School’s out: Saracen Ariel 152 Long Term Review

Staffer Pete Scullion has had his 2015 Saracen Ariel 152 for 7 months now. Last year’s model showed plenty of promise, we check in with Pete to see if Saracen have made a very good bike one of the best out there.

The Vitals

  • £3299.99
  • 27.5″ wheels
  • 150mm travel
  • 13.9kg
  • Available in 15″, 17″ and 19″ (Pete’s is a 15″)
  • http://www.saracen.co.uk/

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What’s the Ariel 152 all about?

The Saracen Ariel 152 sports everything you would need to race this bike or take it on a serious adventure straight from the off.

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 the carbon rear triangle to a minimum, while KS’ superb LEV dropper takes care of the dropper duties.

Here’s Pete and his Ariel’s first 2 minutes of the Mega – Alarma!

What we know from last year’s test bike is the Ariel platform is sorted. Geometry and linkage sing the same tune and work very well indeed. No surprises even when you’re riding wide-eyed and hanging on for dear life or winching yourself up some of Scotland’s finest Highland rubble. Spec-wise, this bike was ready for anything immediately after hauling it out of the box and into the woods.

While everything looked good on paper, and for the most part was superb in its performance, there was some small room for improvement. While last year’s Fox Float X was the star of the show, the Fox 34s out front never really lived up to much. Even after a tune up from a local suspension wizard (cheers Taj!), I always felt there was better out there. The rear hub, Saracen’s own, disintegrated at an impressively quick rate and was almost fully seized 4 months in. A factory control issue also led to some off linkage bolts leaving the linkage wobbly fairly early on. A new set of bolts straight from Saracen solved the problem.

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So, did the 2015 model perform?

In a word, yes.

From the off, the suspension felt right. The Fox 34s were compliant yet supportive in the rough, and in fact, they seemed to out-perform the shock initially. A slightly harder compression tune left me wondering if Saracen had ruined what had felt like perfection, but I simply needed to ride the bike faster to make it work. Not a complaint. Even on my first ride out this bike was faster than last year’s, and I would put that down to the suspension being sorted on top of a proven frame design.

As I mentioned with the 2014 model, this bike isn’t cheap at £3,299.99, but minor spec upgrades make it even better value for 2015. These upgrades also kill a little bit of weight, which is never going to be a bad thing on a bike slightly the wrong side of 30lb. In that spec change saw the addition of WTB Vigilantes, a much more sensible, UK-friendly choice compared to the Maxxis Ardents of last year. Tyres are probably the most debated part of a bike when it comes to personal preference, but it’s nice to see something more aggressive on this beast.

I have kept a keen eye on the linkage play following the multiple wobbles that developed last year, but thankfully, 7 months in, I have only killed one set of DU bushings. The original Norglide bushes and bolts are still running a treat. Also, compared to last year’s model, the cable-less KS Lev has remained wobble free throughout. Top marks.

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What did we change?

Wheels. Sadly, the rear hub remains the main source of complaint on this bike. Despite a change to the freehub body material, the ring holding the pawls in place bent out of shape leading to the ratchet not engaging properly. A few near out-the-front-door moments were the consequence of this.

Tyres. Personal preference. Out went the WTB Vigilantes and in came some Continental Trail King 2.4 Protection Black Chili tyres.

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. Bontrager Race Lites seem to do the job just fine. In blue, naturally.

Chain Device. I removed the lower guide from the Gamut P90 to reduce drag on the drive train.

What did we break?

Rear hub. Again sadly not wear and tear but a quality control issue.

Front brake. Crash damage. Bent and broken lever blade.

What about maintenance?

This bike has been low maintenance from the get-go. General tune-ups from the local bike shop (cheers Carl!) cost £20 max. just to keep everything running sweet. This bike survived the Megavalanche and only had a B-tension screw on the rear mech out of place. 3-4 rides a week in all conditions and I’ve done a set of brake pads and a chain in 7 months. You would do that on any bike though.

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What’s not so good?

That rear hub. If it had survived more than a few weeks then I might have even overlooked it here, the rest of the bike is really that good. A stab of the cranks to get me over a drainage bar on Ben Lomond was far more exciting when the freehub failed to engage whatsoever.

Now the suspension is sorted, this bike is dangerously fast in the right hands. Would a 4-pot Zee brake push the price to an unacceptable level? Some more control when things get steep or wild might let you run this bike on the limiter more often.

While the XT Shadow Plus caught our eye when the bike first landed, the long cage and associated extra chain does make more noise than the stealthy Zee number from last year. That said, there have been issues running dinner plate-sized cassette with a super short cage mech. I’m all for making my legs stronger than running silly gears mind. I’d choose a shorter cage over wider ratio gears any day.

And finally, what’s good?

A predictable, confidence-inspiring ride that will push your riding on no end. This bike is designed for keeping you pointing straight when everything around you is far from it. Even with the suspension now offering what was lacking on the 2014 model, the Ariel hasn’t changed the way it strides through messy trails with composure.

Few bikes feel so comfortable to ride fast immediately. Only the time taken to heat-cycle the brake pads delays 100% attack mode. A better spec at at the same price gives you a faster bike in all directions without hurting the wallet any more than last year’s offering.

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