- British-based Charge champions a bold, simple alloy frame design, billing the Cooker its “adventure bike”.
- Charge’s 40mm wide rims offer a stable base of support for the fast-rolling 2.8in tyres, and come set-up tubeless to save weight.
- Tektro hydraulic brakes lack the power required to rein in the big wheels once momentum takes over on the fastest of downhill sections.
- No seat clamp QR is seriously restrictive if you want/need to lower the saddle for steep, technical descents .
Mid-fat, Fat-lite or 27.5 Plus; call it whatever you want, Charge has gone all-in on the new wheel size for 2016. And it wasn’t a half-baked decision, either. Only after extensive back-to-back testing, on frames with three different wheel options (29in, 27.5in and 27.5 Plus), was Charge fully sold on the benefits of the latest wheel size.
Previously, the UK brand hadn’t joined the rush for ever-shorter chainstays on its 29er hardtails, but with the slightly smaller 27.5 Plus wheels and the space saved by ditching the front mech and any provision to fit one, Charge has now shortened the back end by 15mm. It has also lengthened the front end, to reflect current sizing trends.
It hasn’t adopted every Plus size standard, however. Yes, the new alloy frame has wider stays to clear the bigger tyres, but the rear quick-release dropouts still use 135mm spacing. While other brands have adopted the wider Boost 148 option, which allows for an increase in hub flange spacing and a stiffer rear wheel, it’s a decision that makes sense on a £1,000 hardtail as it helps keep costs in check.
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Taking care of suspension duties is a 100mm-travel Suntour Raidon fork. It’s air-sprung, and unlike the frame, it gets a wider 110mm Boost chassis to accommodate the fatter tyres. Suntour isn’t a household suspension name, but the Raidon is stiff, with decent damping performance.
Alongside rebound adjustment, there’s a lockout lever for climbing, and the 15mm axle is secured with an expanding wedge that helps further increase torsional stiffness. One bugbear is the fork developed a knocking sound after the fourth or fifth ride. We couldn’t track down the cause of the issue, which leaves a question mark over durability.
Charge’s Plus-specific 40mm wide rims ride stiff and provide plenty of support for the WTB 2.8in Trailblazer tyres, even at super low pressures. And hats off to Charge for being one of the few manufacturers to sell its bikes set up tubeless, saving around 400g of rotating weight and making the tyres more resistant to pinch flats.
As a utility hardtail, the 1x drivetrain suits the low-maintenance, non-nonsense outlook, and the clutch mechanism on the SLX rear derailleur stops the chain jumping off. The lowest of the 10 gears on offer is 32/36t, so even fit riders will find the Cooker hard work on steep pitches and long, draggy ascents where you really want to be spinning rather than grinding.
The Tektro brakes have good modulation but they aren’t very powerful, and the long, old-fashioned lever blades make it more difficult to find the sweet spot for one-finger operation.
The Plus size Cooker feels surprisingly light and nimble. The biggest difference is that the 2.8in WTB tyres add an extra level of comfort and control. It’s very efficient too — the tyres’ central ridge rolls rapidly on firm ground, while the high volume rolls smoothly over bumps and greatly aids climbing traction.
Bridleways and mellow trails are dispatched easily on the Cooker. Venture onto steeper, more natural trails, however, and the more adventure-focussed attitude means you have to go with the flow, instead of stepping on the gas.
Knocking the Cooker’s confidence is the combination of a long stem and a steep head angle. It kind of balances the steering out on flowing trails, but doesn’t leave you positioned, or primed, to squeeze all the grip and control from that super-wide rubber when charging.
Another limiting factor is how poor the WTB Trailblazer tyres perform on roots, mud and slime. With just a central ‘Mohawk’ tread, and bulging sidewalls, the tyres float across wet patches, feel dicey when cornering and, even though they are super wide, you still get wheel spin when climbing on damp ground.
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There’s no denying that the Charge Cooker 2 is a comfy, mild-mannered hardtail. It rolls fast too, even with the 27.5 Plus-size tyres, and it’s easy to control on mellow trails. After a month of testing, however, we’re still not sure where the Cooker truly excels. The latest ‘gravel’ road bikes could cover most gentle bridleway and towpath duties faster and more efficiently, while something like the full-suspension Calibre Bossnut would be far more capable on ‘proper’ mtb terrain for the same money. OK, the Plus components add cost, but for £1,000 there are better bikes out there to cut your teeth on.