. To round out the High-Vis line, a smaller Front-Roll set, as well as a handlebar bag and briefcase are also given the reflective touch. For 2015 they will also be available in an all-black version, if you want the reflective material paired with a more subdued look.