Downhill Bikes

Saracen 2018

Myst and Ariel launch

Words and Images: Adam Wight

Saracen are no newbies to the bike world. Started in 1983, they built some of the first UK mountain bikes, in 1984 two of them even got ridden (read potentially carried) to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I had a couple including the bulky but indestructible Xile and Xess jump bikes with a set of RST triple clamps proudly bolted to the front end – I snapped those RST’s nosing it in too early to a sizeable dirt jump, the frame however, straight and true ready for another hammering. The brand then went quiet for a few years, until Madison picked them up in 2009 which changed things up with fresh ideas and significant financial reinvestment.

Back in July, Madison invited us to a day at Revolution Bike Park to cut some laps on their new 2018 range, namely the new Ariel enduro bike and the revised Myst DH rig. We sent Adam along to get re-aquainted.

Anyone who has ever visited Rev’s, will be fully aware of its status as one of the UK’s only ‘real’ DH parks. In the rain – nearly every visit – it’s intimidating to say the least, massive holes which are ever evolving and intentionally not filled in and polished roots galore, strewn across steep chutes and often covered in scree like shale. Intentions were clear and set literally in stone – ‘you’re here to ride the tyres off our new bikes’. Challenge accepted!

Saracen Ariel 2018

Saracen’s previous Ariel was somewhat of a dichotomy, a paradoxical creation. At one end of the spectrum it was a bit of an anticlimax, using bushes in the main linkage and subsequent problems with suppliers’ tolerances, it left some customers frustrated – either swap the bushes regularly or put up with the inherent play. However, at the other end of the spectrum, it was very progressive for its time with a long front centre, an aggressive head angle figure and a decent leverage curve on the rear end meaning rattles aside, it rode pretty well.

So, how has the new Ariel changed? Well, the entire frame, other than the alloy rocker link, is now available in Toray UD Carbon. It now uses an almost identical carbon linkage set up as the Myst DH bike which Saracen say allows for a far stiffer and more durable set up. The rear travel has been increased to 165mm and it now uses a 170mm fork. An ‘on-trend’ 148mm boost spaced back end is present as is the now-normal internally routed cabling, it uses sizeable 38mm main pivot bearings and 28mm linkage bearings instead of bushes and pleasingly, a threaded BB! The Ariel is one chunky looking mutha, when quizzed over weight, we were pleased to hear that they hadn’t obsessed over it, they wanted something durable and stiff, not flighty and with bearings, as is so common these days, that need changing every other ride.

Geometry wise, it has not changed a whole lot, which is probably our only slight gripe. Fortunately, as mentioned earlier, the previous Ariel was progressive for its time which means the similar 440mm and 465mm reach figures on this incarnation (medium and large respectively) are still acceptable in the mainstream. The head angle with a 170mm fork is now slacker at 65 degrees, seat angle is at a could-be-steeper 74 degrees and chainstay lengths of 435mm – refreshing to not see a brand preoccupied with ensuring the shortest of chainstays – I prefer them longer anyway! Something that is cool is that Saracen, unlike many other brands, aren’t using road bike length seat tubes anymore meaning I could upsize and ride a large and still make use of the installed 150mm dropper post. Saracen also use reach adjustable headsets on the carbon Ariel meaning you can adjust the reach by -5, 0 or +5mm – a nice addition. This also means they don’t use silly integrated headsets either so you could install an angleset instead should you want it slacker (yes please!).

Saracen put on a whole day of uplifts for us, which while nice, and allowed for maximum downtime, it means commenting on the Ariel’s climbing prowess is slightly hard. The little I did point it uphill showed that it was comparable to other brands, the seat angle could be steeper and would help it steam upwards but the compliant suspension means grip was never an issue.

Point it down though, and it the Ariel comes into its own, the Float X2 on the carbon model sits nice and deep into its travel and offers good ramp up on big hits, which Rev’s has by the bucket load. Small chunder bumps are dispatched with an uninterrupted desire to go faster! So much so, it didn’t take long to nearly ride the tyres off, literally. The 25.5mm internal width DT Swiss rims and always smaller than stated Maxxis 2.3 minion tyres look skinny underneath such a capable bike and means pressures have to be higher than liked when riding hard. That said, approach and wind content adjusted, the Ariel began to rip – slap any square edges, huck any lip in sight, gas to flats and all out belligerent line choices were all awarded with applause. Those slightly skinny DT rims offering a nice amount flex and subsequent grip to complement the stiff-as-fook frame construction. After about seven or eight runs, things were getting nicely dialled in, steep and loose chutes could be attacked rather than survived and it became obvious this is where the Ariel thrives. Its stiff and burly build could be accused of numbing the riding experience, but, push hard and it comes alive, square off corners and dig your heels in hard under braking, its a riot of a ride yet saved my regular clumsy inputs on several occasions. If you do choose the top end frame and build option rather than the alloy alternative, be prepared, as Saracen suggested, to ride its bloody tyres off! Chapeau lads, Chapeau.

Saracen Myst 2018

Saracen’s Myst DH rig has been a regular on the scene for a while now, helped hugely by their Factory World Cup Team. They were keen to express exactly how much of an impact their team racers have had on its development. Yes, it is a bike for amateurs and weekend warriors alike to hammer their local uplifts every weekend, but the input from their World Cup team means they also want their bikes to be raced, and they’re specced to do just that.

With the relatively recent introduction of the full carbon Myst frame, angles and build materials remain the same for 2018 but with the intro of the newest Fox, Rockshox and Shimano incarnations and minor spec changes. Of course, colours too, and for the better in my opinion – the white and orange colourway on the team edition is super clean and fresh.

Being a Shimano fanboy and with Saracen being built by the UK’s Shimano distributor, Madison, its no surprise that all Saracen’s be bathed in Shimano products. In the case of the Myst, that’s definitely no disappointment with both models slathered in Zee and Saint componentry. Both the Pro and Team builds also come with Saracen’s integrated reach adjust headset meaning incremental change of +/- 5mm can be made for your preference.

I rode a large  and geometry wise, the Myst is bang on with its competition, a head angle figure of 63 degrees, a reach number of 445mm (+/- 5mm) and chainstays at 437mm. It would be dramatic and costly for Saracen to change these numbers so soon after their recent commitment to carbon construction and they’re healthy anyway when compared to other mainstream brands. I for one however, would like to see those figures change in future frames. For a clearly forward thinking brand, I’d like to see those reach figures extend, head angle slacken and chainstays get longer, its a DH rig after all and speed and stability is the aim!

With suspension fettled in the Revs carpark, I strapped my large Myst Team to the shuttle trailer. With a morning of ripping the bike park on the Ariel, it’d be fair to say I was not well prepped for my first run on the Myst. Following an awkward one sided conversation with Revs resident springer spaniel sharing the front seat with me, I disembarked at the top, and dropped in. The following is a blur of poor line choices, wallowy suspension and a general lack of commitment. Back in the carpark, suspension sped up, a bit more air in the formidable Fox 40’s and another energy bar crammed down my throat and I was back having a ground hog conversation with the captain-of-the-uplift spaniel.

With a refreshed approach and significantly more confidence, the Myst and I dropped in and became immediately acquainted. The additional pop from removing several clicks of rebound damping meant the bike felt alive again, the additional air in the forks allowing me to dig my heels in and keep the front end stood up in big compressions – essential with the shortish front centre. The Myst is a fast bike when pushed, a common theme here with Saracen’s new bikes! Sure, the head angle could be a bit slacker and the front centre longer allowing me to get more balanced between the axles, and a longer chainstay would ensure even greater stability when the going gets rough and fast but, and its a big BUT, there’s a significant feeling of balance in the MYST. It’s stiff yet delivers immense traction, likely helped in no small part by the Fox bouncers, it takes to the air with absolute aplomb and held flat corners convincingly well despite my skepticism.

With ‘one last run’ uttered at least four times, I’d made friends with the spaniel, the Myst and I were also now friends and the last run down another one of Rev’s roughest tracks was an absolute ripper. I didn’t hold back, the Myst took an absolute pummelling, in some part due to my clumsy inputs, but mainly as I learnt to just let go and let the bike do the work, which it took entirely in its stride.

With the intro of 29 inch wheels to DH and further advancements in geometry, Saracen will be a brand to watch in the future. In the meantime though, if you like the idea of a solidly built bike, founded on a well developed Factory Race Team, the 2018 Myst would be a solid choice. One last run?


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