Review: 2021 Saracen Ariel 80 – A Sturdy, Pedalable Park Bike
Anyone who says travel doesn’t matter should try such a bike. This 180mm coil spring suspension holds the tires to the ground and eliminates any imperfections that make up more than a 160mm bike. This allows you to look further down the path and leave the brakes alone most of the time. I don’t like to describe a bike as “fun” because that word means different things to everyone, but the extra traction and confidence that suppleness provides is a lot of fun in my book. And while larger wheels help smooth out and carry speed on uneven terrain, the suppleness of the Ariel suspension more than makes up for the smaller wheels when compared to most 29mm springs with 160mm of travel.
Also, do not think that it is a soft sofa when it is pushed. The coil spring in combination with the lever curve offers a lot of pressure against the middle of the spring travel. This made me wonder if the spring 500 / pound was a little too tight to start with as they feel quite stiff shortly after they sag, but once they were up the support was appreciated and although I never had hard bottom Had outs, I used them all to travel on major landings. Meanwhile, the shock absorber’s linear rebound melody is very active and tracks the ground well via high pitched chatter when it is wide open. However, it returns in a reassuringly controlled manner when it lands hard from the depths of the ride. I like my rebound a little faster than most, but I found it to work best within a click or two of fully open, even though it has a stiff spring. More than a handful of clicks slower and it started locking and getting hard on high-frequency speed bumps. Like most motorcycles, the Ariel gets the same damper tune for all sizes, so very light riders may have trouble getting it fast enough to get as much smoothness as I did.
The RockShox Zeb air-sprung fork can’t keep up with the serenity of the backend – it consumes the middle third of its stroke a little too eagerly before booting up rather abruptly before the end. It’s not a bad fork, but you have to pump it over easily and endure not accessing the end portion of the travel to match the mid-travel support from the rear end. The basic Zeb R fork doesn’t have a compression adjustment so you can’t add compression cushioning to support it. The Fox 38 (to match the Pro model) is a better fit as it offers more support while traveling. Nevertheless, the Zeb is super comfortable and soaks up large holes and stones very well, so that the entire suspension package is still very supple and has a lot of traction.
If you haven’t had the pleasure of riding a downhill bike in the past few years, there’s a good chance it will fall off better than the dual crown bike you last rode. The reach of 510 mm and the head angle of 63.5 degrees ensure a spacious front center (865 mm), while the short offset fork ensures a somewhat smoother steering in pinball situations compared to a DH bike. This means you can really lean on the bars and take turns without worrying about the bike stumbling or twitching. The biggest difference to older downhill bikes is that, thanks to the greater range, there is only more space in the cockpit, so you have more choice of where to put your weight.
The short rear center (438mm) and 27.5-inch front wheel make steering light and edgy at times compared to 29ers with longer chainstays. This took some getting used to and made me slide or steer flat and quickly a few times. The downside is that it’s very easy to lift the front wheel right away, but personally I’d rather have a longer rear center for more front-end grip.
An often overlooked aspect of 27.5-inch front wheels is that it often results in lower bar height. Despite high 40mm spacers under the stem and a 35mm high bar, the bar height on my XL was 109 cm, on a 29er / mullet with so much range and travel I would normally run around 111 cm (with greater range or a higher BB it would take A higher pole height). This difference is enough that I had to work a little harder to properly slide the front end into holes or slides, flexing more at the hips so that I can maintain enough bend in my elbows to straighten them when needed and to push. Larger wheels usually result in a higher front end, and this explains the feeling of being “inside” the bike, which is often associated with a 29. Handlebar height on the Ariel will be high enough for the vast majority of riders, however to me, it’s a touch lower than ideal and this affects steep terrain riding The supple suspension makes up for the 27.5-inch wheels in terms of comfort and traction, and a smaller front wheel is more likely to stall if you do Get lost in a big hole offline.
Another big problem I’ve had is the 150mm travel dropper post which, according to my tape measure, only provides 144mm travel. To me, this is just not enough for a bike of this category as it limits the range of motion when pumping by oops or when pushing the bike into steep slides. I soon started manually dropping the post another 50mm or so before I got past. This isn’t a problem for many drivers either, but a 170mm post would at least be a big improvement.