So you've got a thousand quid to spend on a road bike, you've been to the shows, you've got the brochures and you've made your shortlist, but what's the betting Halfords' Carrera Virago isn't on there, more to the point... should it be?
The Virago model has been around for a fair few years now with a magnesium version being released back in 2002 (I wanted one because I liked the paintjob, what all bike buying decisions come down to!). This latest incarnation is built around a monocoque carbon fibre frame with a full 105 groupset, save for the BB30 FSA Gossamer chainset, tapered carbon fork and Mavic CXP-22 rims which ain't bad for the £999.99 asking price.
First impressions, it certainly looks the part. The red, white and black colourway has been pretty much done to death over the last couple of seasons but the Virago still manages to look fresh. It's also bang up to date with the frame being BB30 ready, the large diameter press fit bearing cups requiring an oversize bottom bracket area leading to greater stiffness and little flex.
After testing three bikes in a row with this technology I can safely say it runs very smoothly and does make for great power transfer due to that oversizing, and to my eyes it looks better too. While we are on the subject of oversizing for stiffness, the headtube tapers from 1.125' to 1.5' at the bottom headset race. Not only does this allow a larger diameter tube for the fork crown but also the outer diameter of the fork legs where they meet the frame can be increased. You can feel this all working when you really push into a roundabout or tight corner at speed, the front end feels planted while the legs narrowing towards the dropouts take out some of the road buzz and bumps thanks to some fore and aft movement. As is quite common on frames designed for stiffness, narrow profile rear wishbone stays are there in a bid to absorb some of the vibration. The flat solid profile above the brake mount is a smart touch, you'll be forever cleaning it though.
The heart of the frame is the triangular shaped downtube, with the oversized bottom bracket and the tapered headtube means solid anchor points either end. The shape lends itself to combating the stresses found when the bike is in motion plus makes a change to the usual round profiles.
Kit wise, the performance difference in equipping a bike with 105 rather than Tiagra is probably the most noticeable step in Shimano's range so it's great that Carrera's budget could stretch to the more expensive mechs and shifters as they really complement the solid nature of the frame. FSA continue their dominance at this BB30 price point with the Gosammer model, shifting is spot on between the 50-34 chainrings as always and ran beautifully smooth.
The CC finishing components come in to play here as well, with the oversize bar and stem combo working with the solid front end. Even though the seatpost is 31.6mm diameter the length of post sticking out of the frame equates to some flex, partnered with the slim seatstays hardly any road buzz makes it through to the saddle. The saddle itself has a narrow race profile and is pretty comfortable offering a good supportive perch without being overly hard.
Braking is taken care of by Tektro dual callipers and they scrub off speed well. As said in previous reviews on bikes using these, they're better brakes to be had but not at this price. Late braking is the order of the day with very little chance of lock up.
The Mavic CXP22S wheelset is a reasonable performer, not the quickest by any stretch of the imagination but solid and dependable remaining true throughout the test period. Unfortunately there was some play in the bearings when I handed the bike back and the Formula hubs started to sound a bit dry over the last few rides. This was after 800 odd miles so should show itself around the first six week service, some grease and a tweak so should see them running smooth again. The Zaffiro tyres our test bike was shod with (production models come with Conti Ultrasport) performed brilliantly, rolling well and thanks to the surprising levels of grip some serious lean angles are possible in the dry. Wet weather grip is impressive also even once the layers of salt started going down on the roads. A few muddy and thorny back lane miles seemed unable to leave their mark on the tread and they finish pretty much looking the same as they began the review.
The Virago wants to be ridden hard, all the time, the compact frame is tight and the race style geometry lets you get your head down and just get on with it. As I mentioned above the front end tracks beautifully giving you confidence to push it really hard when descending or trying to maintain speed.
Point it upwards and the Virago continues to be fun, thanks to the low 34-28 bottom gearing and a price respectable weight of 8.6kg it climbs quickly. Changing the Mavic wheels for something lighter would take its climbing ability to another lever... as it were, but it's not a major concern straight away.
The only fly in the ointment, is when you really put the hammer down and take a glance between your shoes will see the rear tyre sliding about as you do exploit some of that comfort induced flex, but we are talking hard sprinting efforts and for the non racer it's not going to be an issue. Everywhere else though the Virago excels, it's ability to maintain speed keeps the average up and pace changes on the club run are handled with ease.
All the kit, frame and fork come together to create a good all rounder. The confidence inspiring ride will suit newbies (after all its right on the bike to work scheme limit so this could be a first bike for some) and the quick, bordering on twitchy steering will keep more experienced riders interested. A change of wheels would be the only performance gain really worth spending any money on and it would transform the Virago form a good bike into a truly great one.
Taking everything into consideration the Carrera is a performance bargain and as thousand pound carbon bikes go it can hold its head high against the budget carbon offering from the likes of Ribble and Planet X, etc. Versatility is the key and fair weather commuting, club runs, sportives and even 4th cat racing are all possible on the Virago. Its just an easy bike to live with and thanks to the sensible build spec it'll happily eat up the miles without complaint.
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Make and model: Carrera Virago
Size tested: 54cm
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
• Chainset: FSA Gossamer Compact BB30
• Forks: UCM Full Monocoque carbon fibre with tapered steerer
• Frame-: UCM Full Monocoque carbon fibre
• Front Brake: Tektro R540 dual-pivot calliper brake
• Front Mech: Shimano RD-5700 105
• Gear Shifters: Shimano ST-5700 105
• Headset: FSA tapered integrated headset
• Hubs: Formula Alloy Hubs with QR
• Rear Brake: Tektro R540 dual-pivot calliper brake
• Rear Mech: Shimano RD-5700 105
• Rims: Mavic CXP-22S rims
• Saddle: CC Race Lite
• Seatpost: CC forged lightweight alloy
• Stem: CC 3D forged lightweight alloy
• Tyres: Continental Ultrasport
• Cassette: Shimano 10 speed 12-28T
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
I'd say the Virago is a perfect bike for the non racer, quick club runs or sportives are the natural habitat of the Carrera. The good level of dependable kit lets you take in daily dry weather commuting duties without breaking the bank if something needs replacing.
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Finish quality looks good and the naked carbon weave is a nice touch
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
full carbon, laid up to allow stiffness and comfort
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Halfords website has little info on this but lets just say the 54cm fitted me just like a 54cm should
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
A middle ground between full race and sportive geometry, a decent aero position but also comfortable for hours.
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes, stiff to a certain level yet but quite shock absorbent
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
Yes until you really stick the power down, the back end does tend to whip around at flat out pace
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, stiffness around the bottom bracket was good and laid the power down up until the above mentioned flat out effort
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
Yes, but only just
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Lively but still on the side of controllable
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The tapered front end keeps things tight and high speed decents and roundabouts are great fun
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The bars and stem had just enough flex to absorb the shocks, the saddle was pretty good to
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The BB30 bottom bracket and chainset
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
That BB30 area again, super stiff. the grip levels of the tyres really help you keep the average speed up
heavy wheels blunt the climbing
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
105 is its usual high performance bargain with solid shifting
Tell us some more about the wheels and tyres.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels or tyres? If so, what for?
The wheels were let down by the dry hubs and play in the bearings but they did remain true throughout. Over the years I've seen a lot of wheels from all price points come out of the factory lacking in grease so its no big surprise here. The tyres are great considering you can pick them up from around the 15 quid mark.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It all works well. The shallow drop handlebars work for smaller hands
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Very much so
Would you consider buying the bike? Yep
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Without a doubt
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
Add it to your list if you want a one bike does all for a decent price.
Age: 32 Height: 180cm Weight: 78kg
I usually ride: Genesis Flyer My best bike is: Ribble Gran Fondo
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!