Besides the name there aren’t many similarities between Saracen’s old Ariel trail bike and the new 165mm travel enduro beast it’s just released for 2018.
The influence of the brand’s Myst downhill bike is clearly apparent; the new Ariel uses the same suspension design and takes on full-carbon guise for the first time.
Saracen Ariel LT frame
The Ariel LT is Saracen’s brand new full-carbon long travel trail/enduro bike. The full build as shown here retails for £4,999.99 Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
Rather surprisingly, Saracen has made the 2018 Ariel a little shorter in reach than its old bike, but to counteract this it has extended the size range to XL and all carbon LT models now include a +/- 5mm adjusting headset, which is another feature taken from the Myst.
The large sized bike I tested has a reach of 465mm, which is matched to average length 435mm chainstays, and it has a 450mm seat tube — the XL is a fair bit taller though at 500mm.
The Ariel uses the same suspension design as the brand’s Myst downhill bike, but the carbon links have been tweaked to alter the leverage ratio slightly Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
Although at 6ft tall I wanted to upsize to the XL bike for a longer front centre, I found that the minimum saddle height negated this.
At the front end of the bike the Ariel’s head tube is pretty short (100mm on the size large) and despite the external cup on the reach adjusting headset adding 14mm I found that I had to run extra spacers to achieve my desired ride height.
A head angle of 65 degrees and a 10mm drop on the bottom bracket make the Ariel pretty slack and low slung, giving a clear indication of its gravity fed intentions.
An oversized headtube allows for +/- 5mm of reach adjustment using a second headset supplied with the bike Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
Under the curved down tube is a recess for a Shimano Di2 battery and cable routing is fully internal with clamps on the cables where they enter the frame to keep everything in place. Routing is neat and well considered, but I did find the exposed sections of cable chaffed the sides of the seat tube slightly.
Saracen Ariel LT kit
Damping the Ariel’s 165mm of rear travel is a Fox Float X2 Factory Kashima shock. This is paired to a slightly longer 170mm Fox 36 Float Factory fork.
Keeping the Saracen rolling is a pair of DT Swiss M1900 Spline wheels with a 30mm internal rim width. Even taking a few altercations with rocks and some shady landings into account these remained solid and true. The fairly wide internal width gives the 2.3inch Maxxis Minion DHF 3C EXO TF tyres a good profile and traction was excellent, but if I was being picky then it would be good to see a Maxxis 2.5inch Wide Trail tyre on the front to give a bit extra grip and cushioning.
Not a fan of the tan-walled Maxxis Minion DHF tyres? Not a problem. Saracen is supplying the Ariel LT with a spare set of black-walled tyres too Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
With the exception of a Shimano SLX shifter and cassette, both brakes and drivetrain are a full Shimano XT affair. The 32-tooth chainring and 11-42-tooth cassette give a good gear range and shifting was faultless throughout testing, even mashing through the gears on a couple of steep climbs.
It’s good to see an MRP chain guide spec’d as standard too, adding that bit of security. The brakes definitely have a sharper feel than the SRAM Guides and I found that modulating them took a little getting used to. There is definitely no shortage of power on offer though and late braking into turns became the norm, as I got the hang of them.
Although not as well known or flashy as other dropper posts options, there was almost nothing to criticise about the 150mm Trans-X post Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
On the climbs it was the turn of the Kore Fuze II saddle and 150mm Trans-X dropper post to come under scrutiny. Although the post might not look as refined as some others, I found it impossible to fault. Even using the QR collar to adjust the seatpost position for climbing there were never any problems with cable tension and the action of the post was positively silky.
The bar lever was easy to use, but it isn’t very low profile and it clashed slightly with the brake lever clamp, which required it to be run further inboard.
An Enve DH carbon bar and a 45mm Saracen stem give a solid, well-proportioned cockpit Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
Finishing the bike off is a slightly unusual component choice in the shape of an Enve DH carbon bar. Apparently, this was a request from Saracen’s designer and although they probably add a bit of cost to the build they do feel good. These are bolted through a 45mm long Saracen own-brand stem and lock-on grips.
The full build tips the scales at 14.55kg (large/ no pedals) making it a little on the chunkier side for a full-carbon rig. The Ariel LT’s parts spec might not be the most bling, but I appreciate that Saracen has chosen to spend its budget on parts such as top-end dampers, which will actually improve the handling of the bike rather than 12-speed drivetrains and carbon cranksets.
Saracen Ariel LT ride impressions
The Ariel LT really makes you want to push the limits on the downhills, so much so that you probably want to be wearing a full-face! Luke Webber/ Saracen Bikes
After one ride on the Ariel the first thing I did was pull off the Saracen grips. With a thin core and only one lock-on ring I found there was a lot of torsional movement, which was pretty off-putting.
With a new pair of grips I could start to focus on the important aspects of the bike.
Starting with the negatives, I have to say that climbing isn’t the Ariel’s strongest suit. The fairly slack 74-degree seat angle puts your weight quite far over the back wheel and although there isn’t much suspension movement when seated, when you get out of the saddle and really punch at the pedals it bobs quite a bit. Luckily, the firm setting on the Fox counteracts this and big uphill slogs aren’t too painful.
Point the bike downhill though and the Ariel really comes into its own.
I found I could throw this bike around in the same way I would a downhill bike and it always came out on top. Suspension has a big part to play in this and I definitely appreciated the Myst inspired platform.
The bike runs on a full Shimano SLX/XT drivetrain. Shifting was faultless during testing and the MRP chain guide meant I never dropped a chain Oliver Woodman/ Immediate Media
There is good suppleness at the beginning of the stroke, but as you push the bike harder it doesn’t eat through its travel. When you add the exceptional Fox Float X2 into the mix you’ve got a combo that really encourages you to twist some throttle. I ran the fork and shock with around 18 percent and 20 percent sag respectively and this seemed to give a well-balanced setup for the steep, burly trails I was testing on.
The Ariel’s geometry might not be radical, but it gives you a well centred position on the bike, and combined with the excellent suspension there were very few moments when things got out of shape.
With a slack head angle and a low centre of gravity, thanks to the position of the shock, the Saracen has a really planted feel in the turns, which is aided by the good tyre combo. The adjustable headset is definitely a good feature too for allowing riders on the cusp of sizes, like me, to fine tune the size of their bike.
Saracen Ariel LT overall impression
Saracen’s new long travel trail bike is definitely a fast bike. It’s not revolutionary in terms of shape, but this makes it easy to ride and once you get up to speed you begin to appreciate how good the rear suspension is.
The Ariel might not be the best climber, but if all-out downhill capability is your top of priority for a trail bike, then this bike should definitely be on your list. One last thing though, where am I meant to put my water bottle?