We’ve been fans of the Saracen Mantra for a while and we rode this new 2016 version until its wheels fell off.
Okay, we're not being totally accurate there – it wasn’t the wheel that fell off. Instead, it was the bolted rear dropout, which we should have checked for tightness before tackling our toughest local trails. That’s not going to be an issue if you buy the bike yourself though, because any shop worth its salt will check all the fixtures before firing you onto the trails.
It does highlight the fact that this is an extremely upgradeable frame (as well as being naturally playful, accurate and authoritative, but we'll get to that in a moment), with retrofit 142x12mm thru-axle dropouts an unheard of option at this price. The real beauty of the Mantra, though, is that price never comes into the equation when you’re actually riding it.
An appetite for hard riding
The 68-degree head angle is standard issue for 27.5in wheeled hardtails in this category, and the 720mm bar is adequate rather than amazing in terms of power steering leverage. But somehow the sloped-top tube Saracen always goaded us into going a lot harder into sections than when riding other similarly specced bikes.
The 720mm bars are okay, but you may want to switch them for something wider for more leverage
Luckily the Suntour XCR fork is well up for the challenge; with 32mm stanchions and adjustable rebound keeping tracking accurate and the tyre on the ground, it can handle a fair beating without losing the plot. Happily the 44mm head tube will take a tapered fork with a simple headset cup switch.
The Schwalbe Rapid Rob tyres themselves are definitely more geared to covering the ground fast than outright grip – a little more of that up front would go a good way to improving technical tenacity. But Saracen has managed to shoehorn reasonably wide 21mm rims into the budget, so they’re well supported even if you’re sliding sideways.
On the trail, the Mantra Pro does a damn good job of making you forget its price tag
The Octalink splined cranks aren’t as stiff or easily upgradeable as a thru-axle setup, but they are the next best thing. The wide range 3x10 transmission, which is noticeably quieter than most bikes at this price, is a wise choice for tempting tender novice legs deeper into the hills – and the entry-level Shimano Alivio rear derailleur does a competent job of saving chainstay paint.
There’s plenty of space for fatter rubber to soothe and smooth the ride too. The only obvious complaint is that the 160mm rotor Shimano brakes are a bit undersized for a bike that’s as playful and determined to push the pace as the Saracen is.
In our view, though, that’s simply an extra nugget of proof that the Mantra Pro is all the bike you need to have serious fun on serious trails. If you’re not into 29er wheels, the Mantra is the way to go for under £600.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.