Bought a Marin Bear Valley a couple of months ago and I have loved every turn of the pedal rotation since. Shopping around I saw loads of bike in my price range (£500ish) most of them aluminium and carrying Alivio components. But I didn't want an aluminium bike - not being a hard core mountian biker I like the slightly more flexible steel frame and the ride it gives and I like the narrower tubes. So I bought a Marin Bear Valley and haven't looked back since. It's comfortable to ride (thanks to a nice WTB Comfort Zone saddle)and handles great, on the long uphill slogs you hardly notice the fact you aren't on an aluminium bike and on the twisty downhill bits it's definately me that's holding the bike back and not vice versa! Another benefit of going for a steel frame is the better components - Deore hubs and gear mechs in this case. Some components are Marin's own Ovation stuff (cranks, brake systems) but so far I have had no problems (the V-brakes have no power adjustment but thats only a minor gripe). The supplied wheels have shown themselves to be strong and well trued, surviving a couple of broken spokes in style (though that probably has more to do with the shop mechanic than the factory). However after 9 months of medium usage the rims are now showing signs of needing replaced which is a bit disappointing. Now for the minor down sides :-( It came equiped with useless pedals and straps - they were the first thing to be replaced by my trusty SPDs. The supplied seat post used to sink no matter how tight the seat bolt was done up, apparently some Marin bikes went out with 27mmm seat posts instead of 27.2mm and I thought mine was one of them - but it's not. The problem now seems to have gone away - a new seat bolt and with a blob of grease allows me to tighten it up a little but more and the sinking has stopped. The chain and cassette also wore quite quickly as did the front inner ring, but
these are easily replaced. The supplied tyres (rear especially) are not really upto muddy Scottish conditions and are more suited to hardpack conditions. Altogether a great buy - I would recommend it to anyone - esp if you can get a 2000 model at £515 rather than the almost identical 2001 model at £595. Update 15/09/2001 Still loving it! After almost a year of ownership I still love this bike. I am now beginning to appreciate the benefit of the microport lube points on the suspension forks - keeps them lubed up with out the need for stripping them down. The rear wheel is a goner, the spokes seemed to be the week point with every broken spoke snapping at the nipple. I have upgraded the brakes to LX levers and Avid brakes and they work even better than the original ovation stuff (which worked fine). The only other minor niggles are 1) the handlebar grips get a wee bit slippy when they are wet and 2) quite a few of the allen key bolt heads have rusted a bit spoling the look at bit. Update 6/5/2002 Well it's nearly 20 months since i bought this bike, and I am now in a much better position to point out it's weaknesses....which are...the forks. This was my first bike fitted with suspension forks, an I thought they were great, until I had to replace them (with marzochi MXCs) and now I se how average they really were - poor adjustmenr, bottoming out all the time, not very ice at all. Other than that - I still love this bike.