Saracen Kili Cromo 1 review

Blast-from-the-past

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £999.99 RRP

Our review

Don’t be put off by the steel chassis – the Kili Cromo is a hard riding, great fun all-rounder
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Saracen’s Kili will be instantly recognisable to time-served mountain bikers who remember the early 90s. A sought-after classic back then, the new version preserves the steel-framed soul of the original but adds modern geometry and a 120mm fork to the mix. The question is, can this medley of old and new fend off the new-from-the-ground-up competition?

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The bike industry spent years hyping aluminium as the ‘aerospace’ material of the future but, while it’s true that the Coke-can material has some advantages for bike frame construction, a good steel frame is still right up there in terms of ride feel and handling. Although it won’t appeal to everyone, there’s a lot to like about the Kili Cromo. Simple, understated, well equipped and with handling that’s up there with the best, the added liveliness of the steel chassis should be enough to propel it onto your trail hardtail shortlist.

Ride & handling: Steel frame ‘zing’ and 120mm of travel makes tough trails easy

Some bikes immediately feel ‘right’ the moment you step aboard, and the Kili Cromo is one of those bikes. With a ride position that perfectly balances the rider’s weight between front and rear wheels, it has a poised stance that creates just the right balance between pedalling efficiency and fast-handling flickability. It’s a measure of just how far long-travel hardtails have come that the Saracen doesn’t immediately feel as though there’s 120mm (4.7in) travel on tap up front.

The short stem, perfect weight distribution and planted stance give it the feel of a tauter, shorter-travelled race bike – albeit one that’s carrying a bit of excess weight. Give it some stick through a rocky trail section, though, and the RockShox Recon Silver TK solo air fork comes into its own. Plush, accurate and easy to set up according to rider weight and style, it swallows trail obstacles to the full limit of its travel without ever giving the rider cause for concern.

Backing up the fork’s all-round alacrity and the bike’s sorted geometry is the steel-hewn chassis’ compliant feel. Don’t be fooled by the relatively low-tech looks or the fact that few bikes are built from steel these days. Steel bikes like the Kili Cromo have a lively ‘spring’ to their gait that even the best alu-framed alternatives struggle to match, adding both a dose of day-long ride comfort and some inspiring get-up-and-go. It’s a subtle difference, but one that time-served riders, and anyone after a comfortable, versatile trail machine, will appreciate.

Frame: Understated looks and up-to-the-minute geometry

The Kili range stands out from the crowd for one very important reason. None of the Kili series, from the range-topping titanium version to the entry-level steel-framed Kili Cromo, features an aluminium chassis. Why? Partly it’s a nod to the Kili’s forebears, whose steel-tubed make-up was par for the course at the time. But it’s also in recognition of the fact that many riders prefer steel for its ride feel, simplicity and slender profiles.

At a hair under 13kg for the complete bike, there’s a small weight penalty for the steel tubeset, but it’s a price that steel aficionados may be willing to pay. Up-to-the-minute geometry and some neat detailing aside, the Kili Cromo’s frame is as retro as they come. Narrow, thin-walled pipes make up the main triangle, the only apparent concession to modernity being an open-ended reinforcing gusset at the junction of the head  and down tubes.

Curves are the name of the game at the rear, with minimalist socket dropouts connecting snaky stays with plenty of mud room. There are no rack or guard mounts, but built-in Crud Catcher bosses betray the Saracen’s unashamedly British roots.

Equipment : Emphasis on practicality over bling

The frame’s unpretentious looks are carried over to the componentry, with an emphasis on practicality over bling. Saracen’s own-brand finishing kit lacks the kudos of the big name aftermarket brands, but it all works fine and looks good – and the seatpost supports WTB’s comfy and deservedly popular Rocket V saddle. The stop and go kit is all from the Shimano stable, blending the lower-cost Alivio group with an SLX rear mech for a 9-speed transmission that’s both slick and reliable.

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There are a couple of minor glitches though. Considering the rock-swallowing potential of the air sprung, 120mm (4.7in) travel RockShox Recon fork, we’d like to see a bigger front disc rotor for better stopping on long descents. And the red anodised aluminium spoke nipples add a touch of colour to the wheelset, but are more likely to seize or round off than the brass alternative.

Saracen Kili Cromo 1
Saracen kili cromo 1: saracen kili cromo 1
Steve Behr

Product Specifications

Product

Name Kili Cr-Mo 1 (11)
Brand Saracen

Seatpost Alloy Micro-adjust / 27.2 mm
Headset Type 857 A-Headset
Brake Levers Shimano M505
Weight (lb) 27
Weight (kg) 12.2
Stem 318 6061 70-90 mm A-Head / 7 degree rise / 31.8 mm clamp
Shifters Alivio M430 Rapid Fire 9 x 3-speed
Seat Angle 72
Saddle Rocket V Comp White
Rims EQ 25 32 hole
Rear Tyre Continental Mountain King 26 x 2.2 inch
Rear Shock N/A
Rear Hub RM65 Black 32 hole Q/R
Rear Derailleur SLX M662 shadow
Pedals Alloy MTB
Head Angle 68
Available Colours Gloss Black
Handlebar 318 Alloy OS 680 mm wide / 15 mm rise / 9 degree bend
Grips/Tape Lock-on dual-density grip
Front Tyre Continental Mountain King 26 x 2.2 inch
Front Hub RM65 Black 32 hole Q/R
Front Derailleur Alivio M430
Frame Material Cr-Mo
Fork Recon Silver TK Solo Air / Turnkey lock-out
Cranks FC-M431 22/32/44T 170-175 mm
Chain Z99
Cassette Shimano HG50 9-speed cassette 11-32T
Brakes M505 160/160 mm rotors / custom white
Bottom Bracket BB-ES25 Octalink
Available Sizes 17 19 21 inch 15
Spoke Type Double-butted stainless steel 14g with alloy nipples