When you’re spending over £1K on a hardtail you can afford to be fussy
The new Saracen Mantra Elite LSL is longer, slacker and lower than its predecessor, but how does it stack up against the competition?
Saracen Mantra Elite LSL review
Longer, slacker and lower. Three words which are now synonymous with modern trail bike geometry. Well, Saracen has taken it one step further, stamping the initials LSL onto the model names of its latest bikes to help distinguish them from the outgoing designs.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers to find out. With a 65.6 degree head angle the Mantra is almost 1.5 deg steeper than the Whyte 905, the slackest bike in test. If we shift our focus to the BB height, the Saracen is actually the tallest bike here – 5mm taller than both the Orange Clockwork Evo 29 S and Nukeproof Scout 275 Comp, and 15mm higher than the Whyte. Not so low after all.
Length wise, the size medium Saracen lives up to the final letter in the initialisation, as it is one of the rangiest bikes in test, at least on paper. Riding it however and it quickly becomes apparent that the steep 75.5 degree seat tube angle and elevated BB height making the bike feel much shorter than the generous 465mm reach measurement suggests.
So with hindsight always being 20/20, we would probably upsizing to the L to get the balance and stability we craved. That or we could just drop the tyre size down from 2.6in to 2.4in to lower the BB height.
Being the cheapest bike in test, something had to give and in this case it’s the fork. Not that the non-series RockShox 35 is a bad performer. The 35mm chassis with 110x15mm lower legs matches the Revelation on the Nukeproof or the Pike on the Whyte for stiffness and even shares many of the same parts. When it comes to ironing out chatter however, the 35 fork is not as smooth or as sensitive as the Pike or Revelation, in part due to the stickier wiper seals. Nothing a £25 pair of SKF RockShox 35mm seal kit wound fix though.
Touch points are critical on a hardtail so the first thing we’d change on the Saracen are the in house grips. Sure the rubber is nice and soft, but the outer ends of the grips rotate and very off putting when working the bike through more technical terrain.
And while we appreciate the open tread pattern and extra volume of the 2.6in Vee Rubber Flow Snap tyres, the Tackee rubber compound generates too much rolling resistance for a trail bike that designed to fast up and down.
We also noticed that shifting wasn’t quite as slick on the Nukeproof even though both bikes are running SRAM’s 12 speed NX Eagle. In fact the only difference is in the cable routing. The chainstay routing on Saracen generating tighter loop in the cable as it enters the rear derailleur creating more cable friction. Also there’s an exposed section of gear inner under the chain stay on the Saracen, which will just increase the rate of water ingress, making matters worse and not something we’d expect to find on a British designed bike.
We mentioned earlier that the Saracen Mantra Elite LSL didn’t really live up to the Lower, Longer, Slacker hype, but the geometry wasn’t so different to its rivals as to hold it back. In the end, the higher BB and steeper head angle are somewhat offset by the generous reach measurement.
That’s not to say there weren’t limitations though. The 125mm Tranz X dropper post work like a charm, but it provides inadequate saddle height adjustment on all but the size small bike and the soft compound rear tyre made even mellow climbs feel steeper than they really were. Something that’s compound further by being over 1Kg heavier than the Nukeproof.
Less easily fixed is the harsh ride quality of the Saracen Mantra Elite LSL. The combination of chatter though the frame and a more sticky response from the RockShox 35 fork made it and altogether more uncomfortable experience. The incessant cable rattle is distracting a best, but it also compounds the overall sensation of harshness by amplifying what you’re actually feeling through your hands and feet.
When you’re spending over £1K on a hardtail you can afford to be fussy, especially when it comes to the specification, because that's actually what your paying for. So even if we ignore the fact that the Saracen Mantra Elite LSL wasn't as low or as slack as we'd liked, and it was heavier than the completion the there’s no getting around the slow rolling tyres, sticky fork and limits of the 125mm dropper post. Yes, the Saracen is £100 cheaper than the completion here, but that’s not enough to bring it up to speed. And it certainly won’t fix the harsh ride quality.