Tested: Saracen Ariel 152 long term review

After a year of travel, adventure and story-telling, Pete Scullion checks in to chat about his Saracen Ariel test bike.

The vitals:

  • 27.5” (650b) wheels
  • 150mm travel front and rear
  • Shimano Zee 10 speed transmission
  • Kore finishing kit
  • £3,299.99
  • www.saracen.co.uk
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Photo by Andy McCandlish

What’s the Ariel 152 all about?

[quote align=”right”]The 152 sports everything you would need to race this bike or take it on a serious adventure straight from the off.[/quote]

The Ariel range is a fairly short one, but don’t let that put you off. Two complete bikes and a frameset offer great value and a superb ride. The 152 is the highest-specced in the range and is the bike you see here.

. With 150mm front and rear handled by a Kashima Fox 34 fork and the very capable Float X shock, this bike is designed to handle some serious abuse. Angles are aggressive without being ridiculous, ensuring climbing is as easy as descending. A tapered head tube allows accepts any steerer bar the 1.5” monsters, a 12mm rear axle keeps flex in an all-new carbon rear triangle to a minimum, while KS’ superb LEV Integra takes care of the dropper duties without the hassle of hydraulic hoses.

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The Ariel’s first international trip of the year was to Israel | photo by Alon Ron

As mentioned, the 152 is the top of the range Ariel with one cheaper model and a frame kit with the same fantastic Fox Float X shock. 2014 saw the introduction of an all-new carbon rear triangle mated to an alloy front via Saracen’s superb Tuned Ride Link. The 152 sports everything you would need to race this bike or take it on a serious adventure straight from the off. Out of the box this bike is ready to go. If the sizing fits you, then this thing will be posting hot times on all the descents almost immediately, but this bike needs a solid set of legs to get its 30lb+ weight back up the way. That said, traction in all directions is ridiculous, the TRL supplying astounding tracking regardless of conditions, never seeming to get flustered.

[quote align=”right”]Traction in all  directions is ridiculous[/quote]

Kashima Fox dampers with Trail Adjust allow you to tune your ride in at the flick of a switch. 740mm Kore bars are wide enough for me and the rest of the Kore kit keeps the price down without being heavy. KS have done a superb job with the LEV and the Integra is hard to fault. Deore disc brakes shouldn’t be as good as they are, providing ample power in all conditions. It’s also nice to see a top end chain guide here, the Gamut unit is quiet and faultless.

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Proof that Pete hasn’t just hammered the Ariel through rocks this year! | photo by Alon Ron

So, did the Ariel perform as intended?

[quote align=”right”] proof positive that getting suspension and geometry right is key.[/quote]

In a word, yes. While not being the highest price point on the market, £3,299.99 is a lot of money. Cheap? No. Great value? Definitely.

The Ariel is proof positive that getting suspension and geometry right is key. Immediately I felt comfortable pushing hard on ‘Lady Ariel’ and I have only ridden harder and faster as I have tapped into the potential of the bike. If anything were to get flustered it was me, not the bike. I don’t think I ever found the limit of its capabilities, and I likely never will. Getting the forks to sing the same beautiful song as the rear suspension took some time, but once the forks were bedded in and tuned up, this bike can fly. Maxxis Ardents wouldn’t be my first choice of tyre if you ride anywhere other than trail centres, but tyres are usually the first things to go anyway and were promptly swapped for some Continental Trail King 2.2 Protection numbers.

Saracen very quickly realised that the linkage bolts had come out of the factory too small, so linkage play developed fairly quickly. This issue was resolved by Saracen almost immediately with new Norglide bushes and bolts. Problem solved. Hats off to the Saracen lot who admitted the issue and got to fixing it rather than try to sweep it under the carpet. The KS post developed play, and only after a long summer, but what dropper post doesn’t?

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Pro elbows in Israel | Alon Ron photo

Long Term Update – 9 months in.

What did we change?

Tyres: The Maxxis Ardent 2.4” were swapped for Continental Trail King 2.2 Protection tyres immediately. Personal preference.

Wheels: The rear hub on the Kore wheel set died. A quality control issue on the ratchet ring meant that the drive side bearings took uneven load. Swapped for Race Face Turbine wheels.

Grips: Personal preference. Small hands need thin grips. I also prefer a grip with no outer collar so my hands sit at the end of the grip.

Bars: Some nice new Renthal Fatbar Carbon 780 bars arrived for test. Nothing wrong with the Kore Mega’s they replaced. It’s just Renthal, innit?

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It’s a lifestyle photo, right? | Alon Ron photo

What did we break?

• As I said, the linkage developed play, but that wasn’t a wear and tear issue.

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• And the Freehub due to a quality control issue, again, not wear and tear.

• The Shimano HT2 BB died after about 7 months use and 2000+ hours. Likely a Deore unit. I’m actually impressed it lasted that long.

• The dropper post. KS supplied their distributors with new internals for their 2014 LEV units. The post would rise despite being set in the ‘down’ position. That required sending off to the UK distro for fitting. I never got round to doing this. Instead, Elevation Cycles in Linlithgow, a KS Service Centre, just serviced it instead.

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From the meadows to the desert, tough terrain and brutal heat made for a harsh test lab| Alon Ron photo

What about maintenance?

[quote align=”right”] This bike has been ridden for 9 months flat out.[/quote]

I am not a professional mechanic. I’m not even an amateur mechanic. This bike has been ridden for 9 months flat out. In 3 weeks (trips to Israel, the Basque Country and Tenerife) it’s seen more riding than many people will do in a year. On top of that it has dealt with everything the northern parts of the UK can throw at it. Jetwashing has been minimal, although it’s my preferred method, obviously steering clear of the bearings. I replaced the bolts in the linkage myself the first time around and it was pretty easy. That’s the beauty of bushes.

Put simply, this bike has required minimal maintenance. The dead freehub needed new wheels and the linkage was not a faff to sort thanks to a workstand. The dropper also needed some work in my local bike shop.

So what’s good?

[quote align=”right”]The Ariel’s forte is charging hard [/quote]

Confidence from the get-go is the major selling point of this bike. This is not a ‘trail’ bike really, if you want something that will chew out the miles, you need to look at the Ariel’s little brother, the Kili Flyer. At over 30lbs, the Ariel needs a good set of legs for an all day mission, but at the end of the climb you will always be rewarded with a superb descent. The 34t front ring combined with a 34t top cog on the cassette has certainly pushed my legs on this summer.

The Ariel’s forte is charging hard into rough, steep, technical trails where it’s composed chassis and excellent linkage really come into their own. Angles almost mirror that of the current Orange Five, although the sizing differs slightly. Both bikes are renowned for their ride and composure in desperate situations, if both carrying a little of extra blubber. Obviously you could trim the fat and build a custom option with the frameset, but that will cost you way more than £3,299.99.

Very few bikes offer the easy speed and confidence of the Ariel. It’s a sorted frame that is ideal for future upgrades while starting with a spec that is certainly ‘fit and forget’.

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Alon Ron photo

What’s not so good?

[quote align=”right”] the bike weighs more than 25% of my body weight [/quote]

Weight. Yes, cheaper parts will weight more but this bike isn’t prohibitively heavy. Most will want to fit a smaller front ring and/or a wider ratio cassette. Me, I just chewed the stem and made my legs better rather than complaining. Making this bike lighter would push it well past the excellent £3,299.99 price point as well.

As mentioned above though, the weight doesn’t detract from the riding experience along or down. On top of that, I weigh just over 8 stone, so the bike weighs more than 25% of my body weight, dropping a pound from the weight of this bike would be noticed more by me than anyone else. The Fox 34s felt pretty wooden out of the box and this was accentuated by the sublime way in which the linkage and shock operated. Only after being stripped and fettled by Phil at In Gear UK did they start performing, a service that would cost the best part of £100.

Do you want more in depth product reviews? Get your fix here.

Our test pilot:

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name: Pete Scullion
profile: 27 years old. Freelance mountain bike journalist with a CV that includes Orange Bikes and Hotlines.
experience: 15 years of riding, racing and working in the bike industry
Ridden at: Stirling and the Trossachs, Fort William, Aviemore, Torridon, Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Israel, Basque Country, Tenerife.
Size tested: Small
Tested for:  9 months
Social: @petescullion