After seeing the new range of Saracen bikes at Madisons Ice Bike show earlier this year I was really impressed with some of the models displayed, as always usual low end stuff was there, similar to most of the major brands offerings but what particularly stood out were the full suspension Ariel, Myst and The DH bikes. Obviously most of us will be aware of the recent successes of the DH team in the world cup, bagging all but the Mens elite cat. At fort William (If I remember right).
Displayed as frame only, hanging in a gilded picture frame, lit with spotlights were the Aerial 14x and its bigger bro the 16x. Stealth black frames and glittering gold linkage looked great from the off, closer inspection reveals a tapered head tube, beefy asymmetric back end with 15mm bolt through, Fox RP23 kasima shock hanging from a simple dual rocker link the TRL linkage, similar I thought to the Santa Cruz APP platform which is a well proven design.
Firstly lets get something straight, Saracen bikes in the 90’s were very good indeed I remember the kili flyer as something I wanted so badly, possibly after a stumpy or pro flex! That was a long while ago and the sport has changed so much but after the Saracen brands unbelievable dive-bomb over the last 15 years I am glad to see them being back as a real bike manufacturer, never did I think I would buy one…but buy one I have! The stealthy Aerial 14x 19’’ frame only.
It arrived and I eagerly opened the box and was pleased to find it came complete with a tapered headset, seat clamp and both 9mm QR and 12mm bolt through dropouts, gold ones at that!
Built up with parts from my hardtail, it all went together easily. The supplied headset was a basic FSA lose ball which I changed for a Hope Tapered reducer headset, I have always found these to be totally reliable and with my standard 1’’8th Pike forks it works well.
Basic run through of spec is as follows: Single ring 34t with E13 LG1 guide, SLX cranks, XT cassette, XO mech and shifter, Hope hoops, 50mm straight line stem, low rise Syncros carbon bar, Formula RX brakes 180/160mm, KS 150mm dropper post and as mentioned my old faithful PIKE airs (which I really should update but still work so well) so I would call it a reasonably aggressive XC/AM140mm build, not the lightest at 32lbs but usable and reliable.
First ride as always in the car park! initial thoughts: I’m to big for a 19’’, bars to low, long and hard to manual, shock to soft. Back to the shop for adjustments. Bars raised and rolled back a touch which instantly felt better. I’m very tall at 6’6’’ and weigh around 14 stone I’m running just over 200 psi in rear shock which I’m finding works well for me, giving me a full range of travel with only the very occasional bottom out on the bigger stuff. Back to car park and I’m happier on it this time.
Off to the woods, a spot I have been riding for a long time, on many bikes. Whenever I get a demo bike from work, the last being a carbon Santa Cruz Nomad this Is where I go first. Steep and fast single-track with lots of switch backs and flowing off the brakes sections mixed in with some slow off camber root infested slippery fun. Long flat path following a river turns uphill with a lung busting series of diagonal climbs over the same kind of slippery terrain that is much more fun on the way down!
On the downhill part of my ride, I felt in control of the bike very quickly and found myself pushing it, really enjoying the fast flowing switchback section, being able to carry speed, ride on the back wheel and accelerate well, although still hard to manual or get the front end up when in the air, I would put that mostly down to it being a bit short in the top tube for my height. Small bump sensitivity in this situation is hard to measure but the roots and 4/5’’ rocks are dealt with comfortably, slackish head-angle makes it feel confident and fun. On the flat, with my dropped post mid way it felt balanced and easy to ride, I could see myself covering some enduro miles. Climbing I was surprised at the level of grip and pedal efficiency, with the pro pedal on its most aggressive setting I found myself climbing well, even on the loser sections, my particular gear setup defiantly holds me back when the going gets properly steep but at least the high ratio helps generate grip and keep speed up. After a couple of laps in a couple of hours I was back at the car, doing the old post ride look over and feeling pleased and surprised at how the bike had performed.
I have now owned the 14x for 2 months ridden it a fair bit and got myself used to the ride. It continues to amaze me how much these relatively short travel trail orientated bikes handle almost everything you could put a big bike through whilst still being fast on the sprints and easy to ride uphill or all day on.
If you are after this sort of machine, are into the stealth black look and with its limited size range. 2 models 17/19’’ I would say maximum height really 6’3’’ it’s a definite contender for your money. Saracen are back and you should reconsider how you feel about them!