When it comes to frames, the words 'affordable' and 'titanium' have never sat comfortably in the same sentence, but with the burgeoning global economy, titanium frames are more affordable now. A few Brit companies have stepped into this arena, designing frames to their own specs and getting them welded in Taiwan. One such company is Charge, and we've been riding their value ti crosscountry trail bike - the Duster.
The Duster frame is built from 3AL - 2.5V Seamless Tange Ultimate Butted titanium tubing. It looks great, the weld quality is high and the decals are classy.
The Duster definitely looks like it can take a bit of a pasting, and it's been designed to withstand a little more abuse than skinny, race-weight titanium frames.
The down tube is bi-ovalised to provide more strength and less fl ex at both the head tube and the bottom bracket shell. The machined head tube is reinforced with a neat and simple gusset stretching onto the down tube. Skinny dropouts result in a bit of extra QR skewer sticking out of the end of the locknut, but their slimness doesn't detract from the planted, lively ride. The extra strength has little noticeable effect on the frame's overall weight and the large size we tested came in at a touch over 1.6kg (3.5lb).
The titanium Duster is only available as a frame, although you can buy a complete steel framed Duster for £1,199.99, including a RockShox Recon 351 fork, Avid Juicy 5 brakes and WTB SpeedDisc XC rims. A steel frame alone is also available for £349.
You can pretty much build up the Duster frame to match your preferred riding style. We rode a high-end version belonging to one of the Charge team riders that bordered on an all-out crosscountry race machine.
The fork was a Manitou R7 delivering 100mm (4in) of XC race-weight suspension. Shimano XTR gearing provided super smooth shifting and the Syntace stem matched the style of the fork - light and long, but very flexy - as well as the frame character.
The Duster is typical titanium - excitable and lively, but with an extra bit of stiffness that makes it so much fun to ride hard on tight singletrack and technical sections. With their distinctive ride characteristics, titanium frames have always sat in a class of their own. The Duster is all that but with an extra slice of fun thrown in. It thrives on body language, but it doesn't have to be ridden that way all the time. You can sit back and enjoy the forgiving, lively feel of the titanium frame. It's not too forgiving though - stamp on the pedals and the bike transforms into a responsive, hard-riding, trail-eating machine.
We'd run a stiffer 100mm fork to get the most out of the frame and the quick 71-degree head angle, but you really can pick and choose what sort of bike you want with the Duster - its hardass character sits subtly under those titanium tubes. All in all, the Duster is a fine British-designed machine and we reckon just about anyone will appreciate the way it rides.