Saracen has been a consistent high achiever when it comes to delivering affordable rides that feel like proper mountain bikes – and here the firm has pulled off the impressive feat of doing so for well under £500.
The alloy frame is shared with other, even cheaper Tufftrax models. But you still get hydroformed main tube shaping and S-curved rear stays, top tube control lines to keep them out of harm’s way and bolted Crud Catcher under the down tube to stop mud spraying in your face.
While the seat clamp is bolted rather than quick-release, the forward-facing slot stops rear-wheel spray seeping into the frame and it can be dropped right down for steep descents. Saracen runs overlapping 27.5in (13-19in) and 29in (15-21in) wheel-sized versions of the Comp, in case you prefer a smoother, hybridtyre-compatible big wheel Tufftrax.
The frame is hydroformed alloy, with a 69-degree head angle
Whichever wheel size you opt for, you’re getting sorted kit for your cash. The forged alloy one-piece crank and spider use replaceable rings making it a real practical bonus over the flexy, pressed steel cranksets found on price point peers such as Trek’s Marlin 6 and Specialized’s Pitch.
The latest generation Shimano Altus drivetrain gives you nine gears in the rear block – better than eight – and it’s a lot tidier looking and faster shifting than before. WTB’s Nano tyres are a classic fast rolling tread pattern that are OK until they meet slippy roots or mud.
The lightweight Promax Solve discs struggle a little to scrub off proper speed
The wheels are light enough to pick up speed encouragingly too although the lightweight rotors make it hard for the Promax Solve discs to get rid of it quickly.
The fact that getting rid of excess speed rather than labouring to create it was our main issue with the Tufftrax Comp is a major compliment though. It doesn’t just relate to the low overall weight and lively wheel pack either, but because you can carry speed noticeably better than on most of the competition on technical terrain.
That said, the SR Suntour XCM fork still has solid coil and elastomer springs with no meaningful adjustment. Yet on the plus side, we found their default compression and rebound rate is controlled enough to keep the front wheel tracking the ground predictably.
The Tufftrax is a good entry-level option for honing your skills on
There’s no wrist-jarring topout when you launch the bike and we got over 80mm of the claimed 100mm travel if we really mowed it into a big hit. The 69-degree head angle combined with 720mm bar and 80mm stem gives the Saracen a great blend of agility and authority for taking aggressive line choices too.
All this adds up to a conclusion that Saracen hasn’t just got a good kit collection together for the money – it’s created an enjoyably responsive, well-balanced bike that you can properly progress your riding on. Inevitably the cheaper fork, small volume tyres and firm rather than forgiving ride of the Tufftrax frame mean it won’t always seal the deal on more challenging trails, but you’ll certainly have fun having a go.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.