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Tech: Inside Marin Bikes' NorCal headquarters

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Marin Bikes' original mountain bike from 1986

Marin Bikes' original mountain bike from 1986 (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Marin was sold to European investment firm Minestone Limited last year, but the headquarters remain in Marin County

Marin was sold to European investment firm Minestone Limited last year, but the headquarters remain in Marin County (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Faircloth enjoys having the mountains of Marin smack between his house and the office

Faircloth enjoys having the mountains of Marin smack between his house and the office (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Veteran wheelbuilder Steve "Gravy" Gravenites now works at Marin almost full time

Veteran wheelbuilder Steve "Gravy" Gravenites now works at Marin almost full time (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Faircloth and Marin marketing man Tsering Alleyne blow off some steam

Faircloth and Marin marketing man Tsering Alleyne blow off some steam (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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What today would pass as a light-duty cross-country bike was a burly downhill bike in the early ’90s. This one is titanium

What today would pass as a light-duty cross-country bike was a burly downhill bike in the early ’90s. This one is titanium (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Mountain bike legend Joe Murray had a hand in many of the early bikes

Mountain bike legend Joe Murray had a hand in many of the early bikes (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Founder Joe Buckley recruited local talent to help him design and test his mountain bikes

Founder Joe Buckley recruited local talent to help him design and test his mountain bikes (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Today the bikes are made in Asia, but Marin warehouses many of the bikes in Marin

Today the bikes are made in Asia, but Marin warehouses many of the bikes in Marin (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Marin started in the ’80s. Can you tell?

Marin started in the ’80s. Can you tell? (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Grateful Dead guitariest Bob Weir signed this Ibanez guitar for Marin

Grateful Dead guitariest Bob Weir signed this Ibanez guitar for Marin (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Marin Bikes now inhabits a former Grateful Dead recording studio

Marin Bikes now inhabits a former Grateful Dead recording studio (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The technology and color schemes have changed, but the surrounding mountains have not

The technology and color schemes have changed, but the surrounding mountains have not (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Driving the brand today are (l to r) mountain bike manager Jason Faircloth, CEO Matt VanEnkevort and pavement manager Mark Vanek

Driving the brand today are (l to r) mountain bike manager Jason Faircloth, CEO Matt VanEnkevort and pavement manager Mark Vanek (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Mountain bike brake and fork technology, circa 1986

Mountain bike brake and fork technology, circa 1986 (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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Mountain bike cockpits looked a bit different back then, with five-speed friction shifters

Mountain bike cockpits looked a bit different back then, with five-speed friction shifters (Image credit: Ben Delaney/Immediate Media)
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The views from Mt Tam are a regular part of life for the crew at Marin Bikes

The views from Mt Tam are a regular part of life for the crew at Marin Bikes (Image credit: Marin Visitors Bureau)

This article originally published on BikeRadar

Perhaps marijuana had something to do with it. Or maybe it was just really good mountain biking.

For ten years now Marin Bikes has inhabited a former recording studio of the hippie superband The Grateful Dead in Marin County, but the bike brand's roots in the birthplace of mountain biking go all the way back to its inception in 1986, when Robert Buckley, Joe Murray, Gary Fisher and other Californians were taking bikes off-road, up and down nearby Mt Tamalpais.

"At that time one of our techs, Ron Blinn, was one of the owners of Sunshine Bicycle Center, and there was a local shop grom named Joe Murray," said Marin's Mark Vanek. "Joe was part-time with Gary Fisher, who had a shop called Marin Bikes. When Bob wanted to start company, he bought the Marin Bikes name – maybe he traded him some pot for it, I don’t know — and he brought on Joe to help design some of the bikes."

Marin Bikes' first mountain bikes were 2x5-speed rigs with friction shifters and fully rigid frames. In the mid-90s Jeff Steber - who went on to found Intense - helped Marin to created full-suspension bikes with monocoque main frames. The Lynskey family - who later founded Litespeed - helped with some early titanium designs. And the 1996/97 Ti FRS was a precursor to Marin's Mount Vision.

In recent years, Marin has carved out a niche with relatively affordable bikes, ranging from the $430/ £350 alloy Sky Trail hardtail up to top-end $5,099/£3,499 top-end Rift Zone 29er XC Pro. In 2003 Marin moved from its original building in Novato to the former Grateful Dead studio, just a block away.

Early last year, Buckley sold the brand to European investment firm Minestone Limited, which has left Marin in Marin County. New Marin CEO Matt VanEnkevort, who joined the company from Full Speed Ahead, said the acquisition has primarily meant more resources for the company. "The nice thing about Minestone as a parent company is that they’re in it for the long haul, not immediate gains," VanEnkevort said. "It’s given us the financial stability, the operating capital for investment in the new bikes. For example, it was a huge investment in molds for the new bikes. Marin didn’t have the financial wherewithal to do that."

At the Sea Otter Classic in April, BikeRadar took a look at a few Marin 2014 prototype bikes, including three 27.5in models with carbon frames — a hardtail, an enduro bike and a trail bike — plus a new carbon cyclo-cross machine.

"We’re putting the money back into product development and making better bikes," VanEnkevort said. "That’s what people are going to notice."

Although it has international distribution, Marin is a relatively small company, with about 20 people working at headquarters. The bikes are made in Asia, but are designed in Novato, where many are warehoused and shipped from, as well.

Marin's Vanek, VanEnkevort and Jason Faircloth enjoy riding the diverse trails just south of their office that include the famed Mt. Tam.

"We don’t have long alpine descents here, but we have trails and conditions in a small area that match just about everything," Vanek said. "We have dusty, dry trails with babyheads, then you go just a little west and you have mud and really tight stuff."

"Seeing brand from the outside as a relative newcomer, I think the brand still has authenticity," VanEnkevort said. "It started here, it's still here, and it's related to the personality of the people, some of whom have been here for more than 20 years. Marin will never leave Marin County. Specialized, okay, it's in NorCal, but it’s a big global juggernaut. Marin is a small NorCal company that represents this really cool area where we live and ride."

VanEnkevort said the NorCal image works well for Marin, and the further from California the more powerful. "In Russia, for example, our distributor told us, ‘We have this vision of California, with the sun, the surf and the Golden Gate Bridge.' It’s a concept we enjoy not having ownership of, but representing."

The original Marin mountain bike's cockpit, with friction shifters, looks a bit different from today's machines