Saracen’s a name that’s steeped in history – dating back to 1983, truly the early days of mountain biking. It’s clear that Saracen’s heritage hasn’t held it back and unlike a lot of other large brands, it’s been able to move and adapt to current design theory in a much more reactive way.
The Mantra Trail LSL is a perfect example of that, with the LSL letters giving it away, standing for “Long, Slack, Low”. The bike gets standard 650b wheels and a host of solidly-performing parts to complement that aggressive geometry.
Saracen Mantra Trail LSL frame
It’s built from Saracen’s Series 2 6061 aluminium which has been subtly hydroformed to give the bike a sleek and elegant silhouette.
In a bid to create stiff steering and less rear-end horizontal flex, the Mantra runs a tapered head tube and a full-on 12 x 148mm Boost rear axle rather than the Boost QR option that we see many manufacturers speccing.
There’s a port for a dropper post as and when you decide that it’s time to commit to this essential upgrade – so the bike has plenty of potential to progress and change with your riding.
The Mantra Trail LSL has fantastic geometry figures. Steve Behr
The frame has internally-routed cables through the down tube that exit beneath the bottom bracket, running along the chainstays to their final destinations. There are two bottle mount locations and the rear triangle has pannier mount compatibility, which means you can store overnight kit if you fancy going on an adventure.
The Mantra has bottle cage mounts on both the seat and down tubes. The seatpost does foul the bottle mount bosses on the seat tube, but they’re a long way down the seat tube and this will only prove to be an issue for someone with an exceptionally long seatpost who needs to slam it to the frame for the descents.
Study up on the bike’s geometry figures and you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The size large has a 65-degree head angle and 430mm long chainstays, coupled with a 1,210mm wheelbase – giving the bike a 780mm front centre and a positively lengthy 471mm reach.
When combined, it’s clear that this bike has ‘go get ‘em’ intentions that shouldn’t impact on its ability to scale ascents with proficient ease.
Saracen Mantra Trail LSL kit
Although the Mantra isn’t loaded up with XT mechs or RockShox forks, it still has an impressive array of parts that are more than suitable for the bike’s application.
A standout mention has to be for the Shimano Deore groupset that has impressive levels of performance. In a welcome move, Saracen has specced the Deore 10-speed 11-42t cassette (rather than opting for a cheaper model) that, coupled with the Deore M6000 mech, offers a formidable partnership.
The Schwable tyres offered great grip but I did suffer a puncture during testing. Steve Behr
The Schwalbe Nobby Nic and Hans Dampf combo are wrapped around Araya rims, laced to Formula hubs both front and rear, and boasting sealed bearings all around.
The air-sprung X-Fusion RC32 fork with 130mm of travel bolted up front features rebound damping and lockout function.
Shimano’s Alivio brakes are specced with a 180mm front rotor and 160mm rear. The rest of the kit – post, stem and bars – is all supplied by Saracen’s own-branded kit. There’s the notable omission of a dropper post though, as previously mentioned. A Kore saddle is perched atop the fixed post.
Saracen Mantra Trail LSL ride impressions
After your first ride on an LSL Mantra you’ll almost certainly ask the question “why don’t all bike manufacturers make their bikes with geometry like this?” And it’s a fair question.
Long, low and slack numbers can be off-putting for some because the bike doesn’t feel snappy or is harder to manoeuvre, and while that’s true to an extent – especially if you’re heading down the route of really extreme geometry figures – it isn’t a blanket rule that should be applied to all bikes.
Climbing on the Mantra was a grippy and perfectly-controlled experience, with the bike’s frame having a marked and forgiving inherent compliance that smoothed over bumps with impressive ease.
This same compliance also helped to improve grip and reduce fatigue on prolonged sections of climbing. The Mantra’s proportions gave me plenty of space to move around on the bike and smaller, erroneous movements had little or no effect on the bike’s trajectory.
Make a marked and deliberate change in direction though, and the bike moved towards the next intended line.
It’s easy to get rowdy on the Mantra Trail LSL and the bike makes quick work of technical terrain. Steve Behr
With almost the entire bike’s geometry being totally sorted, I was a little disappointed to see a 73-degree seat angle.
This meant I had to angle the saddle’s nose down and push it as far forward on the seat rails as possible. Seeing as Saracen decided to go down the more extreme geometry route with the rest of the bike, it wouldn’t have been especially difficult to increase the seat tube angle to 75 degrees or above without risking raising eyebrows or creating a funky-looking bike.
It’s not a deal-breaker though and, with some adjustment, the slack seat angle can be salvaged enough to make the seated climbing position comfortable. The seat angle on a rigid or hardtail bike can afford to be slacker than a full-suspension bike because the dynamic geometry (the bike’s angles when you’re riding it) don’t change as much due to there being no suspension compression that can change them.
Obviously, at this point it’s crucial to mention the lack of dropper — the trade-off Saracen made to keep the bike’s price down while still offering other kit that it deems essential.
It does interrupt flow considerably and you’re faced with a choice of either suffering on the descents with the seat high or making life harder for yourself while climbing with the seat dropped. Alternatively, you could stop every five minutes to adjust the height of the post.
Considering the bike’s geometry, I preferred setting the post in a lower-than-comfortable position for climbs, so that I could make the most of the descents without constantly stopping.
With it set at the correct height for climbing, I did notice multiple kicks up the backside while descending, although the overall geometry of the bike did help to negate the scary feeling of peering over the handlebars at speed.
I loved riding the Mantra Trail LSL. Steve Behr
Descend with the saddle lowered in the frame though, and this thing flies. The compliant back-end gives you a confidence-inspiring, damped feel that, coupled with the LSL geometry, makes it all too easy to push the Mantra way beyond the capabilities of its fork, tyres and brakes.
I found that my feet and hands were perfectly placed in relation to one another to give maximum stability and control on the bike. Hit a turn and the bike carved the corner with total conviction and poise, a feeling that’s common on more expensive machines. There are no two ways about this, it’s a seriously capable descender.
The X-Fusion fork was a bit disappointing, not offering much small bump sensitivity. Steve Behr
The bike’s fork also stood out, but not for a good reason.
The RC32s aren’t the most eager when dipping into the beginning of their stroke, which means that they’re not the smoothest over small bumps. This can lead to plenty of jarring feedback through the bike’s bars and it’s totally at odds with how the rear-end of the bike feels.
Their inability to absorb small bumps also highlights how much fore-and-aft flex the fork lowers have – instead of compressing, the fork twangs back and forth over bumps as you try to force the bike over the terrain. Although it’s a big ask, I’d love to see Saracen bolt a stiffer, more capable fork onto the Trail LSL.
I found the tyres to be exceptionally grippy, but the payoff for having Schwalbe-branded rubber is that they’ve got very thin casings. I suffered two punctures – both times pinch flats, which is a shame, because the levels of climbing and descending traction didn’t seem to adversely affect rolling resistance too much.
The 11-42 cassette had a big enough range for all the climbs I could find. Steve Behr
The gearing might not be quite enough for some people, or for very steep climbs, but this could be easily rectified with a smaller chainring. You’re unlikely to run out of high gears off-road.
The brakes impressed me and they didn’t have exceptionally long lever blades like some other similarly priced bikes do.
The Mantra Trail LSL is an incredibly competent bike out of the box, despite some shortcomings that are relatively easy to rectify as and when your bank balance allows.
The geometry stands out in a crowd of conservative numbers and you’ll be rewarded on the descents with speed and control while still climbing unhindered.
For a little more
Saracen Mantra Elite LSL
The same fantastic geometry with the spec changes I asked for – including a RockShox Sektor and a dropper post.
For a little less
Saracen Zenith Trail
A slightly less extreme version of the Mantra, the Zenith has a cross-country focus with a 120mm travel fork, no dropper and 30-tooth chainring.
Saracen Mantra Trail LSL geometry (L)
Head angle: 65 degrees
Seat angle: 73 degrees
Seat tube: 48.3cm
Bottom bracket height: 30.4cm