Unlike the two other bikes tested, Charge uses branded tubes. Tange (pronounced tan-gay) was one of the big names ‘back in the day’, with its prestige pipes. Infinity tubing is used on the front end of the Duster and is one rung down from the seminal tubeset.
It shares the same double-butted make up, albeit with greater wall thicknesses. A custom-machined tapered head tube is reinforced with a plate gusset under the down tube. Plain gauge chromoly tubing makes up the rear triangle, with fairly large diameter tubing used throughout. Chainstays taper slightly, and join to a neat, cowled dropout.
Cable routing is nicely done, with everything running under the down tube. Sitting about on the top tube no longer runs the risk of ripping shorts on cable stops.
Despite a small issue with a rattly end stroke and accompanying top-out (if we had purchased the bike, the shop would easily have been able to fix the problem), the action of the Tora 318 fork made it the best performing fork on test. Adjustable rebound damping, and some control over the compression stroke thanks to the damping-based lockout, make the action easy to tune.
WTB’s Speed Disc rims roll on Shimano M475 hubs and come shod with tyres from Kenda. These 1.95in badged Nevegals have a huge air chamber for their stated size, coming up as tall as the 2.2in DMR Diggers on the Trailstar and only 0.1in smaller than the 2.4in WTBs on the Voodoo.
A dual compound tread also means that grip is plentiful. The only downside is the wafer-thin sidewalls: if you ride in a rocky area, snakebite punctures are likely to become an unwelcome trailside regularity.
In addition to the brakes, there are very few parts on the Duster that hail from anywhere but the SRAM stable. Avid Juicy 3 brakes are among the best in their class and have an incredibly comfortable lever shape.
X7 shifters and mechs throw the chain across a Truvativ Five D chainset, which sadly lacked the shifting accuracy of the FSA on the Voodoo.
An inline seatpost supports Charge’s Spoon saddle and this budget perch is a very comfy place to sit. Every tester found the Spoon supported the rider well without making its presence felt negatively: pretty ideal for a saddle. The honey-hued finish is easy on the eye.
Sadly, the handlebars don’t match up. Non-oversize, they give a pleasant ride without too much flex, but lack any real upsweep. Set up with a comfortable amount of backsweep, the ends of the bars are parallel with the ground, feeling as if they are pointing downward.
Rotate them so they sweep slightly upward, and the comfortable backsweep disappears. It’s not a huge problem and fairly inexpensive to remedy, but these cheap looking bars are the only real downside to the spec.
Despite sharing geometry with the machine Charge’s XC racers use, the Duster is no racing snake machine. With a laid-back stance, it’s a classic trail-ready hardtail, if low at the front.
From previous experience we know the fork is a good ’un, and will usually sit nicely in its travel, swallowing most trail-sized bumps with ease.
Large diameter tubing on the rear end of the bike means that the fabled ride of steel — more forgiving than aluminium — is missing. The frame is no less forgiving than a similar priced aluminium frame, in fact we have ridden more comfortable aluminium frames, even at this price. Ride feel aside, there is plenty going for the Duster. An effective top tube length of over 23in means that a short stem can be used without compromising cockpit room, keeping rider weight centred. The bars are a little low partly due to the short head tube and lack of adjustment spacers under the stem but, overall, it’s a pleasant place from which to explore the countryside.
Charge has got the essentials sorted with the Duster — good geometry and a sweet fork (this particular model aside). Top this off with great feeling brakes with plenty of power, and you’re a long way towards a great trail-ready machine.
We’d like to see a more compliant rear end, but Charge has gone with power transfer over comfort, as is its bent.
Despite our preference for more comfort, however, the Duster was still the first bike out of the van at the trails.
MBR RATING: 8/10