I’ve been saying since I can’t remember when, that the Boardman 8.9c is the least expensive carbon bike you can buy on the British high street. Not so fast. For 2019, Halfords’ Carrera brand launched its Virago carbon bike that’s £200 cheaper than the £1,000 Boardman.
It doesn’t look that elegant on the website pics but looks better in the flesh; the lines clean, the finish attractive and not trying to do too much.
Weight is a claimed 1.1kg for the Taiwanese-made frame, which would be a decent achievement on a bike at twice the price.
Halfords come out top with this super-budget bike Robert Smith / Immediate Media
Carrera Virago frame and kit
The frame also has a lot of the features familiar from more expensive contemporary road machines: the head tube and fork steerer tube are tapered, the top tube flattens along its length, the chainstays narrow in diameter.
Impressively for the price, the cables are neatly routed through the top and down tube.
The bike’s big in all the right areas: the trapezium down tube is chunky, the bottom bracket shell likewise, even if the bottom bracket is a skinny FSA cartridge that looks a little lost in the bulked-up setting. It’s pretty skinny elsewhere, however, with that flattened top tube and 27.2mm seatpost.
The frame geometry is surprisingly aggressive for a budget bike, most of which tend to have more of an endurance bias.
The Virago has steepish frame angles and a shortish head tube, though this is balanced by a handlebar with a very short reach, which means you’re not too stretched out. If you want to go really racy, a longer reach bar or stem will allow you to stretch your body and put your legs to the test.
The frame geometry features steepish frame angles and there’s internal cabling too. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Carrera Virago performance
One advantage that the Virago has over the Boardman is its hill-friendly bottom gear.
The Boardman’s 11-28 is outdone by the Virago’s 11-32, a considerable improvement if you ride the Mendips and Cotswolds and those are just my close-to-home hills. The downside on the Virago is that the shifting isn’t as sharp as I’d have expected, and I struggled to get it changing gear perfectly at times. Our workshop manager Will thought the internal cabling was cross-routed. It wasn’t.
But that was one of few criticisms of the Virago. The brakes had the non-cartridge blocks – common at this price – and I’d have appreciated 28mm tyres to make the most of the clearance and add a little more comfort.
Not that the Virago is uncomfortable – far from it. I put in plenty of miles on this just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything on the first, second, third and fourth rides – upping my cycling tanlines as a pleasing side-effect.
On good road surfaces the Virago is super-smooth, measured and controlled, and on fine grit and gravel – such as canal towpaths (not its natural home) – it performs equally well. The only thing that seemed to shake it was hitting a big bump where you would feel it through the bar and the chain might skip on the cassette, but general road chatter was handled very well.
I would have appreciated larger tyres for comfort. David Caudery / Immediate Media
Out-of-the-saddle efforts suggest that the frame is sufficiently stiff too. You could induce a little brake rub but not enough to be an issue.
The oversized steerer and head tube are solid and resolute and it climbs as well as any 10kg bike is going to.
Carrera Virago overall
Overall, I was staggered at the quality of ride the Virago offered. The 27.2mm seatpost and Velo saddle gave no cause for complaint and the rest of the finishing kit is standard stuff on a £500 to £1,000 bike.
Okay, you may have to overcome prejudice about buying a bike from Halfords, but you’ll nab yourself a bargain if you do – and it comes with a lifetime of safety checks and the frame and fork are guaranteed for life. Carrera’s Virago is no dodgy internet knock-off.
There’s little to distinguish this from entry-level carbon bikes from the big names, though it might be worth investing in Shimano outer gear cables to sharpen up the shifting. But this is a real two-wheeled treat from Carrera.
Carrera’s Virago is no dodgy internet knock off. Robert Smith
Carrera Virago geometry
Seat angle: 74 degrees
Head angle: 73.5 degrees
Seat tube: 50.7cm
Top tube: 55cm
Fork offset: 4.3cm
Bottom bracket height: 27.7cm