A well balanced bike that's happy to do distance or play on technical trails
Oct 11 2017
Well made frame with encouraging trail bike geometry
Excellent ride quality
Good upgrade potential over time
Some ghost shifting issues under power
Non lock-on grips provide unwanted motorbike impressions
Quick release wheel fixtures aren't as stiff or secure as through axles
The Mantra is Saracen’s popular front suspension bike designed more for fun trail riding than any punishing training or cross country schedule. Ranging in price up to £2,200, the Mantra line up offers a lot of choice, and we’re checking out the mid-pack ‘Trail’ model that packs some good quality parts for under nine hundred quid.
All Mantras (Mantri?) have a low-slung frame with a reasonably relaxed head angle and aggressive stance to help provide stability and room to move - especially useful when muscling the bike about on slippy or technical trails. The muted blue and orange aluminium chassis uses butted, hydroformed 6061 tubing (the same material used in aircraft wings) to save weight, with an oversized, hourglass-shaped headtube and beefy tubing junction for extra strength.
Curvy stays give better mud clearance, comfort and compliance, and are also short at 425mm. This measurement (from the bottom bracket to axle) positions the rear wheel closer to the cranks and shifts rider weight back so you don’t feel like you’ll fall over the bars – this, in turn, delivers more playfulness and makes it easier to lift the front wheel to clear obstacles or get airtime. There are also rack mounts on the frame if you’re more into the kind of riding where you load the bike up for a bit of a longer adventure.
A Suntour Raidon XC fork helps smooth out bumps and increase capability over rough ground. It’s typical kit for this kind of cash and a decent performer. 120mm is at the lower end of travel for a trail-specific hardtail, but it’s easy to tune the air spring to suit all rider weights and the Raidon remains calm and controlled over rough stuff and is plenty stiff enough. The fork can be firmed up for longer climbs thanks to a lockout lever atop the fork leg too.
Saracen uses a sensible, knobblier, Schwalbe Nobby Nic front tyre for more grip, paired with a faster-rolling rear Racing Ralph. This combo is OK, but the cheaper ‘Performance’ level rubber blend feels skittery on shiny trail centre surfaces and can ping off wet roots and rocks easily on proper trails if you get really active on the bike.
Both front and rear hubs on the Araya wheels use less secure and stiff QR-skewers, and while this won’t be immediately noticeable to most intermediates, some machines for this cash use superior, sturdier bolt-thru axles. The wheels themselves appear decent enough though with a good rollover speed without feeling too bony and rigid over lumpy terrain.
Shimano takes care of the drivetrain and brakes with solid Deore level kit. It’s not flashy, but it’s dependable and tough, and the hydraulic brakes pack some real stopping power, even if there’s a bit of an on/off feel. The chainset uses two front rings to give a 20-gear range and the lowest 24-36 ratio makes it plenty easy to winch up the most lung-busting hills, whatever your level. One niggle is the 2x drivetrain feels a little bit clunky shifting (especially at the front), and the cranks also place feet quite wide apart, which isn’t the most efficient position for pedalling long distances. The latest 2018 Mantra Trail now comes with a 1x drivetrain for the same cash, which should address any concerns in this area.
Saracen has hit the nail on the head with the Mantra’s ride quality. The frame’s shape and the way the bike steers feels right straight away, with a neutral, well-balanced feel that’s likely down to the fact there’s a decent BB drop. With feet 45mm below the wheel axles, rider weight is low down and it’s easy to swing the bike from side to side to link turns and features together without any sense of the Mantra teetering or hesitating when leaning.
The slack-ish 67-degree head angle also means it’s more willing to stay in the direction you’re pointing it; a blessing if you build up some proper speed on the downhills to ensure nothing too drastic happens if the terrain upsets your weight balance or you misjudge the steering a tad.
We had a couple of issues with unwanted, ‘ghost’ shifts on the Shimano Deore drivetrain powering up steeper climbs, but the rear mech at least comes with a chain stabilising ‘clutch’ that stops the chain jumping off on rough fast sections and keeps the bike nice and quiet.
Up front, the 740mm wide handlebar has a great shape and provides reactive steering, but the grips worked loose on a wet muddy ride when moisture worked its way under the rubber. If you aren’t a fan of the motorbike-style throttle effect, lock on grips that bolt to the bars would be a good, cheap upgrade for UK riding.
Overall the Mantra Trail provides a good balance between getting about quickly and effectively, with enough calmness and composure for faster speeds or if you want to dip your toes into more technical off-piste terrain. The frame is solid and responsive without being too harsh and uncomfortable and the bike’s very easy to get along with from the outset for most kinds of riding. Upgrading to a dropper seatpost, grippier tyres and potentially fitting a slightly shorter stem would significantly broaden the Saracen’s remit if your focus is a bit more hardcore or downhill orientated too.