With fairly standard tubing, polished finish and flashy graphics we couldn’t help but feel the Saracen frame didn’t look like it belonged to a £1,000 bike; and standing alongside the more heavily profiled and hydro-formed Marin it really didn’t seem to be in the same league. A short 22.5in effective top tube length led to a short cockpit which has been extended slightly with the use of a 110mm stem, and cable routing was along both the top and bottom side of the top tube, kind of giving the worst of both worlds in a way, meaning that attaching light batteries and shouldering the bike would be tricky.

Full marks to Saracen for speccing the Fox F100 RL — a superb and capable fork we all loved on the test. It was plush, rebound adjustable and had the added bonus of a lockout, important to those who will be tackling sections of smooth climbing and road hacking. It really added a quality feel to the front end, and was a wise choice with the available budget.

Deore LX hubs laced onto non-eyeleted Mavic XM-117 rims proved to hold up admirably throughout the test, and should do for some time. A bit of weight was also saved with the Kevlar belted Maxxis Ignitors, a nice rolling tyre which allowed a turn of speed on the smoother fire roads, while hooking up well when the going got dirty too. They’re not our favourite tyres in the Maxxis range but they’re still better than many here.

Deore LX once again fills the hot seat here, fulfilling both the shifter and brake jobs adequately. Of course there is an XT shadow rear mech in place for show and durability, which matches the nice shifting of the Shimano 542 chainset with a punchy rear action.
A nice bit of speccing is the 180mm rotor up front, providing a little more poke in the brake department, which we found welcome when trails got steep and wet.

FSA provides the nicely proportioned bar and 110mm stem, while the seating arrangements have been left to SDG. The ‘I-Beam’ seatpost and saddle join together with a rail locking mechanism, meaning there is no need for saddle rails. A few testers suggested a rough feel to the ride wasn’t being helped by this over-harsh joining method, with no flex of rails to soak up vibrations. This didn’t help when added to a pretty harsh aluminium frame in the first place, and made it uncomfortable over longer distances.

It has to be said that the looks of the Saracen didn’t win it any friends in the ‘outside the garage, grabbing a bike’ department. It just looked plain and cheap to most that commented on it, but of course that all matters far less than the ride — in fact, it might even be a bonus to some.
Unfortunately, in the ride stakes it was also given a fairly poor rating, with riders repeatedly coming back to report a ‘dead’ feel to the ride, similar to that felt on the Mongoose but perhaps not quite so pronounced. It just didn’t seem to have the spring or lively ride of the Marin or Gary Fisher, none of the eagerness to get down the trail. Apart from this it presented a perfectly capable and planted ride, confident at speed and through light technical spots.
The forks, brakes and other components all performed flawlessly, but we felt that the steering was just a little on the heavy side with that long stem, giving it a less flickable feel while on the trail. This did, however, give the rider more confidence when speeding through roots and rocks, where it felt like the bars would take a lot to be whipped out of your control, a much steadier feel than some.

With the Fox forks, capable drivetrain and well-specced components the Saracen should be, and is, a perfectly good trail bike. But in among the present company it just didn’t shine as a bike we would have been happy to shell out our grand for. The heavy steering, dead-feeling frame and cheap-looking finish didn’t do it for us at the end of the day. It just wasn’t as inspiring.