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Verdict: 
A smart looking, well-finished frame, but it lacks stiffness and rider feedback. And bin the brakes straight away!
Weight: 
8,630g
Saracen Avro
6 10

Looks-wise I was sold when I was handed the Saracen Avro to test, but an impressive spec list, sublime ride quality (when you're not really pushing it) and a cool paint finish can't make up for a soggy frame and brakes that are downright flipping dangerous. So close, but so, so far.

Tapping out the miles, the Avro is a great bike to ride. Saracen has managed to create a solid feeling carbon fibre frameset that doesn't suffer from road vibration at all, impressive considering the claimed sub-1kg frame weight. Normally, the lighter you go the more resonation the frame gives back unless you really know what you're doing with the carbon layup, so the Avro is a good testament to its designers in that respect.

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The only issue is that when you push it hard – and looking at the geometry it's designed to be pushed hard – the Avro seriously lacks the outright rigidity I'd expect, especially around the bottom bracket area.

Soggy bottom

Climbing, sprinting, anything where you are powering on the pedals, and you'll really feel that frame moving sideways under load, and therefore wasting power and energy. Looking at the chainstays, down tube and bottom bracket junction you'll be impressed – or maybe not – that something so large can be so flexible.

It's a shame, because when things aren't quite so frantic the Saracen is a beautiful machine to ride. The Avro is a very mild mannered bike, easy to ride and offering no surprises so ideal for those long rides of many miles in the saddle. Geometry-wise it is just right, a racy position without being too extreme, and as far as tapping out the miles go it'd make a great fast audax machine or credit card tourer considering the mudguard mounts and long, stable wheelbase.

When it comes to descending and speed, the same things apply: a steady, swooping downhill and no worries, the Avro is a solid and stable base for you to put a lot of confidence in. When things get technical mind, a hairpin, chicane, something like that, and the lack of feedback and directness in the handling results in a bike without much of a personality.

What I'm trying to say is the Avro isn't a bad bike – far from it – but it really struggles when you ask for a little bit more, performance-wise.

A bit of old and new

The last couple of years have been busy on the tech front, and not just the adoption of disc brakes by nearly every major road bike manufacturer. Thru-axles have been in the mountain bike arena for a while now, and we've been seeing them make the crossover to the road.

Saracen has a long background in the off-road market so it's no surprise to see the Avro fitted with thru-axles front and rear. If you aren't familiar with the technology then basically a threaded hollow spindle (15mm diameter front, 12mm diameter rear) passes through the wheel just like a standard quick release, but the difference is this one screws directly into the frame or fork.

The benefit is more security, and it certainly makes aligning the rotors in the callipers a damn sight easier too.

With the cost of Shimano Di2 slowly coming down, it's good to see Saracen has designed the Avro to take both mechanical and electronic groupsets via the internal routing channels. The brake and gear cables enter through the down tube before exiting close to where they are needed. It gives a clean line to the whole bike and should reduce maintenance if you use it throughout the winter months.

One standard the Avro hasn't adopted is the PressFit bottom bracket, sticking instead with threaded external bearing cups. It's a smart move considering the all-round weather nature the Saracen is intended for; creaking press-fit bearings after wet rides are not unheard of.

As I mentioned above, the Avro comes with mounts for full mudguards which it can accommodate provided you don't go wider than 25mm tyres.

>> The Avro can be found on sale for around £1500 – check out our guide to others in that price range here

The rest of the frame is well built and nicely finished. It's manufactured from high quality UD Toray carbon fibre, and the whole thing has a solid feel to it when you give the top tube a tap with your knuckles; it doesn't have that plastic feel or give off a brittle sound like some carbon frames can.

The fork is full carbon fibre too. Designed to work with the integrated tapered headset of the frame, the crown is large at the base of the steerer, which tightens up the handling a bit thanks to the larger surface areas of both the down tube and head tube creating a larger join – the more material, the stiffer the area.

Mixed bag of finishing kit

On paper a full Shimano 105 groupset is a big selling point, and considering the overall price it's about the right money. A full carbon frame and fork, internal cabling and thru axles all add up to a decent amount of investment.

The gear change, as always with 105, is direct and positive with a very light action at the lever compared with the likes of SRAM or Campagnolo. The swing action of the front and rear mechs provides a very smooth shift even under load. We tested the 5800 105 groupset last year and to say it's impressive would be selling it short.

Up front you get a 52/36-tooth chainset. Sitting in the middle of a full compact (50/34) and the roadies' choice of a 53/39, this semi-compact offers a useable spread of ratios for most riders when paired with the 11-speed 11-28t Shimano cassette. The lowest gear lets you spin on the climbs (depending on fitness levels, of course), with the uppermost meaning you'll be going well above 40mph before spinning out.

There are some great cable-operated disc callipers on the market now, but Tektro's Lyra isn't one of them. The adrenaline and fear that courses through your veins the first time you ask them to stop you is a feeling I'll never forget – nor want to experience again.

I cleaned them to rule out contamination, changed the pads, tweaked, adjusted, did everything I could think of, but to no avail. They are simply awful.

They just have no feel, they lack bite and power. You get an initial feeling of some kind of braking once the pads bite the rotor for all of, well, let's be generous here, half a second, and that's it. It just fades to a squidgy feeling at the lever and no matter how much more pressure you apply, nothing improves. You tend to start planning your escape routes at every junction.

The rest of the finishing kit is own-branded stuff from Saracen and it's a decent quality, easily up to the standard expected. The compact style handlebar offers plenty of hand positions and when pairing that shallow curve with the extended head tube you get a less extreme position in the drops, which is ideal for those of us with back issues who still want to get aero.

Sitting atop the alloy seatpost is a Kore saddle, which is firm enough without being uncomfortable, and I certainly didn't have any issues with it over the test period. The narrow and thinly padded profile does make it more suited to shorter, faster rides.

The Alex wheels are custom specced by Saracen and offer a good compromise between weight and stiffness. The 24-spoke front and 28-spoke rear offer plenty of resistance to the forces of accelerating and braking without issue.

The test period took in some rough country lanes and even the odd canal path, both wet and dry, and I certainly had no issues with them going out of true or water getting into the sealed bearings. Overall they are a solid wheelset without being overly flash or exciting.

The 28mm Continental Grand Sport tyres offer impressive levels of grip in the wet and dry alongside a decent rolling resistance. They aren't the quickest, but certainly stood up to daily abuse with a minimal number of cuts and not a single puncture.

Overall

I like the Avro. It's a very nice bike to ride – smooth, stable and very comfortable. But that comes at the cost of overall frame stiffness, something that, for me, is very important. The type of riding the Saracen is designed for is quick miles, not full-on race pace but a sportive style route ridden at a fair old lick, for instance. The type of rides that include a bit of climbing, some descending and tempo work, all often on unknown roads. The sort of roads where I want a bike to be secure and stable, able to respond to changes in direction at speed and, above all, offer lots of feedback. All places where the Avro is found lacking.

It is minimal losses in certain areas that, when added up, create a bike that in the end delivers a much less accomplished ride than I expected.

Those horrendous brakes can be changed, but unfortunately you're stuck with the frame.

Verdict

A smart-looking, well-finished frame, but it lacks stiffness and rider feedback. And bin the brakes straight away!

road.cc test report

Make and model: Saracen Avro

Size tested: 54

About the bike

State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.

FRAME Avro custom UD Toray Carbon / Disc / mudguard eyelets

FORK Full Carbon / Tapered Steerer / Mudguard eyelets

HEADSET FSA No.42

SHIFTERS Shimano 105 ST-5800 11 speed

REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano 105 5800 SS

FRONT MECH Shimano 105 5800

CHAINSET Shimano FC-5800 36/52T 170-175mm

BOTTOM BRACKET Shimano BB-5800

CHAIN KMC X11

CASSETTE Shimano CS-5800 11-speed cassette 12-28T

RIMS Alex CXD Black 24/28h

HUBS Sealed bearing 15mm Black 24h front / 12x142mm 28h rear

SPOKES Stainless steel 14g

TYRES Continental Grand Sport Race 700 x 28c

BRAKES Tektro Lyra 160/140mm

LEVERS Shimano 105

HANDLEBARS Saracen Alloy Drop-bar

GRIPS Saracen suede

STEM Saracen 6061 / 7degree rise / 31.8mm clamp

SADDLE Kore Fazer EX

SEATPOST Alloy Micro-adjust / 31.6mm

Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?

The Avro is Saracen's range-leading bike and with clearance for 28mm tyres, mudguard eyelets, disc brakes and thru axles, it's very much 'now' in terms of bike design for the road, an all-rounder, shall we say. Saracen said at its launch that, "Despite all the advancements in technology we've found it strange that road bikes are still using decades old designs in the form of braking and wheel axles." Just a shame that the 'advanced' Lyra brakes it's chosen are some of the worst on the market.

Frame and fork

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
7/10

Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?

A beautiful looking frame and fork, which certainly comes up to the standard I'd expect for the price point. A real shame it doesn't live up to its looks with regards to stiffness and power transfer.

Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?

The Avro uses a full carbon fibre frame and fork incorporating a tapered steerer and full internal cable routing.

Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?

To be honest there is nothing out of the ordinary here compared with a lot disc brake-equipped bikes on the market. Chainstay length has been increased to 420mm to allow for the added width of the disc hub, which can cause chain line and heel clearance issues. Up front things are slightly shorter and taller in terms of top tube and head tube, to provide that endurance riding position.

How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?

Pretty standard for this style of bike – for example, on the 54cm a stack of 557mm and a reach of 385mm. Full geometry details are available here: http://www.saracen.co.uk/bikes/road/avro

Riding the bike

Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.

On the whole very nice. The carbon frame and fork felt very smooth, with nothing in the way of vibration spoiling the ride.

Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?

This is where the Avro lets itself down. Hard acceleration or aggressive climbing highlights a weakness in this area – a lot of flex.

How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?

The majority of the time everything is fine, the reasonable weight allowing for decent acceleration, but when you really push things the frame is a little soft in the key areas for power transfer.

Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?

No

How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively and fun.

Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?

The Avro is a fun bike to ride unless you are really pushing it. The handling is competent and neutral enough for even the most novice of riders, but it lacks the sharpness of many of its competitors to offer a really thrilling ride in the bends.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?

I liked the saddle, firm but enough cushioning to take the sting out.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?

Saracen's own-brand finishing kit deliver the goods in terms of comfort and stiffness.

Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?

The custom spec Alex wheels are decent performers and help to offset the frame's weaknesses.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
7/10

A soft feel around the bottom bracket area when under serious load.

Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
7/10

As above really, the soft frame really lets it down.

Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
6/10

Soggy BB area again lets it down here.

Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
8/10

Composed and stable as long as it isn't too technical.

Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
8/10

The Avro's comfort zone.

Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10
Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
7/10

Missing the directness that a bike with this geometry should possess.

Rate the bike for climbing:
 
7/10

Not bad considering the position and weight, lacks stiffness when things get really steep.

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10

Shimano 105 is brilliant for the price.

Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?

105 is the entry point to Shimano's top end feeling shifting; it offers 90% of Ultegra's feel while being an absolute bargain. While technically part of the drivetrain, the Tektro Lyra brakes are absolutely rubbish.

Wheels and tyres

Rate the wheels and tyres for performance:
 
8/10

Decent all-rounders as far as the wheels are concerned, while the tyres feel quick and grippy.

Rate the wheels and tyres for durability:
 
8/10

No issues with either for the test period.

Rate the wheels and tyres for weight:
 
8/10

A sensible weight for both.

Rate the wheels and tyres for comfort:
 
8/10

The 28mm tyres can be run soft for added comfort, though pumped up to the max there were no issues.

Rate the wheels and tyres for value:
 
8/10

A decent spec for the overall cost of the bike.

Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?

It isn't the most exciting setup, but on the whole they are both decent performers while offering a robust ride.

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for weight:
 
8/10
Rate the controls for comfort:
 
8/10

Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?

Sensible finishing kit from Saracen, barely noticeable while riding, which is a sign of a good, solid piece of kit.

Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)

All in all it's a sensible build for the money, although I'd happily pay more for a decent set of brakes.

Your summary

Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes, until I really pushed it performance wise.

Would you consider buying the bike? No

Would you recommend the bike to a friend? No

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
6/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
7/10

Use this box to explain your score

Quite simply, I don't think a bike should be allowed to be sold with brakes that are this poor. The Lyra disc brakes in the dry are worse than most callipers in the wet. Brakes can be changed, though, and otherwise the Avro is a decent ride, although it lacks the performance credentials that a bike of this geometry and material should offer. Push it even reasonably hard – I'm not talking full-on roadie acceleration here, just trying to beat a red light or attack a climb – and the Avro is found wanting. There is just too much flex around that bottom bracket area. Such a shame as, on the whole, the Saracen is a lovely bike to ride.

Overall rating: 6/10

About the tester

Age: 37  Height: 180cm  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: Kinesis T2  My best bike is: Mason Definition

I've been riding for: 10-20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed

 

Stu knocked out his first road.cc review back in 2009 and since then he's chucked the best part of seventy test bikes around the West Country, a couple of them quite literally! With three alloy and two steel bikes in his fleet he's definitely a metal man (that'll be the engineering background) but is slowly warming to that modern carbon fibre stuff along with fat tyres & disc brakes.
It's not all nostalgia though, after spending the last few years in product design Stu keeps banging on about how 3D printing is going to be the next big thing and he's a sucker for a beautiful paint job too.

20 comments

Avatar
cyclesteffer [275 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Tekro Lyra brake discs should be reported to trading standards. They are absolutely dreadful.

Avatar
Thelma Viaduct [60 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

To get the true benefits of disc brakes, they need to be Hydraulic and from Shimano. Cable operated disc brakes are like a pair of shit hot tits on a granny, they might look the part, but you wouldn't want to use them for anything wet and slippery.

Avatar
joemmo [1164 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Thelma Viaduct wrote:

To get the true benefits of disc brakes, they need to be Hydraulic and from Shimano. Cable operated disc brakes are like a pair of shit hot tits on a granny, they might look the part, but you wouldn't want to use them for anything wet and slippery.

Hyperbolic analogies aside that's just not true. They just need to be cable operated disc brakes that work and there are several that do the job just fine.

Avatar
BBB [461 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Thelma Viaduct wrote:

To get the true benefits of disc brakes, they need to be Hydraulic and from Shimano. Cable operated disc brakes are like a pair of shit hot tits on a granny, they might look the part, but you wouldn't want to use them for anything wet and slippery.

As a long term all weather user of BB7s I couldn't disagree more, but I understand that not many people know how to adjust them correctly.

Avatar
CXR94Di2 [1782 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

So we can gather poor frame poor brakes don't buy. There are plenty of bikes in the price range with hydraulic brakes and stiff frames

Avatar
StraelGuy [1040 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Agree with BBB, I have Spyres on my Giant and they're fantastic.

Avatar
Thelma Viaduct [60 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Of course it's true, Hydraulic brakes have a mechanical advantage whilst cables stretch and become contaminated, as well as not auto adjusting for pad wear, so the 'feel' and bite point are never consistent, quite important to avoid locking up. Hydraulics are fit and forget, even a bleed is easy, most castelli lingerie clad roadies could manage it, doesn't need much upper body strength.

Sure they're better than cantis, but why settle for a halfway house and miss out on the clear advantages (Shimano) hydraulics give.

Avid/Sram hydraulics are turd, best avoided.

Avatar
Phil T [35 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I can't really provide a valid argument on this one way or the other as I've never used cable operated discs.

However ThelmaViaduct's comments did make me spray tea all over my keyboard!

Thelma Viaduct wrote:

To get the true benefits of disc brakes, they need to be Hydraulic and from Shimano. Cable operated disc brakes are like a pair of shit hot tits on a granny, they might look the part, but you wouldn't want to use them for anything wet and slippery.

As an end note I would add that all the hydraulic discs I've used have had great stopping power and modulation, and have been real fit and forget low maintenance systems.

Avatar
BBB [461 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Thelma Viaduct wrote:

Of course it's true, Hydraulic brakes have a mechanical advantage whilst cables stretch and become contaminated, as well as not auto adjusting for pad wear, so the 'feel' and bite point are never consistent, quite important to avoid locking up. Hydraulics are fit and forget, even a bleed is easy, most castelli lingerie clad roadies could manage it, doesn't need much upper body strength.

Sure they're better than cantis, but why settle for a halfway house and miss out on the clear advantages (Shimano) hydraulics give.

Avid/Sram hydraulics are turd, best avoided.

Cable stretch (or you mean flex?) is a non-existing issue. Once installed cables don't "stretch" and flex isn't a problem with a compresionless casinng.
"Contamination" again isn't an issue if you run full outers. Replacing inner cables once or twice a year takes a few minutes.
BB7s and I assume some other models are actually fit and forget and many people have been using them for mountain biking for years.
Just check MTBR forums.
Pad wear - all it takes is a click or two on adjuster or barrel nut... once in a while.
Correctly adjusted and with quality cables they will offer very similar performance to hydraulic brakes.
P.S. Based on experience.

Avatar
Jez Ash [231 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
BBB wrote:

Correctly adjusted and with quality cables they will offer very similar performance to hydraulic brakes.
P.S. Based on experience.

No they won't.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1307 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Full hydro discs cannot be beat. Period. Zero maintenance, instant-on, loads of modulation, one-finger all-you-can-eat power. They are The Future of everything, as proved by the MTB world over the last 20 years.

Cable Hydro (TRP HyRd's) are the next-best-bet (with the right rotor) and you'd only know what you were missing if you tried full hydro, otherwise you'd be very happy over calipers.

Dual-piston cable (TRP Spyre) are almost as good as the HyRd's IMHO

Single-piston cable of any ilk can Get In The Sea these days.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1307 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

p.s. this review is what I love about Road.CC. No free 4/5-star passes here.

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StraelGuy [1040 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I agree with the general theme of this thread - £1800 for a bike with 105 and seriously shitty brakes? Better value elsewhere, definitely.

Avatar
crazy-legs [912 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
guyrwood wrote:

I agree with the general theme of this thread - £1800 for a bike with 105 and seriously shitty brakes? Better value elsewhere, definitely.

It's a real shame though because the bike looks amazing, I had high hopes for it when I first saw it but was put off straight away by the cable discs. Saracen were one of the true pioneers of the MTB scene and, apart from a short period when they went all cheap-shit supermarket-special full-sus, they've made some genuinely brilliant bikes.

I hope its got potential, it'd be nice to see it re-worked.

Avatar
StraelGuy [1040 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I agree with that, it's definitely a looker.

Avatar
BBB [461 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Jez Ash wrote:
BBB wrote:

Correctly adjusted and with quality cables they will offer very similar performance to hydraulic brakes.
P.S. Based on experience.

No they won't.

One finger braking, smooth operation and plenty of modulation to dance on the front wheel. That's how my BB7s work so please don't question my experience.

Vast majority of people form their (strong) opinions on limited experience with cheap OEM mechanical calipers or good ones but badly adjusted and with some flexy rubbish stock cables (not routed smoothly).

Avatar
Thelma Viaduct [60 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

BB7 = http://www.oldershow.com/oshsr/thumbs/f/5249.jpg

That's all Avid 'brakes'.

Avatar
Ziptie [22 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Avid BB7 cable discs are brilliant, and Magura, Avid and Hope all make hydraulic systems I would trust with my safety.

Avatar
Beaufort [270 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Not sure why anyone would spend this much money - a substantial sum for most people - on this bike when there are so many better options available. I suppose the looks combined with disc brakes might attract some but I'd still be surprised to see many of these out on the road.

Avatar
freebsd_frank [73 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

You only have to look at the picture of the front disc to see one reason it
wont work. It's got more holes in it than a Swiss cheese! Pro tip to the
muppet who designed it: your caliper needs more than fresh air to grab onto if
it's going to bring the bike to a stop.

I think it's reasonable if you spend £1800 on a bike that the brakes work. If
not then it's not "fit for purpose" as required by consumer law and is also
dangerous.

Then we come to the frame. It flexes when you get up out of the saddle. So
it's useless too.

As others have said, there are bikes cheaper than this with 105, brakes that
work and a frame that doesn't flex. Steer clear of this POS.