The Carrera brand has been part of Halfords for 20 years, so you'd expect them to have this bike building thing pretty sorted by now. Our first sideways glance at the 2006 Carrera Kraken was at the Halfords 2006 launch, and we were convinced it was an £800 bike (it was 20 yards away). The polished alloy frame, purposeful sloping frame and understated graphics drew us in.
So when the Kraken was delivered to us, we couldn't wait to take it off to Cwmcarn and give it a thrashing.
At a hair under £350 we weren't expecting this bike to have a frame that'd set the world on fire, but we were pleasantly surprised by the Kraken. It's light, stiff where it needs to be and doesn't beat you up.
The frame is made from aluminium with the three main tubes in double-butted 7005 T6 flavour. The front end of the bike is chunky and this helps make the frame feel very secure when pushing hard into the sweeping turns at the end of the Cwmcarn XC loop.
The welding is neat and tidy and wouldn't look out of place on a bike three times the price. Even details like the cable guides - the bits that tend to let budget bikes down - are well thought out.
The frame is a real looker, with its polished finish and grey graphics, and the Suntour XCR fork, with 100mm of travel plus lockout and preload adjustment, looks like it could have been made for the Kraken. The bike comes with cable operated Tektro discs, a SRAM 27-speed transmission including X.7 trigger shifters, an SX5 rear mech, and a budget Truvativ Isoflow crank. The wheels, bar, stem and saddle are all no-name components.
The wheels are particularly tough, shrugging off several unreasonable demands placed on them by overzealous testers. The stem is a bit weedy looking but held the bar firmly enough; it is only the bar, which is trying to be a riser but without really having any rise at all, that we'd change immediately. Even the saddle and grips are OK, and that's rare at this level.
We weren't anticipating a really memorable experience, but the reality was that this bike was a blast to ride. Our 16-inch model turned with the kind of purpose and intuitive feel that we'd expect from a much more expensive rig. Full marks to Isla Rowntree, former head of Halfords' bike division (and former MTB racer and national cyclocross champion), for getting this bike dialled. We found ourselves climbing technical sections with no consideration for the bike. And as soon as the trail headed down, the nimble Kraken couldn't do enough to please, with the stiff frame and surefooted Tioga Factory 2.1in tyres guiding the way.
We highly recommend first-time mountain bikers to pick one of these up and let it show them what off-road fun is all about.