The Mantra Trail is pitched as an all-round trail bike rather than a gravity-oriented one, but earns its place as a hardcore, all-mountain hardtail in terms of fork travel, frame geometry and weight.
Ride & handling: Ready for anything and handy on climbs
Saracen’s all-rounder design intent is pretty clear when you set off on the Mantra. While the front-end geometry is similar to that of other similarly priced hardtails, it’s significantly steeper at the back, which puts your weight slightly further forward when seated. The result is that it’s relatively easy to hold a line on steep climbs, which is a bonus.
Combine this with the Saracen’s sub-30lb weight and you get a bike that’s pretty good on climbs. The steeper seat angle makes no difference when standing up, of course.
When you’re stood on the pedals, the Mantra has a similar handling feel to similar hardtails, although with a lower front end and slightly longer back end it’s not quite as ready to pop the front up as some. There’s not as much grip either – the budget Schwalbe tyres have a low-profile tread pattern and quite a hard compound. You do get a usefully wide bar though.
Saracen mantra trail: Steve Behr/Future Publishing
Frame & equipment: Futureproof and with a great transmission spec
The Mantra Trail doesn’t lack a bit of burl in the frame department. Leading the way is the head tube, which looks like any other semi-integrated headset setup but in fact follows the X44 standard. That means you can swap the internal bottom bearing for an external one and fit a tapered-steerer fork – it’s lightweight and future-proof, although you don’t get the benefit of a bigger tube to weld other tubes to.
The tall down tube maximises weld area, though, and morphs into a flat-bottomed shape at the bottom bracket that’s very similar to the Commencal’s. The top tube is a flared inverted triangle, and while there’s nothing particularly unusual going on with the rear stays, the dropouts are distinctive forged items.
The Mantra’s frame is unusually well-served by bosses, with mounts for two bottle cages, a Crud Catcher and even a rear rack should you wish to indulge in some extreme touring action. All the cables are carried in bolt-on hangers under the top tube.
An impressive component spec for the money includes, most notably, a Suntour Radion fork. That might not sound hugely exciting but the fact that it’s got proper damping with an actual adjuster turns out to be quite a big deal.
Another big bonus is the transmission, which is not just all Shimano, but all Shimano Deore. That puts it at least a couple of rungs up the ladder compared to some cheaper bikes, and means niceties such as a tucked-in Shadow rear mech and a 10-speed 11-36T rear cassette.
Deore stuff might still be entry level where mountain bike parts are concerned, but it’s proper gear that works. In keeping with the Mantra’s trail ethos, there’s a triple chainset up front.
The brakes are Shimano too, fairly basic M395 units but competent enough and as reliable as we’ve come to expect from Shimano. The Mantra has a 180mm rotor up front for a bit more oomph.
The levers are mounted to a generous 720mm Saracen-branded bar held in a suitably stumpy stem. We felt slightly short-changed by the all-rubber grips, which shifted around on the bar. It was pretty wet during the test period, but lock-ons would have stayed put.
If you plan on pushing your skills on jumps and drops, a beefier frame might suit you better, but for most mucking-about-in-the-woods purposes, the Mantra’s chuckable low weight and better fork make it a good bet.
The things that make it an all-rounder don’t detract from its abilities, and the Radion fork, while still a budget item, has competent – and adjustable – damping that gives it a huge boost in capability. Taken as a complete package, you’ll be able to ride harder on the Mantra before feeling like you’re reaching its limits.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.