Bought April 2003 after reading extensively about a range of bikes within the $1k to $2k range Test rides on a range of demonstration models clearly showed a wide variance in the strengths and weaknesses of different manufacturers and even different ranges.Some mainstream models, e.g. Fisher, seemed poor value and surprisingly models within any range could vary enormously, e.g. Trek, where the promising Fuel was disappointing but the Liquid felt considerably better. Test rides on several paper possibilities proved disappointing especially strong contenders from Cannondale and Specialized. The Epic was originally publicised as a full suspension bike but rode like a hardtail and the Enduro which should have been a strong contender was eliminated in part due to a poor set-up on a trial bike.Eventually the VPP emerged as the future although the actual success of different suspensions seemed to ally more closely with the geometry of the frame and less than expected with the difference of the fundamental mechanics of the system.Of the Marin range each one seemed to have more detrimental points than beneficial ones as if the differences had been forced in order to extend the range to reach particular price points rather than to offer clearly different levels of performance.The East Peak was bought because the Mount Vision seemed expensive and I was advised away from the Skareb fork. The brakes were upgraded to Shimano discs but apart from that the bike started as standard. Moving up from a Hardrock the bike seemed an improvement in every department but a better bike makes a better rider and a better rider finds the limitations. The worst one of these was the somewhat flexible Pilot fork which was only suitable for a lighter weight rider and limited the bikes rough ground abilities severely compared to the Fox replacement.In fact it had to be returned early on for re-building. Other characteristics included a less than rigid rear end which provided sketchy handling on downhill sections and a rapid ramp up over large bumps which can catch the unwary.The strength of the bike is as a long distance cross country cruiser and not as a single track or play bike but it can be encouraged towards anything as several thousand miles from SDW to Wales can testify. It is not recommended as a ride straight out of the ski cabine at Deux Alps.
The main downside of the bike was the maintenance factor. The astonishingly cheap headset survived one brief clean and grease before complete submission. However the main problem area has been the Quad links. Although the mud clearance is good both links act as collectors and this kills the bearings. The bearings were changed continuously either in pairs or in full sets of eight. Some lasted a few months others as little as a few weeks. The original two piece links were upgraded to one piece links and this has been a partial success. The problem is due to several factors. The sideways flex of the frame causes a grinding effect , the quality of the actual bearings and the poor seal of the bearings.
American bikes suffered from warranty repairs and the bearings were supposedly upgraded to Japanese units. This may be a solution for US conditions but sometimes the seals and grease do not last one bad mud ride. Changing to a fully waterproof grease has been the key to keeping the mud, chalk and clay to the outside but the one piece links, although improving the rigidity , reduce access to cleaning and re-greasing two of the bearings.
Jon Whyte has stated that the external mounting of the links was an area he revisited before designing the new E5. All of the current models now have an improved rear trail arm increasing rigidity but that might not be a complete solution. Early on some of the through bolts snapped and this seemed to be a known problem suggesting a quality problem with the bolts. Bushes and washers have also all being changed and although that should be expected with high mileage the overall aftertaste is one of mediocre quality.
Other kit lasted well with the best component being the Shimano Deore brakes which have been 100% reliable with no leaks, few squeaks and with excellent dry and wet stopping power although less than a more expensive system, e.g. Hope M4.
With trail bikes all moving towards six inch travel a fairly heavy four inch would seem to be edging towards the end of its lifetime.
Buy it again? Perhaps. Keep it as long? No. Buy it now? I would rather have a Nomad.