Charge Bikes’ main man Nick Larsen used to be a 26in-wheel purist, but he soon saw the other point of view after he’d spent some time on sample 29ers. The company's new big-wheeler range is made up of three Cooker models that cost from £699 to £999, plus the Cooker Ti tested here, which is a frame-only option.
Ride & handling: Rides similarly to the excellent Duster but – dare we say it – better
Our ﬁrst test of the Cooker was at the Erlestoke 12 event, where our team raced to 10th place on the technical track. Thankfully, the Cooker took minimal time to get used to. While retaining the springy, lively characteristics of the popular Duster Ti 26in frame, the comfort and traction offered by the bigger wheels made it the perfect choice for long hours in the saddle.
The speed this bike keeps is phenomenal – we found ourselves coasting past riders on 26in-wheeled full-suspension bikes on the chattery ﬁeld sections, and the wheels made short work of the rooty track. But the biggest thing that enables you to keep pace is the riding position – with the bottom bracket position really low in relation to the wheel axles, you're planted low.
This makes for an incredibly stable feel – more akin to a trail bike with the saddle slammed. You’re far more ‘in the bike’, and as a result aren’t affected by the saddle height when the going gets technical. We managed to lose a lot of riders in the tech sections thanks to this position, whereas we might not have been as rapid on a top-heavy 26in wheeled bike.
Frame: Tange Ultimate tubing offers an incredibly compliant ride
The frame is made from Tange Ultimate butted titanium tubing and the raw ﬁnish looks stunning. A tapered head tube is mated to a clean, straight-tubed double diamond frame. The traditional layout, neat welding, double bottle bosses and top tube underside cable routing make for a very pleasing-looking bike.
Out back, 450mm (17.7in) chainstays are long enough to keep the bike stable but short enough to pop the front end up easily and keep acceleration snappy. The bullet-ended tubing looks good and makes for tidy dropouts.
The 72.5 degree seat angle on the production bike is slacker than the prototype we spent time on, putting more weight over the rear wheel and lengthening the top tube. Head angle is a responsive 71 degrees. A noteworthy design point is that the medium and large frames are built for a 100mm (3.9in) travel fork, whereas the small accepts an 80mm fork to keep the front end lower.
Our Cooker Ti frame was built with a trick SRAM XX groupset, including Avid XX Elixir brakes and a RockShox SID XX fork. The CrankBrothers Cobalt 29er wheels were surprisingly light and stiff for a big wheelset, and took advantage of a pair of fast-rolling but super grippy Maxxis Ignitor tyres.