I took the Charge Cooker Maxi out for its first ride yesterday at the State Park here in town. The trail was quite muddy in places, lots of slipper leaves, rocks, and lots and lots of tree roots, mostly covered over by leaves. So it’s a pretty treacherous riding surface and you need confidence in the bike to ride fast. I rode the same trail on my GT Karakoram earlier in the week and it was fun, but quite scary. You’re never sure what lies beneath the surface of the leaves and it’s risky and disconcerting to ride fast.
The Charge Cooker Maxi 2 Fat Bike pretty much soaks up whatever you throw at it, it’s an absolute blast. Not without its issues, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
The Maxi comes stock with Vee Rubber 4.0 tires front and rear, and I pretty much left the pressures set as it came from the bike shop. The owner of the shop at Schwag in Appleton has a good deal of fat bike experience so I left things alone with tire pressure.
I’m 6′ 4″ and went with a 20″ L frame, as I like to ride off-road on something just a tad smaller. It gives the bike a more nimble feel and since I’m not spending hours in the saddle I don’t feel any effects from the slightly more compact riding position. However, even with the L sized frame, sitting on the bike I felt the headset was way too low and the stem a bit too long. I’ve since flipped the stem to get an extra 1/2 inch or so but it will need riser bars to give me the more upright position that I like on an off-roader.
I rotated the bars to try and get a bit more height, and you’ll see that rather odd arrangement in some of the pictures below, but that’s less than ideal and I’ve since moved them back until I can get the parts I need.
My first issues out on the trail were with tire pressures.
I have a good quality bike pump with a built-in gauge but I don’t know how accurate the gauge is on the lower end of the pressures. According to the gauge the rear was inflated to 10psi and 12 psi at the front. The rear looked quite flatted with me in the saddle and the front retained its shape better.
I had some problems with the ride, pretty ugly problems.
Basically I was getting a ‘pogo-stick’ effect when pedaling hard on an even surface. Going over the rough stuff it was still there but the rough surface broke up the effect a bit as the bike was bouncing around.
Pedaling with a smoother stroke helped to alleviate the problem somewhat, but that clearly isn’t the answer. So on the power section of the pedal stroke the torque going into the back wheel compresses the tire, then lifting off the power results in the tire rebounding. The effect is like riding with a square back wheel - up down, up down, in sympathy with the pedal stroke.
Inflating the tires up to 12-15 psi significantly improved on the issue but of course I lost some traction on hills when riding on the wet and slippery leaves. Plus, inflating tire pressure so high really defeats the objective of having a fat tire bike and it certainly isn’t going to work properly in the snow.
Of course part of what’s contributing to the issue is my pedaling technique. I may well be mashing and using an irregular force through the rotation of the crank, but who doesn’t, particularly when you’re riding an uneven terrain and the bikes bouncing around a lot?
So I’ll need to revisit this issue and see what, if anything, can be done.
The remainder of this review of the Charge Cooker is with the tire pressures set higher at 15 psi.
Soaking up the bumps like a FS bike
Zipping along over lumps and bumps and the fat bike does get itself out of shape. It bounces and hops and skips over bumps, partly due to having the pressures set too high. But it never feels like its getting away from you. Just hang on there and let the bike do the work.
The tires, even when inflated too high, absorb a lot of the shock and you feel fairly comfortable with not a lot of ass-pounding going on. But it’s a pretty wild ride when you try and push the speed.
I never got comfortable with breaking and riding hard. It felt easier to just keep all fingers wrapped around the grips at times, rather than to reach for the brake levers. Let the bike sort itself out and hope for the best. I’ve adjusted the levers and shifters since the test ride to make then a bit more accessible.
I don’t much care for the SRAM thumb shifters and the X5 shifts are quite clunky, but fairly positive. It always shifts, though often with a crunch. The 2×10 seems pretty adequate. I had a good granny gear ratio for dealing with some tough climbs, and enough of a speed on the asphalt to move between trails quickly enough.
It’s not bad. I mean it’s a mid-level bike so the equipment isn’t going to be top spec.
The Tektro HDC-330, hydraulic disc with 180/160mm rotors feel adequate, but the front brake squeals like a pig in a vice. There’s sufficient stopping power for the speed that I’m able to create, and the response when pumping brakes to avoid lock-up feels pretty good. I prefer the hydraulic setup on my Karakoram though, it just feels like you’re more connected with what’s going on. Part of the ‘feel’ of the braking system is being absorbed by the large tires on the fat bike, so they’re unlikely to feel quite as responsive.
Wheels / tires
The Charge shield fat rims with shield disc hubs (135mm F, 170mm R) seem ok, I guess. The rim quality looks pretty average to my eyes, you can clearly see the but-joint in the rim and it doesn’t look particularly well made. It’s clearly on a budget.
Vee Rubber 120 tpi, wire bead, 26×4.00 front and rear. They seem OK, but I wonder if some of the pumping action I was getting under lower pressures might actually be down to the construction of the tire. I can’t see the tread on these things being too useful in the snow.
Looking at the bike geometry it looks and feels very different to what I’m used to with my GT Karakoram hardtail MTB.
I feel like I’m sitting a tad too far back off the center-line of the crank, even though I have the saddle slid fully forward. On my MTB I feel like I’m pedaling downwards. On the Charge Cooker Maxi 2 I feel like I’m pedaling a few degrees back from optimal. Obviously the geometry will change when I switch out the headset and stem, so I’m reserving judgement on how the thing feels until I get it all dialed-in.
Overall this fat bike is a lot of fun. But it’s going to need to get ‘sorted’ before I can give it a real positive endorsement. So I’ll be back on the trail later today, experimenting with setup and trying some different tire pressures. That’s not really what I like to do with bikes, I’m not really the tinkering type. But in this case I don’t have a lot of choice.
I’ll report back as the story unfolds.
Meanwhile, here’s a silly video to give you a few shots of the bike and the trails around Peninsula State Park in WI.
[NOTE! Update to this review here]
And after a recent bling makeover (new seat, handlebars, stem, pedals etc - details here)