The Carrera Vulcan is a bit on the weighty side but some careful upgrades – tyres and fork, in particular – over time would take care of that. As it stands, it’s a very impressive beginner’s machine, with a solid spec that includes hydraulic disc brakes.
Ride & handling: Frame geometry suits enthusiastic trail riding but weight makes it a handful on climbs
The spec list is impressive but the Vulcan faces a major obstacle in winning riders over: its weight. The overbuilt frame, chunky tyres, disc brakes and long fork all add heft. Light it most certainly ain’t, at 14.7kg (32.5lb), and that’s something you can’t miss when pulling it off a bike rack in the car park.
Jump aboard, though, and it’s easy to forgive a few extra grams here and there. The long top tube and short stem create an efficient and comfortable position for hammering out the miles, marking the Carrera out as one of the rare entry-level machines that doesn’t make compromises in the handling department.
If you’re new to riding off-road it’ll likely feel a bit odd to start with but trust us on this – the Vulcan is impeccably well balanced. The steering manages that elusive trick of being stable enough for cruising yet quick enough to make tight, twisty singletrack a pleasure rather than a chore.
Even the controls feel good. The SRAM transmission offers rapid and precise shifts both front and rear, and the Clarks dics allow harder, later braking into the corners. This is, in many ways, a true trail enthusiast’s bike for less money than many riders would pay for a suspension fork.
It does have its limits, of course. The weight makes it a sluggish climber and sprinter, the very rigid frame gives it a harsher ride than some of the lighter competition, and the fork is okay rather than good, particularly since it seems reluctant to let go of the last 20mm of its travel.
But despite these niggles, this is one of the best beginner bikes we’ve ridden for a long time. At this price, it's exceptional, and for that it comes highly recommended.
Frame: Well thought out chassis
The Vulcan’s frame looks like it means business. From the 3D gusset reinforcing the head and down tube junction to the seat tube brace and square section chainstays, the Carrera is more about strength and rigidity than aesthetics. That’s not to say it hasn’t been thoroughly thought out, though.
There’s the obligatory set of mounting points for a rear rack, the chainstays have neat cutouts just aft of the bottom bracket to increase tyre clearance, and the seatstays curve elegantly on their journey from dropout to seat tube. It’s a frame that should stand up to some hard use and it’s clearly been brought to life by a team who understand the needs of mountain bikers.
Part of the reason for the emphasis on strength can be found gracing the Vulcan’s front end. The Suntour XCM V3 is a fork that crops up on some of the better bikes at this price but it’s unusual to see it in 120mm (5in) travel trim. That’s a whole lotta bounce to plug into the front of a bike aimed at new riders.
As you’d expect from a fork offering that much rock swallowing ability, there’s an adjustable lockout as well as a preload adjuster… but no rebound damping adjustment. We couldn’t coax more than about 100mm out of it despite some spirited riding.
Equipment: Superb spec for the money includes hydraulic discs
The surprises don’t end with the fork. Although most bikes at the £400 mark feature disc brakes, the norm is for cable-operated units. The Vulcan bucks the trend with its Clarks hydraulic stoppers, which remove the need for ongoing cable maintenance and should – in theory, at least – offer more predictable stopping, whatever the weather or trail conditions. They work well after a short bedding-in period.
The SRAM eight-speed transmission makes a change from Shimano’s ubiquity in this price range, while the tyres’ aggressive, large block tread pattern clearly mark this bike out as meaning business away from tarmac. More grip in the dirt and wet comes at the expense of easy rolling on the road, of course, so anyone looking for a dual purpose machine might want to switch the stock treads for something that rolls smoother and quieter on the route to work.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine.