The Cooker Hi is the top complete bike in Charge’s four-strong 29er hardtail range and it’s a sweet riding choice for anyone after a fashionable ferrous ride with serious chatter smoothing, mile soothing abilities.
Ride & handling: Comfortable, confident ride once you get up to speed
While the overall weight and inertia of the big balloon tyres means you need some grunt to get them rolling there’s very little drag from the wide spaced, barely there knobs once you’re spinning. Power transmission is good for a steel bike too, so you don’t feel like the Cooker is going to crumple underneath you even when you’re heaving hard on the wide bars.
This all means serious momentum sustainability and mile-shrinking speed once you’ve invested the initial effort. While the RockShox XC-28 fork is basic in feel it’s at least predictable and stayed that way after repeated foul weather rides, which isn’t guaranteed at this price. Those big tyres and low-pressure-friendly fat rims mean plenty of pneumatic cushioning between you and the trail, letting the Cooker ﬂoat over smaller roots and rocks like a hovercraft.
Bike and wheel weights provide plenty of momentum to carry you through rough sections in a way that 26in bikes just can’t, and the tall bottom bracket means there’s rarely a need to stop pedalling either. The long stem, broad bar and long back end maintain stability at high speeds too despite the steep head angle, and on open trails – smooth or rutted and rocky – the Charge absolutely ﬂies.
Those same attributes make it less at home in tight, techy, slow speed situations though. The long stem and tall bottom bracket height give a tendency to tip over if you run out of rolling speed and the tyres are slippery and devoid of directional control as soon as the trails get damp.
Frame & equipment: Stylish steel chassis, but low on spec value
The Cooker's retro styling and Tange Inﬁnity steel tubeset are a nod to the hardtail mountain bike heyday of 15 years ago, but still provide an impressively taut but supple ride today. Charge have also kept the angles, axle choice, brake mounts and head tube diameters traditional. Plenty of mud clearance and a tall bottom bracket sync well with the sticky conditions and deep wheel ruts that characterize a lot of trails in the company's UK homeland.
With the explosion of 29in wheeled hardtails the Cooker is up against some serious challenges from both big brands and online suppliers, and in terms of ingredients the SRAM X5 of the Charge recipe looks austere rather than aspirational. You do get a basic RockShox fork – complete with lockout and rebound adjust – which is still relatively rare at this price.
Broad Alex rims plump up the huge Kenda tyres even further and the long extension of skinny seatpost also augments the basic suspension action. A wide ﬂat bar, Charge’s new Griddle grips and their excellent Spoon saddle provide comfortable, conﬁdence increasing contact points. While overall weight is high it’s not a complete Aga and there’s certainly potential for upgrading it into a much lighter build.
This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.