Saracen Traverse Elite

Saracen's short travel, long distance mile muncher

GBP £2,999.99
A side on shot of the Saracen Traverse Elite
Pros: Quick handling, pedal efficient
Cons: Fast rolling tyres limit rowdyness, there's noticeable pedal kickback on bigger impacts

Saracen’s Traverse Elite, as the name suggests, is targeted at the rider who wants to traverse long distances and big hills. The frame’s 100mm of suspension is matched with a pair of 120mm forks, while skinnily-treaded tyres keep things rolling fast.

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Saracen’s Traverse Elite frame

Picture of a Fox Performance 34 fork with a GRIP damper
The Performance level Fox 34 has a GRIP damper
Rob Spedding

Saracen uses alloy for the front triangle, while out back there’s a carbon fibre rear triangle, which has no pivots around the axle. Instead, Saracen relies on the flex in the stays to help augment the suspension’s action.

The shock is actuated via a carbon linkage that hangs from just in front of the kinked seat tube. Saracen calls this its TRL Suspension design.

The rear triangle is 148mm Boost spaced, however Saracen is using a 142mm hub with a Boost chainline, which it says then allows it to locate the brake caliper further inboard, tucked in the rear triangle, out of harm’s way.

Other notable frame features include the de-rigeur internal cable routing, a rather stumpy head tube and a front mech mount, just in case.

A photo of the Saracen Traverse Elite's head tube, which is very short
The head tube is pretty short, allowing an aggressive position over the front of the bike
Rob Spedding

Saracen hasn’t gone mad with the bike’s geometry.

A size large has a reach of 454mm, a head angle of 67.5 and a slack 72-degree seat angle. The 485mm seat tube is relatively long, but the 435mm chainstays balance the front end length nicely.

Saracen Traverse Elite kit

That 100mm of travel is controlled by a Fox DPS Performance shock, with a three-position compression switch, allowing for a lock-out, trail mode and open settings, as well as rebound adjustment.

Fox also supplies the suspension fork, a 120mm 34 Performance level item with a GRIP damper. This provides adjustable compression, so you can run it open for descents and more closed for climbs and smoother surfaces.

Photo of the shock on a Saracen Traverse Elite
The three-position compression lever on the shock was mainly left open
Rob Spedding

Shimano provides the drivetrain and brakes on the Traverse Elite. The majority of the drivetrain comes from the 11-speed SLX family, however there’s a bit of XT Gucci at the back, via the rear mech.

Shimano’s ever-reliable M500 brakes bring the bike to a halt with 180mm front and 160mm rear rotors.

The bike rolls on a set of wheels with Formula hubs and WTB STP i25 rims, which aren’t super wide, but do hold the 29×2.35 Maxxis Forekaster tyres nicely. These come in a triple compound MaxxSpeed version with the EXO sidewall. My test bike came with an Ikon rear of similar flavour.

Photograph of the tread of a Maxxis Forekaster tyre
The Maxxis Forekaster has a fast rolling tread that’s still got a bit of bite
Rob Spedding

Saracen’s own finishing kit largely completes the package: there’s a 760mm bar complemented by a 50mm stem, and a Kore saddle and generic 125mm drop dropper post.

Saracen Traverse Elite first ride impressions

Photograph of a mountain biker riding the Saracen Traverse Elite in Wales
Smooth, fast singletrack was a blast on the Traverse
Madison

I took the Traverse Elite out for a rather hilly spin in Snowdonia to get some very brief first impressions of the bike.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that an area with Wales’ highest peak is a rather hilly place, so there was ample opportunity to test out the bike’s climbing capabilities.

My ride took in both smooth drags along tarmac and dirt roads, but also plenty of more technical climbing, including trialsy-like slabs, loose stone and gravel, and numerous steep pitches which were on the verge of climb-able. I also had the opportunity to test how good it is at being pushed up hills!

Saracen has clearly designed the bike to be a competent pedaller. The position of the main pivot above the chainring suggests a fair amount of anti-squat, and thus a peppy, reactive ride as you press on the pedals. And this was the reality too.

While on the smoothest of sections I did engage the shock’s lockout, the suspension’s layout actually gives a very stable platform through which to pedal. There’s minimal pedal bob and very little wallow, even when stood on the pedals.

Picture showing the rear triangle of the Saracen Traverse Elite and its main pivot location
The main pivot sits just above the chainring, aiding a stable pedalling platform
Rob Spedding

This, when combined with the light, fast rolling tyres, delivers a bike that on paper is very happy to be pointed towards the top of the hill.

In practice, this was mostly the case, but a steeper seat angle would help pitch your weight better over the bottom bracket for improved pedalling comfort and power.

As such, I did shift the saddle further forwards in the seatpost to eke out an extra degree or so. All said, though, the Traverse certainly wasn’t the limiting factor when it came to getting up the hills.

Likewise, on flatter, less technical terrain the taught suspension helps give the bike some vigour. Spurts of power are rewarded with an injection of pace rather than a deflating delayed and heavy reaction. It’s very much the kind of bike that encourages you to cheekily try and drop your mates on a sprint across rolling bridleways and through trail centres.

Anti-squat does, however, have a slight downside, and that’s pedal kickback on larger impacts.

When rattling across rocky trails there’s definite feedback through the pedals, and the resulting ride is one that’s certainly not on the magic-carpet side of things. If you’re looking for a bike to tackle more technical terrain, I’d probably be looking elsewhere.

Picture of a Maxxis Ikon tyre's tread
The Ikon on my test bike rolled very, very fast
Rob Spedding

While I didn’t puncture on this ride, my experience of lighter, faster rolling tyres is that you tend to need to run higher pressures to avoid punctures, and this then accentuates their relatively skittery, lower traction nature.

The Traverse’s shape isn’t particularly descent focussed, with a fairly conservative reach figure and not-very-slack head angle. On the loose, technical rocky descents this was clear, because the bike felt twitchy and nervous.

Combine these two elements together and I found that the Traverse wasn’t the most composed on the more technical and rocky descents we rode.

There are a number of things that could be changed to bolster the bike’s descending capabilities; a chunkier front tyre, at least, would add a little more composure on the descents, as would a wider bar, which would give a calmer feel and more leverage to muscle the bike around.

Rider on the Saracen Traverse Elite on rocky trail
Rocky technical tracks were fun, but perhaps not the Traverse Elite’s natural home
Madison

However, at this point I suspect you’d lose some of the bike’s nature. This very much feels like a bike ready to tackle longer marathon style rides, and with a couple of weight-conscious changes, could hold its own on the XC course too.

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This isn’t some ‘rad’ trail bike, and in fairness of all the bikes that were being ridden by others that day it was probably the most XC focussed. It is, however, an XC-focussed bike that can start to push traditional perceptions of what an XC bike can do, and with a few tweeks, could become a very entertaining mini trail bike ready to tackle big days far from the car park.