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The Carrera Subway All Weather Edition from Halfords is a mountain bike-styled urban warrior that comes out of the box with some very useful winter-riding accessories and an excellent spec for a very modest price.
Halfords offers some terrific value-for-money bikes and the Subway All Weather Edition (henceforth Subway AWE, I'm lazy) is an excellent example of the way the UK's biggest bike retailer uses its buying power for good. For less than £500 you get an urbanised rigid mountain bike with extras to make riding through the winter more bearable.
And it's a fun, easy ride too thanks to gears, brakes and tyres that are all very, very good for the money. Even the saddle's quite decent.
Three things make this an 'all-weather' bike: it comes with mudguards; it has heated grips to keep your hands warm in winter; and you get a pair of LED lights to help you be seen on dark evenings.
The guards and lights are a bit basic and you could carp about that, until you remember this is only a £450 bike. Nevertheless, I wish Halfords had spent a bit more on the mudguards even if that put 10 or 20 quid on the price. The guards have plastic bodies and don't look terribly durable compared with the plastic-and-aluminium sandwich used by many other mudguard makers.
At first glance it also looks like the front guard doesn't have any way for the stays to separate from the frame if you get something stuck in them. Fortunately it turns out that they come away at the mudguard end easily, so getting something stuck between tyre and guard shouldn't send you over the handlebar.
Swapping the lights for better ones would be just a matter of fitting them, but is it just me or is fitting mudguards a pain? If you decide you want better mudguards than these, you'll have to go through the hassle of trimming stays and coaxing them into place without them rubbing on anything.
The GloGrips heated grips are little short of marvellous, however. Press and hold the end cap until the green LED comes on and they quickly heat up. I measured them at 40°C, which is plenty to help fight the chill. They're claimed to last up to two hours, but customer reviews report shorter run-times when it's cold, so take that with a pinch of salt. Nevertheless, if you've got a half-hour commute they definitely help keep your hands toasty. You're still going to need gloves to keep the wind off the backs of your hands, and as grips go they're pretty firm, so you'll want some padding in those gloves too.
To charge the grips you either have to drape a pair of micro-USB cables from power point to bike (not supplied, but if you're like me you have dozens of the things kicking around), or take the batteries out of the grips. This involves aligning a dot on the end of the grip with a really faint line on the rubber body, and pulling it out, then taking the cap off the battery housing in a similar process and finally reaching into the unit to remove a tiny rubber cover from the micro-USB port. It's fiddly and you just know the port covers are going to go AWOL. That said, I'm not sure they're even necessary – they look more like packaging than weather protection, and a bit of silicone grease around the switch cover should be enough to keep out the worst of the wet.
The Subway AWE's ride is quite firm thanks to a beefy aluminium frame and rigid steel fork, and the handling, while not twitchy, is on the quick side. The ride feel is easily softened by running the tyres a bit softer and they're plenty big enough that you're not going to get pinch flats without running them extremely soft.
The quick handling is good for manoeuvrability in traffic but it does mean if you take to the trails on the Subway AWE it's a bit of a handful on fast descents.
Halfords could have made a concession to trail riding by fitting a suspension fork, but I'm really glad it didn't. Cheap suspension forks are almost uniformly awful: heavy, bouncy and quick to develop control-robbing slop or just stop working entirely. Anything but a cheap fork would take the Subway AWE well over £600.
I've got to give props to Halfords for the gear selection here. Up front there's a 46/30 chainset combined with an 11-36 cassette for a 502% gear range. More importantly, there are plenty of low gears, so you can comfortably get up just about anything a UK city is likely to throw at you. More bikes – not just gravel bikes or urban bikes – should be geared like this.
I do think that there's a really strong case for 1X systems on bikes like this, though. I see so many people toiling along in high gears because they apparently don't know how to use the shifting; the simplicity of a single chainring would surely make things easier, and be straightforward for bike shops to demonstrate.
However, wide-range 1X systems are expensive. The RRP for Shimano's cheapest system, Deore 11-speed, is £195 for cassette, chain, rear mech and shifter. Even allowing for the discounts Shimano gives bike makers, that's going to be too big a slice of the bill of materials for any sub-£800 bike. Using a double chainring here with much cheaper mechs and shifters to provide a big gear range is really smart thinking on Halfords' part.
And the Altus gears shift better than you've any right to expect from a £450 bike, popping smoothly and reliably from sprocket to sprocket and whopping cheerfully from small to large chainring and back.
The same goes for the Clarks Clout disc brakes which provide plenty of easily controlled stopping power, which is why they're widely considered the best inexpensive brakes by the mountain bike community. Doyen of mountain bike testers Guy Kesteven once wrote that Clarks brakes provide 'effective stopping at ridiculously economical prices' and given that the retail price for these brakes is less than £50 for both ends, including rotors, I can't argue with that.
They have a reach adjuster so they work well with small hands, too, and are easily one of the best things about this bike.
The bar and stem are styled after current mountain bike fashion with a 90mm reach and 680mm-wide flat bar. While it's occasionally nice to have the extra control a wide bar affords, that width is pretty big for city riding where you want to be able to filter through gaps in traffic. If you're used to drops, they feel quite silly, thanks to the very wide stance they put your arms in. If this were my bike I'd be getting out the tube cutter to trim them to something more sensible like 60cm or so.
The aluminium Wellgo pedals are also very much in current mountain bike stylee. They have moulded-in nubbins for grip, and while they're better than the cheap plastic-bodied pedals you often find, they don't grab your soles with quite the fervour of pedals with screwed-in steel studs. Wellgo makes pedals that are almost identical to these but with steel studs for £20.
The saddle is long and narrow with a shape that's very reminiscent of a Fizik Arione, a high-end racing saddle. It fit me just fine, but I imagine many folks are going to want something a bit wider that's better suited to the Subway AWE's upright riding position. Nevertheless, another big tick for Halfords for fitting a saddle that's not terrible.
The most unusual aspect of the Subway line of bikes is their 650B wheels. This is an old French wheel size, resurrected for mountain bikes a few years ago by designers who thought 700C '29-inch' wheels were a step too big for dirt applications. It has a small but enthusiastic niche on gravel bikes because a 650B wheel with a fat tyre is about the same size as a 700C wheel with a skinny tyre, so you can swap wheels for different surfaces without changing the handling of the bike too much.
On a hybrid, 650B wheels provide for the ability to fit a wide range of tyre and even wheel sizes. You could swap out the stock wheels for 700C wheels with lighter tyres for road riding and the Subway would make a great flat-bar tourer and countryside explorer.
The Subway's wheels are fitted with Vee Tire Co Speedster puncture-resistant tyres. They're grippy and comfortable across a wide range of surfaces. While the light tread would be defeated by any sort of serious mud, they're good for easy, dry trails, so if the Subway's mountain bike styling tempts you to a little light off-roading, fill your boots. My local trails are currently baked and dusty and I found they provided plenty of grip on short, steep pitches as well as on dirt roads.
On road.cc we judge value not as whether something is worth the money, but whether you're getting more (or less) for your money compared with similar products, and I think the Subway AWE is excellent value for money because almost everything else in its price range isn't as well thought out and lacks its bad-weather extras.
For example, the £450 Elops Urban 900 has mudguards and lights, but just a 1 x 8 transmission, cable-actuated brakes and ordinary grips. The £520 Vitus Mach 1 Three has hydraulic brakes and 650B wheels but lacks the Subway AWE's extras and has only the limited range of a three-speed gear while the Raleigh Strada City boasts 650B wheels, hydraulic brakes and mudguards, but has a slightly narrower gear range, no lights or heated grips and costs £550.
The biggest downside of the Subway AWE reported by Halfords customers is difficulty in getting spares for the grips. I had one come loose while riding; it's easy to accidentally twist and undo the ends. I put a couple of turns of PTFE plumber's tape round the ends to tighten up the joint.
However, I'm told by Halfords that it now has spares and is trying to make sure that continues. Knock-on effects from the pandemic and world supply chain issues have made things hard, it says, and Brexit hasn't helped either.
The Carrera Subway AWE is an excellent flat-bar bike for round-town and recreational riding. It handily straddles the gap between a classic hybrid and a rigid mountain bike, but just stays on the road-friendly side of the line thanks to the Vee Tire Co Speedster tyres. Its handling is nippy but not twitchy and it boasts well-thought-out features like a wide, low gear range and very good brakes. The winter-friendly features are the icing on the cake that'll help keep you going through the cold and wet months. All commuter bikes should come with mudguards anyway, and it's bizarre that so few do.
It gets a 'highly recommended' from me. If there's a better bike out there for less than £500, I haven't heard about it.
This is a great bike for recreational and commuter cyclists of all kinds, especially ones who are planning to keep going however bad the weather gets. But it's also great for exploring country lanes, dirt roads, canal towpaths and the like. The current heatwave and drought notwithstanding, the UK is a damp place so mudguards are just a good idea; sooner or later you're going to get caught in the rain.
Brilliant versatile round-town bike with really handy extras to cope with the great British weather
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Carrera Subway All Weather Edition Men's Hybrid Bike
Size tested: Large
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame Material: Aluminium alloy
Forks: Hi-Tensile steel
Headset: Semi-integrated 44mm, 1 1/18"
Rims: Carrera alloy, double-wall
Front Hub: Black, alloy, Quick release 9x100mm
Rear Hub: Black, alloy, Quick release 10x135mm
Cassette/Freewheel: Shimano HG200, 9 speed, 11-36t
Tyres: VeeTireCo Speedster puncture resistant with reflective strip, 27.5" x 1.95"
Bottom Bracket: Sealed bearing, 68mm shell
Chain: KMC X9-EPT
Chainset: Shimano TY5012, 46/30
Pedals: Wellgo Alloy hybrid pedals, 9/16"
Gear Shifters: Shimano Altus 2x9 Trigger
Rear Derailleur: Shimano Altus RD-M2000
Front Derailleur: Shimano T300 2-SPD 34.9mm clamp
Brakes: Clarks Clout Hydraulic Disc Brakes, 160mm rotors
Handlebars: Carrera alloy, flat bar, 31.8mm clamp
Stem: Carrera Alloy, 7 degree, 31.8mm clamp
Grips: GloGrips Heated Handlebar Grips
Seatpost: Carrera alloy, 31.6mm, 34.9mm seat clamp
Mudguard Mounts: Yes
Mudguards Included: Yes
Pannier Mounts: Yes
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?
It's a general-purpose 'hybrid' for bashing around streets and easy trails, with tweaks for riding in cold and wet weather.
Halfords lists the top-line features thusly:
Heated handlebar grips – enjoy warm hands, with or without wearing gloves
Highly reflective frame decals – ensures great 360 visibility in all conditions
Semi-integrated automatic lights – no need to add additional lights to the bike
Built-in mudguards – Keeps you and your bike cleaner for longer
The Carrera Subway All Weather is a special edition hybrid bike designed to handle even the most difficult weather conditions.
One of the standout features on the Carrera Subway All Weather are the heated handlebar grips. Using a battery that provides up to two hours of warmth, you can enjoy a much cosier ride when the weather is bad!
With reflective decals, built-in mudguards and semi-integrated lights which automatically turn on when you first move the bike, the Subway All Weather is built for cold commutes and weekend leisure rides.
These additional features help to make cycling in the dark safer, with the decals reflecting car headlamps and streetlights. The lightweight aluminium frame, chunky puncture-resistant Kenda tyres, powerful Clarks hydraulic brakes and Shimano gears also make cycling much easier in even the toughest conditions.
Frame: Lightweight aluminium frame is ideal for fast commutes.
Forks: Rigid steel straight blade helps with controlled steering and stability
Gears: 18 Speed Shimano gears to keep gear changing simple and slick
Brakes: Clarks hydraulic disc brakes - more powerful and consistent stopping
Wheels: Puncture resistant 27.5' tyres with reflective sidewalls on double walled rims for added strength
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
There are two cheaper models of Subway, imaginatively named Subway 1 and Subway 2, at £330 and £375 respectively. The Subway All-Weather Edition has the same spec as the Subway 2 with the addition of mudguards, heated grips and lights for an extra £75, which is less than the extras would probably cost to buy separately if you could actually find heated grips for bikes.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The fork's pretty basic high-tensile steel and Halfords isn't saying what grade of aluminium is used for the frame, but at this price it's not going to be anything exotic. But all that's fine when we're talking about a £450 bike.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Generally it's comfortable as long as you don't go mad with the tyre pressures. Pump them too hard and you get a rather harsh reminder that the frame and fork are quite unforgiving. So don't do that.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The frame's aluminium and there's plenty of it, which means it's pretty stiff. Pump the tyres up hard and you really notice it, so don't do that; run them a bit softer and the whole bike is more forgiving.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
No – plenty of space between pedals and front wheel (and mudguard) largely because of its mountain bike-derived layout.
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Lively, which is good for the main urban use case, but not excessively so.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
It's surprisingly good at short, steep trail climbs.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The fat tyres dominate the feel and comfort; very welcome. Some folks will probably find the saddle a bit narrow. I liked it, but on the whole wider saddles are comfier for upright riding.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
Startlingly good for the money and great to see such a wide gear range as standard.
Wheels and tyres
Grippy and comfy all-rounders for tarmac and light trail use; spot on for the intended use.
Fat tyres FTW!
Brakes and shifters both work well
The brake levers are nicely shaped, fall easily to hand and can be adjusted for reach. The shifters use Shimano's RapidFire Plus combination of a thumb lever and a trigger, a proper design classic that's been around for 30 years now because it just works brilliantly.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
The brake levers have adjustable reach, which is good for riders with small hands.
Anything else you want to say about the componentry? Comment on any other components (good or bad)
There's really nothing bad in the mix here.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
There are very few really similar bikes around, but using a broad definition of similar, the Subway AWE stands comparison with the Vitus Dee VR City and Mach 3 VR Urban we tested last year. They're both about the same price, but take different approaches to the idea of an urban bike. I think the Carrera ends up more versatile and better value thanks to its wider gear range, hydraulic brakes and winter extras. It's simply rare to get all these features on one rugged bike. For around the same price you don't usually even get mudguards, or you find confusing triple-chainset gear systems, or the bike has skinnier tyres and less robust 700C wheels. This combination of features at this price is practically unheard of.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Subway AWE's flaws are minor and it's excellent value for money.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb,
John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.