Saracen’s all-new Ariel range comes in 130, 160 and 180mm versions, with basic, Pro and Elite versions of each bike. The new bikes keep the proven TRL suspension set up, but they lose the carbon fiber rear ends and travel drops slightly, too. While it’s a lot longer in reach and slacker at the head, the higher weight, longer seat tubes, taller bottom bracket, and flimsy tires potentially create issues and even the cool-looking coil shock can make set up awkward.
Design and geometry
While the basic layout is similar to the previous Ariel and Ariel LT frames the new Ariel’s are now an all-metal design. The hydro-formed and butted 6013 alloy tubes include a snaking down tube that’s seam welded onto the steeply sloped top tube behind the short tapered head tube. The main pivot uses massive bearings in a skinny rectangular base of the kinked, projecting seat tube with asymmetric chainstays and relatively slim seat stays joined by open back U section front struts. There’s a seat stay bridge too, but the rear axle uses the 157mm SuperBoost standard to give enough space for 2.6in tires in either 29er or 27.5-inch sizes. Rear-wheel sizes differ depending on frame size too, with small and medium bikes coming with a 27.5-inch rear wheel ‘mullet’ set up as standard, large and XL get 29 as standard. You get the ‘Push links’ included with your bike to let you run the other wheel size if you want. The multi-part TRL linkage set up with an under-top tube rocker is the same design that’s been used on the Myst World Cup DH bikes and other Saracen full suspension bikes for several years. 160mm travel is 5mm less than the previous Ariel though.
Other features include an ISCG chain guide mount, screw-in bottom bracket, rubber chainstay, and belly armor. There’s room under the shock for a 500ml bottle and tube strapping space ahead of the shock. The internal cable routing doesn’t stay inside the down tube for long though and the rear brake uses an old school IS mount that needs an extra spacer adaptor to handle the 180mm rear rotor.
The head angle slackens to 64.6-degrees and the effective seat tube angle steepens to 76.5. Reach is stretched out super long too, with our large sample measuring 507mm. That makes the effective seat tube length (once you take the deep seat post collar into account) of 470mm more forgivable but the bottom bracket is very high at 355mm BB center to floor. The same single-piece swingarm gives a 440mm rear end on every size.
Components and build
The Ariel 60 starts the range with Marzocchi Z1, Fox DPX2, and mostly Shimano Deore at £2,499.99, then you get the Pro with Fox Performance Elite and X2 air shock and an XT, SLX, Deore mix for £3,299.99. Then there’s the (literally) full Factory Elite model here with Kashima gold-legged Fox 38 fork and DHX2 coil rear shock with £160 worth of orange 450lb SLS spring. You also almost full (the chain is KMC) Shimano XT transmission but the 34T chainring seems optimistic for a 16kg bike. There’s space for a 38T if you’re a proper power rider though and the tall bottom bracket means plenty of clearance for 170mm crank arms. Stopping gear is also Shimano XT with four-cylinder brakes biting onto a 200mm rotor on the front and 180mm on the rear thanks to that extra mount spacer. Bombproof XT hubs reduce concerns about finding SuperBoost width replacements in a hurry and they’re laced onto sturdy DT Swiss EX511 30mm internal rims with 32 double-butted spokes.
Tires are super sticky MaxxGrip compound versions of Maxxis chunky Minion DHR tread. Despite clearly being a stretched, heavyweight aggro speed bike you get the lightest and most fragile EXO carcass option. The Race Face carbon bar is the more trail-oriented 780mm wide Next R when a full Six C bomber bar would seem the obvious choice. We’ve no complaints about the ODI grips and the KS Lev Integra dropper is a solid enough option although the extended seat tube limits dropper stroke to 150mm. The parts you get represent excellent value even compared to direct sell bikes, too.
Ride, handling, and performance
Working from the front backwards, Saracen is clearly intending the Ariel 60 to be a speed-hungry straight-line bomber. While many 160mm travel bikes are still sticking with 36 or 35mm legs to save some weight, the 38mm stanchions of the fork give rock-solid targeting upfront. Depending on how you run the multi-channel damping the floating axle stroke is as buttery smooth as you want it and the back of leg pressure release valves keep performance consistent on the longest descents all day. Despite initial concerns about relatively slim main tubes, skinny linkages and narrow main pivot width, the Ariel feels anvil solid and distortion/ deflection free from the fork tip to the bolted SuperBoost rear.
The huge reach also translates into extra time and composure to deal with the most dangerous situations and less chance of the front end tucking under and tripping you up, too. It does make it slower to react and harder to haul and hustle through tighter turns though and it’s not as easy to get off the ground as a shorter bike. That applies to the heavy-duty 29er wheels too, so if you’re wanting a more playful feeling bike the shorter length, 27.5-inch-wheeled 180mm travel Ariel 80s are the better bet.
With the 180 as the obvious uplift/park bike choice that confirms the Ariel 60 as the enduro bike in the new Saracen range and makes the climbing performance more relevant. While 16kg isn’t that unusual for an alloy bike in this category, most bikes this price get a carbon frame for significantly lower weight, and even the £2,500 Specialized Status and Calibre Sentry are several hundred grams lighter with reinforced tires as standard. Add the intrusively sticky rubber compound and gaining altitude on the Saracen is an exercise in perseverance and patience and while it physically pedals well the “hides its weight surprisingly well” cliche doesn’t ever apply here. The seat angle does position you well for getting the power down though, there’s plenty of pedal clearance even with 170mm cranks and there’s a lock switch for smoother climbs/road sections. Being able to lock the shock also means you can run more open low-speed compression for maximum sensitivity and traction both up and down. The full range of low and high-speed compression and rebound tuning front and rear also means you can alter the Ariel’s ride feel dramatically with the Allen key adjusters. Unsurprisingly for a linkage setup that’s been developed through years of top-level DH racing, the TRL suspension offers a very neutral character that’s a great basis for tuning. We did back off from Saracen’s suggested solid, race-tuned compression settings for a more flowing and lively ride though as we found the 450lb coil rate heavy for lighter (70kg) test team members. To be fair setting up a large-sized bike for a rider nearer 80kg is probably a lot more representative but it does highlight the fundamental ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ drawback (besides extra weight) of a solid-state spring. It’s only a potential issue on the Ariel Elite though as both Ariel and Ariel Pro bikes come with an air shock and so does the frame only option (£1,499.99). Get it dialed (we eventually settled on a 400lb spring) and the reaction speed and trail connection offered by a coil spring is fantastic though and everyone knows a coil gets you extra kudos on the hill.
You’re only going to be able to really start exploring what speeds that allows through the most brutal terrain if you ditch the fragile tires and get something tougher and set them up tubeless. While MaxxGrip makes sense to get the most out of the distant front end, it’s overkill on the rear for most sensations and again moving to a harder rear tire made it easier to push some lateral movement and flare out of its very long (1280mm) wheelbase, tram tendencies. If you want the most agile Ariel L/XL possible then we’d switch the rear wheel entirely and install the alternative links for some ‘mullet’ 27.5-inch action or if you’re close on the medium or large threshold anyway go for the smaller frame and smaller rear wheel. That would also drop seat tube height by 50mm while only losing 25mm of reach, creating a more grounded, less precarious cornering and braking feel. Even if you downsize, the 355mm BB height is always going to give a more high side hungry, slower to flick feel than a more slammed bike.
A flagship fork and top-quality rear damper offering next-level tuning potential of an already sorted suspension system, plus super long reach and a rock-solid feeling frame potentially make the Ariel 60 Elite a straight-line plow for demolishing almost any trail problem. Competitive pricing for a mostly bomber spec, plenty of tire clearance and spare suspension links for wheel switching are nice touches, too. The tall bottom bracket (and excess seat tube on the large) make it top-heavy and harder to hustle through tight turn sequences. It’s overweight for the price too, despite being fitted with tires that are likely to die well before the suspension starts getting into its stride. While the Fox Factory Elite spec is ‘coil cool’ and the package price is great compared to other brands you’ll get the almost identical on-trail performance and easier rider weight adjustment from the £900 cheaper Pro model.
- Temperature: 8-18 degrees
- Surface: Sculpted flow trails, transitional tech and old-school rocky black grade runs
Tech Specs: Saracen Ariel 60 Elite
- Price: $TBC / £4,199.99
- Discipline: Enduro
- Head angle: 64-degrees
- Seat angle: 76.5-degrees
- Sizes: S, M, L (tested), XL
- Weight: 16.05kg
- Wheel size: 29 inch
- Frame material: Custom butted and hydroformed 6013 alloy
- Suspension: Fox 38 Factory 160mm travel, 43mm offset/Fox DHX2 Factory 450lb coil 160mm travel
- Drivetrain: Shimano XT 12-speed gearing, shifter and 11-51T cassette
- Cranks: Shimano 34T chainset
- Brakes: Shimano XT 8120 four-cylinder brakes with 200/180mm rotors
- Cockpit: Race Face Next R 780mm bar and Turbine R 40mm stem
- Wheelset: DT Swiss EX511 rims with double butted spokes and Shimano XT Boost front and SuperBoost rear hubs
- Tires: Maxxis Minion DHR II MaxxGrip EXO 29 x 2.4in tires
- Seatpost: KS Lev Integra 150mm dropper post
- Saddle: Saracen CroMo saddle