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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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
A smart-looking, well-finished frame, but it lacks stiffness and rider feedback. And bin the brakes straight away!
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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
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?
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.
A soft feel around the bottom bracket area when under serious load.
As above really, the soft frame really lets it down.
Soggy BB area again lets it down here.
Composed and stable as long as it isn't too technical.
The Avro's comfort zone.
Missing the directness that a bike with this geometry should possess.
Not bad considering the position and weight, lacks stiffness when things get really steep.
Shimano 105 is brilliant for the price.
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
Decent all-rounders as far as the wheels are concerned, while the tyres feel quick and grippy.
No issues with either for the test period.
A sensible weight for both.
The 28mm tyres can be run soft for added comfort, though pumped up to the max there were no issues.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
As part of the Tech Hub here at F-At Digital, our senior product reviewer Stu uses the knowledge gained from putting well over a 1,000 products through their paces (including hundreds of bikes) to write in-depth reviews of a huge range of kit. After first throwing his leg over a race bike back in 2000, Stu's ridden more than 160,000 miles on road, time-trial, track, and gravel bikes, and while he's put his racing days behind him he still likes to smash the pedals rather than take things easy. Although, as he spends a fair bit of his time reviewing ebikes these days he's becoming an expert in letting the motor take the strain. He's also waiting for 23mm race tyres to make a comeback!