Halfords' Carrera brand has always been strong at lower price points. Halfords also sponsor MBUK uber loon Rob Jarman and DH National Champions Johnny Cheetham and Helen Gaskell, so they know a thing or two about maxing out bikes. Do these two elements add up to a viable £500 freeride starter bike in the shape of the 152mm travel Banshee?
The frame certainly looks the part, with huge box-section front ends to both main tubes. In case the 100mm overlapped top tube/down tube weld seam isn't enough, Carrera have welded a big throat gusset behind the ring reinforced internal headset head tube too. Another saddle gusset reinforces the junction of the tapered top tube and seat tube, with a short plate gusset under the rocker pivot to spread stress. The long cast rocker plates then drive the vertically mounted coil shock in the frame centre.
Tapered asymmetric chainstays give ample chain clearance, and the back end is a true four-bar link with double-sided pivots on each chainstay. All pivot points get proper cartridge bearings, not just stiff friction bushings, and cables are neatly routed too.
Despite the bike's low price, the 140mm Epicon fork comes from high up the SR/Suntour range. It combines an easily adjustable air spring for accurate impact response with external rebound and compression/lockout damping adjustment. The rear coil shock has a lockout lever, so while schlepping 16kg of bike uphill is a labour of love, at least you don't have to fight against suspension bounce. Fast-rolling Tioga tyres help massage speed, but the edge tread is too shallow and spaced out for aggressive cornering on slippery trails.
With this much weight and downhill appetite under you though, the Tektro cable brakes need watching. Truvativ cranks and SRAM gearing do a dutiful job of powering the Banshee bulk, although the shifts are a bit plasticky and the cranks slightly flexy. A nine-speed rear cassette avoids any awkward ratio jumps
Wellgo alloy platform pedals are a nice touch - even with fixed pins they're much grippier than the plastic ones you normally get at this price.
The oversize bars, four-bolt forged stem and single-bolt layback seatpost all acquit their anonymity well in the right sweeps, lengths and sizes. The Carrera saddle never upset us either. A quick release seatpost clamp would be an extreme-riding bonus, although less theft-proof than the bolted one fitted.
With its long shock and tall fork added to a high-rise bar and short top tube, the Banshee is very upright. Given it's designed for heading down steep stuff rather than charging up it, that's no bad thing. It certainly adds confidence when things get out of control and you just have to hang on and hope for the best, and it helps lift the nose off drops too. We stopped short of full scale hucking and Shore drops because the wheels and cranks aren't designed for impacts that big.
Overall handling balance is good, with the wide bar and short stem giving a bit of power steering assistance to the naturally steady steering angles. They certainly helped us snatch things back from the brink several times. They also make it easier to flick the bike right over from side to side on fast, twisty descents.
The Suntour fork impressed us with its smooth stroke, which kept its composure right up to a controlled bottom-out, and the lockout helps on climbs too. The rebound damping needs very careful set-up between too slow and too fast though, and even then we had some rogue moments when the fork buried itself on multiple stepdowns.
While the basic spring rate is fine, it also takes some balancing of the damping lever to sort the rear shock. We did eventually stop it pogo-ing dangerously without it slamming against the compression damping, although it always tended to kick back hard with a savage top-out clunk. The Tektro brakes started working better after a few runs where there wasn't much stopping, just a burning smell. However, control was always slightly random.
A fair amount of flex in the fork and some from the rear of the frame added to an often wayward feel, and we were constantly pulling the Banshee back from the edge of disaster during testing.
MBUK'S MECHANIC SAYS...
Wet is better than wire Cable disc brakes are better than V-brakes in terms of all weather stopping, but there's still no comparison with a hydraulic set-up. The Carrera's complete outer cabling reduces the normal cable seizing problems, but they're still much spongier and less predictable than hydraulic discs. Regular cable adjustment is essential to keep them in their operating sweet spot as pads wear too.