With an award-winning frame and a 1x drivetrain, the £550 Voodoo Braag budget hardtail fills us with hope...
Voodoo Braag is the new entry-level hardtail from Halfords, now with the same frame as the Bizango – our Hardtail of the Year winner. Reworked frame now looks the business, with sleek lines, tapered head tube, triple-butted alloy tubes and dropper post routing
Thoroughly modern 1x drivetrain from Microshift with wide-range nine-speed cassette. Choice components – Maxxis tyres, wide bar and short stem, powerful hydraulic brakes and a coil-sprung Suntour fork all potentially add up to one of the best hardtail mountain bike options currently.
Yeti probably thought it had pulled off a pretty neat engineering feat when it unveiled its first ever e-bike, the E160. After all, that bike’s got a six-bar suspension design, for goodness’ sake. But in its own quiet way, I believe Voodoo has pulled off something just as impressive at the other end of the market in its redesigned Braag hardtail: a fiendishly hard balancing act of performance and cost.
Voodoo has completely reworked its range of hardtails for 2022, with a new frame that’s shared across all the bikes it now sells, where a clever tweak in the head tube length allows for different- travel forks while maintaining the same geometry. It starts with the range- topping Voodoo Bizango Pro (£950), and Bizango (£750) we featured two issues back, through the Horde (£675), the Wazoo (£600) and on to the entry- level Braag here. There’s also a women’s version of the Braag called the Soukri (£550), with smaller frame sizes and a wider saddle.
The frame in question is made from triple-butted aluminium and is now far more pleasing to the eye, with a straight top tube that’s been oversized to bump up the stiffness. It looks better proportioned too, longer in the wheelbase for ground-hugging stability. Voodoo has also tidied up the cable routing – it’s now on the down tube rather than the top tube, giving the bike a smarter and more modern look. The Braag runs modestly wide 2.25in tyres but there’s clearance for up to 2.5in rubber, although the fork will baulk at anything over 2.4in. Finally there are four sizes to choose from, meaning you stand a good chance of getting a well- fitting bike, whatever your proportions.
Voodoo says that after feedback from customers, the bike has been designed to easily upgrade as your riding progresses. That means there are guides for a dropper post, and the rims will work with tubeless tyres if you want to ditch those inner tubes. Most importantly, though, the head tube is now tapered rather than straight, making it easier to upgrade the fork at a later date. Interestingly, the Suntour fork fitted to the Braag comes with a straight steerer to reduce cost.
If the frame’s got you interested, just wait till you hear about the parts the bike comes with. Bolted to the BB shell of the Braag is a 1x drivetrain, something we’ve only seen on the £599.99 Vitus Nucleus 29 VR before. Usually a double chainring and smaller cassette has to suffice, but Voodoo has taken advantage of Microshift’s great pricing. A single-ring set-up has a ton of advantages, namely lower weight and better chain retention, but it should also be easier for new riders to find the perfect gear. Running out of ratios isn’t a problem either, thanks to the nine-speed 11-46t cassette that offers enough grunt to get up some pretty steep inclines, and the Microshift rear mech even has an effective clutch to stop your chain from flapping around when going downhill.
It’s probably no surprise that the Braag has adopted 29in wheels for 2022 given how widely accepted the larger wheel standard now is. New riders will appreciate the economy of power, speed and stability those wheels bring, and Voodoo should be applauded for backing up this gain with a great tyre front and rear – the Maxxis Ardent.
It’s a story repeated throughout the Braag’s build; again and again Voodoo has made brilliant decisions. The Clarks M2 hydraulic disc brakes have good power and feel to them (and bigger rotors than the high-spec Bizango) while the WTB Volt saddle is very comfortable, and the 780mm bar and 40mm stem ensure confident control.
How it rides
The Braag feels pretty normal when you swing a leg over and sit on the saddle. This doesn’t sound like a glowing report, but I can’t stress enough how good this is on a £550 hardtail. The bike is long and roomy, and sits low enough to the ground to make you feel secure, and that in itself pops it sky high in my rankings.
Now with 29in wheels, the Braag was always going to be on to a winner, and the Maxxis Ardent proved quick rolling, but with decent grip in dry conditions. There are limits, of course, but its bite is given up slowly and predictably – just what a new rider (actually, any rider) wants.
Leading out the Braag is a coil-sprung Suntour XCM32 fork with 15mm thru-axle, which is very supple and provides ample comfort on the trail. Ideally I’d prefer an air-sprung fork because it means you can more easily get the right sag for your weight, but the XCM32 with its 120mm travel felt about right to me. Besides, I did in fact try the XCR air fork on the pricier Horde, but honestly it wasn’t as comfortable or active.
Back to the Braag, and there’s a lockout dial that closes an aperture in the damper, thus reducing the flow of oil – I twiddled it halfway round to stop the fork from diving, which held me up better on the descents. Push the Braag harder and faster and you do reach the limits of the fork – with no rebound dial to slow down the return speed, the XCM32 is a little quick, and it does top out something chronic. It’s the obvious upgrade you’d make after a year or so on the bike, but we’ve been bemoaning this issue for over 20 years on entry- level hardtails, so I was somewhat surprised that it’s still a problem.
Still, the Voodoo Braag is a dialled budget hardtail, the riding position is dead right, the saddle is comfortable and the components are sorted. Pedal the bike and the gears shift beautifully: descend and it corners in a fun and confident manner.
I never thought I’d be able to say that about a £500 hardtail, but times are a changin’. Buy a Braag and, in effect, you’re getting access to a baby Bizango with more modest components but none that fail to perform. The only problem you’ve got then, is snapping one up before they sell out.