A quality aluminium frames leads the charge for Saracen's entry level bike
The Saracen Tufftrax Disc has a quality 6061 aluminium frame that endows it with a smooth and rewarding ride. Shimano shifting adds to the quality.
For Saracen the Tufftrax is a name that has followed the British company throughout its history. Synonymous as it is with the brand’s entry point to the MTB market. The latest Tufftrax range share the same UK developed, custom butted 6061 alloy frame. It’s a versatile frameset to boot, with rack mounts adding to the appeal for occasional commuters and off-road aficionados. We tested the middle Tuffrax Disc model.
At this price point Suntour suspension rules the roost. The Tufftrax Disc is fitted with the XCT HLO fork. This is a fork that relies on a basic steel coil spring to produce it’s 100mm of travel. Out of the box, the spring weight suits riders of around 60-80kg. Any lighter or heavier and you might need to look at swapping the spring, luckily this is a relatively easy and cheap job. At this price point don’t expect much in the way of adjustability. Apart from the lever actuated hydraulic lockout and simple preload adjustment, there are no other means to adjust the performance of the unit.
The Tufftrax Disc runs on a Shimano TY/TX 24 speed drivetrain. This is one of the lowest specced groupsets shimano produce but just remember that Shimano always trickle down technology. This means that the TY/TX has the shifting performance and reliability on par with that of higher-level groupsets from a few seasons ago. The combined shift and brake levers provide a positive shifting experience albeit a bit clunky. The ‘over/under’ position of the levers is also a little different to the normal underbar ‘rapidfire‘ style and does take a bit of getting used to. Overall it does have an ergonomic lever feel, but they do limit your ability to replace just one part at a time.
As the name implies, this Disc version of the Tufftrax comes with a set of disc brakes. As seems to be the norm at this price point they are of the mechanical variety. Whilst perfectly adequate during the dry, power does drop off if riding in the wet. These more basic types of mechanical discs also need a little more tinkering with to keep them working well.
The Formula branded unsealed hubs roll smoothly, the wheels are also well built with good spoke tension. WTB Nano tyres add kudos, the hybrid style tread makes them a good choice for non-technical off-road terrain use. Saracen has also shown awareness of the recent trends in cockpit measurements, speccing the Tufftrax Disc with appropriately wide 720mm bars and a 75mm stem length. Both should provide the Tufftrax Disc with confidence for newer riders without being overly twitchy.
Performance of the Saracen Tufftrax Disc
Saracen market the Tufftrax Disc with the tagline, “Head off the beaten track. Explore the countryside, towpaths and trails”. And this comprehensively covers where the abilities of the Tufftrax Disc lie. It’s a bike that anyone can jump on and begin to enjoy almost immediately. It’s easy to ride and above all, has a completely neutral and predictable set of handling traits. The one thing that is noticeable with the Tufftrax, Disc especially when comparing it to other similarly priced bikes, is how smooth and enjoyable the ride quality is. On hard packed trail centre tracks the Tufftrax Disc was less rattly and unforgiving than Carrera’s equivalent Vulcan mode. This in part is down to the slimmer tubing profiles and butted tubing Saracen has used, as well as the stability the longer wheelbase and lower bottom bracket add to the mix.
What needs to be improved?
To bring such a decent quality frame under four hundred and fifty quid, Saracen has had to trim the fat from the rest of the build. The Shimano TY/TX groupset is perfectly functional and offers the new rider a nice, wide spread of gears; but it isn’t the most robust or refined. We would anticipate any components on a bike aimed at new riders to undergo a pretty heavy life of mis-shifts and ‘different’ line choices; and so parts will break. The TY groupset unfortunately, doesn’t allow for simple replacements in case of damage or wear.
The same goes for the mechanical disc brakes. You begin to notice that they require a lot more force to actuate and that power does drop off if they get wet or muddy. Not great when the one thing that can really make or break a new riders confidence is the ability to stop when most desired. Obviously you could upgrade and fit some decent brakes such as the reasonably priced Clark’s M2. Or if you are dead set on the Tufftrax’s frame, you might want to look at the Tufftrax Comp. At just £469.99 it comes with a much better Shimano Altus 3×9 groupset and more powerful hydraulic disc brakes.
The good news is a quality frame and rewarding ride is at the heart of the Saracen Tufftrax Disc. For a bike destined to be ridden anywhere from towpaths to trails it also offers a confidence inspiring, neutral handling with no nasty handling traits.Just be aware that the Shimano TY groupset and Tektro mechanical brakes will need some regular TLC to keep them running smoothly.