Saracen's Kili Flyer is a great fun bike to ride, yes there are flaws in the spec, but at this bargain price you can afford to turn a blind eye
When we first saw the Kili Flyer we weren’t really sure what to make of it. Or, to be more specific, we questioned why anyone would produce a 120mm-travel bike with 650b wheels when 29ers quite rightly dominate this segment.
Then we rode it, and it all made sense. The Kili feels just like one of the best 26in trail bikes — except that it’s even better, thanks to the improved rollover of the slightly bigger wheels. And with its compact, low-slung frame design it’s easy to move around on the bike or for the bike to move around beneath you.
The detailing on the frame is also nice, with smooth welds and a matt finish making the aluminium front triangle look every bit as sleek and refined as the carbon swingarm. Why use a carbon swingarm? Well it’s obviously going to be lighter than aluminium, which allows the suspension to react more quickly, but it also improves frame alignment over a complex, multi-piece aluminium design.
Saracen uses a linkage-actuated single-pivot suspension design on the Kili. The approach has two key advantages over single-pivot designs where the shock is driven directly from the swingarm. Firstly, it improves stiffness (the swingarm is anchored to the front end at two points rather than one). Secondly, it offers more control over the leverage rate and how the suspension ramps up.
Saracen calls this a ‘Tuned Ride Link’ suspension system, or TRS for short, and it runs big, 30mm bearings in the main pivot and lightweight Norglide bushings in the linkage. The bushings take a little bit of time to bed in and we had to top up the air pressure in the rear shock to compensate for them freeing up with use.
Up front, the Fox Float 32 felt balanced with the rear, and while we were happy enough with its small-bump sensitivity, it’s not really stiff enough given that the Saracen can be pushed so hard.
Saracen scores extra brownie points for fitting a relatively short 65mm stem to
the Kili. The 740mm bar is also a good shape and it’s only really the racing-snake saddle that jars with rest of the trail-focused components.
All of the Shimano kit works flawlessly and the brakes are standout, but the cheaper non-hollow forged chainset isn’t fitting of a £2,600 bike. Thankfully, Saracen resisted the temptation to use Shimano hubs to complete the package, as experience tells us that you’re better off with more reliable cartridge bearing hubs, even if they are unbranded.
Two corners in, on the same trails that we tested the 650b hardtails for the last issue, and we could tell that the Saracen had the makings of a great bike. Snappy under power and with a calmness to the rear suspension that only good-quality carbon brings to the ride, we were buzzing down the trail faster than a bee on amphetamines. We also couldn’t stop thinking that you’d have to be crazy to spend £1,600 on a hardtail when the Saracen gives you a permanent and (depending to the trails you ride) legal high for only £200 more.
In fact, the only downer with the Kili Flyer is that depending on your height and riding style it’s too easy to bang your knees on the upper suspension link where it attaches to the top tube. It is a really square design and as such it protrudes a lot. On one 30km loop we must have smacked our knees on it 20 to 30 times, leaving our joints battered and swollen. It did nothing to dampen our spirits though and, thankfully, lightweight kneepads like the Troy Lee Shock Doctors provide more than enough protection. It’s probably a good thing that you have to wear them too, as it’s hard not to let loose on the Kili Flyer.
At £2,599 it’s relatively easy to pick holes in the specification of the Saracen Kili Flyer 122: no dropper post and a relatively cheap chainset are the two most obvious flaws. At £1,799, however, with the carbon swingarm, it’s a blinding little package. Saracen has done an amazing job with the geometry and handling to produce an out-and-out trail bike. And while it only has 120mm of travel it uses what it has sparingly, so it feels taut and reactive while always maintaining something in reserve for those ‘holy crap’ moments. The end result is a bike that’s a total blast to ride; just remember to bring your kneepads to the party.