Saracen were one of the ﬁrst mainstream companies to develop long-forked hardtails at low prices. So it’s good to see the relaunched brand continuing with that, offering the 120mm-travel Mantra in six models all the way up to £1,100. The base-level Mantra tested here is well equipped for the price, with even the low cost fork not unduly compromising its trail performance.
Ride & handling: Probably the best hard-riding bike we've tested at this price
The long top tube reach of the Mantra (23.5in on our 17in test bike) combines well with the long fork and slackish 68° head angle to create an efﬁcient, ﬂat-back riding posture and a fairly relaxed handling feel. Tipping the scales at 13.6kg (30lb), it’s a good weight for the price, and it's surprising what a difference a pound or two in weight can make in climbing or acceleration.
On high-speed singletrack the handling was sprightly, well controlled and conﬁdent, with only the constipated fork getting in the way of maximum enjoyment. The fork was a deterrent on rough descents too. There nothing particularly wrong with the 2.1in Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres but bigger treads at lower pressures would add extra comfort and conﬁdence on technical terrain, and go a long way to making up for the rather numb feel of the budget fork.
Despite our moans about the fork, the Mantra's still better than average for a £450 bike, and both the trail behaviour and spec make it a great choice if you’re unable to stretch your budget further. In fact, it’s probably the best hard-riding bike we’ve tested at this price, and the quality frame makes upgrading to more upmarket parts a very rational choice.
Frame & equipment: Decent chassis, acceptable fork and great ﬁnishing kit for the price
The Mantra’s 6061 aluminium frame is better than average for the price. It’s a good looker, with manipulated tube shapes that provide reinforcement in all the right places and geometry that’ll suit riders looking for decent performance on rough terrain. Practical touches include masses of mudroom around the tyres, under-down-tube mudguard bosses, a forward-slotted seat clamp, luggage rack bosses and two sets of bottle cage bosses.
The V3 version of SR Suntour’s XCM fork on our test bike was harshly sprung, even when the leg-top preload adjustment dials were wound right off. We could only achieve 90mm of travel on the biggest hits, but it was better controlled than some XCMs we’ve tried, simply because the top-out of the rebound stroke wasn't as harsh.
The all-Shimano drivetrain performed perfectly – complete Shimano drivetrains, with a Shimano crankset as well as gears, always behave better than the mix-and-match approach. This is mainly down to the chainrings: Shimano’s offerings, with a Shimano-speciﬁc front gear, generally shift more smoothly than the SR Suntour and Truvativ setups frequently found on low budget bikes.
We were very impressed with the power and modulation of Quad’s Nano brakes, too, and it all rolls on well-built wheels shod with Schwalbe’s fast rolling but still reasonably grippy Smart Sam treads. All the ﬁnishing kit is decent quality, including WTB’s slimline but comfy Volt saddle and a nicely-shaped 27in handlebar.