Saracen’s Zenith Elite LSL 29er hardtail is a progressive 130mm trail bike, which it claims is “probably the fastest hardcore hardtail you will find in the market today”.
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.
It’s been a whole year since I got my hands on Saracen’s Zenith Elite hardtail. I set out to see just how capable this bike could be in the roughest terrain, on the steepest descents and flat-out at bike park tracks, despite it only having 130mm of travel from the RockShox FX 35 Gold fork.
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 long-term review conclusions
Over the course of the year the Zenith has proved that it is more than capable of eating up hardened enduro style conditions than your average trail hardtail, with surprisingly few compromises.
Taking it to the lesser-known tracks at Pontypool in South Wales was surely still the gnarliest test to date. Consisting of super-steep, sharp and nagery exposed rock, and not to mention the ground was frozen solid, these conditions really pushed the bike to its limits. While not totally at home, it survived and made for a really fun day in the saddle.
At the other end of the scale, the Zenith Elite was truly king of the bike park, handling everything I threw its way, from speedy flow trails and big jumps to rooty, rutty tracks and steep loamy trails.
This bike is a good match to anyone with a desire for quick and easy trail smashing as well as gnarly days out on more challenging terrain.
I love the simplicity of a hardtail and how it really makes you think more about your line choice. In the Zenith’s case, slipping off line and riding through the harsh chunder is very forgiving due to the bike’s geometry and its 29in wheels.
The change from Saracen’s custom 780mm low rise bars to the 800mm Joysticks made a vast improvement and I still think this was a great upgrade.
This slight increase in rise allowed me to pop the front end up much more easily, and during the first lockdown I managed to learn how to master manuals, too. Not to mention it put me in a better overall position for seated pedalling.
After a year of riding this bike, and all the thrills and spills, I will be sad to see it go.
As affordable hardtails come, this one is definitely up there, but with a few spec tweaks it could really be one of the best.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL highs
The best moment I can think of was taking the bike to my hometown bike park in Rogate, West Sussex, and sending it on the new DMR line.
The line was built last year to celebrate 25 years of DMR and was shaped by the likes of Olly Wilkins and the BSI trail building company, who are responsible for building much of South America’s urban downhill courses.
At first glance the trail looks like something from the Canadian freeride scene, with ladder drops and a pretty beefy North Shore whale tail.
I’d been itching to ride this trail ever since it was built and riding it on the Zenith was truly terrifying, but in the best way possible!
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL lows
One low moment was converting the rear tyre to tubeless. The Vee Tire Flow SNAPs provided plenty of grip in a multitude of conditions, but their casing is quite flexible. This meant trying to get them on the rim was fairly easy, but getting them back on was a whole new ball game.
They are simply too floppy and pliable, which made it very difficult to get them to seat and seal correctly when converting to tubeless.
This resulted in many failed attempts, lots of lost sealant and high blood pressure. Since that day, I have left the front wheel with a tube and always carry a spare for it, just in case.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL long-term review verdict
Fun, flicky and fast, this hardtail has very few drawbacks when it comes to natural trail riding or days out in the bike park.
However, on ultra-steep and mega rocky terrain it can put you quite on edge. But that’s to be expected even from most reliable hardtails and why line choice is so important.
That said, it’s a great bike to have for handling year-round conditions.
Older updates continue below.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL long-term review update three
It has been roughly eight months since I first swung a leg over the Zenith Elite LSL.
The benefits of a long bike were noticeable after a few weeks and once I jumped back on my other bike – a 2015 NS Snabb – the Zenith’s great handling left me feeling less confident with the much shorter wheelbase on the Snabb.
For that reason, I have been spending the majority of my time on the Zenith Elite, and it’s hard not to because it’s definitely a thrilling ride!
One of the big advantages of riding the Zenith over my full suspension bike is that it’s really handy to zip out after work to Ashton Court in Bristol and the surrounding area with little to no effort.
And while there are trails around here that I would feel more comfortable riding on my full suspension bike, the Zenith’s 29in wheels, slack head angle and low centre of gravity outweigh the disadvantages of having no rear suspension – such as a reduction in comfort and smoothness over rough terrain and, if it’s really gnarly, bike control.
Cycling around the city on a 160mm enduro rig can be exhausting and take more time out of your ride overall, so a hardtail makes total sense for me.
While the Zenith can’t hit all the gnarliest features, it comes pretty close! And overall it’s a more practical, reliable and all-round fun-loving machine.
While I would have liked to upgrade the tyres to some 2.8in wide rubber from the stock 2.6in tyres – because I tend to take it down some rougher stuff and the fatter tyres should increase traction and control — unfortunately, it seems like there won’t be enough clearance between the chainstays for this to happen.
I am going to experiment with tyre widths and see what I can get in there, though.
I’ve re-taped the rim because sealant and air was escaping from underneath the tape through the centre of the rim and out the spoke nipple holes.
After re-taping it and topping the tyre up with fresh sealant I really struggled to get the tyre to re-inflate and seat correctly on the rim. A job that usually takes only a few attempts turned into a bit of a nightmare, taking a record 15 attempts before it finally sorted itself out!
Even BikeRadar’s assistant editor Jack Luke had a crack at it and agreed that it was strangely difficult considering it’s a tubeless-ready tyre and rim.
We came to the conclusion that the tyre’s sidewalls let air escape before the tyre is able to even begin seating. Frustratingly, even when using tubeless inflation hacks such as soapy water over the bead and seating the bead one side with a tyre lever, it still didn’t inflate easily.
The combination of the wide 29mm internal width rims and VeeTire’s Flow Snap, along with my new rim tape, proved to be a tricky combination to inflate.
In my last instalment (see below), I mentioned how the PRO dropper was easy to fit and how much I liked the way its lever sat comfortably under my thumb and was well hidden.
Although the lever is still easy to use, I have found the metal cable guide that facilitates a fixed bend in the cable can wobble and come loose. At first, it sat snug against the brake lever and looked tidy.
The metal guide is not fastened to the mechanism and relies on the tension of the cable itself to keep it in place. As soon as cable tension isn’t perfect, the guide rattles and can move around, so I’ve found it essential to keep an eye on its tension to avoid unwanted rattles and movement.
Previous updates continue below.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL long-term review update two
The Zenith Elite LSL still wows me and allows me to ride big and chunky trails on a weekly basis. It keeps me on my toes, especially when I’m pushing its limits, and I’m always impressed with how capable it actually is.
I have no doubt that in part this is down to its geometry, which is well suited for steep descents and helps keep the wheels planted thanks to its low centre of gravity.
I’m glad I changed the bars because the increase in rise has given me more control on tough terrain and made me feel even more at home, especially when getting the front end up over obstacles and pulling manuals.
When I first got the bike I didn’t think I’d be able to learn to manual for reasonably long distances on such a long bike, but here we are!
The new Pro dropper works well, its mechanism and lever feel light to use. It’s also tucked away between the brake and grip so shouldn’t be too easy to damage.
The saddle clamp is a slightly different style to your bog-standard clamp, using a single bolt to fix it to the seat’s rails.
Although this system is less fiddly to make saddle adjustments, getting it tight enough in the first place requires more force than usual.
I found the saddle’s angle shifted when I hit harsh bumps while pedalling sitting down, and although this would likely be less problematic with a full-suspension bike, hardtail riders should be aware that the post requires plenty of tightening to stay put.
Unfortunately for the Fabric FunGuy grips, I managed to rip one of the collars off in a minor wipeout on a steep rocky section of trail. This is a real shame because I think they’re comfortable and liked their soft feel.
I have now swapped them out for a pair of ODI Elite Flow lock-ons and while I prefer the feel of the soft ribbed style, the ODIs come with a super-thick collar on the end of the grip, which should make them more durable in crashes.
These grips are slightly shorter than the Fabric grips, though, and while I don’t find this an issue, those with different preferences might find the thicker collar and shorter length doesn’t suit them.
More potential to unlock
I certainly feel the Zenith has the potential to punch well above its weight in terms of how capable it is. However, as some of you have pointed out in the comments, this bike is fitted with a few budget components such as the RockShox 35 fork and the Jalco rims.
I think to really reap the benefits of the Zenith’s geometry, and potentially bump it up to almost enduro bike standards, it would only need a couple of upgrades to get it there.
I have noticed the wheels aren’t the strongest and after five or so months of riding, the rear wheel has started to lose its shape. And while I have ordered a spoke tool to true the wheel, I believe that upgrading it to something a bit tougher would make the bike much more capable of riding enduro-style trails.
Older updates continue below.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL long-term review update one
A few things have changed since my last update. First, I have made all the upgrades I said I was going to make, starting with the dropper post.
I switched out the Tranz-X for the Magura Vyron Elect, and while this looks swish and has kept up with the bike’s minimalist look, it has proven to be quite problematic.
After a small crash in a rock garden about a week after installation (and before the Covid-19 lockdown), the receiver end of the remote sheared straight off the post and was lost forever.
This stopped the post from working altogether. Although this was just unlucky, perhaps the plastic bracket that holds the receiver to the post could be made from metal to help increase its strength.
After being sent a replacement receiver and reconnecting it to the remote on the bars, the remote’s button then broke.
So I ordered a new remote, but find the connection between remote and receiver is intermittent.
I contacted Magura for comment on this problem and it got back to me with the below response:
“Problems with the remote control occur very rarely. The defective remote would be exchanged free of charge as part of our guarantee processing. Defective products can be sent by customers to the dealer or directly to Magura or to the Magura hub in the UK.”
~ Dominik Voss, Magura
Even though I’ve had these problems, I can’t fault the service you get from Magura, it’s been very friendly and helpful.
Next up, I swapped out the Saracen saddle for a much comfier Fabric Scoop.
I also switched the Saracen 780mm bar for an 800mm wide Joystick 8-Bit with 23mm rise to help increase the front end a touch, in a bid to reduce the effort it takes to get the front end up and over obstacles.
To match the Fabric saddle, I slipped on a pair of Fabric Funguy grips in blue. So far I’ve found these very comfortable and the soft ribbed style allows fantastic amounts of grip.
Winter 2019/2020 was the wettest in a long time, which meant I spent most of my time cowering inside, peering out of the curtains in the hope that the sun would one day return.
When I did get out on the bike, most rides were wet, slick and thick with mud. Although I’m not the most confident wet weather rider, the stock Vee Tire Flow Snap tyres seemed fairly composed when entering banked turns with thick mud or semi-wet roots.
However, I have occasionally found myself two-wheel drifting on some of the flatter, slicker corners. While you could probably find better grip and confidence-inspiring tyres on the market I do think that the tyres work well for the price point.
The bike’s long, slack and low geometry continues to impress me. While it initially took a few rides to get used to the feel of a long bike, the benefits are quite obvious. The geometry and 29er wheels really help give a planted feeling on some of the rougher and steeper trails.
And while I can’t really say anything bad about this style of bike, there are a couple of things I have found I need to watch out for.
Due to the low BB height, it’s easier to strike a pedal when tackling more technical climbs and flatter rocky trails that require you to pedal to maintain speed. This is no big deal as long as you time your pedal strokes well.
The other quirk was an extra-long bike made it harder for me to tackle some of those extremely tight and steep corners at a fast speeds. This just means I took a more relaxed and balanced approach.
So far it seems like the Saracen has a fun and playful ride and can be a real speed demon. I look forward to hopefully getting out on it more this summer and in much dryer conditions.
Until then, though, I’d like to change the Vyron post for something a little more reliable and see if I can get hold of some new pedals.
Stay tuned for more on those upgrades in the next update.
The original story continues below.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL specification and details
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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’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
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.
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’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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
BikeRadar‘s 2020 long-term test bikes
At the start of the year, every member of the BikeRadar team selects a long-term test bike to ride over the course of the following 12 months. Some choose a bike from their favoured discipline and ride it hard for a year, others opt for a bike that takes them outside of their comfort zone.
Our long-term test gives us the opportunity to truly get to grips with these machines, so we can tell you how they perform through different seasons and on ever-changing terrain.
We also use them as test beds for the latest kit, chopping and changing parts to see what really makes the difference – and help you decide which upgrades are worth spending your money on.
To see all of the BikeRadar team’s 2020 bikes – and stay up-to-date with the latest developments – visit our long-term review hub.
|Price||AUD $3350.00GBP £1750.00USD $2296.00|
|Weight||13.78kg (M) – size medium without pedals|
|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|
|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)|