Carrera have upped the ante with their new, impressively lightweight carbon Virago. If you want an impressively light and smooth bike in a classic racer shape rather than upright sportive format, it's cracking value. It relies on smooth efficiency rather than knee jerk responsiveness to keep pace with the best of the competition, though, and that won't suit everyone.
The chassis is made almost entirely from carbon fibre – everything except for the dropout inserts, bearing furniture and fork tips – and the 1.1kg frame weight (size 56cm) and sub-500g fork weight are impressive, if not unprecedented, for the cash.
While the wheels aren’t light, the Shimano 105 groupset is great for the money, and the complete bike is as light as anything in this price range. Carrera have built the Virago competitive in other ways too. This is no upright sportive machine, but a proper long and low race bike that encourages head down effort rather than spine friendly scenery spotting.
The long stem is all about stability at speed and plenty of stretch for helping you grind gears around, not twitch through traffic. This means it needs a firm shoulder rather than a steering flick to get it to change direction, but it remains resolutely surefooted and confident even at high speeds on dirty winter roads. And to reinforce the racy rather than recreational feel there are no mudguard or rack mounts anywhere either.
Looking at the oversize frame tubes triangulating onto a big BB30 bottom bracket axle, you might think it’s an unforgivingly hard ride from the saddle, but it’s obvious very quickly that the lightweight carbon frame is remarkably good at taking out buzz and chatter from the road. There’s a real sense of glide and flow to the frame on back roads, and together with the low weight, this makes it a great way to spin across long distances, especially in hilly areas.
Really open the taps on the torque, though, and this softness is noticeable in terms of acceleration. Against the sharpest accelerating bikes at this price there’s a lag of two or three pedal strokes before the Carrera steps up to the same pace and then starts to pull back on the basis of lighter weight.
While the tapered-leg, tapered-steerer fork in the short but chunky head tube keeps steering manners tight, there’s a lot of twist and bounce in the stem, bar and frame when you’re giving it the beans out of the saddle, although it’s still a more responsive and lively feel overall than most of the competition.
This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine.