Good geometry and riding position
New Saracen Ariel Elite has suspension and character influenced by the Myst downhill bike and it’s gained a new sense of purpose.
The Saracen Ariel started life as a fun-loving, hard-hitting 150mm travel trail bike. It’s moved with the times however, and is now a fully-fledged enduro bike boasting 165mm of travel.
Saracen Ariel Elite review
It’s not so far removed from the original design that you can’t recognise its underlying DNA though. It still has a carbon rear triangle, albeit a new configuration that has been designed in tandem with the revised layout of the shock linkage.
The twin-link design looks complex, but break it down and it’s actually a single-pivot with a linkage-actuated shock. And boy, are the pivots on the Ariel big. So big in fact, we were nervous about knocking our knees on the upper link where it connects to the top tube.
Thankfully, Saracen’s compact aluminium front triangle places the pivots and linkage well out of harms way, so we needn’t have worried. We didn’t get far though, before the cables rattling inside the frame became a genuine bugbear.
With longer travel suspension forks rapidly becoming standard issue on the modern enduro bike, Saracen is on trend with the 170mm RockShox Yari RC. It can be ridden hard and it has good small-bump sensitivity and grip, but the basic RC damper means your hands and forearms take more of a beating on big hits than with the Charger II damped Lyrik on the Canyon Torque.
Fox prevents RockShox from making it a clean sweep of Super Deluxe shocks. The Float DPX2 a highbred design between the old Float X, the DPS and the X2. As such it gets a remote reservoir for increased oil flow and heat management. Set-up was straightforward and the DPX2 offered a more useable range of rebound adjustment than the RockShox equipped bikes on test.
The Shimano drivetrain may only have 11 gears, but there’s no faulting it. The SLX cranks are solid under foot and because the corresponding shifter doesn’t get the Multi Release feature that lets you dump two gears at once, it has a more positive shift action than Shimano’s higher end units.
Saracen has delivered on the brakes too. By using Shimano’s older M6000 lever with its larger reservoir, it has avoided the variable bite-point problem that has plagued the slimmed down SLX, XT and XTR brakes.
Where the Saracen falls down however is in the fine detail. The single collar lock-on grips don’t have an internal taper, so the outer portion of the grip rotates on the bar. Then there’s the quick-release seat collar; the 150mm dropper post making it totally superfluous.
The big one, though, is Saracen’s choice of tyres. We commend it for fitting thicker casing 2.3in WTB Vigilantes and taking the hit on the scales, but it’s a mistake to use the faster rolling compound rubber up front on a bike that’s build for bombing descents.
The new Ariel has dramatically different vital stats to its predecessor, but Saracen has retained the playful character that made the original bike so much fun to ride. The position is spot on, and the bike swaps seamlessly between linked turns, while encouraging you to manual and jump whenever the opportunity presents itself.
When the going gets rough however, the Saracen Ariel Elite puts up more resistance and is much less forgiving than either the Canyon or Merida One Sixty. Which is somewhat at odds with the overall attitude and riding position of the bike.
The only thing we could attribute it to was excess feedback through the frame making it harder to hold on when the trail gets more technically demanding or rougher. As a result, you end up fighting the steering, which makes it even more important to ditch the stock grips.
Maybe it’s the double-edged sword that is frame stiffness that’s preventing the Ariel from reaching its full potential? The carbon back end and massively oversized pivots that make the Saracen feel so good on high-speed machine build Bike Park trails, could be the very things that holds it back as you try to thread your way through a blanket of roots or navigate a sea of rocks.
Saracen has all the makings of a good enduro bike in the Ariel Elite. But if it wants to back up its claim of delivering "an affordable race-ready enduro bike from the get-go!” it needs to change the WTB Vigilante front tyre to the High Grip version and fit lock on grips that actually lock into place. Yes, both issues are easy and relatively inexpensive to fix, but when you’re up against the likes of Canyon, and you have the most expensive bike in test, it’s important to tick all the boxes, not just the sizing and geometry.