Saracen Ariel Elite first ride review£3,500.00

Some dodgy spec choices but it’s a ripper to ride

The Saracen’s spec is a mixed bag for the money but there’s no doubt about its impressively focused speed on the trail.

Alloy up front, carbon in the rear

The Ariel frame pairs a long hydroformed alloy mainframe (the 19in size has a reach of 450mm) with a carbon back end via a large main pivot bearing and separate shock-driving linkage. The open-dropout 142x12mm rear axle needs high tension to stop it loosening and internal brake hose routing on the swingarm potentially makes servicing/upgrading awkward, but the threaded bottom bracket is a longevity bonus.

We'd prefer not to see open rear dropouts at this price point
We'd prefer not to see open rear dropouts at this price point

A Factory series Fox 36 fork and Float X piggyback shock provide premium control, and 1x11 Shimano XT gearing is secured with a top-and-bottom Gamut chain guide. The Shimano Deore brakes are impressively controlled, if not particularly powerful. The under-saddle ‘rodeo grab’ KS dropper post is primitive for the price, and even with lightweight-carcass WTB tyres, the bike is heavy.

Downhill delights

Despite noticeable back end flex under power, the ‘Fast Rolling’ tyres and stabilising side lever on the rear shock mean gaining height isn’t too grim a job. When you point the Ariel downhill, any grumbles about weight, value or spec are rapidly forgotten.

Point the Ariel downhill and any slight niggles evaporate – our test team loved spending time on this bike
Point the Ariel downhill and any slight niggles evaporate – our test team loved spending time on this bike

The 60mm stem and 66-degree head angle are slightly long and steep by cutting-edge standards. But the slight frame flex helps glue the potentially skittery tyres (they squirm if you drop pressures low) to the ground and the handling/frame balance feels great whether you’re tree weaving at slow speed or sliding sideways on gravel.

Even with its dual-speed compression damping fully open, the 36 fork clatters and chatters rather than flowing creamily over small bumps – great for accurate feedback but not forgiving on forearms. The TRL rear suspension (a single-pivot set-up with linkage-actuated shock) is remarkably composed and capable for its 150mm of travel.

A top-and-bottom Gamut chain guide keeps things secure
A top-and-bottom Gamut chain guide keeps things secure

It doesn’t just suck impacts up, it properly puts the Ariel on the attack, carrying serious pace through normally speed-killing rocky, rooty sections. Keep the shock in the mid position and cornering stability is impressive for ripping through turns with eyes on the prize, or leave it fully open for maximum smoothness.

Despite our spec sheet doubts, we recorded top-end splits down sections we’ve ridden hundreds of times. More importantly, the Ariel has a clearly communicated sense of fun that makes you want to push and play just as hard as on theoretically more aggressively shaped and ‘better value’ machines. And it does it with minimum setup faff or tuning skill required, making it a real test team favourite despite it sharing test time with some of the best bikes in the business.

This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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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