Saracen say they developed the Ariel 162 for downhill-style enduro racing. While naming it ‘Ariel’ – a mountain gazelle – is in keeping with that statement, it could easily be called the ‘Aerial’ instead, as the bike is seriously fun to get airborne.
Ride & handling: Downhill friendly, confidence inspiring geometry
The Ariel 162 is a playful bike, and very capable on steep terrain. The Fox 36 fork and a long, tapered head tube contribute to a high front end, which combined with the slack 66.5-degree head angle create a well-balanced feel when the front wheel points downwards.
The lofty handlebars (even when dropped all the way) and short cockpit put you into a stood-up, rather than stretched out, position, which is great for technical trails as it’s easy to move the bike and get over the rear quickly on short steep roll-ins. This compact sizing and a firm-feeling rear end make it a blast on the jumps and bike park-style trails. In fact, whether we were getting airborne or slamming it into berms, the Ariel’s tight wheelbase made snappy direction changes a breeze.
Though the Saracen pedals well with efficient power transfer on smooth trails, the rear suspension doesn’t suck up square edges and small bumps as smoothly as we’d like, even with minimal compression damping (Pro Pedal). That big, slippery, Kashima coated fork with its ultra-adjustable FIT damper performs flawlessly, but sadly this just leads to a slightly unbalanced feel from front to rear through rocky sections.
Single ring gearing with a chain device up front means we never lost the chain once, but climbing steep trails is more of a make-this-feeling-stop-now affair, rather than a relaxed twiddle.
Rather than a race-tuned enduro machine, the Ariel performs more like a mini downhill bike. Its standard downhill geometry and dynamic nature make it one of the most fun things we’ve ridden on steep, technical trails. It’s the perfect partner for jumping and slow speed UK downhill riding, rather than flat-out enduro-style attacks.
Frame & equipment: Caters for DH needs, apart from the tyres
At £3,000 and boasting matching Kashima coated forks and shock, the Ariel stands out in its price range. The frame features that tapered head tube but a 12x135mm quick-release rear axle, and is built around Saracen’s signature TRL (Tuned Ride Link) suspension system. It creates a solid pedalling platform.
Saracen’s choice of gravity-inspired components – such as an e*thirteen chainguide, 740mm-wide KORE bars and KS dropper seatpost – mean it’s ready to roll on steep trails straight out of the box. The same can’t be said for the paper-thin sidewalled Schwalbe Nobby Nics, which pinch-punctured regularly when ridden hard.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.