Our pre-ride impressions of the Mantra made it feel like a big step downmarket from the excellent entry-level Zen 1. Thankfully, the extra weight and slightly clumpy looks of the Mantra pale into insigniﬁcance out on the trail, because it’s so much fun to ride over difficult terrain.
Ride: A treat going down, a chore going up
Saracen describe the Mantra as the ‘Zen’s feisty little brother’, but there are some big differences you should be aware of.
The sticking point is weight. While Zen weights are close to short-forked cross country rivals, the Mantra 3 is nearly 32lb; 2-4lb heavier than most ‘conventional’ £550 bikes.
And you’ll feel the Mantra’s heft as soon as you set off. The heavy 36-spoke wheels and grippy Conti Mountain King 2.4in treads are inevitably slower to accelerate than those of lighter bikes, so trails that go uphill will be hard graft.
That said, you’re probably drawn to Saracen because you want a bike that can offer more hard-riding ability than the average cross country bike. Well, the Mantra can certainly deliver there.
As soon as the terrain starts to roll downwards and get rough, you’ll be very happy to have some extra fork travel – in the form of RockShox’s adjustable and well-controlled Tora 289 – and big tyres on hand.
Run softly, the beefy tyres give great traction. Comfort and controllability get a substantial boost, too.
The steep seat angle and middle-of-the-bike posture encourage you to lean into the fork and work it hard over rough terrain. Even sharp climbs are a breeze if you use the bike’s fast-rolling conﬁdence to carry speed into them.
And those grippy tyres add enough control for you to keep pedalling hard across the sort of surfaces that would have you braking, wincing and steering more on a lighter, less robust bike.
Frame: Well reinforced and suited to abuse
The frame tubing is reinforced where it matters, with a shock-shedding gusset between the head tube and the underside of the down tube, and a reinforcing bridge from the sloping top tube to the seat tube.
The rear triangle is box-section in proﬁle and there’s lots of mud room around the tyres. We like Saracen’s Allen-bolted brake hose guides, and there are bosses for a Crud Catcher and single bottle.
The RockShox Tora 289 fork is fairly basic but, while 85-130mm of U-Turn travel adjustment may be an attractive feature to many riders, be aware that so much variation in fork length can considerably alter the way the bike handles. Think carefully about how much travel suits your riding best.
Components: Solid, except for the crankset
Almost everything on the Mantra, from the frame and wheels to tyres and ﬁnishing kit, is built to take some abuse. It’s not a stunt bike, but it’ll take a beating well.
The Mantra Three’s weakest link is the Truvativ Blaze crankset. It’s good enough for general XC use, but the plastic chainguard won’t last long if you start riding over logs. The splined axle also needs to be tightened up beyond recommended torque settings to prevent it from loosening if you put it under stress in even moderate jump landings.
Conversely, the SRAM X5 shifters and gear mechs are excellent, and the Tektro hydraulic brakes are more powerful than many we’ve seen on bikes at this price. The 36-spoke wheels are heavy but really tough, with the Conti 2.4in tyres emphasising excellent all-conditions grip and damage-limiting comfort.
The massive range of fork travel will keep the fettlers happy, and it’s a fast, comfy ride over rough terrain, but better crankset would be a worthwhile upgrade.