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.
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.
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.
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.
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.