British brand Saracen had a big relaunch last year, moving to a new direct-sales (online-only) business model. It also overhauled several of its bikes, pushing geometry boundaries.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL frame
Built from custom-butted 6061 aluminium alloy (a construction technique where tube wall thickness is varied to achieve the optimum balance of strength and weight), the Zenith looks aggressive and burly, and boasts some of the most aggro geometry numbers around. The large size I tested has a whopping 490mm reach and a 1,239mm wheelbase.
Saracen pairs these with a more moderate 65.5-degree head angle and steep (for a hardtail) 75-degree effective seat tube angle. Long 445mm chainstays add to the bike’s stability and keep your weight balanced between the wheels. The Zenith comes in four sizes.
With only one bottle cage mount and minimal frame protection – which means it isn’t the quietest bike on the trail – the Saracen is a little lacking in features.
However, it does have semi-internal cable routing, running through the down tube, along with Boost rear hub spacing.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL kit
Saracen has specced kit aimed at more aggressive riders in some areas, while keeping other parts more trail-oriented.
The air-sprung Marzocchi Bomber Z2 fork has 34mm stanchions, which should make it stiffer than the RockShox forks here, and 130mm of travel.
It uses a Rail damper with external compression and rebound damping adjustment. The Zenith’s SRAM NX Eagle gearing is a step up from the SX Eagle, although it uses the same 11-50t cassette, and still isn’t as precise as Shimano’s 12-speed Deore.
The bike is equipped with four-piston brakes, and its Shimano MT420 stoppers certainly have the most bite. Likewise, the 2.6in Vee Flow Snap tyres are more aggressive than those seen on some similarly priced bikes.
This means they have good traction in turns, but feel as though they roll more slowly. They’re fitted to 29mm (internal) Jalco rims built onto Formula hubs.
Unfortunately, the KS dropper post’s 125mm of travel isn’t enough to get the saddle fully out of the way on descents. Ideally, seatpost drop should increase with frame size.
At least you get a quick-release seat clamp, so you can manually slide the post up and down in the seat tube. The Saracen-branded finishing kit is all up to scratch.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL ride impressions
You can really push the Zenith, thanks to its stable geometry and grippy tyres, which give you a solid, confidence-inspiring platform to work from. Even with the frame’s lengthy reach, the seated riding position isn’t wildly long, thanks to the steep seat tube angle.
In addition, the longer chainstays help keep your weight towards the front wheel, so you don’t have to actively weight it when ascending as much as you’d expect. As a result, the climbing position is good.
Hitting the descents, the Zenith isn’t the most responsive and takes a fair bit of rider input to get the most from it.
I also found the frame transmitted more trail feedback through my hands – perhaps because the longer reach pulled me over the front end more, or because of the stiffening effect of the extended head/top/down tube junction.
Still, the stable wheelbase, powerful brakes and grippy tyres give you the confidence to try to find the bike’s limits. It requires an active riding style, but the aggro kit on the Saracen does make for a fun ride.
The Marzocchi fork does a good job, with decent initial suppleness and ample support deeper in the stroke, but it can’t take the sting out of the frame. While the 34mm stanchions add composure, its 130mm of travel is easy to use up on bigger hits, which slightly limits what the bike can handle.
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL geometry
|Seat angle (degrees)||75||75||75||75|
|Head angle (degrees)||65.5||65.5||65.5||65.5|
|Seat tube (mm)||360||410||460||510|
|Top tube (mm)||608||634||663||685|
|Head tube (mm)||105||110||125||135|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||70||70||70||70|
Saracen Zenith Elite LSL bottom line
I enjoyed riding the Zenith and it has plenty of pros, yet there are cons, too, such as the stiff frame and the too-short dropper post that isn’t long enough to move the saddle far enough out of the way to really attack the descents.
The lack of proper chainstay protection and minimal frame details prevent it from taking top marks. If it were up to me, I’d fit a longer-travel fork, too.
How we tested
The £1,500 mark has become a highly competitive price point for hardtail mountain bikes in recent years, with many brands offering versatile builds that pack in a solid spec for the money.
We put four trail-focused hardtails around the £1,500 mark to the test to see which came out on top.
All four of the bikes on test are built tough to withstand some abuse, so while they may not be as fast over the roughest terrain as a more expensive full-suspension rig, they shouldn’t be any less fun to ride.
While the hardtails tested here all serve a similar purpose, individual brands often prioritise different ride characteristics, giving each machine its own feel. These reviews and our in-depth buyer’s guide to the best hardtail mountain bikes should help narrow down the choice.
Other bikes on test
|Weight||13.71kg (L) – without pedals|
|Available sizes||S, M, L, XL|
|Headset||FSA NO.57 ZS|
|Tyres||VEE Flow Snap, 29x2.6in|
|Shifter||SRAM NX Eagle|
|Seatpost||KS Rage 1|
|Rear derailleur||SRAM NX Eagle (1x12)|
|Bottom bracket||SRAM DUB BSA|
|Frame||Custom-butted 6061 aluminium alloy|
|Fork||Marzocchi Bomber Z2, 130mm travel|
|Cranks||SRAM Stylo 6K Eagle, 32t|
|Chain||SRAM SX Eagle|
|Cassette||SRAM NX Eagle PG-1230, 11-50t|
|Brakes||Shimano MT420, 180mm rotors|
|Wheels||JALCO SHL320S, 29mm rims on Formula DC-711 (f)/Formula DCL-348S (r) hubs|