Price: £899 (halfords.com)
Frame: Full monocoque carbon-fibre frame
Gearing: Shimano 105 gears, gear shifter and derailleurs
Cassette: Shimano Tiagra 10-Speed 12-28T
Brakes: Tekto R540 dual-pivot calliper
How much should you spend on a new bike? Thanks to some chaps called Wiggins and Froome (and hopefully soon a chap called Hoy and a lady called Pendleton) the entire country is going mad for cycling, and as a result bike manufactures such as Specialized, Boardman, Bianchi and Raleigh are salivating at the prospect of all the new bikes they will shift. Already the winding lanes of Suffolk, rolling hills of Sussex and exposed lanes of the Dales are packed with road warriors and they're about to get some new friends. They'll kit themselves out in all the gear and cough up anything from £250 for a cheap and cheerful hybrid bike to as much as £10,000 for a king-of-the-road racer to join the club.
Enter the Carrera Virago from Halfords. At £899 it's excellent value for money and is pretty much the only fully carbon-fibre road bike you can get your hands on for less than £1,000. I know that's a pretty huge sum of cash to invest in something that only has two wheels, but it's well worth the money.
I may normally appear in this slot reviewing sport cars and SUVs, but when I'm not hooning around the countryside with a V8 in front of me I'm charging to work on a hybrid bike (halfway between a mountain bike and a road racer). I've been a regular city cyclist for five years on a hybrid bike and the new Carrera Virago has been my first step up to the world of whippet-fast road bikes.
For £899 (it's currently on offer and will go up to £999 next week) you get a super-lightweight carbon-fibre frame with Shimano 105 gearing (it is £200 for this component alone) and a nifty Shimano Tiagra 10 speed cassette. If that's as confusing to you as brake horsepower and limited slip differentials don't worry, essentially it means that Halfords hasn't scrimped and saved on the oily bits but has used reliable and durable components to create a fast, smooth and enjoyable ride.
Carerra is Halfords' in-house brand so it lacks cycling-club kudos, but it really is an excellent ride for a bike of its price. I tested it over 200 city and country miles and it positively sails along. Yes, it is a little harsh in town and not as easy to live with as a hyrbid, but in the country it's a real gem. Downhill is a blur and at only 8.6kg it goes up them without too much fuss either. It's an entry-level road bike still, but compared to a hybrid commuter frame it runs like a Porsche 911 on a track day. Thankfully, it scrubs off speed well thanks to its Tekto R540 dual-pivot calliper brakes and Continental Ultrasport tyres mean it holds the road well under braking.
But is it good value for money? Whichever way you look at it, £899 is a lot of money for a bike, but if you're looking to take that step up from touring or hybrid bike to something a little bit faster, the Carrera Virago is a serious contender. The real game-changer though is that at less than £1k it is eligible for the best piece of legislation Her Majesty's Government has ever seen fit to pass into law – the Cide to Work Scheme. This is what Halfords is banking on to sell thousands of these things. And I'm bang in the target audience for the Virago. And I've just paid off my last ride-to-work bike. Perhaps it's time to start over?