As the people behind the company admit, Saracen isn’t the coolest brand out there. Look back beyond the company’s more recent history, though, and you find that before the bargain-basement “teenager bikes” and garish graphics there was a proper enthusiast’s mountain bike brand. To be fair, you’re going back quite a long way to stuff like the late-80s Tufftrax and Traverse (and while the rest of the industry is going anniversary-relaunch crazy, isn’t it about time that Saracen put out a bright blue Tufftrax reissue and re-ran its “headhunter” ads?). But it’s worth making the journey to remember where Saracen came from and where, with its 2008 APS (Advanced Performance Series) range, it’s aiming to get back to.
The APS bikes are a kind of sub-brand (although Saracen is proud enough of its name to give it pride of place in the graphics), positioned above the more workaday “Core” range. It’s firmly in the mid-to-high price range, with APS bikes starting at £650. There’re no super-high-end “aspirational” (ie the ones nobody actually buys) bikes, though – top whack is the £2,000 Kili Flyer 2. Want to know more? Read on…
The Amplitude dirt-jump bikes aren’t actually part of the APS range, but they’re quite interesting so they’re here. Unlike the usual “jumpesque” dinky hardtails aimed at kids wanting that kind of look, the Amplitudes are the real thing – they’re designed to be jumped. There are three bikes, with the Amplitude 3 being the top of the range. Your £650 gets you a 4130 chromoly frame, Marzocchi Dirt Jump 3 80mm fork, three-piece cranks, Sun Ditch Witch 24in rims and Tektro cable disc brakes. Even the £250 Amplitude 1 has stout three-piece cranks, and for 2008 it’s got an RST Launch fork rather than the rigid prongs of 2007.
With just one full-suspension platform in the range, Saracen has wisely chosen to pitch it straight at the centre ground. The Ariel bikes use a chainstay-pivoted four-bar back end and offer 4.5 or 5.5in of travel. The bike pictured is the £1,500 Ariel 3 – Fox 32RL fork, RP2 shock, Deore Centerlock/Mavic wheel package, Shimano M542 HT2 cranks, XT shifters, mechs and brakes. Next down is the Ariel 2 at £1,000 with a Marzocchi XC600 fork, RockShox Monarch shock, Avid Juicy 3 brakes, Octalink cranks and an LX/XT transmission mix. The entry-level £750 Ariel 3 has the same frame, ‘zocchi MZ Comp forks, an SR rear shock, Truvativ cranks and Deore/LX going-and-stopping bits.
You probably wouldn’t have had Saracen marked up as a brand that went in for nichey bikes, but here it is for 2008 with a 29er. The Kili 9er uses the same butted aluminium tubing as its 26in brothers but in a different shape to allow for the bigger wheels. Up front there’s a Reba Race 100mm fork while the transmission and brakes are all Shimano offerings drawn from various groups. An SDG I-beam saddle/seatpost and a pair of Egg Beater pedals finish things off. At £1,000 the 9er is the same price as the very similarly equipped Kili 2 26in bike, although the latter gets a Fox F100 RL fork.
Saracen’s Zen long-forked hardtails have generally had a good press in the years since their introduction. For 2008, it’s stirred a steel-framed model into the mix. As you might infer from the name, the Zen 631’s frame is made from Reynolds 631 air-hardening tubing. It tells you something about the economics of frame building (and the relative volumes of aluminium and steel frames that Saracen expects to shift) that you’ll pay a £250 premium for the 631 bike over the identically-equipped, but 6061-framed, Zen 3. It’s mostly XT kit, with a 140mm Fox Vanilla RL up front at £1,250 for the 631. You can work out the price of the 3 for yourself… It’s the entry-level Zen 1 that catches the value-attuned eye, though, with the same alu frame as the 2 and 3, RockShox Tora fork, Hayes Stroker brakes and a Deore/LX transmission for £650.
Top of the XC hardtail tree at Saracen are the Kili Flyers. Both use carbon fibre frames with flattened “FlexStay” chainstays designed to give a bit of give to the back end. It’s not the lightest carbon frame out there, Saracen having plumped for a solid feel and pitching the bikes at trails beyond just the race course. At £2,000 the Kili Flyer 2 gets an F100 fork and full XT gubbinses, while the £1,500 Kili Flyer 1 (pictured) draws parts from across the SRAM empire – Reba SL forks, SRAM X-7 transmission, Truvativ Firex cranks, Avid Juicy 3 brakes.
More at www.saracen.co.uk. There’s definitely a few bikes there that deserve a closer look…