Saracen Kili Flyer 121 - first ride review£1,999.99

Mile-munching new iteration of a venerable MTB name

BikeRadar score3/5

Saracen’s heritage goes back into the dark ages of mountain biking, with the Kili Flyer sporting one of those names that brings back memories of steel frames, canti brakes and dodgy Lycra. In 2013 Saracen brought the name back with a 650b full suspension trail bike. The technology might have been updated, but is the Kili still a bike destined to pound out the miles?

Ride and handling: efficient but not exactly inspired

The 2015 Kili Flyer 121 rests on 120mm of suspension front and rear, with Saracen classing it as an all-mountain bike. While suspension travel alone doesn’t define a bike, this surprised us as we’re used to AM bikes having slightly more travel. Still, with a few decent rides planned, including some rocky tech fests, we figured we’d pretty much cover all of a mountain.

Climbing is a bit of a mixed bag. The rear triangle is a one piece design, pivoting around a large main bearing situated just below the 38-tooth large chainring. A linkage drives the Fox Float Evolution CTD shock, with its three damping positions. The well-placed pivot means that even when you’re mashing on the pedals there’s minimal pedal bob, which is even better controlled in Trail mode. We barely bothered with Climb mode, other than on a particularly heinous road climb.

Chunky linkages don’t help with weight, but boost downhill confidence:
Chunky linkages don’t help with weight, but boost downhill confidence:

Chunky linkages don’t help with weight, but boost downhill confidence

When traction was less assured the Kili fared well too, with the rear wheel digging in nicely. This is due in part to the slack actual seat angle, which puts your weight further over the back end. So the Kili pedals well, which is a blessing as it’s a portly bike. Unfortunately 14.4kg (31.7lb) is a lot for a 120mm ride costing this much, and the componentry is all about durability over low mass too.

When the trail heads in a friendlier direction, the Kili’s true character comes out. Despite the weight, which holds back any hope of it being a snappy ride, it’s efficient. The suspension, which helped on the climbs, keeps your pedal inputs into driving the bike forward without sapping too much energy.

The x-fusion-powered front end won't let you down – it's just a shame the bike's overall character doesn't exactly tempt you to get out and hammer it:
The x-fusion-powered front end won't let you down – it's just a shame the bike's overall character doesn't exactly tempt you to get out and hammer it:

The X-Fusion-powered front end won't let you down – but the bike's overall character doesn't scream at you to get out and hammer it

The initial part of the stroke is quite firm, so it can skip about a little and wouldn’t win in the plushness stakes. Once you’re through that initial stroke, it frees up and starts to fire through the 120mm of travel, most noticeably on compressions where pushing your heels down to pump through the trail leaves you well into the mid-stroke.

Geometry is middle of the road, being neither a sled down the hill nor an upright, nervous descender, no doubt helped by the reasonably generous 620mm effective top tube.

On repeated hits you tend to be through that harsher initial stroke, and the Fox CTD shock copes with impacts, leaving the Kili relatively composed. The suspension doesn’t inspire massively, there’s not a huge amount of pop and flair. It does its job, but doesn’t encourage you to push harder.

Frame and equipment: burly build with an excellent fork

The Kili’s frame certainly looks like the strong and burly thing it is. Stiffness is good front and rear, leading to steering and line holding that is suitably solid. The rear triangle is well braced, and the frame’s hydroformed tubes give plenty of weld area.

Full-length externally routed cable runs are nice and easy to service, even if they look a little unwieldy in this world of hidden cables. The frame is ready to take a Stealth dropper post, which would be a nice addition once weight has been shaved elsewhere. The suspension’s rocker link is wide and slightly ungainly, and while we didn’t knock our knees on it, the threat was always there.

We’re big fans of the x-fusion fork:
We’re big fans of the x-fusion fork:

We’re big fans of this X-Fusion fork

Up front, an X-Fusion Velvet fork controls everything. It might not have the kudos that a Fox or RockShox unit has, but don’t be put off. Velvety is a good description for the fork’s performance, which is smooth throughout its travel, stiff enough to cope with hard cornering and totally supportive.

On steep terrain it doesn’t dive through its travel leaving you caught out on mid-corner steps and handles steep rocky switchbacks where you’re pivoting around your rear wheel with steadfast accuracy. The front wheel is stiff enough to back the fork up in those conditions too.

The wheels are shod in summer-friendly Ardent and Ardent Race rubber. Their rounded profile rolls quickly and gives plenty of grip in dry, rough conditions. A squarer profiled model, with side knobs designed to dig in, would be handier when things get slippery – in the mud and on muddy/rooty off-camber situations they’re terrifying in their basic compound.

Shimano deore drivetrain is spot on:
Shimano deore drivetrain is spot on:

Shimano's Deore drivetrain is spot on

The Kili Flyer is propelled forward by a Shimano drivetrain, the bulk of which comes from the Deore groupset. Deore provides great performance for relatively little cost. It was telling that when we lent the bike to a less experienced rider, his first comment was that the brake performance exceeded his expectations.

Sister brand Kore provides all but the grips of the finishing kit. It’s solid stuff in terms of performance and weight. The relatively slender shaped Frazer EX saddle is comfortable for long days out, and while the 740mm bars aren’t overly wide they don’t instil a nervousness in the front end.

Saracen’s current lineup is solid, with some great bikes (ranging from the Myst DH bruiser to the budget Mantra hardtail) and the Kili Flyer is no disgrace to the name. It features some great components and reinforces just how good X-Fusion’s offerings are – that Velvet fork is without doubt the killer component here. But ultimately the Kili failed to inspire us to get out and ride – it’s just a bit too chunky.

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.

Tom Marvin

Technical Editor, Tech Hub, UK
Tom's been riding for 15 years, and has always chopped and changed bikes as soon as his budget allowed. He's most at home in the big mountains, having spent nigh on 30 weeks riding the Alps, as well as having lived a stone's throw from the Scottish Highlands for four years. Tom also enjoys racing events like the Strathpuffer and the Trans Nepal.
  • Age: 29
  • Height: 182cm / 5'11"
  • Weight: 82kg / 180lb
  • Waist: 81cm / 32in
  • Chest: 97cm / 38in
  • Discipline: Mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Steep and super tech or fast and flowy
  • Current Bikes: Canyon Spectral, Pivot Mach 429SL, Mondraker Vantage R +
  • Dream Bike: Transition Scout
  • Beer of Choice: Gin & tonic
  • Location: Bristol, UK

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