What’s in a name? Or how important is a name? UK brand Saracen has chosen Levarg - gravel backwards - which is either inspired or lazy. Either way, underneath the name, the Levarg SL is a fast and fun bike well-suited to taming the UK’s poorly surfaced roads and bashing along dirt and gravel tracks.
The smartly understated camo paint job hides a well-appointed aluminium frame with space for up to 650b x 50mm and 700c x 44mm tyres, so adequate clearance for the supplied 47mm wide WTB Byway tyres, which have a bit more shoulder action than the all-slick Horizons they’re based on.
A carbon fibre fork slides into a tapered head tube and accepts a 12mm thru-axles, and the brake hose is neatly routed inside the fork blade. There’s internal routing on the frame too, and a third bottle cage on the belly of the downtube and an externally threaded bottom bracket, pleasing to see on a bike like this.
What you can’t see from visual inspection is the mountain bike inspired geometry. Saracen cut its clothe on mountain bikes and it’s clear the company has tried to fuse this drop bar adventure bike with as much personality from its mountain bike stable as possible. So you’re looking at a longer top tube and shorter stem combination, as we’ve seen on a few other similar bikes like Whyte, Merida, Nukeproof and Canyon.
To put some numbers on it, this size large test bike, of four sizes available, has a 610mm top tube, 1,097mm wheelbase, 425mm chainstays, 70.5° head angle and a reach of 424mm. A 175mm head tube produces a 609mm stack and the bottom bracket drop is 68mm.
On the road or trail, these numbers manifest themselves as very calm and steady handling. The steering has a relaxed feel to it which means you can belt along country lanes or gravel-strewn tracks with confidence because bike holds its line extremely well.
First impressions could be mistaken for laziness in the handling front because it’s not as lively as a road bike, but on very long rides over a mixture of terrain it turns out to be a real advantage over a more road-based gravel bike. The only downside to the short stem is fitting a computer mount!
Push deeper into the wilderness and the handling gives you plenty of reason to be as adventurous as you dare with the trails you can tackle and the speed you can carry into corners and over rough obstacles. The slightly flared drop gives a bit more confidence when descending at speed, and the compact SRAM hoods are easy to fully grab with your hands compared to the much taller SRAM hydraulic brake hoods.
On the road, the WTB Byway tyres are, as I’ve written about in this separate review, impressively speedy despite what the chubby appearance might suggest. Even inflated to about 40-45psi rolling speed is superb on the road and they smother broken tarmac to deliver enough comfort to tame the inherent stiffness in the aluminium frame.
A few years ago, before hydraulic disc brakes became more popular, the TRP Hy/Rd was a good interim solution allowing regular mechanical brake levers to operate the fully sealed hydraulic caliper. With SRAM and Shimano now making really good full hydraulic disc brakes the TRP’s just don’t feel as good, with a lever feel that isn’t as reassuring and lacking on sheer power. The one upside is the ability to use SRAM’s compact brake lever hoods and they are better than mechanical disc brakes.
The rest of the groupset is a SRAM Apex 1 rear derailleur with a SRAM NX 11-42t mountain bike cassette that fits onto a regular HG freehub body instead of SRAM’s own XD driver. Combined with a 42t narrow/wide chainring on the Saracen branded crankset you have a decent spread of gears for most scenarios.
It’s a dig around the Saracen branded parts bin for the nicely shaped 15-degree flared drop handlebar and stubby 70mm stem, gel bar tape and a comfortable saddle with a hint of camo. The wheels are Araya 32-hole aluminium rims laced to Formula hubs with 12mm thru-axles and 6-bolt rotor interface.
On the scales, the Levarg SL comes in at 10.74kg (23.67lb) which while not light is par for the course at this price.
Talking of price, the Levarg SL looks good value for money with really good handling that will definitely appeal to mountain bikers looking to get a drop bar bike for road riding, commuting and bikepacking capers, and largely decent equipment.
For almost the same money there’s the Canyon Grail AL 7.0 I reviewed recently, which bests the Saracen in offering a full Shimano 105 groupset with hydraulic brakes, but the compact chainset is out of place on this sort of bike, and it’s obviously on 700c wheels instead of the 650bs of the Saracen. And if I may add, the Saracen is a better-looking bike...
For a bit more cash there’s the very good Kinesis G2 which gets a SRAM Apex 1 groupset and gives you good performance on and off-road.
It’s worth mentioning too that the Saracen Levarg range extends to the entry-level model at £1,099 with a Shimano Sora 2x groupset and the same WTB Byway 47 tyres, and also the bonkers £2,299 Levarg OR with a Fox 32 suspension fork and dropper post.
Saracen has a heritage in the mountain bike world and its approach to a drop bar adventure bike provides very good results, with a great ride on the road whether commuting or Just Riding, to bashing gravel or smashing techy descents and linking lots of off-road trails with linking road sections. With an eye on bikepacking adventures, you’ve you an extra bottle cage mount and good space in the main frame for adding a frame pack.
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