Charge Cooker Hi 29er - First ride review£1,000.00

Retro-styled mile muncher

BikeRadar score3/5

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.

Charge cooker hi: charge cooker hi
Charge cooker hi: charge cooker hi

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.

SRAM x5 transmission may not be aspirational but it does the job: sram x5 transmission may not be aspirational but it does the job
SRAM x5 transmission may not be aspirational but it does the job: sram x5 transmission may not be aspirational but it does the job

This article was originally published in What Mountain Bike magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Guy Kesteven

Freelance Writer, UK
Guy started filling his brain with cycle stats and steaming up bike shop windows back in 1980. He worked the other side of those windows from '89 while getting a degree in “describing broken things covered in mud" (archaeology). Dug historical holes in the ground through the early '90s, then became a pro bike tester in '97. Guy has ridden thousands of bikes and even more components the world over since then and can remember them all in vivid, haunting detail. Can't remember where the car keys are, though.
  • Age: 45
  • Height: 180cm / 5' 11"
  • Weight: 68kg / 150lb
  • Waist: 76cm / 30in
  • Chest: 91cm / 36in
  • Discipline: Strict sadomasochist
  • Preferred Terrain: Technical off-piste singletrack and twisted back roads. Up, down, along — so long as it's faster than the last time he did it he's happy.
  • Current Bikes: An ever changing herd of test machines from Tri bikes to fat bikes and everything in between.
  • Dream Bike: His Nicolai Helius AM custom tandem
  • Beer of Choice: Theakston's Old Peculier (not Peculiar)
  • Location: Yorkshire, UK
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