How many gears do you need? Charge's Duster Eight demonstrates that you can get by perfectly well with a lot fewer than the usual 27. A great steel frame and sorted handling helps too. If a hub gear sounds like a good idea, this is way to test the water without buying the superb but super-expensive 14-speed Rohloff system.
The Duster Eight's fully protected gear system works incredibly well. It's bolstered by a top-quality Tange Prestige steel frame. However, the rear hub makes for a heavy rear wheel that makes the bike feel less than sprightly over bumps.
Ride & handling: dominated by the hub
The overall build of the Duster Alﬁne is heavier than derailleur-equipped Dusters we’ve tested – by around a pound and a bit – and you’ll notice the drag of its nearly 30lb heft on the climbs and in acceleration. Over bumps the bike doesn’t feel as lively as a derailleur-equipped bike because the rear wheel is heavy.
Alﬁne shifting is fast and efﬁcient enough, but shifts more smoothly if you back off pedalling pressure. This is only really an issue when you’re under pressure on a steep climb and that last gear won’t engage instantly under full pedal pressure. In short, it isn’t quite as clicky-slick as a top-end derailleur under full pressure, but it’s close.
The drivetrain bite feels softer than on a derailleur gear. It’s beautifully quiet and there’s no feeling of reduced efﬁciency. We also love the fact that there are no hassles with mud or undergrowth grab, or drop damage.
What about having ‘only’ eight gears? Well, ﬁt riders will manage climbs in the smallest gear and rarely spin out in descents in the biggest, but there are certainly times when you’ll wish for a steady pedalling gear that’s somewhere in between the two. It won’t stop you keeping up, as riders on single-geared bikes prove, but it’s the reason MTBs ended up with so many gears.
Charge’s frame geometry is sorted and the general feel of the bike’s handling is excellent. But that extra heft in the rear wheel is noticeable; a derailleur-geared steel framed Charge Duster feels livelier.
Frame: great steel, tidy details
The frame sets itself apart from the mainstream by using Tange’s Prestige heat-treated, butted, chromoly steel tubes.
It weighs a pound or so more than a typical aluminium frame, but quality steel like this is still a popular choice in terms of durability, repairability and a ride feel that’s a bit less harsh than many aluminium frames.
The tube proﬁles are relatively straightforward, with reinforcements at the head tube and the top of the seat tube.
There’s plenty of mud room and two sets of bottle bosses, but no rack mounts – a pity on a bike that will appeal to riders looking for urban utility as well as off-road kudos. A forward-facing seat clamp would have been nice, too.
No moans elsewhere, though: we love the neatly cowled rear drop-outs and an eccentric bottom bracket takes up chain slack and allows a one-gear or Rohloff conversion job.
Equipment: hub-gear goodness, good fork & brakes
The obvious advantages of the Alﬁne hub gear are that there’s no rear mech to wreck, you can choose gears accurately when stationary (or in ﬁlthy conditions), you end up with a strong dishless rear wheel, and there’s no chain slap.
You’ll notice the heavier rear wheel, but the hub’s MTB credentials include the disc brake option and a standard (135mm) axle spacing. The gears turn on bearings rather than bushes, so it feels slicker and should last longer than old Shimano Nexus hub gears.
The axle is said to be tougher, and a double roller clutch makes for smooth shifts with its one-gear-at-a-time trigger shifter. With an 18-tooth sprocket and a 32-tooth chainring, gearing is like a 10-29T cassette. You could ﬁt up to a 23-tooth rear sprocket if you wanted smaller climbing gears.
The RockShox Recon Race air fork is a great choice on a bike like this for its tuneability and ride feel. The Motion Control is good for steady climbing and offers nicely controlled rebound damping and a bar-mounted thumbshifter lockout.
Shimano’s hydraulic disc brakes are very powerful after a few hot stops to bed them in and the wheels are great, with WTB SpeedDisc rims and mud-friendly WTB Raijin 2.1in tyres.
Summary: a worthwhile hub-gear try-out
Even disregarding price, many riders will be tempted to choose this hub gear over the Rohloff because the trigger shifters are much nicer to use than Rohloff’s twist grip. Price-wise, the Duster Alﬁne is on a par with a derailleur-geared bike. It’s a bit heavier, and the rear wheel weight dulls the ride feel over bumps, but that may be worth putting up with if you like the idea of protected gears.