"2012 for us is all about maturing, growing up," says Simon Wild of Saracen, the British mountain bike brand that was relaunched amid much fanfare three years ago after being aquired by UK distribution giants Madison.
The reputation of the revitalised brand was quickly cemented by bikes like the Ariel, which garnered rave reviews, but the graffiti-style graphics and sometimes garish paintjobs proved a love/hate affair. So for 2012, Saracen have dropped the cartoon characters and bright colours, and gone for an altogether more sophisticated look across the range.
That's not all, though ‒ they're set to launch an updated version of the Ariel, in both 140- and 160mm-travel versions, at the Eurobike trade show in September, along with a top-end version of the Myst downhill bike. And at Madison's biannual iceBike show today they were showing off their latest range of Mantra trail hardtails, their Tufftrax entry-level mountain bikes, a new urban hybrid and a line-up of BMXs.
Ariel 140 and 160
The biggest news for 2012 is the new Ariel. The original bike was great on the downhills but a little hefty for all-round cross-country use. The mk2 model has "a new look and new feel", according to Wild ‒ the latter because of a new tubeset. "It's still the same fun bike but lighter and stiffer," he says.
The original Ariel trail bike has been reborn as the Ariel 140, with a stiffer and lighter frame
Estimated weight of the Ariel 140 frame is 6.6lb, without shock, compared to around 8lb, with shock, for the original bike. Madison have finished tinkering with prototypes and are expecting delivery of their first frame this week. Features will include a tapered head tube, ISCG05 mounts, bolt-on cable guides, routing for a dropper seatpost and swappable dropouts for different axle standards (9mm, 12x135mm, 12x142mm).
The 160mm version has the same front triangle as the 140mm but a beefier and slightly longer rear end, for improved tracking and stability at higher speeds. The head angle is 66.5° compared to the Ariel 140's 68°. Both bikes will be available as a frameset or with a choice of different builds. We particularly like the look of the stealth-black X frames with anodised gold hardware.
The Ariel 160, designed for Megavalanche style events, sports a beefier back end
Prices will range from £1,899.99 for the Ariel 141, with RockShox Sektor R coil fork, Fox RP23 BV XV shock and Shimano Deore level bits, to £2,999.99 for the Ariel 162, with the same shock, a Fox 36 Float FIT RLC fork and a 1x10 Shimano drivetrain with E*thirteen LG1+ chainguide. Frames will be available for £1,099.99.
The Myst has enjoyed success on the World Cup downhill circuit in its debut year under top junior Manon Carpenter and her young Madison-Saracen teammates. The only changes to the frame for 2012 are a new head tube that's compatible with the latest angle-adjust headsets and 203mm direct-post-mount brake tabs at the rear.
Three versions of the Myst downhill bike will be available in 2012: the Pro and Team full bikes plus the X frame
The current entry-level model will go up in price by £200 to £2,500, and it'll be joined by a new top-end Myst Team full build kitted out with similar gear to the World Cup bikes ‒ a Fox 40 fork and DHX RC4 shock, and Shimano Saint parts. RRP £4,299.99. There'll also be a frame-only option (including Fox DHX shock, FSA Orbit No.67 headset and alloy seatpost) for £1,499.99. The new Ariels and Mysts should be available from January 2012.
Mantra is Saracen's range of mid-level trail hardtails. All six models get the same new frame for 2012, made from a mix of double- and triple-butted 6061 alloy tubing, with an X44 head tube. All are fitted with 120mm-travel forks (giving a 68° head angle), short stems and wide handlebars for improved control on technical terrain.
From a distance, you'd never guess the Saracen Mantra was a £450 bike. It looks like a sorted budget trail ride
The basic Mantra looks brilliant value at £449.99 with a Suntour XCM V3 fork, Shimano gearing (a mix of Altus, Acera and non-series parts), Quad Nano hydraulic disc brakes, Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres on Rigida/Formula wheels, and own-brand finishing kit. At the other end of the scale, the £1,099.99 Mantra Elite comes with a RockShox Recon Gold TK coil fork and better quality Shimano bits. Expect to start seeing the new Mantra bikes in shops from December.
At the entry level, the Tufftrax range remains largely unchanged for 2012, except for new graphics. There is one new model though ‒ the Tufftrax Comp Disc, which offers a 6061 alloy frame, suspension fork (an 80mm-travel Suntour XCM V2) and hydraulic disc brakes (Quad Nanos with 160mm rotors) for £399.99. Availability for the Tufftrax Comp Disc is slated for February.
The new Tufftrax Comp Disc sports hydraulic brakes and a Suntour suspension fork for £400
Other mountain bikes
The Zen range of long-travel trail hardtails has been slimmed down to just one model for 2012 (Zen X, £1,099.99, available from January), while the Kili range has been bolstered with two cheaper chromoly steel models (Kili Cr-Mo 1 and 2, £899.99 and £1,099.99, in stock now).
On the city/commuting side of things, there are two new bikes for next year, the X1 and X2. These are described as "fast rolling urban bikes with the addition of front suspension". Both have 6061 alloy frames, 75mm-travel Suntour forks and low-end Shimano parts. The X2 upgrades from V-brakes to Quad Nano discs, while the X1 is available in both men's and women's (step-through) versions. RRPs are £369.99 and £459.99, respectively. Availability is slated for November.
The new Urban Xs look more like mountain bikes than hybrids but are designed to be used mainly on tarmac
Saracen's dirt jump range has developed into a sub-brand, which now offers BMXs as well as 26in-wheeled bikes. They've been designed with input from Paul King, a keen BMXer who started off at Madison in telesales but is now a key test rider.
At iceBike, Madison were also showing off the team-issue Amplitude ALX, an alloy four-cross machine with tapered head tube, sliding dropouts and ISCG05 mounts. It'll be available as a frame only (not in team colours) for £269.99, from November.
Manon Carpenter has just piloted the Myst downhill bike and Amplitude ALX four-cross rig to podium glory at Crankworx in Canada