Halfords have a habit of offending the opposition in terms of both components and ride value with their Carrera machines. The Kraken continues this trend.
It has a better fork than many other bikes in its price range, and it’s among the few sub-£500 bikes to get 27 gears. With hydraulic braking and great wheels it’s relatively light as well as cheap.
So is there a downside? Well, there certainly isn’t one that relates to the ride, but some riders might flinch at the fact that this model has been available relatively unchanged since 2011 – Halfords don’t live by the autumn model-change thing of other manufacturers. Look out for the new Carrera range in late spring.
Ride & handling: Slightly clunky over rough ground but great for carefree fun
Most bikes at this price boast – but rarely achieve – 100mm (3.9in) of fork travel. The controlled compression and rebound of the Kraken’s plush 120mm (4.7in) model combines with a compact frame, generous crotch clearance and aggressively treaded tyres to create an amazingly well controlled ride on trails that are often best avoided on bikes under £500.
The fork still shows its limits on rough drops, but it works with the relaxed head angle to reward a more attacking style than on any other bike here. The deep square-edged tyres grip superbly on softer surfaces and the high profile adds loads of comfort, again boosting both the confidence and the control that comes from having a fork that would typically appear on a bike costing a couple of hundred pounds more.
The frame stiffness and overall ride setup make charging across demanding terrain as deflection-free and controlled as on a far more costly bike, stressing hard-hitting carefree fun above pure cross country speed. But the reasonable weight (13.7kg / 30.1lb), and in particular a below average wheel weight, ensures that acceleration is nippy when the need arises.
But comfort and shock absorption are the Kraken’s biggest attributes. It’s well above average for the price, with only the clunky fork lockout detracting from that. But it’s not really meant for steady urban use so you won’t need the lockout much. As a hard-hitting trail machine, we haven’t tested another sub-£500 bike that can touch it.
Frame & equipment: Well controlled travel with light but tough wheel/tyre set
Okay, the Kraken’s frame is a bit less sleek and more workmanlike than some others, but the tubes offer clearances and reinforcements where it matters, open-gusseted behind the hourglass shaped head tube and bridge-gusseted from the low top tube across to the extended seat tube.
The Allen key seat clamp faces forward, out of the rear wheel spray, there’s lots of mud room and there are two sets of bottle bosses plus rack mounts for riders looking at utility usage. But the Kraken deserves more than round town use. With its long plush fork, fat grippy tyres and aggressive ride posture it’s one of the few bikes we’ve tested under £500 that can handle proper hard, fast and technical trails.
The fork is still an SR Suntour model, as on most bikes around this price, but it’s the XCR model with a hydraulic lockout, and offers a plush achievable 120mm (4.7in) of travel as well as a reasonably well controlled rebound.
The rebound is still more lively than on forks with proper rebound damping but the action is much smoother and the rebound has a soft top-out rather than the hard thunk of the XCM model. The preload dial is effective in stiffening/loosening the spring but the lockout is a bit clunky over rough surfaces when employed: we left it off.
Most riders find SRAM’s X5 drivetrain a bit more clunky than Shimano options around the same price, but the shifting is reliable and it’s unusual to find nine rear gears on a sub-£500 bike. The brakes are excellent too, with the 180mm rotor up front adding to power and confidence on descents.
The wheels are also great. We know nothing about the durability of the no-name hubs but the rims are double walled eyeleted models and Continental’s Mountain King 2.2in tyres offer great traction and a large enough profile to boost comfort on rough terrain. The Carrera branded 26.5in handlebar, stem, saddle and seatpost are all good quality offerings with masses of adjustability.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.