Charge Duster Hi - First ride £1299.99

Lively trail companion

BikeRadar score 4.5/5

The lightweight steel Charge Duster is no new kid on the block, so sometimes it can be overlooked. We wanted to get to grips with the mix of old-school steel tubing and modern componentry to see if we were missing out on a gem.

Ride & handling: Lively trail hardtail with classic steel feel

This bike has the same ride qualities as a high quality steel frame from back in the day. The difference is that this modern take has an awesome fork, and brakes and gears that actually work.

The light-gauge tubing has a degree of flexibility, but is also very springy. This translates into a sprightly ride as you ping along the trail. You can feel that flex as you power along, but the energetic spring of the lightweight steel has a lively feel, and not the dull thud that you sometimes get with aluminium or carbon frames.

The tunable nature of the Dual Air sprung RockShox Reba SL fork helps make the most of just 100mm (3.9in) of travel, and the PopLoc remote lockout turns the bike into a high-speed weapon for mashing out some speed on smoother trails.

The Avid brakes provide plenty of stopping power, and the whizzing rear hub is evil encouragement on fast descents. Singletrack twists and turns can be rattled through at speed, with a chattering back wheel from mild frame twang, and the bike isn’t even afraid of leaving the ground – occasionally.

Steep, techy descents can get the better of you, because the steep head angle makes the front wheel want to tuck under in turns. But The Duster isn’t really about riding slow and technical. Flat-out cross-country blasts are what it loves, and if you love them too, you’ll struggle to find a more willing accomplice to ride them on.

Frame & equipment: Springy Tange Prestige chassis, great RockShox Reba fork

The frame is made from Tange Prestige tubing. The Duster doesn’t look anorexic like some modern retro-wannabe steel frames do. Instead, sensible mid-diameter tubes give a subtle take on old-school steel hardtails.

This year’s model also features double-butted tubing on the rear stays as well as the front triangle – unlike previous incarnations. This lightweight, thin-walled, double-butted chromoly tubing is stitched together with flawless TIG welding, and Ritchey-style dropouts adds minimalist class.

A svelte gusset under the down tube at the join to the head tube subtly adds strength, and there’s ample mud clearance. The 71-degree head angle suits the 100mm-travel (3.9in) fork. Tight 420mm chainstays give rapid acceleration.

SRAM’s X9 drivetrain is effective, if a little clunky, and Avid Elixir 5 brakes offer power and control in spades. Rather pleasingly, the Duster has an audible highlight in the form of Charge’s own-branded rear hub, which has a very vocal, whizzy, 120-point engagement freehub body.

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