Commuter Bicycle Review: Marin Hamilton 29er

It’s been about a year since I purchased a Marin Hamilton 29er from The Cycle Shoppe on Queen Street West in Toronto…

Marin Hamilton 29er Commuter Bicycle

…and boy, oh boy, what a year it’s been.

I weighed about 30 lbs more back then. I wanted a bicycle to take me around town at night. I wanted a way to get around the city without relying on public transit. What I got was an entire lifestyle shift. What I got was a simple tool that has helped me change my life.

Now, can I place these miraculous events squarely on the shoulders of a bicycle? Certainly not. I say all of this just to prepare you for why I’ve grown to love this bicycle. The Marin Hamilton 29er may not have the latest in cycling technology and may not be the coolest kid on the block. But the Marin Hamilton 29er is a darn good bike and here’s why:

Simplicity.

You get big, round wheels. There’s just one speed. The simple, sturdy u-brakes and levers work well. There are braze-ons where you need them most (so you can mount racks and fenders). Everything is painted black. And the frame has a proven mountain bike geometry that is at once both aggressive and comfortable. Out of the box this bicycle will take you to work, it will take you along paths and trails and it isn’t fussy about spending a few hours locked to a post and ring.

Simplicity defines the Marin Hamilton 29er

Simple, effective, fun

As you can see above, I’ve added a few accessories to make this bicycle a commuting machine.

First, I added a pair of Planet Bike Cascadia Hybrid fenders purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op ($29 CAD). The “29er” in the bicycle’s name refers to wheel size. In simplest terms, 29ers seem to be 700c only just a little wider. Unfortunately, this made fitting the fenders a little difficult. The Planet Bike Hybrids fit up to a 28 inch wheel, so I had to do a little bending and tweaking to get them to not rub my tires. I also had to flatten a basket clamp in order to mount the front fender as seen below:

Flattened Basket Clamp to Mount Planet Bike Cascadia Hybrid Fender

In the end, the frustration was worth every second of it. The fenders are made of a resilient plastic and bend and squish when I have to lock the bike up at odd angles. I’ve ridden through intense downpours and this fenders handle the rain and dirt exceptionally well. They complement the bike in their simple design and overall effectiveness.

Second, I added a rear rack, also from MEC ($15 CAD). Again, simple, sturdy and black. MEC panniers fit on these racks very securely, and a bungee along the top is essential for small bags and other loads.

Seat mounted lock and MEC rear rack

And third, I replaced the terrible plastic pedals that all lower-end bicycles seem to come with. After getting wet once and with just a few dozen kms on them, the pedals wouldn’t spin properly and felt as though they’d been greased with sand. A quick swap, but a shame those stock pedals are such poor quality.

Last year, I wrote a post about my North Toronto commute. Since then, I’ve moved to a different part of Toronto and started working from home. I did manage to get about 4,000 kms of cycling in on my Hamilton 29er and I continue to add to that number now, although not at 50 km per day as before.

Over those 4,000 km I’ve crashed once, had 4 flats and replaced the brake pads. That’s it. 4,000 km and I’ve spend under $100 on maintenance and replacement parts. I have had sheltered, year-round bicycle parking, so your costs may be higher if you leave this bicycle out in the rain and snow. But, I’m pretty impressed. I still think of repair costs in terms of my long-gone car. A tick or growl would mean I’d be out $500 at least.

That said, it looks like I’ll be replacing the tires on my Marin soon:

Toronto Roads Wear You Down

A few months back I rotated my tires, Continental TownRide come stock. The rear tire was a little worn and has large gashes every few inches. Toronto streets are mean. I’ve ridden over glass, scrap metal, broken bricks and anything else that falls from cars and trucks. I’m impressed with the durability of these tires over 4,000 km.

One is Fun

If you’re more interested in the very specific technical details and geometry of this bicycle, you can head over to the Marin site. While I’ve been riding the 2009 Marin Hamilton 29er, the 2010 model is almost identical.

And, if you’d like to give one a try head on over to The Cycle Shoppe at 630a Queen Street West in Toronto.

UPDATE: Since writing this initial post I’ve made some changes to the Hamilton 29er including the conversion to a Nexus 8-Speed Redline Internal Hub. Read about the upgrade here: Recent Upgrade to Nexus Redline 8-Speed Hub