Halfords' potent buying power has combined with a growing expertise in their Bikehut division to produce a nicely sorted range of Carrera mountain bikes this year. The Kraken frame would be at home on a far more costly bike, the fork is one of the best controlled offerings we've tested on a bike at this price and the finishing components look and feel the part. An over-hefty wheelset is the only grumble.
There's a lot going on in budget frames these days - they're packed with features that once only appeared on far more costly offerings. The 7005 heat-treated aluminium Kraken has all sorts of tube shapes. It's noticeably stiff, uncomfortably so out back if you pump your tyres hard, but this makes for sharp handling, and the sporty geometry combines with big-profile tyres and a plush fork to take the edges off rough terrain.
The big down tube is biaxially ovalised to create big weld contact areas into the head tube and bottom bracket, and the head tube is machined to create stronger areas around the headset cups. The top tube morphs from a teardrop shape at the front to almost box-section into the seat tube, and the extended seat tube boasts an Allen bolt seat clamp slot to keep it out of the spray.
The sporty geometry combines with big-profile tyres and a plush fork to take the edges off rough terrain
The seatstays curve out at the tyre then in again for heel and ankle clearance; there are eyelets for a rack and two water bottles and there are full outer cable guides to the rear brake, better than interrupted cabling on cable-pull disc brakes, and it's ready for hydraulic hoses if you want to upgrade. The frame's worth it.
The 100mm travel SR Suntour fork is a good find ona bike at this price, but even same-model SR Suntour forks seem to vary so it's not easy to tell exactly what you're getting. The most important thing to check is the rebound damping. This one was well controlled in both compression and rebound, and came with a lockout dial on the right leg. Even the preload dial worked better than other forks on bikes in this category.
The Carrera has the full SRAM 27 gear package, which is pretty rare on Shimano-equipped bikes at this price. The SX5 shifters and rear gear are precise enough, but not as satisfyingly clicky as Shimano's shifters. Truvativ's Isoflow steel-ringed crankset has a splined bottom bracket axle and the SRAM front mech was crisp and reliable throughout the test.
The Tektro cable-pull disc brakes - very common in this price range - remained powerful in conditions that would challenge V-brakes, but cable discs will need more regular cable maintenance than V-brakes to keep them constantly running sweet.
We were amazed at the weight of the wheelset on the Kraken. The wheels and tyres combined are carrying 2.3lb of extra weight over the sixty quid cheaper Decathlon Rockrider 6.3 (though admittedly that bike has unusually light wheels). That's a lot of extra heft to accelerate up to speed, even with the new lower profile Tioga Extreme XCs fitted.
The rest of the finishing kit is pretty standard fare for the price. The wide riser bar and shortish stem are well suited to the character of the bike. The saddle is comfy and the seatpost is long enough to allow the 18in bike to stretch to a 6ft rider.
Weighing in at 31lb, the Kraken should theoretically feel faster than a bike like the heavier Decathlon Rockrider, but it doesn't - hefty wheels have a lot to answer for. It trundles along well enough once you get it up to speed, but initial acceleration and climbing are sluggish and it's only really the precise and totally predictable handling and the fork's performance that makes it an enjoyable ride, especially on trails that point slightly downhill.
It handles speedy singletrack well and a longish top tube reach means that you can use all your power to drag it up the climbs, despite the heavy wheelset.
For £360 the Kraken is excellent. If it came with the same wheels as the £300 Decathlon or the £300 Dawes, it would be even better - not much, but every little counts at this price. It's generally well specced, and 27 gears are bound to attract some riders over the usual 24 at this price.
The frame's good enough to be worthy of some upgrades as stuff wears out, making the Kraken a good option.