With its rigid fork, the Charge Cooker may not look great value on paper but you have to bear in mind that a Tange Inﬁnity steel frame isn't a cheap option. The chassis alone costs £350, which is half the price of the complete bike.
The majority of £700 bikes have much cheaper to build aluminium frames, which will usually be lighter too, but the skinny steel tubed approach does result in a slightly more comfy ride. The 29er wheels and 2.2in tyres emphasise that comfort, and the fork is long enough for you to make a straight swap to suspension.
Ride & handling: Skinny steel frame tubes have an enticing ride quality
While you notice the Cooker’s 13kg+ (30lb+) weight on the ups if comparing with the lighter aluminium-framed bikes available for the same sort of money, the fast rolling own-brand tyres, stability of the rigid fork and comfy ride feel all combine to make it feel like a lighter bike than it is on all but long drags.
The precise handling of the fork is a joy on terrain that doesn’t throw up too many obstacles, and with a big tyre run at about 30psi the Charge is surprisingly forgiving if the going gets rough. The long legs result in a bit of ﬂutter when braking over stutter bumps, but no more so than a low budget long-legged suspension fork, and it doesn’t take much body language to sit back and skip the front end across the sort of obstacles that suspension forks are made for.
A long wheelbase and long top tube reach (23.5in on the medium size) work well with the geometry to give stable, conﬁdent handling. The steering is lively enough to have fun on fast twisty singletrack and the lack of suspension only left us ﬂoundering when things got lairy over rocky sections. Still, as many an old-school expert rider will tell you, if you learn to ride everything on a rigid fork you’ll be a better rider when you get a decent suspension fork.
Frame & equipment: Parts package is a bit downmarket because the frame cost is high
At the time of writing the availability of this exact speciﬁcation is uncertain, as the 2012 range is just about to come on stream. But we suspect a lot of rigid fork enthusiasts will be tempted by a build based on the frame alone. Charge have always focused their identity on skinny steel tubed frames, and the resilient ride feel (some would call it ‘springy’) and unfettered old-school image makes the Cooker an enticing alternative to the more typical aluminum framed offerings.
The skinny steel tubes and long fork blades result in gangly looks that won’t appeal to all, but the forgiving ride is a bonus to most. The head tube is ring-reinforced at both ends and the down tube is gusseted for resistance to frontal impacts. There’s plenty of mud clearance, pertinent on a bike without suspension as big tyres go a long way towards maintaining good controllability and comfort on rough trails.
The Cooker’s ﬁnishing kit is all picked to keep the full bike price reasonable. There are a few low-budget parts choices that add heft, notably the basic steel ringed SR Suntour crankset, but there’s nothing that lets the bike down on the trail. Tektro’s cable-pull disc brakes are good, the wheels are hefty but well built with decent rims and the Shimano Alivio/Altus gears do the job and can easily be upgraded. The saddle, seatpost, stem and handlebar are all decent Charge items.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine.