Saracen Mantra Trail Carbon review£1,500.00

Distinctively smooth yet infectiously responsive carbon trail charmer

BikeRadar score4/5

While many brands produce a carbon 29er race hardtail, Saracen is one of the few to have created a composite 650b frame for all-round trail riding. It’s a really enjoyable ride, provided you’re not after a radical vibe.

  • So good: Excellent carbon frame mixes impact damping strength with smoothly charismatic responsiveness; fast tyres and wide-range gears suit all-day epics
  • No good: Needs grippier front tyre and wider bar for hardcore riding; triple crankset adds weight and rough terrain clatter

Frame and equipment: tough chassis tooled for UK riding

The carbon frame is the main draw here, and it’s a really well thought out piece. The low head tube holds the tapered fork securely and there’s neat, in-moulded internal routing for gears and brakes, as well as any future dropper post upgrade.

The small-bore press-fit BB gets ISCG mounts moulded round the outside, and there are Crudcatcher mounts under the down tube. Vast tyre clearance behind the broad platform where the seatstays, extended seat tube and super-low top tube meet and melt together confirm this is a chassis custom designed for the UK.

There's no shortage of mud clearance for vile uk conditions:
There's no shortage of mud clearance for vile uk conditions:

There's no shortage of mud clearance for vile UK conditions

While retrofit dropouts for a Shimano bolt-through axle are in the pipeline, the stout 142x12mm QR axle with socketed dropouts and long cam lever is as close as you’ll get in terms of security for now. After casing a jump so hard we bent the seatpost on a previous Mantra Carbon, we’ve no worries about the frame being tough enough. Keep a close eye on sizing though – the super-low frame height of our 17in sample meant we ended up showing a lot of seatpost.

As you’d expect, the cost of the carbon frame has a knock-on effect on the componentry, but it’s more the spec choices than the actual kit that define the bike’s character. The Suntour Epixon XC fork is consistently smooth and controlled 90 per cent of the time, with all-metal adjusters for rebound, lockout and low-speed compression damping adjustment. The 120mm (4.7in) stroke can’t cope with a really big wallop though.

A wider handlebar would also be beneficial for riders looking to get a little more hardcore:
A wider handlebar would also be beneficial for riders looking to get a little more hardcore:

A wider bar would benefit riders looking to get a little more hardcore

The 720mm Kore handlebar has noticeably less leverage than wider bars for fighting with roots or rocks and forcing the front end into aggressive moves. The Shimano brakes are wooden in feel too, making it hard to control the already slippery front and rear semi-slick rubber. The Maxxis Ardent Race tyres are impressively grippy in the dry and blisteringly quick-rolling though.

If you’re into the kind of big mileage riding that the smooth carbon frame allows, the wide-range gearing of the triple crankset will be worth the extra weight. Alternatively, the band-on rather than direct-mount front derailleur means a clean finish if you decide to convert to a single-ring setup.

Ride and handling: classy carbon steed will reward upgrades

While ride quality is always crucial in a bike, it’s a particularly big deal when so much of the budget is invested in the frame. Within a few metres of hitting the singletrack it’s obvious that Saracen’s frame prioritising has paid off.

We found the shimano stoppers disappointingly wooden:
We found the shimano stoppers disappointingly wooden:

We found the Shimano stoppers disappointingly wooden

While the long seatpost extension certainly takes some sting out of the ride, the frame itself is already far better damped and composed than its alloy peers. Whether you’re milling along hard-baked farm tracks, pinballing through rock sections or trying to keep the tyres connected as the trail falls away or disintegrates into chattering chaos, the Mantra feels significantly more connected and consistent in the way it contacts the ground. That flatters the already reasonably controlled Suntour fork – and we were surprised by how well the Saracen kept the pace on more technical trails.

There is a point where the steeper, lower front end starts to feel twitchy and overwhelmed and you’d be wise to back off before you end up on the wrong side of the handlebar though. If you’re likely to upgrade the fork later, the steep seat angle and low bottom bracket mean you could add some travel and slacken the angles out slightly for a properly trail taming ride. A wider bar will add handling muscle when it matters too. You’ll definitely lose the front tyre early in the wet though, so that’s the priority parts change needed in order to be ready for changeable UK weather.

The Mantra Carbon is one upgrade-worthy foundation

Looking at the Mantra Trail Carbon as an upgrade project shouldn’t be seen as a problem either, because the same smoothness that keeps it connected amid trail chaos also gives it impressive climbing traction and long day comfort. While the frame is damped in terms of impact behaviour it still transfers power and steering inputs accurately and powerfully. With the lightweight semi-slick tyres, the Saracen is an accomplished mile eater and there’s plenty more XC-style performance to come if you save weight by swapping to a lighter single-chainring setup.

It’d be easy to look at the narrow bar, triple crankset, semi-slick tyres and steeper angles of the Saracen and brand it as an XC bike. The frame is a belter though, adding well-damped control that boosts traction, confidence and technical trail tenacity. The fact it melts miles superbly between sketchy sections and is well worth upgrading over time just adds to the appeal of this distinctively different all-rounder.

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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