Saracen Zenith Elite LSL long-term review

Max plans to get back to his roots on Saracen’s new hardcore hardtail

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £1,750.00 RRP | USD $2,296.00 | AUD $3,350.00

Our review

This is a long-termer review score and may change as I spend more time on the bike
Pros: Handles rough terrain well; climbs well; low centre of gravity
Cons: Can be difficult to get the front wheel up; Saracen's custom saddle and grips; tubeless ready but not set up tubeless
Skip to view product specifications
Saracen’s Zenith Elite LSL 29er hardtail is a progressive 130mm trail bike, and is claimed to be the fastest hardtail on the market in 2020.

LSL stands for long, slack and low, suggesting that this bike will have a nice low centre of gravity and provide a planted and solid feel over rough terrain.

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It has a 130mm RockShox FX 35 Gold fork, so pushing this bike past its standard trail abilities could be tough. However, with those 29er wheels and a long wheelbase I might find this bike has more to offer over the slightly chunkier terrain ridden by some hardtail enduro bikes.

And for those of you who are more cross-country orientated and prefer not to slam down overly technical descents, fear not. This bike has a generous seat angle, which suggests that as well as it being quite a flexible machine on the descents it should also be a climbing champion.

Saracen Zenith Elite LSL specification and details

Pack shot of the Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
Saracen’s Zenith Elite LSL hardtail.
Max Wilman

The Zenith Elite’s frame is Saracen’s series 2 custom butted and hydroformed 6061 alloy tubeset in black.

The bike is supplied with size 29 Jalco rims and Formula hubs. It also comes with 29 x 2.6 Vee Flow Snap tyres with Tackee compound, which are tubeless-ready. These are enduro-style tyres and good all-rounders.

Vee Rubber, Flow Snap tyre
29 x 2.6 Vee Flow Snap tyres with Tackee compound.
Max Wilman

It has a 420mm long Tranz-X dropper post with 125mm of travel and is internally routed through the frame.

The fork is a RockShox FS-35 Gold RL with 130mm of travel. This is RockShox’ new budget fork that offers comparable performance to higher spec and more expensive models.

Rockshox FS-35 Gold RL forks with 130mm travel
RockShox FS-35 Gold RL with 130mm of travel.
Max Wilman

The Zenith Elite sports Shimano BR-MT500 2 piston calipers, which are best designed for XC and Trail use. This comes with Shimano 180mm rotors and BL-MT501 levers.

The chainset is SRAM’s Stylo 6K Eagle with a 32-tooth chainring and 170mm cranks.

SRAM Stylo cranks, NX Eagle shifter, cassette and rear derailleur
SRAM Stylo cranks, NX Eagle shifter, cassette and rear derailleur.
Max Wilman

As for the rest of the drivetrain you get SRAM’s NX Eagle shifter and rear derailleur in 1 x 12-speed guise with an 11-50-tooth SRAM NX Eagle cassette, The chain is KMC X-12.

It also has a 73mm threaded SRAM Dub bottom bracket.

The 780mm wide bars are Saracen’s OS 6061 DB Alloy with 12mm rise, paired with a 40mm stem. Saracen also provides its own custom saddle and lock-on grips.

The weight of the build is around 13.78kg without pedals.

Saracen Zenith Elte LSL full specification

  • Size: M
  • Weight: 13.78kg (size medium without pedals)
  • Frame: Series 2 custom butted and hydroformed 6061 alloy tubeset
  • Fork: RockShox FS-35 Gold RL, 130mm travel
  • Shifters: SRAM NX Eagle
  • Derailleurs: SRAM NX Eagle
  • Cranks: SRAM Stylo 6K Eagle 32t
  • Wheelset: Jalco SHL32OS rims On Formula hubs (DC-711 front, DCL-348S rear)
  • Tyres: Vee Tire, Flow Snap (29 x 2.6) Tackee Compound / tubeless ready
  • Brakes: Shimano Mt501/180mm rotors
  • Bar: Saracen OS 6061 DB Alloy, 780mm
  • Stem: Saracen 6061 3D-Forged Alloy 40mm
  • Seatpost: Tranz-X Dropper Post, 120mm
  • Saddle: Saracen Custom

Saracen Zenith Elite LSL geometry

Tope tube with Saracen Zenith Elite LSL logo
The bike’s geometry should lend itself to being a good climber.
Max Wilman

The head angle is 65 degrees, which in today’s trail bike standards is nice and slack but no surprise. The seat angle is quite steep and set at a very comfortable 75 degrees, which should make climbing on this bike a little easier.

The wheelbase is an impressive 1,207mm in a size medium, which is slightly longer than something like the Orange P7 at 1,202mm, so very generous indeed.

Along with those 29er wheels, this could help in tackling some slightly chunkier terrain that would normally be avoided on a hardtail with a shorter wheelbase.

The bottom bracket drop (where the BB is in relation to the axles) is 70mm, so the centre of gravity is nice and low. In addition to the long wheelbase, this should help keep the bike feeling planted in most situations.

  • Head angle: 65.5 degrees
  • Seat angle: 75 degrees
  • Seat tube: 41cm / 16.14in
  • Head tube: 11cm / 4.33in
  • Frame reach: 46.5cm / 18.31in
  • Frame stack: 63.1cm / 24.84in
  • BB drop: 70mm / 2.76in
  • Wheelbase: 1,207mm / 47.52in
  • Fork offset: 4.3cm / 1.69in
  • Chainstay: 44.5cm / 17.52in
  • Top tube: 66.3cm / 26.1

Why did I choose this bike?

As a big fan of riding hardtails, having the opportunity to test-ride Saracen’s Zenith Elite LSL intrigued and excited me. I grew up on hardtails, moving on from jump bikes to budget trail bikes during my teenage years.

While working as a bike guide in Greece, I rode Trek X-Calibre 29ers, and that experience piqued my interest for riding more bikes with 29in wheels.

Saracen logo on hardtail mountain bike
I’m looking forward to riding a hardtail again.
Max Wilman

I only bought my first full suspension bike – an NS Snabb – in early 2019. I love tackling big jumps and technical descents on it, but miss the simplicity of a hardtail.

For example, cleaning and maintenance is much more straightforward (due to the lack of extra moving parts), not to mention the fact there is no bob when climbing. Simply put, this bike provides everything I am looking for in the future of progressive hardtails.

The low, slack and long profile makes the Zenith feel very snappy and playful as well as confident when airborne. The 29er wheels help to tackle the rougher parts of the trail that I would have previously tried to avoid, too.

Saracen Zenith Elite LSL initial setup

As my new bike came without pedals I began set up here, putting on an old pair of vibrant blue Straightline De Facto pedals. These have a nice wide platform and great grip for my wide feet.

They also look stunning against the matte black frame, which makes me want to keep this black and blue theme for any potential future upgrades.

Shimano MT501 brakes
Shimano MT501 brakes.
Max Wilman

As the seat angle is quite steep for a hardtail, I shifted the saddle on the rails to roughly the middle because I didn’t want to feel too close to the front-end during pedalling.

Currently this feels quite comfortable and I don’t feel the need to change it.

Saracen OS 6061 DB Alloy bar with Shimano brakes and SRAM Shifter
Saracen OS 6061 DB Alloy bar with Shimano brakes and SRAM shifter.
Max Wilman

Saracen’s OS 6061 DB Alloy Bars are a good width at 780mm but are quite flat, and I feel like a bit more rise would be more comfortable.

The spacers mounted underneath the stem help somewhat, but I’d still like more rise.

I have set the tyre pressures at 30psi, which I find faster rolling for the hardpack trails and jumps I intend to ride.

Saracen Zenith Elite LSL ride impressions

Max riding a Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
Max getting playful on the Zenith.
Felix Smith

I wish I could say I’ve taken this bike for a spin many times since its arrival. However, due to the dark days of winter and the fact that I need to break the overbearing habit of being a fair-weather cyclist, I have not.

Where I grew up, there’s a new bike-day tradition for christening a factory fresh bike that involves bombing down the front face of Butser Hill, which is part of the South Downs Way. So, that’s what I did, and on one of the foggiest days of the year – which made for a very exciting and surreal riding experience.

Because I knew I would be riding high speeds over damp and grassy terrain I set my tyre pressure between 22 and 24psi.

Max riding a Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
The LSL hardtail is suited to a host of different trail conditions.
Felix Smith

However, in the excitement of new bike day I forgot to set the forks up for my preferences. So this made things very interesting on the descent.

It’s quite steep and while it’s not extremely rough, the speed made it feel otherwise. On the climb back up I was still able to lock the fork out to avoid the very supple and unnecessary bobbing, and was quick to fix this issue once I arrived home.

On a separate occasion I took the bike to a local bike park with a wide variety of trails. The park is quite small, but this meant I could get in a few good laps testing out different terrain.

There had been a good belt of rain the day before so the trails were quite greasy, but I didn’t feel like I was lacking any grip in the corners or under hard braking.

Shimano MT501 with 180mm rotor
Shimano MT501 with 180mm rotor.
Max Wilman

Shimano’s 2 Piston MT500 brakes were adequate for the most part, but on some of the slightly steeper and faster straights, I felt like I needed a little more power. They provide enough power for the majority of my riding though, so an upgrade’s not necessary right now.

On the blue flow trails (that focus more on jumps and cornering), I found the low centre of gravity proved its worth here. The bike felt snappy around tight berms, which abated my initial concerns about it potentially being sluggish thanks to the LSL geometry.

Max riding a Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
The LSL geometry helps the bike feel secure on gnarly terrain.
Felix Smith

The bike looks quite large, even though it’s a size medium, but this is mostly down to the wheel size and long wheelbase. Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel large and cumbersome, and in the air it feels very playful.

One issue I had with the long wheelbase was that it was rather tricky to get the front wheel up when I needed to. This could be down to just needing to get used to the feel of a longer bike with bigger wheels, but it could also be because the front end feels low for my liking.

Max riding a Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
Max is hoping to get more airtime on the Zenith over the coming year.
Felix Smith

So far, the bike is a very responsive and fast ride. Its long, slack and low traits, accompanied by its burly 29er 2.6in wheels, make light work of intermediate trail riding and also handle a fair amount of torture from slightly rougher and more technical trails.

Saracen Zenith Elite LSL upgrades

Max riding a Saracen Zenith Elite LSL hardtail mountain bike
Max has some upgrades in mind for the Zenith.
Felix Smith

In the future I’d like to change a few things about this bike’s setup. The Tranz-X dropper post works wonderfully, but it came installed with too much cable, which formed a very messy looking front end to the bike.

I could shorten the cable, but as hardtails are quite low maintenance, I thought I might stick to the minimalist theme by removing the dropper and cable all together.

I have a Magura Vyron electric dropper at home and although this isn’t the best electric dropper, because it requires some hovering due to the long delay as the valve opens, I’m not big into racing so I don’t think this will be much of a problem.

Vee Rubber, Flow Snap tyre
Going fully tubeless is on the cards.
Max Wilman

The bike also comes with tubeless-ready Vee Flow Snap tyres, so I will quickly be changing these to fully tubeless.

I’ve not been a fan of Saracen’s lock-on grips or Custom saddle, so will be replacing these with my Fabric saddle and blue Fabric Fun Guy grips to match those lovely Straightlines.

Grips
Soon to be replaced with some Fabric Fun Guys, in blue, of course.
Max Wilman
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I also want to change the bars because I feel more comfortable with a tad more rise and width. I plan to replace Saracen’s bar with my 800mm wide and 23mm rise 8 Bit Alloy Joysticks.

Product Specifications

Product

Price AUD $3350.00GBP £1750.00USD $2296.00
Weight 13.78kg (M) – size medium without pedals
Brand Saracen

Features

Brakes Shimano MT501/180mm rotors
Cranks Sram Stylo 6K Eagle 32T
Fork Rockshox FS-35 Gold RL, 130mm Travel
Frame Series 2 custom butted and hydroformed 6061 alloy tubeset
Handlebar Saracen OS 6061 DB Alloy, 780mm
Rear derailleur Sram NX Eagle
Saddle Saracen Custom
Seatpost Tranz-X Dropper Post, 120mm
Shifter Sram NX Eagle
Stem Saracen 6061 3D-Forged Alloy 40mm
Tyres Vee Rubber, Flow Snap (29x2.6) Tackee Compound / Tubeless Ready
Wheels Jalco SHL32OS rims On Formula hubs (DC-711 Front, DCL-348S Rear)