Saracen’s Tufftrax is one of the longest-running entry-level bikes around, having existed in one incarnation or another for well over two decades. The good news is that a 1990 Tufftrax would have set you back more than our Tufftrax Comp – and it didn’t have a suspension fork or an eight-speed transmission. That’s progress.
You can have a pared-to-the-bone Tufftrax for under £260, or add disc brakes for an extra £50. But we wanted to find out how the mid-spec Comp would fare. At a price lower than some of the equivalently-specced competition, it’s excellent value for riders on a budget, with no obvious flaws and a wallet-friendly pricetag.
Ride & handling: Tidy handling and great weight distribution
Unusually for such a modestly priced machine, our experienced test riders were able to jump on the Tufftrax Comp and immediately feel at home, largely thanks to the roomy cockpit. From the first turn of the pedals, the Saracen is eager to get down and dirty, helped by decent front-to-rear weight distribution and a component setup that does what you ask of it, when you want it to.
It’s tempting for designers of newbie-friendly bikes to build something that feels ‘right’ in the showroom, with a short and upright stance that puts more of the rider’s weight on the saddle and less on the bars. The trouble with this approach is that it almost always compromises control and, paradoxically, comfort in an off-road situation. Thankfully, Saracen haven’t succumbed.
Despite an all-up weight that breaks the 14kg and 30lb psychological barriers, the Tufftrax Comp can be hussled along at a decent speed. The fast-rolling tyres help to maintain momentum on smoother surfaces – at the expense of grip in the wet – and the fork irons out small to middling obstacles surprisingly effectively. The weight begins to make its presence felt on steeper and longer climbs but it’s not a major issue.
The Saracen is surprisingly comfortable, too, with a ride quality that won’t beat you up when the going gets rough. It may not be the lightest bike in its class but don’t let that put you off. The Tufftrax Comp’s solid trail manners, decent spec and wallet-friendly pricetag should propel it close to the top of your shortlist.
Frame: Good frame detailing, plus a fork that works well
The Tufftrax Comp will fool most casual observers into thinking it costs a lot more than its wallet-friendly pricetag. A chunky down tube, subtly flattened to improve stiffness at the bottom bracket and with a reinforcing gusset up front, underpins a well thought out frame.
The scales don’t lie – at over 14kg (31lb) even without the extra weight of discs, this is no whippet – but the frame features some tidy design touches that wouldn’t look out of place on a much more expensive ride.
These include curved stays – which probably help to offset the stiffness of the down tube – and chunky socket-style rear dropouts. There’s a disc mount at the rear, should the urge to upgrade ever take hold. And the full set of mounting bosses includes Crud Catcher bolts under the down tube and eyelets for a rear rack.
Holding up the front is Suntour’s XCT V3 fork, with 80mm of coil sprung travel. It’s one of the better options among Suntour’s budget bump munchers, serving up a reasonably controlled dose of extra comfort and control in a design that’s noticeably less whippy and wander-prone than some of the alternatives. There’s even a preload adjuster for particularly heavy or aggressive riders, though the stock spring should be fine for most beginners.
Equipment: A tad weighty considering it’s not disc-equipped
In common with the majority of entry-level bikes, the Tufftrax Comp’s chainset has a closely-spaced setup of 24-, 34- and 42-tooth rings. Paired with an eight-speed 11-32-tooth cassette out back it’s a setup that gives a reasonable spread of closely-spaced ratios. The lowest ratios available aren’t as low as they could be but this is a criticism we could level at most beginner bikes. You’ll just have to pedal a bit harder on the climbs.
Finishing kit is basic but works well, though grip is hard to come by on slippery surfaces thanks to the shallow and closely-spaced small block tyre tread pattern. Our test bike’s front brake also had an annoying judder which was the result of a less-than-stellar front wheel build. A few seconds with a spoke key should sort that, though.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine.