Unsurprisingly given its name, Saracen pitches the Urban Cross 3 as a machine designed to tackle city streets. Certainly, with its secure and comfortable ride, it does that very well. But it's got a lot more potential, and with a very competent spec including Shimano hydraulic disc brakes and Deore gears, it's a fantastic all-round leisure bike.
The first sensation that hits you after jumping aboard the Urban Cross is how easy everything feels. The front end is particularly relaxed: it's not sloppy, but it's certainly not fast and lively. That might be to do with the Suntour 75mm suspension fork, which goes a long way to help you survive an army of speed bumps, even at speed. Locking out the fork helps a bit with control, but it's still not a dynamic front end. In any case, I'd rather plump for the benefit of the extra bump insulation and accept the leisurely control.
However, while the Urban Cross 3 might not naturally feel super-exciting, it is fantastically stable and comfortable. Cruising is a relaxing experience and getting up to speed is no great chore. Overall, balance is very good, too. I'll talk about the Urban Cross 3's Schwalbe Tyrago tyres in more detail later, but I wasn't always completely convinced by the grip they were offering. However, the natural stability of the bike made up for it and there was never any need to panic, even when travelling at speed.
While stability trumps excitement with this Saracen, climbing is actually pretty rewarding. Helping this particularly is the Urban Cross 3's efficient back end. The suspension seatpost helps to take the sting out of big hits but the frame already seems to tread quite a nice line between forgiveness and effective power delivery. Certainly, you won't get off the Urban Cross 3 feeling like you've been in a fight.
In fact, if there's any fighting to be done, it'll happen before you ever spin a pedal. Getting into a good position on the Urban Cross 3 proved a bit more troublesome than I expected. One small annoyance is the fact that the handlebar only has a single intermittent central line for lining it up correctly in the stem clamp. Of course, once you've set the bar up as you want it, that issue may never affect you again, but it irritated me.
More important to understand is the Urban Cross 3's geometry. I have a relatively long torso and relatively short legs (and short arms and deep pockets), so normally getting the length right can be a bit of a chore. But the reach on the Saracen was pretty good; another 10mm on the stem would have made it perfect. What I wasn't expecting was to find that I was getting dangerously close to maxing out the permitted seatpost. Having compared geometry with other similar models, it's clear that Saracen does run a relatively short down tube. For example, this 'medium' Urban Cross 3 has a 585mm horizontal top tube length with a 450mm seat tube, while a 'large' Specialized Sirrus has a 583mm horizontal top tube with a 510mm seat tube.
Indeed, the frame is quite a compact little number, made from custom butted 6061 alloy, with an 'XX44 head tube' (which allows the use of 1 1/8-1 1/2in tapered-steerer forks in straight, 44mm head tubes) and a lot of tube manipulation and shaping going on at the rear dropout.
It's got a few useful commuting extras, too, such as mudguard and rear rack mounts. However, it's a little short on modern luxuries: there's no internal cabling, for example. Overall, though, it's a nicely finished, very mountain bike-inspired hybrid frame – just as you'd probably expect from Saracen.
The last bike I tested was that Specialized Sirrus fitted with Shimano's entry-level Tourney kit. It's the closest I've come to feeling outright hatred for a Shimano product. Even though the Saracen's Deore setup is only supposedly middling quality, in operation the difference is stark. Shifts might not always be velvety smooth but it's super-reliable: everything works as and when you want it to. It's also easy to operate and durable.
In fact, the entire drivetrain is free from criticism. A Suntour XCM triple chainset does a good impression of being a SRAM product and, allied with the 10 speeds on offer at the back, provides enough gearing options to tackle anything. I don't think I've even had to use the smallest gear, although I have spun out the tallest gear a couple of times.
The real jewel in the Urban Cross 3's crown, though, is the Shimano M365 hydraulic brakeset. Again, I've been testing bikes with other makes of hydraulic brakes or even V-brakes recently, and it's easy to forget how well sorted Shimano has got these relatively low-spec discs. Outright power is always there but the real beauty is how you can apply it so smoothly. It sounds strange to say, but it works so well, you don't even consciously realise you're braking; you're just using your mind (and a little bit of finger pressure!) to slow or stop.
The feel or modulation that comes with the M365s is especially important because of those 35mm Schwalbe Tyrago tyres. In the dry, they're perfectly fine, but in damp conditions, especially with leaves and mud on the road, their grip seems just a little unreliable. Thankfully, the M365s gave me enough of an idea about how close the tyres were to losing adhesion that there were no lock-ups, but a tyre swap – especially for winter – would be my first upgrade.
The wheels the Tyragos are seated on are also nothing special. Double-walled Saracen alloy rims on KT hubs make for strong if heavy hoops. Again, on a very decent general use leisure bike they're nothing to complain about; on a self-professed urban jungle attack machine, they're a little underwhelming. They rolled nicely, though.
Other than a lack of position markers, the 720mm handlebar with Saracen lock-on grips feels good to use and the short stem is fine.
The suspension seatpost works well, too, and I quite liked the Saracen Custom saddle – it won't need swapping out until you run out of other ideas for Christmas/birthday presents.
Saracen bikes are traditionally fair markers of what buyers can expect for their money from a typical mainstream brand, and the Urban Cross is no exception. There are cheaper similarly specced models available, and there are definitely more expensive options out there, but as a complete leisure bike package that works, you're certainly getting your money's worth.
However, I wondered, by widening our expectations a little, could the Urban Cross 3 offer even more? With its mountain bike heritage, I decided to take it on a little trip off-road to see how it fared. On a damp and gloopy day, and still using those stock tyres, I had a blast. The frame's naturally benign handling and balance let you slip and slide to your heart's content. And while the 75mm of front end suspension is never going to let you do anything too extreme, it is enough to have a bit of fun on local trails.
So ignore all that business about 'negotiating the urban landscape'. Yes, as a daily commuter the Urban Cross 3 is a safe, comfortable and secure way to ride to work. However, expand your horizons slightly at the weekend and you've got a plucky little hybrid that is far more capable than you might imagine.
Less an urban attack machine and more a very, very capable general use leisure bike
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Saracen Urban Cross 3
Size tested: 20in
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Custom butted and formed 6061 alloy tubeset with XX44 headtube and mudguard and rack mounts
Fork: Suntour NRX-E LOR air sprung with 75mm travel and lock-out
Headset: Neco cartridge
Stem: 70mm Saracen 6061 3D-forged alloy with 7 degree rise
Bars: 720mm Saracen OS 6061 alloy riser bar with 12.7mm rise, 5 degree up bend and 9 degree back bend
Brakes: Shimano M365 160mm hydraulic discs
Brake levers: Shimano M365
Front derailleur: Shimano Deore T6000
Rear derailleur: Shimano Deore T6000 Shadow Plus
Shifters: Shimano Deore T6000 Rapidfire Plus
Rims: Saracen double wall alloy 32h
Hubs: KT alloy disc 32h / safety axles
Spokes: Steel 14g
Tyres: Schwalbe Tyrago 700 x 35mm with K-Guard puncture protection
Seatpost: Alloy micro-adjust with suspension
Chainset: Suntour XCM-T428 26/36/48T
Cassette: Shimano HG50 10-speed cassette 11-36T
Chain: KMC X10
Bottom bracket: Shimano BB-ES300 Octalink
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 Urban Cross 3 is aimed at the urban/commuting market, however, I feel its talents are far more wide-ranging.
Saracen says: "A rapid bike with understated looks for attacking the urban jungle. We built the Cross 3 so you could take your bike further and ride longer. Negotiating the pot-hole ridden urban landscape has never been easier with its wide-range 30 speed Shimano Deore Trekking drivetrain and air-sprung Suntour NRX-E LOR 75mm travel fork."
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The 3 sits at the top of the Urban Cross range, with two models underneath: the Urban Cross 2 (£599.99) with Shimano Acera gearing and Promax hydraulic disc brakes; and the Urban Cross 1 (£529.99) with Shimano Tourney gearing and Promax hydraulic disc brakes.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nicely made – nothing less than you'd expect from a decent mainstream manufacturer.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is custom-butted aluminium and the Suntour fork has 75mm of travel with lockout.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
It feels to me like the length or reach of the Urban Cross 3 is very slightly long in comparison to seat tube length. For example, a 'large' Specialized Sirrus has a 583mm horizontal top tube length with a 510mm seat tube, while the 'medium' Urban Cross has a 585mm horizontal top tube with just a 450mm seat tube.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
I felt the reach was just a tad long or rather, in my case, the reach was good but the seat tube was too short.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, it was very comfortable. The suspension fork and seatpost helped but I felt the frame already provided decent ride quality.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The back end was stiff enough without affecting comfort, while the front felt more relaxed.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Efficient enough – certainly no sense of any wasted effort.
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? Neutral – not unresponsive, but definitely not too quick.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Stability and balance were the main highlights – really a very secure ride with no undue concerns.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The fork and seatpost. Even the saddle was good.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
Again, the fork contributed to the relaxed front end.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Shimano gearset and Suntour chainset all worked well.
As with control, power transfer isn't super-lively but feels very efficient.
Quite good at getting up to speed, even better at staying there.
Not really built for sprinting, but it'll try its best!
Very good at high speed stability.
Excellent – a very impressive carefree cruiser.
Good, nice and benign.
Safe and secure.
Far better than I expected. Seated climbing feels particularly efficient.
Very, very reliable.
Should last for a long time with a modicum of maintenance.
Not the lightest setup.
It all works well without exception.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The Shimano Deore derailleurs never gave me any reason to worry, and I thought the Suntour chainset was surprisingly good.
Wheels and tyres
A bit heavy but they roll well.
Should last for as long as you want them.
Pretty much as you'd expect on a hybrid at this price.
Contributed to overall comfort levels.
As with much of this bike, value is pretty much on par with the rest of the market.
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so what for?
Changing the wheels might help liven the ride experience slightly, but their unfussy performance matches the rest of the bike.
I wasn't very impressed – they didn't feel very secure in the damp.
Should last... if you want to keep them. Puncture resistance is good.
Nothing wrong with their weight.
Good for comfort.
Decent enough value when used in the right (dry) conditions.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so what for?
They felt like they were about to lose grip too easily on damp surfaces for my liking. Thankfully, the rest of the bike is very controllable.
Not particularly light, but good enough.
Really liked the skinny grips and the bar had a nice shape.
As you'd expect.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
Handlebar could do with better markings to help position it in the stem clamp.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
Shimano M365 disc brakes are absolute stars, offering beautiful control and modulation.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much.
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Price is about par for the course, although I don't know how many rival models have such a well-resolved total specification. I suspect that on paper many other bikes look relatively close to the Saracen – in the saddle, it might be a different scenario.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Urban Cross 3 is a fantastic all-round leisure bike. It's a bit of a shame that Saracen markets it as a fairly aggressive urban machine, because it is actually very easy to live with and offers enough performance to do far more than just commuting or city riding.
About the tester
I usually ride: Islabikes Beinn 29 My best bike is: 25-year-old Dawes Galaxy
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding, mountain biking, leisure