Saracen Mantra Trail Carbon

by
February 11, 2015

Trail carbon on a budget - the Saracen Mantra

Brand: Saracen
Product: Mantra Trail Carbon
From: www.saracen.co.uk
Price: £1499
Tested: by Barney for

Since its acquisition by Madison in 2009, it’s fair to say that Saracen has turned its business model around. The brand now offers a range of bikes in the mid to high-end bracket, bolstered by an impressive team working the downhill and dirt jump circuits.

The Mantra Carbon is a bike firmly placed in the ‘trail’ mountain bike subgenre. For some reason, carbon hardtails are generally aimed at those folks who wear Lycra and like to go fast; the Mantra is a little more baggy-shorted than those machines, and is definitely built for fun first. That’s not to say it’s not fast, though.

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The frame is a UK designed, UK-specific custom frame made by Toray – the world’s largest carbon-fibre manufacturer. It’s got interchangeable dropouts, ISCG tabs, and internal routing for cables and dropper post; all the mod cons. But much more important than all of these is the fact that it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Sturdy gusset
Sturdy gusset

Our Mantra was an XL. The frame has a lovely clean look, thanks to that internal cable routing; there’s absolutely loads of standover thanks to an enormously dropped, swoopy top tube, and to strengthen the seat-tube, it has a long, elegant reinforcing gusset – something many larger bikes can’t manage. The top tube smoothly segues into the seatstays, and the whole frame has that typically organic look that carbon manages so well. A 25.5in effective top tube length means there’s huge amounts of cockpit room to wander about in, and 429mm chainstays keep things acceptably brisk at the back end, allied to 68 and 73 degree head and seat angles respectively.

The fork axle - novel idea, but needs frequent fettling
The fork axle – novel idea, but needs frequent fettling

Onto this excellent platform is bolted a Suntour Epixon-XC air fork with 120mm of travel, a lockout and a tapered steerer, and rebound and compression damping. It’s got a cunningly designed 15mm thru-axle with a sprung system of ‘teeth’ that is easier to see in the flesh than to describe, but essentially it allows you to clamp the axle from either the left or the right. Loosen the axle, push the ferrule on the end and draw the axle out. We had substantial problems initially with the axle binding in the hub – so you couldn’t actually remove the wheel. We solved the problem by greasing the axle liberally. It still bound occasionally after this, but not nearly as often, and it ceased to be a major problem.

Wheelwise, the bike comes with a pair of no-name hubs laced into Kore rims, and a large dollop of 10-speed Shimano componentry. There are Deore mechs and shifters, basic but very useable M396 brakes, and a Deore FCM522 chainset that uses an Octalink splined bottom bracket and runs a steel and composite middle ring. Very flashy. The bike is finished off with a pair of Maxxis Ardent Race tyres and a smattering of Kore and Saracen finishing kit.

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Trail notes

Throwing a leg over the bike, that standover is immediately obvious – initially it’s a little disconcerting, and the Mantra feels like a bike considerably smaller than it actually is. This feeling is dispelled immediately upon riding the thing, as you’ve got a load of room in the cockpit. If you wanted to go more ‘aggro’ the bike could certainly stand running a shorter stem and wider bars.

142x12. Excellent.
142×12. Excellent.

The Shimano drivetrain operated magnificently as always – the everso slightly plasticky-feeling levers belie a very reliable shifting action, and the whole drivetrain was smooth and creak-free for the duration of the test. The brakes were similarly reliable, although I missed having bite-point adjustment. It’s possible to effect something similar by using the lever throw adjustment, however. The rear brake needed a slight bleed after a few rides, but this was simply achieved.

Once I’d successfully made the front axle behave, the fork felt laterally stiff enough, although it never felt nearly as plush as I’d like through corners or stutter bumps. The ramp rate was also quite high – I struggled to get full travel without making the fork bob like an acquiescent spaniel.

Octolink. Old tech, but still performs
Octalink. Old tech, but still performs

Handling wise, the frame is undeniably excellent. It’s a fairly aggressive geometry; it rewards pushing hard, and it accelerates beautifully – stomping on the pedals generates lightning-fast bursts of speed. It’s a great reminder of how much fun hardtails can be. The first few rides after living on full suspension bikes are rather jarring until you remember how to weight the front; how to kick the back round; where the centre of gravity allows you to pivot the bike just so. It’s an absolute blast to ride quickly.

The only caveat is that I found I’d over-face the fork a little sooner than I’d like, especially on steep and/or really rough terrain; I’d end up having to fight it when the back end wanted to go so much faster. Luckily, the brakes performed as excellently as expected. But it’s not all about hurtling about at mach nine. Take your foot off the gas a little, and the bike rewards that too. It’s just as happy taking its time and enjoying the view a little more; it’s surprisingly comfy, for all that straight line speed.

Overall: This is a truly excellent trail frame, festooned with some surprisingly good kit. The fork was a slight sticking point, as I never managed to get it to perform to the same level as the rest of the bike, and it became overfaced when pushed hard, without giving up all of its travel. That said though, it’s adequate in most situations which don’t require enormous speed over extremely rough terrain. The frame would be well worth upgrading. And ultimately, if you’re on a budget, it’s worth compromising on the componentry for a frame as good as this.

ISCG mounts and neat internal routing
ISCG mounts and neat internal routing
Good to see a clutch mech
Good to see a clutch mech

 

Review Info

Brand: Saracen
Product: Mantra Trail Carbon
From: www.saracen.co.uk
Price: £1499
Tested: by Barney for

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