Something of the odd one out in our 29er test, the Charge Cooker bucks the trend for aluminium frames, with its more traditional steel pipes and straight-line design.
Keeping it retro, the Cooker sports an old school 1 1/8in head tube, with a subtle hourglass profile placing more material at the ends to prevent flaring. Granted, this approach may not have the stiffness benefits of an oversized head tube, but it’s more in keeping with the profile of the Tange Infinity cro-mo tubes.
Other than a discreet, open-ended gusset tucked neatly under the down/head tube junction the Cooker frame is beautiful in its simplicity, with its straight-as-a-die main tubes and slender, tapered stays. And much as we’d love to have a QR seat collar, style, rather than function, has won the day here.
With spindly 28mm stanchions, the RockShox Dart fork has a disconcerting amount of fore-aft flex under braking. That said, it doesn’t appear to be at the detriment of steering precision, making it more of a confidence thing. It could also be down to the Dart having the most travel on test: 100mm vs 80mm on the other bikes. Still, we were more than happy with the overall performance of the fork and pleased that it was slightly over sprung for our weight, helping to prop the front end up on the descents.
Taking the middle ground, the 21mm wide (internal) Alex SX rims provide a good tyre profile and a decent strength to weight ratio.
We’ve had mixed experiences with SRAM’s 2×10 transmission on suspension bikes, but it seems very much at home here. Not only does it allow you to stay in big ring for longer but, combined with the higher BB, it may hold the key to the Cooker’s incredibly silent ride. Basically, with the chainstays running flatter than most low BB 29ers, the upper and lower portions of the chain are almost equidistant from the stay, reducing chain slap. It doesn’t eliminate it completely though, as chips in the paintwork of the unprotected stay indicate.
Even if we’re not crazy about running inverted stems on mtbs, we can’t knock the Charge components adorning the Cooker. The 700mm flat bar offers plenty of leverage for muscling up climbs and it’s easy to see why the Spoon saddle is such a popular perch.
Rounding out the package are Charge lock-on grips — thankfully they are a lot softer than the Oakley B-1B BMX grips that inspired the design.
After spending a day back and forth between the Cannondale and Specialized, searching for subtle differences in compliance, we broke out the Charge for one last loop purely for consistency. Tired and battered, we were surprised at how much more dynamic the Cooker felt, especially when we were anything but. There’s no need for excessive body language on the climbs to maintain traction or balance, and all in all the Cooker is a surprisingly easy bike to get to grips with.
Yes, those whopping 450mm chainstays make it harder to manual than a 26in hardtail, and the upside down stem does look goofy, but the bike didn’t feel like a barge. If anything, the steering is a little twitchy at higher speeds.
We’re pretty certain the Cooker’s fun loving character comes from its higher BB. With 29ers the BB drop (BB distance below the axle centre-line) can be as much as 60mm and still give ample pedal clearance. But this excessive drop could be the reason why some big wheelers feel almost too stable and unwieldy. Not something that can be said of the Cooker.
Never one to follow the crowd, Charge defies current thinking on hardtail geometry with a relatively high bottom bracket and longer travel fork. In doing so it has delivered, or possibly stumbled upon, a set-up that really works.
As a package the Cooker is competitive on the scales, and the spec sheet, even if the Dart fork is the cheapest on test, and as 29er hardtails go it’s a blast to ride. So if you want a hardtail that’s brimming with character and showcases steel at its finest, both in term of styling and performance, the Charge Cooker Hi won’t disappoint.
- Love: The retro styling and attention to detail
- Hate: What’s there to hate on a 29er that riders this well?
1: Ten gears on the back and two up front: SRAM’s 2×10 transmission is the perfect match for the Cooker
2: Retro Chic: Slender Tange Infinity cro-mo tubing makes the Cooker an instant classic
3: The only bike on test to get a modern two-piece chainset and external bottom bracket
4: Skinwall Kenda Karma 2.1in tyres combine a modern tread pattern with more traditional styling
Size tested: Medium
Head angle: 71.9°
Seat angle: 73.9°
BB height: 325mm
Front centre: 658mm
Down tube: 685mm
Weight: 30.4lb without pedals
Words: Alan Muldoon Photos: Roo Fowler