What do you do with three bikes that are hard to pigeonhole? You ride them, a lot, and enjoy it.
We were at one point going to call this test ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal’, but we thought better of it. Partly because we weren’t sure if people would understand the music genre reference. Partly because we didn’t want the word ‘heavy’ to get people’s danders up, or set some sort of weight-watching sideshow vibe to take over.
We weren’t even that sure we wanted to really mention the fact that these bikes are nominally designed-in-Britain bikes. What difference does the country of design make? Is it patronising or ghettoising to group ‘British’ bikes together? Shouldn’t we just treat them as y’know, bikes?
But what sort of bikes exactly? Are 160mm travel full suspension bikes still categorised as ‘enduro’? Surely enduro bikes are now all sporting upwards of 180mm these days. We don’t think we’re at the point where 160mm can really be crowbarred into the ‘trail bike’ genre.
So what genre do 160 bikes fit into now? Personally speaking, I’d like to reintroduce the term ‘all mountain’ back into the quasi tragi-comic game of pigeonholing mountain bikes. The original ‘all mountain’ er, mountain bikes were circa 140mm travel bikes, often sporting 160mm forks up front admittedly.
I always liked the term ‘all mountain’ because it had zero racing connotations. There was no timing involved. Or any judging metric whatsoever. It was about experiencing as much of what The Mountain* had to offer as possible.
So anyway… 160 bikes. Designed by people in Great Britain. All with frames made out of aluminium. We’ve got three of them here. The Bird Aeris 9, the Privateer 161 and the Saracen Ariel 60. Tested by British riders, on British hills, in British weather.
*The Mountain didn’t have to be an actual mountain. It’s a state of mind, maan.
This was a really fun test to do, even though it took place throughout the most demanding time of year (December–January in the UK). Every time I got on any of these bikes it was like “no, this is the best bike”, then it was “no, THIS is the best bike”. In the end I kind of gave up on the notion of finding a Winner. I’d happily have any of these bikes in my garage. The game then became to best describe each bike on its own terms and find a way of explaining the character and strengths of each of these great mountain bikes.
The Bird Aeris 9 was very probably the most confidence-inspiring bike of the three. Its slackness, lowness and coil sprung-ness were all things that really egged the rider on to have a go at stuff. Stuff you’ve never seen before. Stuff you just dive into without stopping to look first. Stuff that you’ve been eyeing up for years but never had the bottle to finally have a go at. If push came to shove, I think the Aeris 9 is the bike that I’d opt to click ‘Buy Now’ on. But that’s ‘just’ because it suits me and the whole what/where/how/why I ride mountain bikes. And it has a coil shock. I just love coil. Sorry (not sorry).
I’ve been waiting a long time to ride the Privateer 161. And while it didn’t disappoint, it most certainly did surprise and occasionally confound me! Looking at the bike in photos and on paper (well, on laptop screen), the Privateer 161 looks like a real bruiser. Stout. Overbuilt. Gravity fed. An enduro bike that no longer has quite enough travel to race. What a great surprise it was then to find out that the 161 is actually very much like a trail bike with a bit more escape-lane get-out-of-trouble travel. With careful set-up and a tyre change, the 161 is a total trail slayer.
Which brings us to one of the more interesting mountain bikes I’ve had the pleasure of playing about on. I’ll be honest, the Saracen Ariel 60 Pro was the bike I was least excited to ride. Not the bike’s fault. Totally my pathetic aesthetic prejudices and geometry assumptions. I couldn’t get enough of riding the Ariel. It was a whole different type of handling to other 160 bikes that I’ve ridden over the years. A real Myst-ical combo of geometry numbers, chassis feel, speedy wheels, brilliant TRL rear suspension linkage, great Fox dampers, lovely Shimano stuff. It just needs, no… deserves, a proper length dropper post.
|Tested:||by Benji for Singletrack World Magazine Issue 148|