Charge have had a full-scale conversion to 29er bikes for 2013. The compact range – there are just six mountain bikes – is all designed around big wheels with, Charge say, geometry designed specifically to deal with the big hoops’ different characteristics.
The Faucet Plus slots into the range just above the entry-level Faucet, offering a RockShox fork and 9-speed transmission for just shy of £800. However, can the bike cut it with the big names?
Video: MBUK test four hardtails from £700 to £849
Ride & handling: Comfortable bike with good manners
Charge’s claim – that they’ve got 29er geometry sorted – is borne out by the Faucet Plus’s handling. Small touches like the dropped stem make all the difference and prevent the dreaded complaint of stodgy, uninspiring steering.
Backing up the tidy trail manners is a ride quality that’s surprisingly – and very pleasantly – comfortable. You’d expect big wheels to roll easily, but the Faucet’s relatively slender tubes and unfussy frame construction also give it a lively-but-comfy feel even when the trail’s getting choppy and lumpy.
It’s a timely reminder that stiffer isn’t always better, though don’t get the idea that the Charge is flexy – it’s not. It’s just that those skinny stays and narrow down tube help take the edge off some of the worst trail hits and help disguise the RockShox XC30’s basic internals.
Niggles? Well, unfortunately, there are a couple. The Deore mech lacks the clatter-reducing clutch of some newer mechs, so it bangs against the underside of the chainstay in some gear combinations.
That wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, except that the stay’s thin walls create a loud, hollow ‘clang’ every time the mech hits, so fast, bumpy trails are accompanied by a chorus of clangs and clatters that soon grates. There’s no obvious solution that we can see, other than a layer or two of old inner tube wrapped around the stay.
Of more concern is the fact that the brakes aren’t quite up to par, lacking the bite or precision of the budget alternatives found on some of the Charge’s competitors. This is enough to just take the shine off its otherwise very good trail performance, though hauling a bit harder on the levers is arguably just a matter of acclimatisation.
Still, given the bike’s lithe feel it’s easy to find yourself barrelling all too quickly into a situation that’s going to need speed to be scrubbed quickly – and that’s harder on the Faucet than it ought to be.
Charge Faucet Plus
Frame & equipment: Sorted 29er geometry, clattery rear mech
In a world of shape-shifting frame tubes the Faucet Plus’ honest-to-goodness straight lines come as something of a pleasant surprise. There are no fancy profiles here, just plain ol’ round tubes made from 6061 aluminium, butted at the ends to shave a little weight.
There’s even a welded, open-ended gusset at the junction between head and down tubes to add extra strength – a detail that curved down tubes have made all but redundant.
There’s nothing wrong with round section tubes, despite all the high-falutin’ claims made for the complex profile plumbing that adorns many frames these days. Kudos to Charge for sticking with what works.
If there’s a downside to this tried-and-tested design strategy, it’s that there’s no space-saving tube shaping or welding going on at the head tube. The result is a front end that’s in danger of ending up on the high side for decent weight distribution, but Charge have dealt with the issue by fitting a stem with a shallow drop – a simple solution that works well.
The slender stays and seatpost hint at a design that favours comfort over ultimate rigidity, which is no bad thing. The skinny post precludes the dropper option though, and a complete lack of mudguard or rack eyelets rules the Faucet Plus out as a genuine commuter hack or tourer.
RockShox’ budget XC30 fork in 29er trim is par for the course at this price, offering reasonable performance and adjustable rebound and compression damping.
While it would be nice to see a 10-speed transmission, the Charge’s 9-speed Deore-based kit – paired with Pro Max’s Decipher hydraulic discs – is a solid performer that loses little to the more expensive groupsets.
WTB Prowler SL tyres in amber wall trim offer decent grip in all conditions and add a retro look to accompany the frame’s understated finish. And the own-brand finishing kit extends to decent – and slide-free – lock-on grips.
There’s a lot to like about the Faucet – particularly its handling and ride quality. With better brakes it would be a winner.