The Mantra was once Saracen’s ‘budget hardcore hardtail’ range, but now that the brand is under new ownership it’s had a makeover.
The old Mantra 1 distinguished itself from the crowd by being a bit more hardcore, with a 120mm-travel fork, beefy 2.35in tyres and a 180mm front disc rotor.
The new version is still a stylish trail hardtail that rides well, but unless your child is a big, strong rider wanting to shoulder their bike through the trail’s twists and turns, there’s no reason other than aesthetics to choose this over the competition.
Ride & handling: Muscular trail hardtail, but fork shows its budget roots
The Mantra’s short stem and stiffer, oversize (31.8mm) riser bar give it a more muscular steering feel at slower speeds and in tight situations than many kids’ bikes. A child can’t exert the same leverage that an adult can on a handlebar, but even our pint-sized testers said they felt “more in control”.
The Suntour XCT V2 fork isn’t as stiff as the XCM model found on the Specialized P1 AM we tested alongside the Mantra, although it did feel slightly smoother and has mechanical lockout and preload adjustment. It’s not as controlled as the RST Gila found on other kids’ bikes at this price, and it only gave around 50mm of travel.
Nevertheless, one tester described the bike’s overall ride characteristics as “nice and smooth”. They didn’t comment on the high bottom bracket, but lower would be better on this frame size.
Frame: Rugged chassis with winter-ready touches
Frame sturdiness is assured thanks to fat aluminium pipes, buttressed at the head tube with a wedge gusset. The down tube eschews the modern fashion for bends but is biaxially ovalised – wider vertically at the head tube and horizontally at the bottom bracket – for extra stiffness.
Mudguard mounts on the down tube are a clue to the Mantra’s British roots. The cables are all top routed too, although the seat tube slot does face into the muck.
The rear stays are massive, but tyre clearance is good rather than exceptional. There are no mudguard or rear carrier eyelets, which is no loss on the trails but limits weekday tarmac use.
Equipment: Good wheels, but cable discs are spongy and we’d fit bigger tyres
Cranks are 170mm long. That’s not the quite the issue it is with smaller children’s bikes, because the rider of the 14in Saracen will be a bit bigger. But 165mm or 160mm would be better, unless you’re getting this for a lanky teen who wants a small frame.
The cassette bottoms out at 30T, which is higher than it need be. However, we did like the wheels: eyeleted Rigida Taurus 2000 disc rims are easily strong enough for trail use without being too heavy and would take wider tyres than those fitted. While better hubs would be nice, you can’t complain at the price.
The Mantra’s Michelin Country AT tyres rolled fine on dry trail centre surfaces. Remembering the old Mantra, we wanted bigger air chambers than these 2.1inchers to better soak up rocky trail chatter.
Brake performance from the Tektro cable discs was fairly insipid, but our young (and light) testers didn’t mind or comment and had no problem stopping.