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Verdict: 
Less an urban attack machine and more a very, very capable general use leisure bike
Weight: 
13,340g

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.

  • Pros: Very comfortable, stable and assured; good gears and brilliant brakes; surprisingly fun off-road
  • Cons: Front end is more relaxed than exciting; stock tyres only good in the dry; be careful with sizing

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Ride quality

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - riding 2.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - riding 4.jpg

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.

Position

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - bars 2.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - head tube.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - seat stays.jpg

Groupset

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - grip and lever 2.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - drivetrain.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - rear disc brake.jpg

Components

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - tyre.jpg

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - riding 5.jpg

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.  

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - stem.jpg

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 Urban Cross 3 - saddle and post.jpg

Value (and added value)

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.

> Buyer's Guide: 9 of the best hybrid/urban bikes

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.

Saracen Urban Cross 3 - riding 3.jpg

Verdict

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

Overall rating for frame and fork
 
8/10

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?

No.

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.

Rate the bike for efficiency of power transfer:
 
8/10

As with control, power transfer isn't super-lively but feels very efficient.

Rate the bike for acceleration:
 
7/10

Quite good at getting up to speed, even better at staying there.

Rate the bike for sprinting:
 
6/10

Not really built for sprinting, but it'll try its best!

Rate the bike for high speed stability:
 
9/10

Very good at high speed stability.

Rate the bike for cruising speed stability:
 
10/10

Excellent – a very impressive carefree cruiser.

Rate the bike for low speed stability:
 
9/10

Good, nice and benign.

Rate the bike for flat cornering:
 
8/10

No problems.

Rate the bike for cornering on descents:
 
8/10

Safe and secure.

Rate the bike for climbing:
 
9/10

Far better than I expected. Seated climbing feels particularly efficient.

The drivetrain

Rate the drivetrain for performance:
 
9/10

Very, very reliable.

Rate the drivetrain for durability:
 
8/10

Should last for a long time with a modicum of maintenance.

Rate the drivetrain for weight:
 
6/10

Not the lightest setup.

Rate the drivetrain for value:
 
8/10

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

Rate the wheels for performance:
 
6/10

A bit heavy but they roll well.

Rate the wheels for durability:
 
9/10

Should last for as long as you want them.

Rate the wheels for weight:
 
6/10

Pretty much as you'd expect on a hybrid at this price.

Rate the wheels for comfort:
 
8/10

Contributed to overall comfort levels.

Rate the wheels for value:
 
7/10

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.

Rate the tyres for performance:
 
5/10

I wasn't very impressed – they didn't feel very secure in the damp.

Rate the tyres for durability:
 
7/10

Should last... if you want to keep them. Puncture resistance is good.

Rate the tyres for weight:
 
7/10

Nothing wrong with their weight.

Rate the tyres for comfort:
 
8/10

Good for comfort.

Rate the tyres for value:
 
7/10

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.

Controls

Rate the controls for performance:
 
8/10

Excellent.

Rate the controls for durability:
 
7/10

Good.

Rate the controls for weight:
 
7/10

Not particularly light, but good enough.

Rate the controls for comfort:
 
9/10

Really liked the skinny grips and the bar had a nice shape.

Rate the controls for value:
 
8/10

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.

Your summary

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.

Rate the bike overall for performance:
 
9/10
Rate the bike overall for value:
 
8/10

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.

Overall rating: 9/10

About the tester

Age: 39  Height: 6'0  Weight: 16 stone

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