Saracen Ariel 3 review£2,399.00

Confidence inspiring fun

BikeRadar score4/5

Saracen have used their UK know how to dial their long travel trail bike in superbly for ripping the maximum fun out of trail centres.

This top model of 3 is a good value package with plenty of upgrade potential.

Ride & Handling: Naturally confident 'mini DH' character

‘Fast and loose’ sums up the overall ride of the Ariel really well, but you’re probably after more detail than that. To be specific, high torque use – either pedalling, cornering or off camber carving – does reveal a fair amount of mid-section flex in the narrow stance main pivot and linkages and there’s a definite softness in feel compared to most of the other bikes.

In common with some other classic bikes (such as the Commencal Meta) that’s not a totally bad thing though, because it can let the bike conform and key into the terrain better than a totally rigid ride.

Once they got used to the fork and rear end smearing slightly through turns rather than carving accurately, it certainly didn’t slow our testers down much. The extra 10mm of travel in the fork makes the head angle a shade slacker and, along with the easy sag of the rear shock, this combines with a long front wheelbase and relatively low belly and centre of gravity for an immediate sense of security.

It has a naturally nonchalant, unhurried calm and it’s begging to be rolled up to the start of a serious descent ready to take on any bigger bikes and bigger names that are already there. The ride position doesn’t disappoint when you drop in either, keeping you well centered to catch slides at either end, and the short reach stem puts maximum weight through your feet without sacrificing front end control.

The suspension reaction from either end is equally balanced and composed, with very little thought needed about how it’ll react to any situation once you’ve set up the basic sag parameters. From small stutter bumps to step-down cascades, big ugly drops or G-outs, nothing made it cough and splutter however quick we hit it, and considering that it’s only got 140mm (5.5in) of rear travel, it’s overall level of control shamed many 160mm (6.3in) travel bikes.

As a result of the forgiving flex and sorted suspension even our less experienced/brave testers were immediately slamming through rock gardens and taking the direct flight time lines rather than tiptoeing round chicken runs.

The rear tyre also acts like a cornering fuse, sliding the back end out first if you get a bit too bold or the berm isn’t as deep as you hope. It also adds easy rolling speed to the already stable pedalling manners of the Ariel and while the position is short for prolonged, high pace climbing it grunts up short stuff pretty well or spins to the top eventually fairly efficiently.

The frame flex can take its toll on the fastenings if you’re not careful though, and we actually managed to work one of the swingarm bolts clean out of the frame in a couple of runs at Stainburn. It’s not a problem we’ve encountered on several other Ariels we’ve ridden though, and we should have picked it up from the amount of torque-related slew and ghost shifting we suffered before it fell out.

It’s always worth keeping an eye on the bolts of any bike that’s being ridden hard regularly though.

Saracen ariel 3: saracen ariel 3
Saracen ariel 3: saracen ariel 3

Frame: Long and low-slung play bike

Clean, low-slung looks include a neat inset Saracen logo on the tapered head tube and the frame comes naked with a sticker kit in the box for custom finishing. Spray guard mounts are a sure sign of UK design and there’s plenty of mud room.

Remote post cable guides are ready for upgrading, but the conventional seatpost drops suitably low anyway. A screw-through Maxle rear axle threads into fully replaceable dropout pieces and the cable and brake routing is very neat.

Equipment: Quality, well chosen kit for the price

Despite being one of the cheaper bikes here the Ariel 3 is well equipped. The Fox FIT fork is rebound- and lockout-adjustable, with a QR15 screw-through axle and 10mm more travel than the cheaper Ariel 1 and 2.

The XT/RaceFace transmission is a definite high point in terms of longevity, although we’re surprised Saracen have gone for a full triple rather than double-and-bash chainset on such a fun focused bike.

The slick rear tyre and grippy front is a great combo and the Sun rims are tough enough to take a hammering. The Shimano brakes are impressively controlled once bedded-in and the Fi’zi:k saddle is spot on for comfort.

The RaceFace wide bar and short stem are great for control without having to worry about tree clearance.

Naturally confident ‘mini dh’ character: naturally confident ‘mini dh’ character
Naturally confident ‘mini dh’ character: naturally confident ‘mini dh’ character

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK

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