words by Jamie Edwards / photos by Jamie Edwards and Saracen
We’re just back from Revolution Bike Park where we met the 2018 Saracen bikes range and rode the brand new 2018 Saracen Ariel LT.
Saracen invited us up to the North Wales, put on some uplifts and brought in their chief bike designer and the guys behind the brand. Rather than hammering us with marketing schpiel and Powerpoint presentations they kept it simple. We met the people behind the bikes and banged out some runs. It was sunny, they had BBQ, the trails were dusty. It was a good day out.
The new Saracen bikes range has the full works, from downhill to enduro to drop-bar tarmac bikes … but today, we’re all about their top-of-the-range, top-of-your-budget Saracen Ariel LT.
(… oh and before you say “I hate tan wall tires” I should add that the bike comes with a pair of black side-wall tires included alongside the tans. Nicely played Saracen.)
Saracen Ariel LT features:
- Fox 36 Float fork with Kashima 170mm
- Fox Float XS rear shock with Kashima 160mm
- 24T/40T/3K Toray UD Carbon front triangle
- Toray UD Carbon swing arm
- -/+5d adjustable front centre geometry
- Shimano 1 x 11 groupset with XT brakes
- DT Swiss wheel set – supplied with tan wall and black side wall tires
- Enve handlebar
When the nerd became a rock star
Can you guys remember when the Saracen Ariel first appeared? It was way back in 2010 and the bike came out of absolutely nowhere.
At the time, Saracen was a bit of a nerd on the mountain bike scene. They’d been around for years, they’d had a big boom in the late 90’s and they’d been doing very little for ‘proper’ mountain bikers to worry about since then.
Is that really a Saracen?
Then, all of a sudden the Saracen Ariel reappeared and instantly that nerd had ditched his home-made sweater for a leather jacket.
It was like going to your school reunion and finding out that the head of chess club was now married to the fittest girl in class and was the front-man of a rock band. You couldn’t quite believe it at first. There was a lot of “is that really a Saracen?!”.
Saracen was suddenly all about long travel, slack and aggressive bikes that were made for charging over rough terrain. The Saracen Ariel came with a wide bar, Fox suspension and 160mm travel. It was what we now call an ‘enduro’ bike and was one of the first bikes you could really take out to the Alps instead of a downhill bike and have a bloody good time. Which we did. And we had a bloody good time.
Some people squinted a bit and could suddenly see the old nerdy Saracen in a much cooler, much more credible light. Others couldn’t … but, that was their problem.
Most importantly, it wasn’t just marketing it was actually a bloody good bike. We reviewed the Ariel back in 2011 and we loved it.
The present day
Roll forward to the present day and the bike you see here is that end result of that process … the brand new 2018 Saracen Ariel LT.
The bike isn’t just another update to the classic design though. This time it’s a proper from-the-ground-up redesign. According to Saracen the idea was to take what they’d learned from their downhill bike and apply it to the Ariel … creating a ‘mini-Myst’.
Bikes have moved on since the early days of the Ariel. It’s not enough to just make a lightish bike with plenty of travel any more. Riders want their ‘trail’ bike and their ‘enduro’ bike to be two different things. The Saracen Ariel LT is the latter of those things.
The Ariel has been built to bring downhill bike geometry, suspension design and riding style to a bike that you can pedal up and along as well as down. The Ariel is for crushing big, rough, technical terrain. It’s for the bike park, the downhill track, the chair lifts and the enduro races.
The mini-downhill bike
The big change for 2018 is suspension. The Saracen team have taken the TRL suspension platform seen on the Myst downhill bike and brought it into the Ariel. They’ve succeeded in making a bike that feels way more in control, way smoother and way more fun through rough terrain. The old bike wasn’t bad at all … but the new one steps the Ariel up another gear again.
Saracen have also taken a good look at geometry and built a bike that feels decently modern and aggressive but not mental. There’s a 65d head angle, which is great. The reach is 465mm on a large, also great. The chain stays are 435mm, spot on. The seat angle is 74d, again, that feels good.
Chatting to the design team about geometry was interesting.
They told me (over an apres-ride ale in the New Inn Llangynog) that they’d agonised over geometry and spent a while debating the merits of the new breed of super slack, super long bikes.
Their feeling is that slack is good, but only up to a point. They wanted a modern, confidence inspiring bike … but they wanted a bike that anyone could jump on and ride regardless of their ability.
Big, long and slack is all well and good if you’re a veteran rider on high speed tracks but it can be challenging to master for less experienced or less confident riders. The benefits are also lost on less extreme terrain … which, let’s face it, is what most of us are riding most of the time here in the UK. The bike is built for big, technical terrain but it’s a bike you can still enjoy outside of Alpine terrain.
The bike instantly felt at home at Revolution Bike Park’s fast, steep, rough trails.
We started on the Red trails and moved on to the black graded Main Line, Ghetto Track and Poop Chute … I think we all got a bit addicted to the steep, fast and insanely fun middle section on Poop.
I took a couple of runs to get my suspension working on the fast, dry, rooty trails but once it was dialled I was having a blast. I was able to get on the bike and get my head around it quickly. I was having fun from the first couple of runs and quickly able to hit steep sections with confidence and with a grin on my face. The conversation about slack and long but not too slack and long made a lot of sense.
The cockpit felt comfortably roomy and the length of the bike, particularly the chain stays, meant I could chuck the bike onto its back wheel easily, throw it round tight corners or manual through rollers. Despite never having ridden Revs or the bike before, I was having a lot of fun.
That’s a lot of bike
It’s pretty hard to ignore the whoppingly high spec of the Saracen Ariel LT.
It’s clear that Saracen aren’t chasing the ‘best value bike’ crowd any more. They want the high spending connoisseurs that aren’t afraid to drop half a year’s mortgage payments on a push bike. The bike you see here is a penny short of £5,000 and is actually pretty decent value for what you get.
The Ariel LT is – of course – now full carbon. There’s Fox suspension fore and aft and a combo of Shimano XT and SLX brakes and drivetrain. There’s also the extravagant touch of an Enve carbon handlebar just because, apparently, “the customers kept asking for it”.
There’s no carbon wheels but I’m not sure anyone is going to discount the bike because it comes with a very decent DT Swiss wheelset, right?
And for a bit less money..
Don’t despair though. For anyone that wants a (slightly) lower price tag, there’s the Saracen Ariel Elite which is £3299. Confusingly, the ‘Elite’ version is the lower spec and cheaper of the two bikes.
The Ariel Elite has a carbon swing arm, alloy front triangle and comes with a Rock Shox Yari and Fox Float DPX2 combo. It’s considerably less posh but is still a bloody good fun bike that has all the same angles as the LT version.
There’s no carbon front triangle, no carbon bar and the wheels are less posh. So what, right? The big difference is the suspension and the Yari / DPX2 combo whilst being perfectly respectable is a definite step down from the top spec full Fox set up. You won’t exactly struggle on the Elite … but if you want the top spec suspension, you’ll need to pay the top spec money.
Thanks to Saracen for hosting us at the launch. Saracen covered the costs of our travel and overnight accommodation (and that of the other publications that attended) in attending the event.