Like Specialized's Hardrock Sport Disc, the Saracen Dirtrax 1 is a kind of 'mildly aggressive XC bike on a budget'. Its frame is burlier than many XC hardtails and it's a bit more 'sat up', in part due to a 100mm rather than 80mm fork.
The oversize tubing, especially at the head tube, provides stiffness (since doubling a tube's diameter quadruples its stiffness), while the large gusset there adds strength. The rear triangle makes a nod toward road use with rack
and mudguard mounts, but the fork is pure off-road. It's a good one, though.
Like the J2 it replaced, the RockShox Dart 2 is a heavy but effective pre-load adjustable coil fork. With damping and rebound adjustment, it offers better bump absorption than cheap OEM forks. On the trail, the Dirtrax is best on downhill sections where its longer-travel fork can earn its keep and where its rearward bodyweight bias feels more natural - and also where its cruiserweight bulk isn't an issue. On hairpin climbs, the front feels a little light. You need to concentrate to keep its nose down and winch yourself up steep slopes rather than storming them.
Cable disc brakes add shoestring bling. If power and modulation are way short of the Giant's hydraulics, they're still slightly better than the Vs of the others. Plus they'll go on working better in the mud. Gearing is what you'd expect, and there are no real weaknesses in the Dirtrax spec. Yet it's not quite the sum of its parts. It does the job off-road, solidly, but without the élan of the Trek or even the Genesis.