Budget bomber has an attractive spec sheet for a sub £400 bike.
The Carrera Vulcan is a mainstay of the Halford brands range. It offers a relatively high spec for the price including capable hydraulic brakes.
Carrera has long been synonymous with Halfords. As such it’s been the first step for a lot of British riders just dipping their toes in the mountain bike scene. The Carrera Vulcan has long been a mainstay of the range and, on paper lists a lot of attributes that make it an appealing option within the sub £400 category.
Carrera give the Vulcan a purposeful aluminium frame. It’s of an unspecified grade of alloy but has welding of a fairly consistent nature. Plus it features additional gusseting to withstand the hammering a bike of this class will have to put up with.
Carrera Vulcan review
As with the majority of bikes within this price range, the suspension fork is provided by Suntour. The XCM is one of the more basic forks in the range. Coil sprung, it only has a mechanical lockout and limited preload adjustment to try to tame the pogo like action. Where the Vulcan has the drop on a lot of the competition is by speccing the longer 120mm travel version. This is much more trail friendly than the usual 80mm or 100mm offerings.
Shimano’s Altus 9 speed groupset brings consistent and reliable shifting to the Vulcan; even under load it provided crisp shifting. The triple chainset, whilst not as popular as a double or single ring setup, provides enough spread to cater for all requirements. Highlights of the spec sheet are the Clarks hydraulic brakes. The levers might be a little long but they exert ample power to confidently slow the bike down. 27.5” wheels also bring the Vulcan bang up to date.
The non-sealed bearing hubs and standard spokes might not be anything to write home about, but make long term maintenance a little easier and relatively cheap. Kenda branded ‘off-road’ tyres have a narrow profile and are probably one of the first items we would recommend replacing for larger volume versions as soon as possible. The rest of the kit is all Carrera, of which the stubby 55mm stem shows some recognition for actual riding requirements, but is let down by the narrow handlebar.
Let’s get one thing straight; the Carrera Vulcan isn’t a bike to tackle the most technically demanding trails. But that’s not its remit; it’s a bike for exploring the woods and for groomed trail centre green and blue runs. As long as you keep this in mind, all will be good with the world.
Let’s start with what the Vulcan does well. For a sub £400 the spec sheet is pretty impressive. The Shimano Altus groupset performed flawlessly, even when clumsily shifting under load it coped admirably. The brakes too were powerful enough to lend confidence to any new rider, especially with the 180mm rotor up front. Working well in both wet and dry conditions they safely allow controlled braking, albeit lacking a little in modulation. The geometry is pushing towards what makes a ‘proper’ mountain bike, with figures similar to our favourite Vitus Nucleus. The stem is a bang on trend 55mm item. Even the saddle is pretty comfortable!
Where does the Vulcan need to improve?
The fundamental problem with the Vulcan is that the ride quality is really harsh. To make it robust enough to cope with abuse, Carrera has somewhat overly built the frame with square profile chainstays, large gauge seat stays and top tube gusset. These are features that lend it a tooth jarring experience when on rough hard-packed trails. The small volume tyres contribute to the experience. Resulting in not only a spine pummeling but also in leading to continuously smashing the chain into chainstay and being dropped after multiple hits. Looking at the clearances of the frame, it should be possible to shoe horn a set of larger volume tyres that might go someway towards taking an edge off the harshness.
The cockpit of the Vulcan could be such a winner with its short stem. However it has been mated to a narrow handlebar and a full stack of spacers. This endows the Vulcan with a nervous, twitchy feel that reduces its performance in tight singletrack and makes the front wheel a very vague feel when climbing up steeper inclines. As with the tyre issue, it’s a simple enough fix by swapping spacers and fitting a wider bar. But all these upgrades add to the cost.
The Carrera Vulcan has the beginnings of a 'proper' mountain bike, but currently has a few too many issues to put it at the top of the budget tree. If mainly ride smooth trails and towpaths with the family is your thing then you will be able to get the most out of the quality drivetrain and brakes.