Half a grand is a lot of money for a lot of people - and luckily it can get you a lot of bike.There's a huge range to choose from at this price, from commuting cycles to long-distance tourers, but if you're looking for something a little lighter and sportier you'll bepleased to know that for around £500 you can buy a machine that'll easily cope withdistance rides such as sportives, as well as your day to day cycling, with a good dose ofstyle thrown in.
The Carrera Valour comes in at well under this price, just £360.
The Carrera's aluminium tubing is neatly welded throughout. The frame alignment is surprisingly accurate although the grey metallic paintwork is uninspiring to look at.
While heavy, a frame built from plain-gauge tubing is gratifyingly stiff in the larger sizes, though in smaller sizes their weight counts against them. However, at this price we aren't complaining. There are only three sizes to choose from, but there is plenty of scope for adjustments. The forks are made up of TIG-welded steel and it would be worth upgrading to a carbon bladed, aluminium steerer-equipped fork, which can be found on the internet for around £70.
With the Carrera's eight-speed Shimano cassette, the transition to a smaller gear is a noticeably bigger step than with a 10-speed system, though our testers felt that it hardly affected their ability to maintain a constant pedalling cadence on undulating roads. The Carrera's frame and fork spec is about right for the asking price and the level of equipment is better than you might expect for £360. To start with, the Shimano Sora gear components are complemented by a Tiagra rear mech that gives added value, and we have Tektro brakes that are a common fitment on budget bikes. The one-piece moulded brake blocks resisted our initial attempts at tightening them in the stirrups, but greasing the threads helped. Their stopping power didn't immediately inspire confidence, but matters improved a little with use and their performance was quite similar to the cartridge units specified on the other test bikes. The unbranded, lower geared, 'compact' 34/50-tooth (as opposed to a 39/53t) chainset is respectable on a budget bike, though it would be good to have a triple option for those who need a smoother spread of gears in the lower ranges.
The Carrera has unbranded hubs that use easily-serviceable ball and cone bearings of a similar quality to Shimano's entry-level Sora. The un-eyeletted rims are similar to those used on their £500 Vanquish model and also use 32 spokes per wheel. These wheels were perfectly true and tensioned, and remained that way for the duration of the test. With tyres, these wheels are on average 450g more than the others, and we felt the added bulk made it harder to change tempo on the climbs. However, the effects were insignificant on fast, level roads. The Innova tyres have surprisingly good grip for a budget tyre; their thicker than average construction reduces the incidence of sidewall damage, but the stiff carcass does little to dampen the effects of poor road surfaces, and their rolling resistance was greater than the others.
Right from the word go the Carrera is slow to get off the mark and its considerable weight - 24lb - takes more effort on the part of the rider to get up to speed. The larger testers felt that it was stiffer other bikes when cranking along hard in time trial mode, but they conversely found it harder to maintain speed in the company of other similar bikes while going uphill. The steering was surprisingly smooth and accurate considering the weight of the fork, though the slightly-built riders felt that it lacked the excitement factor and that, while fairly priced, the Carrera is a bike they would only consider if they were on a strict budget.
Frame geometry: Frame type is generally referred to as either compact (sloping top-tube-downwards from front to back), semi compact (slightly sloping top-tube) and traditional geometry (level top-tube).
Gear hanger: sacrificial bit of metal that attaches your rear mech to the frame. In an accident it will bend or break instead of your aluminium frame.
Headset spacers: These are cylindrical spacers that are fitted over the fork steerer tube that, where fitted, increase the handlebar height, and where omitted, decrease it.
Butted straight-pull type spokes: Butted spokes are thinner in the middle than plain gauge spokes that are the same thickness along their length.
Ball and cone bearings (hubs): Wheel bearings are either of the ball and cone type that are user-serviceable, or cartridge type that are fully sealed units.
Ramped profile chainrings: On close examination the teeth of a chainring are profiled in a way that helps the chain to shift smoothly from one chainring to another and some have steel pins to further aid the smooth passage of the chain.
Guess RB1 £449 Planet-X Kaffenbach £500 Pinnacle Sentinel £499 Claud Butler Roubaix £399
Guess RB1 £449 The fork supplied with this bike makes it killer value for time triallists on a budget and in every other respect it's spot on for 50 quid less than a 'monkey'. Super Cycles 0115 941 1133 www.supercycles.co.uk
Planet-X Kaffenback £500 Steel frames such as the Kaffenback have a resilient ride that some prefer to aluminium, but they're around 10 per cent heavier. The £699 model was a Cycling Plus awards winner in 2006 ('Commuters' category) and the starting price of £500 is based on Shimano Sora equipment. Planet-X 01302 724000 www.planet-x-bikes.com
Pinnacle Sentinel £499 The Sentinel is the entry level bike in a new range from Evans Cycles. This model has a butted aluminium frame, Shimano R500 wheels, Sora kit and an FSA compact chainset. Evans Cycles 0870 165 1104 www.evanscycles.com
Claud Butler Roubaix £399 This budget steed is based on a compact aluminium frame with Sora gears. The lack of a triple chainset limits appeal, but it's great value when you consider that the price includes a carbon/aluminium fork. Evans Cycles 0870 165 1104 www.evanscycles.com
The Carrera is comparatively heavy and is therefore less of a performer, but if your budget is strictly limited to just over £350 you can be assured of dependability above all other considerations. The mudguard eyes are a welcome inclusion, and in general, this bike is excellent value.