- Charge Bikes Duster Ti
- £999 (frame only)
- Finely detailed mid-range titanium hardtail
- Light yet sturdy
At first glance Charge’s Duster Ti looks like another budget titanium frame from a spare-room microbrand. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with that, but the Duster is actually a very different animal. Charge is a “proper” bike company – for a start, it actually does bikes rather than just frames (although this particular one is frame-only). Its products can be found in real shops via a proper distributor (Hot Wheels). It’s pretty rare to see a new brand of this sort of scale make an appearance these days, so we were keen to see what Charge had to offer.
The Duster Ti is Charge’s top-of-the-line XC hardtail. It’s the same shape as the 853 Duster (that you can have as a complete bike for only slightly more than the Ti frame costs) but in titanium, thus making it a bit lighter and considerably more expensive…
You’ve probably already noticed that the Duster Ti falls in between the two usual categories of titanium frames. At the high end you’ve got the Merlins and Litespeeds well into the four-figure price bracket. And at the “low” end you’ve got the around-£600 stuff. The Duster sneaks in just under a grand for the frame, but offers things you don’t always get from the budget stuff – tubing from a manufacturer you’ve heard of, lovely shiny finish, very neat detailing – and things you’d expect only to see on the pimpy stuff like double-butted tubes.
The tubes in question are from legendary tube mill Tange. You’re getting double-butted 3Al/2.5V titanium of known provenance. There’re some very tidy frame features on the Duster. The downtube is vertically ovalised at the head tube end and horizontally at the bottom bracket end. The head tube is machined into a gently flared shape that for some reason reminds us of a peppermill. The seat clamp slot is the traditional UK-friendly forward-facing affair, while the back end eschews funky snaking for conventional straight stays, cranked at the tyre and terminating in lovely bullet ends. Some riders may want a little more mud room, but really if you’re into 2.35in tyres this possibly isn’t the bike for you anyway. The non-driveside dropout and caliper mount are one piece and the whole thing is very nicely put together. Cable routing is all under the top tube.
Geometry is entirely conventional hardtail fare. The top tube on this Large (20in centre-to-top) prototype wasn’t over-long at 23.5in (effective) but production bikes will have a smidgen extra in the cockpit. The whole thing looks rather lovely, and Charge’s distinctive graphics really set it apart.
The titanium Duster comes as a frame only. The test bike came with a flattering selection of top-of-the-line bits – XTR group, WTB wheel package, Thomson stem and post, Fox F100RLT forks and seasonally-inappropriate but surprisingly effective Larsen TT tyres.
One thing’s for sure, the Duster Ti feels a lot more “titaniumy” than a typical budget Ti frame. The butted tubing lets Charge achieve a low (three-and-a-bit lb) frame weight without going mad skinny in tube diameters – the stays especially are notably chunky. So it’s got a mean kick under power but still feels all light and pingy. With the 100mm travel fork fitted it’s pleasantly neutral and trail-friendly – if you feel the need for a more racy feel then it’d be happy with an 80mm fork too. It’s an absolute joy to ride.
Positives: Lots of frame for the money, lovely to look at and ride, light, pingy, attention to detail
Negatives: Hard for the non-titanium-obsessed to justify over the 853 version
So is it worth the money? The answer depends on your perspective. In titanium frame terms it’s great value – it’s enough of a cut above cheaper frames to make the extra cash look well-spent. In just frame terms you’ve got to think that the identically-shaped and only a little heavier 853 Duster at just £349 has to be a better deal. So it comes down to how badly you want titanium…