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Saracen HACK 2 2014

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Greenwheel Cycles
5 Titan Drive, Fengate East, Peterborough, PE1 5XG
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Tested by Oliver Laverack

Review

Pitched as a road bike for the urban commuter, the Hack 2 is a part of a new breed of do it all commuter bikes, that have grown in popularity over the last few years as more of us have started cycling to work.

At just under £1000 the Hack 2 sits above the Hack 1 which is £200 cheaper. The only difference between the two being the groupset and a few hundred grams. The Hack 1 is equipped with Shimano's Sora 18 speed groupset and the Hack 2 comes with Shimano's Tiagra 20 speed groupset. Both bikes are offered in four frames sizes (54, 56, 58, 60cm) and the 56cm we've had on test weighs in at 10.75kg without pedals. It's worth noting that the 54cm frame comes with 170mm crank arms and that the other sizes all come with 175mm crank arms. We'd have expected the 56cm frame to come with 172.5mm crank arms as this would be the length that the majority of people wanting a 56cm frame would need.

You only need to take one look at this bike to see that it takes its purpose of commuting from A to B quickly, comfortably and reliably seriously. Puncture resistant 35mm wide Schwalbe Spicer tyres were clearly chosen to help commuters tackle a variety of terrain and help smooth out the pot holed roads that make up most commutes. Promax cable operated disc brakes with 160mm rotors on the front and rear give the bike a more aggressive cyclocross look as well as extra stopping power in dry and wet conditions.

The tricky part of commuting is not the terrain but reacting to other road users. In these situations having extra rubber to ride through a pot hole you would otherwise have swerved round and having more stopping power to react to unexpected traffic slowing down in front of you are all major plus points.

Anyone that has cycled to work on a road bike with calliper brakes and skinny 23mm tyres on a wet day has probably experienced the fraught emergency stop when other road users have unexpectedly stopped or swerved in font of them. Compared to rim brakes, discs offer significantly improved braking power, particularly in wet conditions when the braking rims can sometimes be covered with a film of water, compromising safety. And it's at the year round urban commuter, who is likely to encounter these sorts of situations and terrain, that the Hack 2 is squarely aimed.

So, first impressions are good and on paper this bike ticks a lot of commuter friendly boxes. Out on the road, my first impressions unfortunately weren't quite as good. The biggest issue was the Promax 160mm rotors on both the front and back were not true. This meant that I had to run more brake cable through the calliper to prevent the discs from rubbing the pads. Ultimately this meant that the brakes were not as responsive as they should have been. The silver lining however was that the brake callipers themselves were very easy to adjust, providing you take the wheels off first, which bodes well for future maintenance, either for you if you know what you're doing, or your local bike shop staff.

Despite this issue, the braking has been much better than what you'd typically get from a set of road calliper brakes. Had the rotors been true I suspect braking would have improved significantly so this is something to check at the bike shop before you buy and get them to change the rotors if they aren't 100% true. This is easiest to check by turning the bike upside down, spinning the wheels one at a time and looking down the disc rotor as it rotates to see if there is ay side to side movement as it spins round.

We wanted to test the versatility of this commuter bike, so how did it fare on winter road training rides? Although the 35mm Schwalbe Spicer tyres are very good at smoothing out rough roads they are a bit on the heavy side for training rides when you have to keep pace with others. If you run the Schwalbe tyres at the top of their psi rating (95psi) you can get the Hack 2 to average some good speeds. The sheer weight of the tyres does mean that accelerating isn't as quick as it could be and you will notice the extra weight on hills if you are used to a road bike. On the plus side however at around 60-65 psi the Schwalbe Spicer tyres offer a super smooth ride and help iron out any bumps which is great if you're battling for position with cars on pot hole filled roads.

However, a simple change of tyres to some tough 23mm Mavic road tyres reduced the weight of the wheels by a whopping 850g! The rear wheel was 2.39kg originally with cassette, disc rotor and quick release skewer and then reduced down to 1.97kg with a 23mm Mavic tyre with Michelin tube. The front wheel was 1.86kg originally with the disc rotor and quick release skewer and then dropped to 1.43kg using the Mavic tyre and Michelin tube. Also, reducing the rotational mass on the outside of the wheel by 850g makes a big difference in terms of acceleration, going up hills and maintaining speed which is more important when you're riding in a group.

The key thing here being that the 22mm wide Araya AR-713, 32 hole rims can happily accommodate both 23mm and 35mm wide tyres and obviously anything in-between, making the Hack 2 versatile enough for both pothole-ready, wide-tyre commuting and speedy, skinny-tyre training rides. Yes, the ride was nowhere near as smooth and the puncture protection was not as good but the acceleration for winter training rides was good enough to not feel like my legs were on fire just keeping up with everyone else.

Size-wise the 56cm frame with 440mm wide alloy bars (70mm reach and 120mm drop), 175mm cranks and 100mm stem (7 degree rise) has been a good fit for my 6 foot 1 frame. The handlebars offer a relatively short reach which makes the drops easy to reach and comfortable to sit in if you're honking along or descending. If you're much taller than 6 foot 1 then you'd probably have to move to the next size up though. The plus side to having plenty of seatpost on show is that there's plenty of scope to attach lights and even saddlebags such as the Bridge Street saddlebag. The saddle really didn't agree with my bum but that's no surprise as personally I only really get on with Adamo saddles as they are the only saddles that effectively prevent excessive pressure on the perineum.

The frame itself is designed in the UK and comprised of hydroformed 6061 aluminium alloy tubing, which is also commonly used to build small scale aircraft wings and fuselages, giving you an idea of how tough and lightweight it is. The hydroforming has allowed for some more organic looking tubes giving the frame a more 'moulded' carbon look and in this case some rather pleasing shapes.

The oversized 'flex seat stays' and chain stays both have very pronounced curves that not only look great but are also designed to help absorb some of the vibrations and knocks that are transmitted from the ground through the frame to the rider. The snaked chain stays also mean that there's plenty of clearance for the disc rotor and cassette on the rear. In terms of clearance there's plenty of room for tyres up to 35mm on the front and rear but we wouldn't want to go any bigger than this.

The most visible welds have been partially filled and smoothed over to create clean lines and again this gives the frame the look of a more expensive carbon model. For practicality the frame has mudguard eyelets and will also take a rack on the rear. Not only are these features good for commuters but this open up the possibility of making this a touring bike too. Another tick in the 'versatile' box for the Hack 2.

At the front of the frame there's a tapered headtube that houses an oversized carbon fork that matches the frame design nicely and completes the carbon bike look. The combination of a tapered headtube and fork adds some additional strength and rigidity at the front and continues the utilitarian theme that runs throughout this bike.

A nice touch on a frame at this price point is the internally routed rear brake cable that runs through the top tube. One obvious area for improvement is the gear cable routing which on both Hack frames runs down the downtube and over the bottom bracket area, putting them neatly out of sight. This is a common cable routing option on road bikes however this does leave them exposed to the elements, grit and grime that will get sprayed up onto the bike. This shouldn't cause too many problems in terms of gear shifting however those commuting all year round on a variety of terrains might find they have to replace the gear cables and housing more often. The other option of course is to clean your bike regularly during winter using degreasing agents which will also help keep your gears working smoothly for longer.

The colour is great for hiding the dirt, meaning you can get away with not cleaning the Hack 2 for longer with the bike still looking good. I did find however that the matt paint scratched easily and there was nothing preventing the cables from scratching the frame and forks where the cables rub against the paint. If like me you like to protect your paint, I can recommend investing in some helicopter tape which you can buy online. For around £10-£15 you should be able to get enough to cover all the areas of your bike that are likely to get scratched or chipped and have some left over for spare. In areas where there's constant friction such as where a cable is rubbing the frame it's best to use two layers as overtime cables will wear their way through the tape.

Another nice detail that is very simple but surprisingly not standard on bikes at this price point is that the seat tube slot under the seat tube clamp faces forwards. This is good because any dirty water sprayed up from the back wheel won't be aimed straight at this area which can cause seat posts to seize over time.

Personally I really like the colour scheme of grey and green which gives it a stylish yet understated look. I also like the fact that there isn't too much logo shouting going on with the main Saracen branding being more subtly placed on the underside of the down tube. This also helps the bike blend in more easily in the bike sheds / train station lockup so that thieves will hopefully not be drawn to it.

The Shimano Tiagra groupset on the Hack 2 has been pleasant to use, offering slick, predictable and reliable shifting as you'd expect from Shimano components. The question you might be asking is, should I pay more to have Shiman's Tiagra groupset over the Shimano Sora equipment found on the Hack 1. It's tricky as there really isn't much between the two in terms of performance. With Tiagra you'll get an extra two gears which might be handy for hillier commutes, and you'll also save a couple of hundred grams but that won't be noticeable in terms of how the two bikes ride. If you're looking at this bike with a £1000 cycle to work voucher in your hand and you haven't got enough money for a helmet, light and lock then I'd have to recommend the Hack 1. If you're feeling a bit flush then the Hack 2 groupset is a marginal improvement and in my opinion has the better paint job of the two.

When fellow Bike List rider Tom asked me to take part in an adventure race around the North Downs it seemed like a great opportunity to stretch the Hack 2's versatility test even further by converting it into a cyclocross machine to see if it would hold up to some full on, off-road use. With a simple change to my favourite cyclocross tyres (35mm Kenda Small Block 8's) the bike instantly became a race-ready cyclocross bike, ideal for hacking around the best and worst roads and trails around Surrey. For me this race brought out all of the Hack's strengths and everything from my position on the bike to the performance of the gears, wheels and frame made me like this bike even more.

Both the Hack 1 and 2 come with a compact chainset (50 teeth on the big ring, 34 on the little) and the Hack 2 comes with a Shimano Tiagra 10 speed cassette with a 12-28 range of cogs. My local roads and trails can be described as undulating at best but the adventure race in Surrey with fellow Bike List member Tom was a true test for the Hack 2 and included some severe climbs between 20 and 25% on and off-road. One in particular where on approach I didn't think I'd be able to navigate my way through the stream of rocks and mud but was pleasantly surprised to find I had the gear I needed to roll over the obstacles in my way. At the other end of the scale I have powered the Hack 2 up to 35mph locally and still didn't reach the limit of the gearing so the range is more than sufficient for everything that I have been able to throw at it. That brings me on to steering, which has felt well-balanced, being both predictable and responsive throughout testing. I also didn't suffer any toe overlap issues with my size 11 feet which can be annoying on commuter bikes where you might be moving slowly whilst you wait for traffic lights to change. Ultimately the geometry strikes a good balance between comfort and performance and that's one of the reasons why this bike is so versatile.

Although I've talked considerably about tyres it's worth mentioning that the wheels on the Hack which have served me well over the 12 or so weeks I've been testing this bike. They have endured heavy knocks from deep Surrey potholes and off-road trails alike. And after around 750 miles the stealthy looking Formula hubs which are laced to black 32 hole Araya AR-713 rims are still perfectly true. A nice little touch that I didn't notice immediately is the anodized green spoke nipples which I can't help look now that I know they are there.

The wheels also come with a security-minded feature that really confirms the Hack's commuter credentials. The wheels can only be removed with an allen key making it more difficult for opportunist thieves to take one of your wheels. That does of course mean you need to carry an allen key with you should you puncture but personally I think it's worth it for the extra peace of mind.

As the bike comes, it's perfect for commuters who are more interested in comfort and puncture protection than all out speed. Then with a change of tyres this bike is so versatile it can transform into a winter training bike, a cyclocross racer or even a touring bike thanks to the rack mounts and comfortable ride. If you look at it from that perspective this bike is amazing value for money. Yes there are cheaper comparable bikes out there but not many that will match the versatility of the Hack. In it's original guise we'd give the Hack 2 three stars out of five for value but given the extra versatility we feel the Hack deserves an extra half star here. Had Saracen given this bike a Shimano 105 groupset, which is achievable at this price point, they would have been edging closer to four stars for value. A final point that should please potential commuters is that replacement parts such as chain, cassette and brake pads should all be relatively cheap making this a very affordable all rounder.

At a glance

Verdict Great commuter / utilitarian option for fast and reliable commuting on a wide variety of terrain. With a change of tyres this bike also transforms into an impressive cyclocross bike, winter training bike or even a touring bike!
Value
Performance

Do you own this bike?

by robert bunting  on 17 Mar 2015
Love this bike! Being a heavy (19 stone) rider it gives me confidence to go anywhere , and feels bomb proof, stylish, it gets admiring comments.
Gears and brakes are spot on, and though i'll never win the tour de france on it, is fun fun fun, the only bike you need.

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