Long-running but recently deceased UK brand Saracen are back for 2010 with new owners and a new bike line-up but familiar names. The revised Zen is a lively all-rounder, as long as you can look past the cheap fork.
Ride & handling: Well balanced handling, but clunky fork and stiff frame create a rattly ride
Saracen’s new designers have got the bike fit just right. The 90mm stem and mid-width riser bar on the Zen sync nicely with its relaxed but not lazy steering, which means it turns in when you want it to without needing a huge sweep of the shoulders or threatening to trip up and throw you over the bars.
Sharp power delivery and obvious mainframe stiffness overlaid onto fast rolling tyres mean it consistently feels a lot more sprightly than its weight suggests, and the amount of time we spent near the top end of the gear block confirms its impressive turn of speed on the singletrack.
That same frame stiffness is very obvious as soon as the trail turns lumpy, however. Steps, rocks, roots or any sort of resonant surface rattle and clatter through the back end of the bike with no dilution.
Frame: Direct-driving but harsh chassis, with winter-friendly touches
The all-new Zen shows it means business straight away with a slick inset logo on the integrated head tube. The down tube then curves back from the head with a rotation-beating rectangular proile. This ﬂows from very deep to very broad in recognition of riding stresses at either end.
The extended seat tube gets a forward-facing seat slot, and twin bottle cage and down tube mudguard mounts are threaded into the frame. At the rear snaked A-frame stays give big heel/crank clearance before meeting at neat machined dropouts. Tyre room is relatively limited, though.
Equipment: Sorted transmission and contact points, but basic fork is the weak link
A good-looking saddle, neat laser etched lock-on grips, logo washers and custom white brakes underline the sharp looks of the Zen.
But while they deliver decent stopping power, the Shimano brakes are wooden feeling, and the Marzocchi fork is definitely workmanlike rather than wondrous.
Simple coil and oil internals mean it soaks up most hits okay, but you can hear and feel the spring grinding and clanking. The skinny structure means the QR15 axle isn’t as accurate as Maxle-equipped rivals either.