Tested: The Simple, Super-Fun Charge Cooker

You might not be familiar with UK-based cycling brand Charge, and you’re not alone. Charge’s bicycles have historically only been available to US cyclists through Performance bike shops, but starting this fall, expect to see them everywhere: They will be available through Cannondale dealers because the bike brands are owned by the same company, Dorel Industries. Based on our experience with one of Charge’s new 27.5+ hardtails, we’re excited about the expansion.

The 10-year-old brand thrives on understatement. Charge bikes won’t wow anyone with high-tech wizardry, but they impress with simple, functional designs, and competitive pricing. Even its model names, all named for tools you’d find in a kitchen, speak to its utility focus: Its drop-bar road bikes are called Plug; the flat-bar road and commuter models are named Grater; and its mountain bikes go by Cooker.

A quick-release rear axle and SRAM GX 1x11 drivetrain make for a simple, easy-to-use bike.

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For bikes marketed as a simple machine, the Charge Cooker hardtail series offers a seriously rad, complex ride.
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RELATED: Hot New 2016 Mountain Bikes

I got the chance to test Charge’s new Cooker 27.5+ hardtail mountain bike, which replaces the brand’s 29-inch mountain bike. After months spent ripping on bikes from other manufacturers with the newest plus tire size, I was surprised to find the Cooker stood out and surprised me.

The 27.5 tire-equipped bike wasn’t the only thing that gave us a charge out on the trail.PHOTO BY RON KOCH
The 27.5+ tire-equipped bike wasn’t the only thing that gave us a charge out on the trail.
The Cooker 4 I tested is the second-tier model in the line and came with a Boost-width Rockshox Reba RL fork, SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain, and Shimano SLX brakes. So far this year, I’ve sampled various full-suspension mountain bikes and two other 27.5+ hardtails (the Specialized Fuze and Orbea Loki), but right away, I could tell the Cooker is a very different bike.

Physically, its steeper head angle, taller headtube, and longer stem give it a more traditional XC-oriented, stretched-out cockpit. At 70 degrees, its head angle is way steeper than those of contemporaries; the Specialized Fuze and Orbea bikes I tried both have 67-degrees head angles. The bike’s relatively narrow 725mm bars and its solid seatpost further set the Cooker apart and give it a distinct ride.

It took a mile or so to get used to the position and lack of dropper post, but then things started to click for me. Quicker steering meant I needed to use less “body English” to turn the bike, which I appreciated on slow challenging climbs. Instead of steering aggressively with my hips to lean the bike over, I could use the handlebar. I rode this bike with WTB’s Trailblazer 2.8-inch tires and had no trouble finding traction on the dry, silty, decomposed trail I chose for testing—making even steep sections of singletrack feel easy.

Even at speed, the high-volume tires kept the Charge planted and fun to ride.PHOTO BY RON KOCH
Even at speed, the high-volume tires kept the Charge planted and fun to ride.
When the trail turned downward, I expected the bike to respond sharply due to its steeper head angle and rider position, but that wasn’t the case. Even as my speed increased, the traction and stability provided by the extra-wide tires kept the bike surprisingly predictable and planted. The oversized tires even added a bit of cushion. At lower speeds, the nimble front end made it easy to dart around trees and navigate tight switchbacks. However, the rougher and steeper the trail became, the more I wished for something less XC-feeling and more trail-friendly—it’s just more fun to rip downhill with a slacker head angle, wider bars, shorter stem, and dropper post. Even at speed, though, there’s no denying that the Cooker is a fun bike, and that’s really what these 27.5+ hardtails are all about.

A quick-release rear axle and SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain make for a simple, easy-to-use bike.PHOTO BY RON KOCH
A quick-release rear axle and SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain make for a simple, easy-to-use bike.
However, I did stop and lower the seatpost for each descent. I’m so used to dropper-style posts, and that’s the one area on this bike I’d upgrade immediately. Charge uses a 27.2mm-diameter post, so choices will be limited. (Tip: Thomson and Gravity Dropper make good ones.) It’s also worth noting that the rear dropouts are standard 135mm QR style instead of thru-axle or even Boost, keeping with the simple, value-driven theme; Charge estimates that adding a thru-axle Boost rear end would have added as much as $250 to the bike’s price. Frame clearance is acceptable with the 2.8-inch tires, but wider 3-inch tires barely snuck inside the chainstays, and the gap could easily clog with mud. The Boost fork means you can easily run a 3-inch wide tire in front, though.