British brand Saracen is thriving, backing a successful downhill team and building a solid spread of mountain bikes to hit all the disciplines that count, from dirt jump to DH. The Kili Flyer is new for 2014, with 120mm of travel and classed by Saracen as an all-mountain bike thanks to its gravity-inspired geometry.
‘All-mountain’ in our book means that a bike’s first duty is to climb well enough to get you to the fun stuff. The Saracen Kili Flyer 121 is more of a crawler here though, and I spent most of the first ride going uphill in the granny ring. It’s not the suspension design’s fault, but too slack a seat tube angle that pushes your weight back over the rear wheel. Really I wanted my saddle just behind the BB. Couple that with its weight and the Flyer name doesn’t seem particularly apt — it’s just too damn heavy next to the competition. The Specialized Camber, Whyte T129s and Cube Stereo are all around a kilo lighter.
It’s a solid bike on descents and I felt confident on it straight away. There’s a good width bar and short stem for increased control. The shock looks a bit goofy slung underneath the top tube, but that doesn’t bother me because the suspension works well. The swingarm rotates on big 30mm cartridge bearings and 15mm Norglide linkage bushings improve stiffness. The shock tune feels right too, the back end smooth and sensitive over trail chatter and little hits. The linkage is too obtrusive though, and I caught my knee a couple of times — besides being painful it indicates a lack of refinement to the overall design.
With a Fox shock on the back and an X-Fusion Velvet fork on the front I was expecting a suspension mismatch, as the Velvet has underperformed in the past and proved too reluctant to break away. Nothing could be further from the truth! It was plush and never felt sticky. Neither does it dive away on steep trails, but keeps you propped up nicely and your weight back, gripping the trail. The Velvet was originally designed for the 26in wheel, but X-Fusion has adjusted it with an internal spacer to take 650b. They’ve changed more significant parts too though, introducing new wiper seals that glide up and down the stanchions and produce a plush opulent feel.
This bike feels like it was designed for downhill, without quite enough thought (or money) for uphill. The drivetrain and wheels are OK but low-spec, while the geometry and suspension shine through. To make it in the all-mountain sector the Kili Flyer 121 needs to shed some weight, ditch the QR back end and sort out its seat tube angle, or all the descending prowess will go to waste.