Saracen’s Kili will be instantly recognisable to time-served mountain bikers who remember the early 90s. A sought-after classic back then, the new version preserves the steel-framed soul of the original but adds modern geometry and a 120mm fork to the mix. The question is, can this medley of old and new fend off the new-from-the-ground-up competition?
The bike industry spent years hyping aluminium as the ‘aerospace’ material of the future but, while it’s true that the Coke-can material has some advantages for bike frame construction, a good steel frame is still right up there in terms of ride feel and handling. Although it won’t appeal to everyone, there’s a lot to like about the Kili Cromo. Simple, understated, well equipped and with handling that’s up there with the best, the added liveliness of the steel chassis should be enough to propel it onto your trail hardtail shortlist.
Ride & handling: Steel frame ‘zing’ and 120mm of travel makes tough trails easy
Some bikes immediately feel ‘right’ the moment you step aboard, and the Kili Cromo is one of those bikes. With a ride position that perfectly balances the rider’s weight between front and rear wheels, it has a poised stance that creates just the right balance between pedalling efficiency and fast-handling flickability. It’s a measure of just how far long-travel hardtails have come that the Saracen doesn’t immediately feel as though there’s 120mm (4.7in) travel on tap up front.
The short stem, perfect weight distribution and planted stance give it the feel of a tauter, shorter-travelled race bike – albeit one that’s carrying a bit of excess weight. Give it some stick through a rocky trail section, though, and the RockShox Recon Silver TK solo air fork comes into its own. Plush, accurate and easy to set up according to rider weight and style, it swallows trail obstacles to the full limit of its travel without ever giving the rider cause for concern.
Backing up the fork’s all-round alacrity and the bike’s sorted geometry is the steel-hewn chassis’ compliant feel. Don’t be fooled by the relatively low-tech looks or the fact that few bikes are built from steel these days. Steel bikes like the Kili Cromo have a lively ‘spring’ to their gait that even the best alu-framed alternatives struggle to match, adding both a dose of day-long ride comfort and some inspiring get-up-and-go. It’s a subtle difference, but one that time-served riders, and anyone after a comfortable, versatile trail machine, will appreciate.
Frame: Understated looks and up-to-the-minute geometry
The Kili range stands out from the crowd for one very important reason. None of the Kili series, from the range-topping titanium version to the entry-level steel-framed Kili Cromo, features an aluminium chassis. Why? Partly it’s a nod to the Kili’s forebears, whose steel-tubed make-up was par for the course at the time. But it’s also in recognition of the fact that many riders prefer steel for its ride feel, simplicity and slender profiles.
At a hair under 13kg for the complete bike, there’s a small weight penalty for the steel tubeset, but it’s a price that steel aficionados may be willing to pay. Up-to-the-minute geometry and some neat detailing aside, the Kili Cromo’s frame is as retro as they come. Narrow, thin-walled pipes make up the main triangle, the only apparent concession to modernity being an open-ended reinforcing gusset at the junction of the head and down tubes.
Curves are the name of the game at the rear, with minimalist socket dropouts connecting snaky stays with plenty of mud room. There are no rack or guard mounts, but built-in Crud Catcher bosses betray the Saracen’s unashamedly British roots.
Equipment : Emphasis on practicality over bling
The frame’s unpretentious looks are carried over to the componentry, with an emphasis on practicality over bling. Saracen’s own-brand finishing kit lacks the kudos of the big name aftermarket brands, but it all works fine and looks good – and the seatpost supports WTB’s comfy and deservedly popular Rocket V saddle. The stop and go kit is all from the Shimano stable, blending the lower-cost Alivio group with an SLX rear mech for a 9-speed transmission that’s both slick and reliable.
There are a couple of minor glitches though. Considering the rock-swallowing potential of the air sprung, 120mm (4.7in) travel RockShox Recon fork, we’d like to see a bigger front disc rotor for better stopping on long descents. And the red anodised aluminium spoke nipples add a touch of colour to the wheelset, but are more likely to seize or round off than the brass alternative.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine.