At £999, the Virago is one of the best-value road bikes available in the UK at the moment. It’s well-equipped, light, even-tempered and versatile. Its only major downside is that there are only two sizes available, but that doesn’t matter if one of them fits you.
Times are tough, thanks to the credit crunch. This range-topping offering from Halfords brings relief when so many of us are having to divert hard earned resources to essentials.
Much like Volkswagon’s attempt at producing more competitively priced versions of the Golf in its Skoda built variations, the Carrera Virago is Halfords’ effort at a race ready full carbon bike at a winning price.
When it comes mid-level or better bikes in its range, Halfords has to be given credit for having done its homework and taken advice from those in the know.
The new Boardmans and GTs from Halfords are nicely sorted, and the Carrera Virago continues this trend, not just in its component choice, but also in its frame design.
Ride & handling: good manners
Don’t be afraid to take the Virago anywhere. Its great etiquette makes it a useful companion for all occasions.
The measured and subdued styling is echoed in the neutral and obedient handling: kind of like a shy, unobtrusive guest only too happy to oblige out of politeness, no matter what you ask him/her to endure.
Out of the saddle, the Virago had a tendency to fight back a bit and impose its desire to stay pointed in a straight line. A slightly wider bar would have helped when flicking the bike around.
The extra bit of trail responsible for this linear behavior was useful on descents, though. It’ll also helps you when you’re reaching in your back pocket for a cold-hardened Power Bar or a rain cape during a typical early August training session.
Powering over the short, sharp rollers a third of the way through my test circuit, the Carrera’s respectably low weight of 8.34kg (18.45lbs) and forgiving frame favoured a more supple approach to pedal stroke, but took sharp and severe efforts in stride with satisfying forward impulsion.
In my search of a summer riding experience, I was rewarded with a strong and gusty north-westerly as I approached the coastline in search of big sky and less oppressive conditions.
The Virago turned out to be stable in cross-winds thanks to elegantly reasonable tube profiles and 6.2 cm of trail on a sensibly shaped fork, and kept my elbows from getting clipped by passing wing mirrors.
The low drag created by the thin bladed stainless spokes kept buffeting to a minimum and control to a maximum.
Frame: have we met before?
To keep costs down, the Virago’s one-piece, 12k weave carbon fiber frame and full carbon fork is available in just two sizes: 54cm (S/M) and 58cm (M/L).
The rattan palm frond weave pattern finishing layer and graceful frame shapes combine to give a pleasing and purposeful appearance.
A pronounced curve in the wishbone seat stays adds to the visual flow and comfort level, while a pearl white and exposed carbon colour scheme unify the ensemble.
Gracing the front of the bike is a seriously light fork with a carbon steerer tube and crown weighing in at under 400 grams, but providing enough muscle up front to keep the bike cool and collected under duress.
Go ahead and load it up with heavy braking, sudden changes of direction, or clumsy big gear pedal stomping. It’ll take the strain like a Russian weightlifter but with none of the accompanying grunts.
The bulged chain stay ends hark back to longer lugged and sleeved dropouts of old, and keep wheel twist under load to a minimum.
A bit of visual sleuthing around our current collection of test bikes reveals that the Virago is particularly similar to the highly rated Raleigh Race and shares many of the same details and finishing touches as Scott frames.
It shares with the Raleigh a geometry of 73 head angle, 74 seat tube, and similar trail, and is capped off with the same well designed dropouts and outer carbon layer. The common origins are not too hard to spot.
That’s the current state of the global bike industry. Taiwan has earned spot at the top of the heap, and many bikes are coming from the same factories.
The Bits; faux pas
The spec has a good mix of parts overall, made slightly awkward by a few odd choices. It’s underpinned by Shimano‘s well proven Ultegra shifters and short cage rear derailleur, a Truvativ Elita forged alloy crankset and Shimano 105 front mech.
The cranks are elegantly shaped and have the now-standard 53/39 ring combo, but it would have been nice to see 172.5mm cranks on this M/L model rather than the 170’s supplied.
The Truvativ anatomic bars are well-shaped but a bit narrow at only 43cm across the tops. A little more width would have been better for controlling the Virago’s straight line tendency.
Unfortunately, the Truvativ forged alloy 11cm stem was better at holding on to the bar than the carbon steerer tube. Despite numerous attempts at radjustment and correct tightening, it never settled down. Even carbon assembly paste didn’t get it to hold. We think the problem is the single-bolt clamp, and we swapped it for a two-bolt clamp for much of the test.
The purely decorative Carrera-badged saddle by Velo tops off a beautifully made but rigid 31.6 Truvativ seat post; they were both a bit counter-productive in the context of such a comfortable frame.
The saddle presented another small annoyance. Its vinyl cover becomes incredibly sticky with even the slightest hint of moisture, gripping at shorts with the zeal of a premiership footballer.
Sliding back onto the saddle after a sprint effort or climb often resulted in awkward moments of unintentional exposure, as my shorts would get hooked and yanked off by the tip of the saddle. Make sure to wear bibs! (Or swap it for a leather covered saddle.)
On the upside, the Tektro brakes are very good for a bike of this price. They’re not quite as smoothly controllable as the best Shimanos, but you won’t find Dura-Ace brakes on any bikes at this price; they’re really effective nevertheless.
Wheels; move over, Rover!
Shimano’s R-580 wheels are quite excellent all-rounders, and help keep things on the sporty side despite the budget price of the bike.
Featuring an asymmetric rim, the resulting equal spoke pull angle creates even tension at the rear, and thus a more stable platform for the heavy loads and sudden inputs that make life so hard for back wheels.
Highly polished smoke-colored hard anodizing puts a beautiful finishing touch to a very capable and race ready pair of middleweight brawlers.
Even an unfortunate encounter with a dog the size of a Saint Bernard and the face of a Pit Bull (of such size he actually fell on top of my front wheel from ground level) was taken in stride, with only the dog’s pride getting bent out of whack.
Built with thin bladed stainless spokes counting just 16 at the front and 20 at the rear, and shod with Conti Ultra Sport tires in a narrow-ish section for a 23, these wheels kept the going fast and comfortable.
Verdict: great performance, staggering value
If you don’t mind a platform-based bike that blends in with the crowd, and you’re willing to ignore the fact that you’re buying a bicycle from an auto parts superstore, this is just the ticket.
With incredible performance based around a brilliant frame and fork, and reasonably sorted spec, it’s the best thing you could put in your shopping cart besides a can of STP oil treatment and spare wiper blades.
Like Passepartout in the Jules Verne novel, or a good valet, this bike will discretely and adroitly open all doors to all disciplines, in all events.
You’ll even have plenty left over for entry fees.
|Description||weight: approx 8kg|
|Rear Tyre Size||700x23C|
|Front Tyre Size||700x23C|
|Available Sizes||54cm 58cm|
|Rear Hub||WHR580 Wheelset|
|Handlebar||Team Oversize bar|
|Front Hub||WHR580 Wheelset|
|Frame Material||Ultralight full carbon fibre monocoque frame with 12k weave|
|Fork||Ultralight full carbon fibre monocoque fork with 12k weave|
|Cranks||Elita 53-39 Chainset|
|Brakes||R580 Skeletal dual pivot|