I took my Carrera Subway 8 back to Halfords for its 8 weeks service today. Halfords is almost considered a swear word in the cycling community because it represents evil big business squeezing out the local bike shop (LBS) and accounts for about 1/3 of all UK bikes sales. I bought my previous bike on-line and had it serviced at my LBS but servicing wasn’t cheap and I didn’t really feel any attachment to the owner so this time around I just wanted something low maintenance.
The final straw with the old bike was when the derailleur jumped into the back wheel for no reason (I wasn’t changing gear) and after the resulting £70 repair and service vowed not to spend any more an a bike that had only cost £250 in the first place. The way forward seemed to be in hub gearing like the old Sturmley Archer 3 speed system used by Choppers, Grifters et al; the 21st century equivalent is the Shimano Nexus 8. With the gears in the hub they are protected from rain, grime and dirt (although some on line reports warn that the unit isn’t 100% watertight). They are a nightmare to service but shouldn’t go wrong anyway.
The Carrera Subway 8 has the Nexus 8 together with an in hub drum brake system. It is argued that the drum brake is not as powerful as disk or rim brakes but I think that the in hub system will offer much better braking in the wet and performance won’t degrade as quickly (I certainly didn’t adjust my brakes/clean my rims daily or even weekly). Again, on the downside, if anything does go wrong it would need to be serviced. The reviews of the Subway 8 looked good with the main criticism being the standard of assembly by Halfords staff. At my local store only the senior mechanic was prepared to look at servicing it and I was relieved to hear that he already had another one in to work on before mine (he could practise on someone else’s) but as it turned out he didn’t need to disturb the inner workings of the hub anyway. I hope by the next time I have it serviced they will all be a bit more familiar with it.
All he seemed to do today was re-tension the chain, and I had already adjusted the tension in the gear and brake cables over the last few weeks. I’ve done 500 miles on it already and although it is quite different to my Claude Butler hybrid trail bike it is much better suited to commuting. The claim that the 8 gears cover the range of a typical 21 speed is stretching things a little. I’ve lost at least 2 useful gears from the top end meaning that I can’t cruise at over 25 miles an hour and my days of drafting behind buses at 30mph+ are over (no bad thing I suppose). I tend to spend most time in 6th gear but use all those below it on the way home (up Moor Lane!). The drum brake means that there is a bit more rolling resistance than on the CB (I was aware of this before buying it) and the riding position is less upright so it doesn’t look like I’m riding a ‘Shopper’ anymore. I’ve lost front and rear suspension but I didn’t really need it and it made the CB a bit twitchy at low speeds around barrier ‘chicanes’. I don’t think I could ride a long distance on the Subway 8 and it doesn’t like the dirt, 5 miles along the Outwood trail in the rain a few weeks ago seemed to age the bike by 5 years until I cleaned it all up again.
Although it isn’t very versitile I’d recommend the Subway 8 as an out and out commuter bike although the true test will be if I manage to run it for 5,000 miles without any problems. Halfords offer a 3 year service plan which I’ll take up in a few months time if they can convince me they are no longer frightened of opening up the Nexus 8 hub.
I bought it as a discounted 2006 model in January for £280 (reduced from £400) with £30 of goodies thrown in. The 2007 model looks identical and is back at £400 and the only other cheaper Nexus 8 machine I’ve seen is the Edinburgh Bike Coop’s Courier Nexus 8 which is £350 with V brakes. They have just opened a shop in Rusholme and are offering 20% of everything until end of May so that might be the one to buy for under £300 at the moment.