Charge Bikes produce some of the neatest hardtail bikes around. We take a look at their Titanium Duster and reveal why it’s worthy of joining the Super Bike ranks
For a long time Merlin and Litespeed have held the crown for making the most prestigious titanium frames around. They make stunning frames, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the best for the job in hand. Titanium is a forgiving metal with shock absorbing properties that are ideal for rigid mountain bike frames, but many of the top titanium frame utilise the natural flex of the material in a way that doesn’t fit in with the new school riding styles of people who visit trail centres, or blast their local singletrack. Bottom bracket flex isn’t wanted – these folk require stiff bikes. Being one of them, Nick Larsen got to work on the Charge Duster…
At 1.58kg (3.5lb) for a large sized frame, the weight is very competitive compared to the Merlin XLM’s 3.4lb, but the price is a different matter – the Merlin is nearly twice the price of the Charge. This is partly possible because Nick has the Charge frames made in Taiwan, although they’re hand-built with Tange Ultimate 3AL 2V tubing.
Unlike most other titanium frames, which use S-shaped chainstays, the Duster uses straight, slightly oversized ones. This, combined with a down tube that’s vertically oversized at the head tube and horizontally oversized at the bottom bracket shell, makes for stiffer ride, but the frame still has titanium’s shock absorbing nature.
The Duster is beautifully simple – its 71 degree head angle complements the 73.5 degree seat angle. And the 22.75in top tube nods to the trail intentions of this frame – rather than the 24.5in top tube of the equivalent Merlin frame.
Only the best
Not being one to cut corners, Nick built this special Team issue bike for our Super Bike slot with RockShox Reba World Cup forks up front, boasting 100mm (3.9in) of plush travel, spinning in a Chris King No-Threadset. A Truvativ Team 3D stem keeps steering positive, while the Team Carbon bars add to the Duster’s comfy ride. A SRAM drivetrain with X.0 componentry ensures this bike has ﬂawless shifting. Spinning the Duster along are Truvativ Noir cranks and a Giga X Pipe bottom bracket with robust Crank Brothers Candy 4Ti pedals.
Avid Juicy Ultimate brakes make light work of slowing down, and last but not least is the amazing Crank Brothers Cobalt XC wheelset. Nick’s one of the first to get them on a bike
– using 24 spokes, they present a new platform for wheels and accentuate the Duster’s Superbike calibre.
Of course, none of the above may tell you exactly what you want to hear, so we asked Charge Bikes rider Sam Humphrey exactly why his Charge Duster is so very special.
“During my 18 years as a mountain biker I have owned bikes in virtually all materials available, and have settled on the feeling that ti is my favourite material for hardtails,” he says. “It’s light, strong, doesn’t weather and lasts ages. It rides a bit like good quality steel – it’s supple and responsive but doesn’t have the drawbacks like weight and rust.
“One of my first impressions of the Duster was my first blast on my fave training loop. Because it’s stiffer than my Merlin it was much more accurate through the singletrack – direction changes were quicker, surprisingly, since I had a 28mm diameter SID World Cup in the front, whereas my Merlin has 32mm Rebas. One of the things I’ve learned is that static weight is not everything, and for a few extra ounces the ride is noticeably better.
“The Charge suits my riding style well. I like to push hard on the descents and even harder on the climbs. The Duster feels hardcore, light and fast – just like me…”
With ovalised tubing, the down tube has a large contact point with the bottom bracket shell. This, combined with the oversize tubing, creates a very light and stiff platform to suspend the cranks from. Tyre clearance is also typically great and accommodates tyres of around 2.3in very comfortably.
One of the first thing you’ll notice on many other titanium frames are the S-bend seatstays. The Charge uses straight seatstays that combine with the ovalised down tube to make a very stiff bottom bracket area. The welding is as impeccable as you’d expect and the aforementioned tyre clearance is adequate for the UK’s soggy climate.
The Crank Brothers Cobalt wheels are simply amazing. By not penetrating the rim with spoke nipples, the rim remains sealed so are compatible with tubeless tyre systems.
It also means the wheel can be very strong, because the spoke actually joins to part of the rim. The 24 nipples are straight-pull and coordinate with the rims. The hub itself is of a quality we’ve only seen before from Chris King himself. And that’s saying something.
A clean head tube with strength taken from the Blender 4X frame ensures that hardcore XC riders won’t be left out. The simple transfer plate under the down tube and the reinforcing rings at either end of the head tube resist stretching and front end trauma. Note the clean cable guides and stylish graphics – the graphics are installed by hand in the UK…
Clean dropouts are the order of the day on this beauty and are in keeping with the rest of the frame. On the non-drive side (not shown here), the disc mount is part of the drop out, which helps to keep things stiff and doesn’t rely on the frame for a sturdy mounting point for the brake.