Saracen Ariel 30 Pro review

One of our Trail Bike of the Year contenders, this long-travel bike delivers steep-terrain confidence by the bucket load

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £3,000.00 RRP | EUR €3,499.00
Pack shot of the Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike

Our review

A great bike for all-day adventures and picking your way down steep tech
Pros: If you like ‘long’ geometry, you’ll love the Ariel 30; pedalling efficiency and snappiness is great between corners; well-thought-out kit provides great value for money
Cons: Back end doesn’t quite smooth the ride as much on the fastest, roughest tracks
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Saracen’s Ariel 30 sits on 130mm of travel front and rear, and, interestingly, shares the vast bulk of its frame with the longer-travel Ariel 60 model. With front triangle tubes being the same, it’s the 30 that has the most radical (for a given application) of the Ariel family’s geometry, as the higher front-end and slacker angles of the longer travel bikes effectively shorten their reach.

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Saracen Ariel 30 Pro frame

Saracen eschews carbon in favour of aluminium in its Ariel family. The bikes use a linkage-driven single-pivot design, which it calls ‘TRL’, with a super-wide-diameter main bearing sitting just behind the chainrings, and a pair of links joining the swing arm to the top tube via the shock. This leaves room for a bottle cage within the main triangle. Despite this, the top tube is allowed to slope towards the rear, with an extended seat mast – as such, there’s plenty of standover height.

Saracen use a linkage actuated single pivot suspension design.
Saracen use a linkage actuated single pivot suspension design.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

My size Large test bike, and the XL too, come as a full 29er, while Small and Medium bikes will be supplied as a ‘mullet’, with a 29-inch front and 27.5-inch rear wheel. However, linkages will be supplied with all bikes so that the smaller bikes can be run as a 29er, and the larger as a mullet, should you wish. While 130mm forks are supplied, it’ll run with 140mm forks without issue.

Cables run internally along the down tube, and the belly of the bike, and the seat and chainstays are protected by some rubber frame-protection panels. The seat-stay protection may well come in useful, though, as Saracen has opted for the wider ‘Super Boost’ standard for its rear axles – this puts them 157mm wide, rather than the usual 148mm Boost spacing. Correspondingly, the cranks are spaced out to accommodate this wider back-end.

Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike
The main pivot looks to have chunky bearings, which should result in decent durability.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The geometry of the bike is on the more extreme side. With shared tubes among the longer travel Ariels, the steeper angles of the shorter travel Ariel 30 here mean the reach is longer than on any of the other bikes. This means you get an astonishing 505mm reach in a size Large, paired with 440mm chainstays, a 65-degree head-angle and a 76.5-degree seat angle. Overall, you get a lengthy 1,270mm wheelbase.

Saracen Ariel 30 Pro kit

Fox provides the suspension on the Ariel 30, with Performance Elite level dampers at both ends. Up front, it’s a 34 fork while at the back you get a Float DPS shock. The fork offers high and low speed compression and rebound adjustment, while the shock has a three-position open mode, in addition to trail and closed modes.

Shimano Deore 4-pot disc brakes with 180mm rotors
4-piston Shimano brakes provide the stopping power.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Shimano is responsible for the stop and go. Its 4-pot Deore brakes bring the show to an end, with 180mm rotors for both wheels. An SLX crank and shifter combine with a Deore 10-51t cassette, KMC chain and XT derailleur to propel the bike. DT Swiss’ XM421 rims sit on Shimano SLX hubs, and are wrapped in Maxxis Minion DHRII tyres, in a 2.4in width.

Race Face and ODI provide the cockpit, KS the 150mm post (125mm on a Small) and Saracen the saddle.

Saracen Ariel 30 Pro ride experience

The Ariel 30 is a brand-new trail bike from the UK brand, and with 130mm of travel at either end it sits in that trail-bike sweet spot.

As you can imagine, the long reach (505mm) and slack head angle (64.5 degrees) combine to give the Ariel 30 straight line speed and steep terrain confidence by the bucket load, especially when the trail is fast, rather than super harsh.

It also shows that long bikes can still have finesse when threading through tighter trails, and where more precise inputs are needed to weave the wheels through obstacles.

DT Swiss XM421 rims with Shimano SLX hubs
Saracen has specced the Ariel 30 Pro well, with DT Swiss’ XM 421 rims built over Shimano SLX hubs.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

This is certainly true up to a point, though it’s worth noting that with longer tubes comes the requirement to use greater body movements to get the bike to move in relation to the ground – your weight needs to go further back to get the front end up, effectively. This means when you’re tired, it’s relatively harder to get the bike to do as you wish, and with the front contact patch of the bike much further forward, you need to weight the front wheel more to get traction on flatter tracks.

With the Ariel aimed down precipitous slopes, I found myself happy to release the brakes and roll into the section. Saracen may have fitted the rear version of Maxxis’ Minion to the front of the bike, but that’s all good – it still has ample steering control, but it’s also incredibly good when you’re hauling on the front brake, trying to control your speed.

Maxxis' Minion tyres are some of our favourites.
Maxxis’ Minion tyres are some of our favourites.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

With that front wheel well out in front of your centre of mass, you’re easily able to keep your weight low and central on steeper tracks, the best position to attack them. With your weight even between the wheels, it’s easy to drop the Saracen into a corner and allow it to hold its line, or point it to a catch berm and trust that the shape of the bike is going to get you to its exit without too much stress.

It’s a single-pivot linkage actuated design, and while it feels nice and stable on climbs, boosting its climbing credentials, it was a touch less refined over harsher, repeated hits. This meant the rear wheel had to work harder to remain in contact with the ground, giving neither the smoothest, nor calmest ride.

The rear wheel skipped around over matted roots and repeated rocks too. Letting some air out of the shock does help, but you’d want to add spacers to the shock to prevent it banging on the bump-stops too frequently.

Where the trail was a little less choppy, the Ariel 30 did a great job. It’s efficient and reactive through the pedals, and there was enough support in the back end to give the bike reasonable pop and stability to boost jumps or rail berms.

When it came to longer rides in the hills, the efficiency I felt through the back end meant I rarely got to the end of the day wishing for something more cross-country orientated.

Male cyclist in blue and grey top riding the Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike
The Ariel 30 can monster trucking over the roots.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

I liked how the Ariel 30 climbed. It sits higher in its travel, and the suspension gives up little to pedalling forces, so it feels nice and efficient on longer drags. The roomy front-end gives you plenty of space to manipulate your centre of mass, so technical climbs are easily negotiated – boosted by the grippy Maxxis Minion DHRIIs that appear front and rear on wide DT Swiss XM421 rims.

As such, I found the Ariel 30 shone in two places. Longer rides, perhaps taking in a few laps of local trail centres, where the fast, predictable handling and efficient pedalling paid dividends. Or, on steep technical terrain, where the long geometry gives buckets of confidence, and where speeds, generally, are a little lower.

Male cyclist in blue and grey top riding the Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike
The Ariel 30 flies over rocks.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Kit-wise, Saracen has done a great job of picking parts for the bike, especially considering the price – I think it represents great value for money.

The Fox 34, with 130mm of travel, can just about cope with the loads I put through the fork (though, again, stuttered when it came to super-fast rough tracks), but the GRIP2 damper felt great on most trails and offers plenty of composure on the steeps too.

Male cyclist in blue and grey top riding the Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike
Steep trails were handled well by the Ariel 30.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

The Shimano running gear, coming from the Deore, SLX and XT families all performed well, and the 4-pot Deore brakes are excellent, even if I’d have liked to see a 200mm rotor on the front of a bike that’s more than capable of picking up plenty of speed or being pointed down the steepest trails.

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Finally, the Maxxis DHRII tyres are more than capable of providing traction where needed – it’s no surprise they’re a common sight on BikeRadar’s test bikes.

Angled pack shot of the Saracen Ariel 30 Pro full suspension mountain bike
The Saracen Ariel 30 Pro impressed us in testing, with plenty of high-speed potential.
Russell Burton / Immediate Media

Saracen Ariel 30 Pro geometry

SMLXL
Seat angle (degrees)76.576.576.576.5
Head angle (degrees)65656565
Chainstay (cm)44444444
Seat tube (cm)36414651
Top tube (cm)59.862.565.368.2
Head tube (cm)101112.514
Bottom bracket drop (cm)3333
Wheelbase (mm)1,2101,2391,2701,302
Standover (cm)732732731731
Stack (cm)59.560.461.863.2
Reach (cm)45.54850.553

Thanks to…

A massive thank-you to BikePark Wales for granting us access to its trails despite the bike park being closed to the public.

Cheers also to Fox clothing for sorting the kit for the photo and video shoots and Garmin for sorting us out with bike computers to log the many miles of testing.

And not forgetting Muc-Off, for its help keeping the bikes washed and lubed throughout testing.

Bike of the Year 2021 contenders

A decent trail bike should also be fast and capable on the descents, but with less weight and travel (130–150mm) than enduro bikes, they’re nimbler on flatter trails, less of a drag on longer rides and better on the climbs.

The following bikes were shortlisted for our Trail Bike of the Year award, with a price range of £2,999.99 to £4,695.

  • Bird Aether 9 (winner)
  • Canyon Spectral 29 CF 7
  • Intense Primer 29 Expert
  • Lapierre Zesty AM CF 6.9
  • Privateer 141 SLX/XT
  • Propain Hugene
  • Saracen Ariel 30 Pro
  • YT Jeffsy Blaze 29

Product Specifications

Product

Price br_price, 5, 3, Price, EUR €3499.00GBP £3000.00
Weight br_weight, 5, 6, Weight, 15.16kg (L) – without pedals, Array, kg
Brand br_brand, 5, 10, Brand, Saracen

Features

Available sizes br_availableSizes, 11, 0, Available sizes, S, M, L, XL
Bottom bracket br_bottomBracket, 11, 0, Bottom bracket, Shimano SLX
Brakes br_brakes, 11, 0, Brakes, Deore 4-pot, 180mm/180mm rotors
Cassette br_cassette, 11, 0, Cassette, Shimano Deore
Chain br_chain, 11, 0, Chain, Shimano Deore
Cranks br_cranks, 11, 0, Cranks, Shimano SLX
Fork br_fork, 11, 0, Fork, Fox 34 Performance Elite, 130mm
Frame br_frame, 11, 0, Frame, Alloy 130mm
Grips/Tape br_gripsTape, 11, 0, Grips/Tape, ODI
Handlebar br_handlebar, 11, 0, Handlebar, RaceFace Atlas, 800mm
Headset br_headset, 11, 0, Headset, Prestine
Rear derailleur br_rearDerailleur, 11, 0, Rear derailleur, Shimano XT
Rear Shocks br_rearShock, 11, 0, Rear Shocks, Fox DPS Performance Elite
Saddle br_saddle, 11, 0, Saddle, Saracen
Seatpost br_seatpost, 11, 0, Seatpost, KS Lev Integra, 150mm
Shifter br_shifter, 11, 0, Shifter, Shimano SLX
Stem br_stem, 11, 0, Stem, RaceFace Aeffect 50mm
Tyres br_tyres, 11, 0, Tyres, Maxxis Minion DHRII 29 x 2.4 WT EXO
Wheels br_wheels, 11, 0, Wheels, DT Swiss XM421