This is our third annual roundup of trail bikes that aren’t priced to the stratosphere. We could call them affordable, budget, real-world, blue-collar or college-fund-friendly, but someone would take offense at our assumption of disposable income level. It doesn’t really matter though. These are great bikes for the price, and we’ll leave it up to you about what to spend. Each bike was hand picked, not just for its price, but its components, geometry and modern features. From Issue #189.
Get an overview of all of the bikes in this test, here, and keep an eye out for full reviews of each.
Tester: Jon Pratt
Age: 45, Height: 5’10.5”, Weight: 190 lbs. Inseam: 31”
Sizes: Small, Medium, Large (tested)
One could argue that the Cooker 4 from Charge Bikes is possibly the most mundane, simple bike in our bike roundup, and I don’t say that in a negative tone. I dig simplicity. Designed around the increasingly popular 27plus wheel size, the Cooker is your basic aluminum hardtail. Not meant to be a hot rod hardtail, but more of the cross-country/adventure bike that can handle most scenarios.
Look past the larger tires and you find most of the regular bits you would expect. There is a solid 100 mm travel Rock Shox Reba fork to keep the trail chatter to a minimum, a smooth 1×11 SRAM GX drivetrain to keep you moving and powerful Shimano SLX brakes to stop you from running over your buddy at the bottom of the hill. Everything here seems right as rain, but there’s a cloud with that silver lining.
Before I delve into some of my ride impressions, there are a few things I need to get off my chest about the Cooker. In the ever-expanding landscape of plus sized bikes, I find it puzzling that Charge hung their hat on the old 135 mm QR rear spacing. Without the extra clearance afforded by Boost 148, you won’t be able to just grab any old 27plus tire off the shelf and expect it to fit. While the Cooker ships with an adequate 2.8 inch WTB Trailblazer, several newer 3 inch tires I tried would not work without some amount of rub on the chainstays, especially when the stays flexed during pedaling and cornering. This is an oversight that could possibly limit the future upgradeability of the Cooker.
Even more puzzling to me is that the bike comes with a 110 Boost RockShox Reba. I guess it’s OK to go big in the front, but there’s no junk happening in this trunk. And let’s not get me started on that 27.2 mm seatpost. Whew, that was painful, but now it’s over—on to the riding bits.
Because there was adequate space in the fork, I was able to swap the less-than-ideal-in-wet-and-loose-conditions Trailblazer for a 3 inch WTB Trail Boss. With the new rubber crisply leading the way, the bike felt lively but direct. This was especially noticeable during some long, bermy sections where the low-pressure Trail Boss really allowed me to pick my line and stick to it, while the back of the bike followed a bit of its own path but maintained an essence of control. Always fun roosting those turns!
Even with the moderately steep 70 degree head tube angle, the Cooker was surprisingly capable on the more technical sections of trails. The larger tire diameter and low pressure had a lot to do with the bike’s ability to absorb repeated impacts and maintain control. Areas where I’ve taken similarly designed cross-country bikes and wished for a better rig, didn’t feel so out of bounds on the Cooker.
After a few outings the more-upright-than-I’m-used-to cockpit felt a little less foreign to me, and the bike started to grow on me. That upright posture, headtube angle and stiff rear end made climbing a breeze. The front of the bike didn’t wander around in the least, and the transfer of power to the rear wheel was as perfect as one would expect on a hardtail. The gravity-assisted treks back down the hills weren’t too shabby either. The Reba married to the big rubber gave me the confidence to plow through some ugly lines at pretty decent speeds.
The Cooker is definitely set up to tackle most things you’ll run into on your next adventure. To wrap it all up—I have a hard time coming to terms with this bike. It was fun to ride and was a good match for most of what Charge designed it for, but its long-term usefulness is limited due to tire clearance issues.
If you are looking for a cross-country oriented hardtail and wanted to try the plus sized thing, this could be a decent choice. Anyone who is well-versed in modern trail bike geometry is going to have bit of a tough go loving this one. I’ve been told there are some additions to the Cooker lineup coming in 2017, perhaps we’ll see a more trail-oriented hardtail in the future.
- Hardtail simplicity
- No crazy paint or stickers
- Big tires and wide rims
- 135 mm rear spacing
- No dropper post
- More slack would be more better
- Wheelbase: 44.9”
- Top Tube: 24.5”
- Head Angle: 70°
- Seat-Tube Angle: 73.5°
- Bottom Bracket: 12.4”
- Rear Center: 17.1”
- Weight: 29 lbs. w/o pedals (specs based on size tested)