Ridden and Reviewed: Charge Cooker Maxi Fat Bike

I’m not much of a mountain biker. Mostly, I get my kicks—such as they are—on the road. I dabble every now and again, but nothing serious. That is until the dreaded Polar Vortex (I, II, or III– I can’t remember which now) pummeled our North Carolina office with a couple of inches (gasp!) of snow, taking road cycling off the table. I was getting all ready to not ride a bike at all and go lift, when instead I was given a chance to test ride the Charge Cooker Maxi fat bike on a snowy trail ride. I scrounged around for some ill-fitting clothing, geared up and headed out. I admit I looked at the bike dubiously, but within minutes of getting on, I was sold.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Big fat bike, big fat fun.

About The Bike: The Charge Cooker Maxi is a fat bike with a steel frame and fork. The bike is designed to accommodate massive, 26X4” tires that mount on 26” x 80mm wide Wienmann rims. This gives you the feel of riding a full suspension bike without all the mechanical moving parts. The bike is a beast that can pretty much roll over anything, and is great for snow, sand, loose dirt, or just generally finding your inner-gnar on the trail. It’s equipped with a SRAM X5 2×10 drivetrain (with an FSA Comet crank).

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance

Rear brake arch has plenty of clearance, and rack braze-ons make it ideal for bike camping or other off-road touring

Unboxing and Set Up: My Charge Cooker Maxi was already set up as a demo bike, but it should be generally straight forward, since it’s basically a conventional full-rigid mountain bike (with massive tires), so you don’t have to worry about setting suspension sag or fork rebound. The only thing to be aware of is pumping up the tires— they’re so big that even getting to the ultra-low volume of 8-10 PSI can take you several minutes.

I added a set of Forte Platform pedals, bringing the weight to about: 36.6 lbs.

The Ride:  Taking the bike out on the trails in the snow was just pure fun. At first I was a little nervous riding the bike over the snow and compacted ice, but all my worry turned out to be for naught. The bike handled the snow, ice, and buried trail hazards with ease. The feel of the bike is less like riding a mountain bike and more like driving an Abrams tank, sans cannon. It didn’t so much roll over the snow as churn through it, and I rarely felt like I lost traction (actually, the only time I did was when I tried to take an icy corner too tight). I truly felt like I could roll over just about anything—which proved to be the case. Because the tires are so huge, and have such a low volume, the bike can handle rough trail like a full suspension bike—making tackling rocks, logs and trail bumps feel easy and comfortable, but the full rigid frame and fork gave a feel of pedaling efficiency you sometimes don’t get from a full-squish bike.

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike just kind of rolls over anything

The bike isn’t the lightest thing in the world, particularly if you’re used to a featherweight XC rig, but to lament it’s weight is to kind of miss the point. The fat bike isn’t about winning races, it’s about going anywhere you’ve ever wanted to go on a bike. Even with all that heft, it’s still maneuverable and light enough that I was able to chase down some of that ever-elusive Fat Bike Air at one point. Handling was pretty easy, and didn’t feel nearly as sluggish as I had expected. The bike easily got up to speed, and carried momentum nicely into turns. The mechanical disc brakes provide great all-weather stopping power that easily scrubbed speed and provided well-modulated stopping power when I needed it.

The gearing on the bike is also nice and low, so you can spin at a high cadence, but still generate plenty of torque and power to tackle almost anything in your path. One small niggle I did have was fit. Because of the geometry modifications that had to be made to the chainstays to accommodate the massive rear tire, I found the q-factor on the cranks to be a little too wide for me, however that was fixed by simply switching from clipless pedals to a pair of platforms. This actually turned out to be preferable anyway, since I was able to wear hiking boots instead which were A) warmer, and B) easier to get off the bike and go check out stuff off the trail.

Tackling the snow and ice was easy-- and a blast

Tackling the snow and ice was easy– and a blast

The bike also incorporates rack mounts, which make it almost ideal for bikepacking or really getting out and exploring the back country. With no suspension to worry about, the Cooker Maxi would be a nice and dependable rig for some serious trail trips. I love touring and s24o (sub-24 hour overnight) bike camping, so I’m pretty excited about the possibilities of taking the fat bike out and exploring the mountains of western North Carolina this summer.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a fun, versatile, go-anywhere bike, the Charge Cooker Maxi is definitely for you. No matter what conditions or terrain, I have no doubts that this bike could handle them with ease. The Cooker Maxi takes the best aspects of a full-suspension and a hardtail and mixes them together—but with more utility. If you’re not worried about racing, but just want a pure adventure machine then this is the bike for you.

The adventures on this bike have just begun

The adventures on this bike have just begun

6 Ways To Stay Warm on Cold Rides

Well, it’s happening again. We’re getting all hunkered down for Winter Storm Pax or whatever they’re calling it. Like the rest of our area of the country, we’ve gotten hit with the Storm of the Century, although we’re pretty sure we just had another Storm of the Century like two weeks ago or something. At this point, we’ve spent more days on the trainer than we care to admit. As much as we love the focused and intense workouts that you get on a trainer, sometimes it’s just good to get outside. Which we did, and we felt all kinds of tough too. It’s not often you get to ride in the snow in North Carolina.

Here we are, on the run from the Toughness Police

Here we are, on the run from the Toughness Police

But if you’re like us, you’re probably about ready to get outside too. Well, don’t let the weather keep you in, because with the right clothes and some smarts, you can get out and enjoy some outdoor riding in any temperatures. For more ideas on how to prep your bike for the weather, check out this article we did a while back.

1. Layer Up:

Dressing in layers can help you effectively control your body temperature, manage moisture buildup, and stay warmer. Up top, start with a base layer, then a jersey, then a jacket. For colder weather, you can try adding a second baselayer. On the legs, try using tights that don’t have a chamois, so you can wear them over your favorite shorts for an extra insulating layer. You can also wear knee warmers under tights on extra cold days.

What we wear (30-20 degrees): Sleeveless baselayer, heavy-weight long sleeve base layer, soft shell jacket, bib shorts, Windstopper bib tights, wool socks, shoes, overshoes, neck gator, winter hat, heavy insulated gloves, thin liner gloves

With the right clothing, riding in snowy, cold weather can be more fun than it looks

With the right clothing, riding in snowy, cold weather can be more fun than you think

2. Mind the Fingers and Toes:

Nothing ruins a long ride quicker than cold fingers and toes, or worse, sodden layers. Try wearing thin liner gloves inside your insulated gloves, and wearing thinner socks with overshoes. Liner gloves will provide an extra insulating layer and help absorb sweat. Thinner socks will help keep the blood circulating to your toes in cold weather, while the overshoes provide the main insulating layer. If it’s really cold, as one of our readers suggested, try wearing toe covers underneath your overshoes, or layering your overshoes for more warmth. If you’re out on the road though and find your feet are getting too cold, try stopping at the next gas station or fast food place you pass and ask if they have any tinfoil. In a pinch you can use it wrap your toes for some extra warmth.

Yes, the foil wrap looks a little goofy. But you'll have the last laugh when you can still feel your toes.

Yes, the foil wrap looks a little goofy. But you’ll have the last laugh when you can still feel your toes.

3. Keep Dry:

No matter how cold it is outside, you’re going to sweat when you ride. Try carrying a spare baselayer, gloves (or glove liners), and hat in your pocket. You can change them when you stop to use the bathroom or top up your bottles, so you’ll be able to get back on the bike feeling warm and dry. And always, always, ALWAYS carry a packable wind/rain jacket. If the weather takes a turn for the worse, it can save you a lot of misery.

Even a lightweight jacket like the Louis Garneau Super Lite jacket can offer crucial protection if the day gets colder than you planned. Plus, it packs up tiny enough to easily fit in a pocket

4. Hot Bidon:

If you’ve got some insulated water bottles, try filling them with a warm drink, like herbal tea or Skratch Labs Hot Apple and Cinnamon mix. Sometimes a warm drink is just what the doctor ordered.

Keep this warm in an insulated bottle, and you'll be toasty and hydrated

Keep this warm in an insulated bottle, and you’ll be toasty and hydrated

5. Eat Up:

When you ride in cold weather, your body is not only burning calories through exercise, but also to keep warm. This means you’ll probably need to eat more than you normally would to keep up with demand. Make sure you bring plenty of energy dense food with you.

Energy dense foods, like Clif Bars, are essential when riding in cold weather.

6. Take Breaks:

Even the hardest of hard men need to get out of the cold sometimes (see Milan-San Remo 2013). It’s important to take regular pit stops to get out of the cold and warm up for a bit. You’d be surprised at the difference a cup of coffee and ten minutes in a gas station can make.

So how about it? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments section.

Survive The Polar Vortex(es): 6 Tips For Cyclists

Polar Vortex II got you down? Trust us, we understand. Our North Carolina office has been inundated with snow, ice and single digit temps that make riding hard. We can only imagine what it’s like further north. The weatherman says that it should be clearing soon– but we’ll believe it when we see it. To keep from getting some serious cabin fever, we’ve had to get creative to keep on form and having fun, despite all the craziness outside.

Here are some of the tips we’ve come up with.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

Snow biking puts a new spin on old trails, and is a great way to spice up your riding routine.

1. Snow Biking:

If you’ve got a mountain bike or a fat bike, consider hitting the trails for a little outside fun. We went out yesterday on the Charge Cooker Maxi for a bit and it was awesome, if a little cold (more on that later…). Just make sure to bundle up and keep warm. It’s cold out there.

wahoo_kickr

When the temps go south, trainer time tends to go up. Just make sure to structure your workouts to get the most out of your time.

2. The Trainer:

If you’re more of the roadie type, then throw that bike in the trainer and get spinning. Need some motivation? Consider listening to music or watching a movie to end the monotony (last night we watched Top Gun while riding the trainer and sprinted every time a plane took off—it was exhausting).

zach_workout

Cross training, such as weight lifting, running, or yoga is great way to improve your performance on the bike

3. Cross Training:

Go for a run, hit the weights, go cross-country skiing, try some yoga or just do some stretching. Remember that taking time off the bike can be as important as time spent on the bike. Taking a day or two to strengthen non-cycling muscles, work on flexibility, or core activation can have big rewards later in the year.

photo (5)

Knowing how to properly fuel your workouts is very important. This recovery meal provides a good mix of carbs, protein, simple sugars, and malted recovery beverages.

4. Make A Good Meal:

Or better yet, make yourself a meal plan. It’s easy to put on a few pounds over the winter, but making a meal plan and sticking with it is one of the easiest way to make sure you’re adequately fueling your rides without taking in too many calories. Plus, it’s a great way to score points with your significant other.

Cleaning your bike is a great way to prolong the life of components and ensure it's ready to ride next time

Cleaning your bike is a great way to prolong the life of components and ensure it’s ready to ride next time

5. Clean Your Bike

If you haven’t done this in a while, give your bike some serious TLC.

Taking two or three days off can actually make you faster by allowing your body time to recover

Taking two or three days off can actually make you faster by allowing your body time to recover

6. Take a Day Off:

There’s nothing wrong with taking the occasional day or two off. In fact studies show that if you’ve been riding hard, taking two or three days off will actually make you faster by allowing your body to recuperate. If it’s too cold or snowy where you live, don’t feel bad about putting in some serious couch time to watch a movie, read a book, catch up on Downton Abbey, or spend time with the fam.

Quick Guide To Winter Jackets

winter_jackets

Just because it’s dark and cold out doesn’t mean you can’t get out and ride. After all, as Eddy Merckx, every single magazine, and everyone on Facebook says: “there’s no bad weather, just bad clothing”. With the right outerwear on (and the right equipment and preparations), you can ride comfortably in just about any conditions.

We’ve done some rough guides to dressing for the weather before, but folks keep asking us for specific jacket recommendations. So we pulled out some of our favorites to highlight here for you today. These are all jackets we regularly ride at lunch, after work, and on the weekends.

winter_jackets

MEN’S

Castelli Mortirolo Due Jacket:

This is a heavier-weight, Wind Stopper soft shell jacket from Castelli. It has a smaller cut and a race fit, so we’d definitely recommend buying a size up… especially if you plan on layer up with it. Paired with a long sleeve base layer (or two if it’s really cold), this jacket can help you tackle even the worst weather.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

Craft Elite Bike Pace Jacket:

The Craft Elite Bike Pace is another soft shell jacket that does an amazing job of holding in heat without over heating the rider. With a soft, breathable exterior, wind-resistant panels, and an innovative brushed fleece interior featuring ThermoCool technology to help regulate body temperature, this is a great jacket for all day rides in cold conditions. Paired with a base layer and long sleeve jersey, this jacket will keep you comfy down to at least 8 degrees Fahrenheit. Trust us, we had the dubious pleasure of getting to test that out during the Coldest Day of the Year Ride (for North Carolina).

Sugoi Icon Rain Jacket:

The Sugoi Icon is more of a rain jacket than an insulating jacket, but if you live in New England or the Pacific Northwest, you’ll probably need one of these. The Icon is made from Polartec’s incredible new NeoShell material, which is the most breathable waterproof material on the market right now. That being said, you still might want to save this one for when you really need it, because it’ll still hold heat during climbing or hard efforts. But when the rain is coming down, it’s packed with innovative and useful features that’ll keep you dry and cozy while riding. We found this jacket to run a little bit on the larger side…but that should be fine if you’ll be layering under it.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

Here’s a cool video about Sugoi’s jacket technology:

Performance Transformer 2.0 Jacket:

This Performance Transformer 2.0 jacket is a great choice for milder days when you might only need a wind jacket. The Transformer 2.0 jacket is built with a wind-resistant material that helps keep you warm on blowy days, and removable sleeves to turn the jacket into a vest if the day really warms up. It’s not insulated, so if you’ll be wearing it when it’s really cold out, you’ll need to layer up underneath, but it’s definitely a great choice for most occasions. It has plenty of features that make it ideal for all-day riding.

Pearl Izumi Elite Barrier Convertible Jacket:

Like the Performance Transformer 2.0 jacket, this Pearl Izumi jacket is a wind layer, aimed at more mild days. Again, it’s not insulated, so in the winter its best used as part of a layering system, but it does a stellar job of cutting the wind. Thanks to removable sleeves, you basically get two garments in one that allows it to be worn most of the year. And, with its great use of color and graphics, this jacket stands apart from the crowd.

For the WOMEN’S version, click here.

WOMEN’S

Louis Garneau Enerblock Cycling Jacket

Being a Canadian brand, Louis Garneau understands the importance of staying warm on the bike better than most. That’s why the Louis Garneau Enerblock Cycling jacket is made form Garneau’s amazing Heatmaxx and Enerblock fabrics. Enerblock helps cut the wind chill, while Heatmaxx provides a brushed fleece interior that maximizes heat retention. Pair with a base layer on milder days, or add in a long sleeve jersey to take on even the coldest days. It’s also got some cool features you won’t find on most other cycling jackets, like hand warmer pockets and a zippered sleeve pocket for snacks or valuables.

Cycling Stories: Winter Riding

It’s no exaggeration to say that every fiber of my being rebelled at the idea of getting out of bed. It was cold in our barely-insulated farm house in rural North Carolina. Hoarfrost coated the window panes, and thin grey morning light dimly illuminated the bedroom. Under the down comforter it was snug and warm. But I know I should get up. As I shifted to slide out from the covers, my wife threw a warm arm over me and sleepily said “you don’t have to get up…just ten more minutes”. I was sorely tempted, and if you asked me why I would want to get out of a warm bed at 6.30 AM on a Saturday morning to go ride a bike outside, I couldn’t answer. I would have shrugged and said “I love the ride.”

The shock of the cold air hit me, I wrapped up in my robe and shuffled out to the dark kitchen. I put the kettle on to boil, ground some coffee for the French press and switched the space heater on. A few minutes later, I was sipping on a cup of coffee, eating some oatmeal, and thinking about the ride ahead. ‘Should I do the long route or the short route? Should I stop for lunch? Do I really feel up to climbing today?’

photo (3)

The weather app on my phone said it was 23 degree outside. I checked the other app, which promised 24 degrees. The high would be 37 with 10 mph winds. I finished my breakfast and began getting ready. I laid my clothing and equipment out. I took some things out, added other things in. Eventually I was satisfied. I would be gone for at least five hours, and needed to be ready.

Thick wool socks, bib shorts, sleeveless wool baselayer, long sleeve wool baselayer, WindStopper tights, softshell jacket, wool neck warmer, skull cap, merino wool glove liners, heavy insulated gloves, cycling shoes, and shoe covers.

Into my pockets I shoved my phone, some cash and cards, a few gel packets, a set of lights, a spare set of liner gloves, a spare skull cap, and spare sleeveless baselayer.

photo

Winter is the season for LSD (long steady distance) riding, and this ride wasn’t going to be an exception. I left the full carbon race bike on the rack and pulled down the rain bike, the one with the metal frame, nice relaxed geometry, compact crank, and alloy wheels. I filled up two bottles, put my Garmin in its mount and checked the saddlebag contents, ensuring I would have all the tools necessary.

The moment I stepped outside it hit me like a slap in the face. 23 seems like just a number, but this was a real, physical thing. Again, I felt half tempted to just forget it. To go back inside, remove all these layers and get back into bed like any sane, rational person. But I did’t. I would miss the ride. I headed onto the road, and instantly felt chilled. The muscles took forever to warm up. There was no hurry, no need to push it. All I have to do is pedal. I felt the deep peace I always feel on the road begin to wash over me, and I began to settle into the rhythm of the ride. As I crossed the bridge over the lake, my mind cleared of all the work worries I’d carried with me into the weekend, the worries about budgeting for the holidays. This was my time to sink into myself and let my mind quiet for a few hours, and the cold only intensified the feeling.

There is a certain beauty to riding in the winter. Anyone can get up and ride on a sunny 80 degree day, but it takes fortitude to get out and ride when you don’t want to. You will be cold, you will suffer like a dog, and you will at times question why you do this. But, like anything else, the joy is found in the small things. A warm coffee shop. The empty roads. A beautiful vista, a hot meal, the feeling of flying when you find a nice straight stretch of road behind you with the wind at your back all take on a new significance that will stay with you for the rest of the day. And believe me, home has never seemed so inviting as when you pull up in the fading, cold evening light to see the windows lit, throwing warm, welcoming streaks of light on the snow.

photo (1)

30 miles later, I hit one of my favorite stretches of road. I was riding into the headwind, and was working hard, every turn of the cranks feeling like an immense effort. But I didn’t care. I crested a hill, and it came into view. It’s an area where the usual dense pine forest opens up into empty farm country. At these higher elevations bits of snow still clung to the side of the road, and stuck to shadowy spots. The fields were barren and covered in frost. The roads were empty. In the distance across the fields smoke rose from the chimney of a farm house, ascending into a leaden sky. I could smell the faint scent of wood smoke on the air. Something about this sight makes my breath catch in my chest. At the bottom of the hill, I pulled over, and watched an unkindness of ravens peck with purpose at the fallow fields around the house, until for reasons unknown to me they rose and took to the air, indistinct black shapes wheeled higher and higher. I watched them until the cold became too much. These are moments you never have in a car. You might catch a glimpse, but you don’t experience it the same way, and much is lost.

photo (2)

At 45 miles, I passed through town, the half way mark. By then I was thoroughly damp and chilled, and I couldn’t wait to get to the coffee shop. Smells carry further on the cold, dry air, and the smell of roasted coffee beans was never so delicious. I leaned my bike against the window, noting the other bikes there. Two were familiar, one was not. I walked in, nodded hello to the other cyclists, asked them about their rides. I ordered a coffee and a cookie, and refilled my bottles. At my table, I piled up my helmet, gloves, and neck warmer, then headed to the bathroom, where I changed into my dry baselayer. Back at my table I hung my soaked liner gloves, baselayer and skullcap on the back of the chair to dry. My first sip of coffee was beyond delicious. The chocolaty smell, the deep rich taste, and the warmth suffusing through me. It was a small cup of heaven, and I prolonged it as long as I could. I sat back, took a bite of cookie, and relished in the feeling of being warm. Finally though, cookie and coffee done, it was time to go. I pulled on my spare cap and gloves, helmet and glasses, repacked my pockets, and headed back out into the cold.

As I remounted my bike, I wondered again why I do this. For a split second I contemplated making The Call.  The cold, the suffering in the wind, the long day spent away from home, is it worth it? It doesn’t matter, not really. I pedaled through the intersection and began the long climb out of town. Soon, I reached the place again where where all the worry disappeared and I found my rhythm again. I left the outskirts of town, and the wind gusted. My thoughts turned to warm soup, a cold beer, and the indescribable pleasure of my legs turning in circles. I pulled my neck warmer up to my nose and the brim of my cap down a little further.

I’m out here for the ride. It need only be as simple as that.

Sometimes it's looking forward to simple things that keep you motivated.

Sometimes it’s looking forward to simple things that keep you motivated.

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