There's no doubting the Charge Filter Hi is a capable bike. It's lively on tarmac and assured off road too. The higher spec bike as tested here has a bit of an identity crisis though. It's not light enough to really be attractive to racers and it's no more versatile than its cheaper stablemate, which looks the better bet if you're after a steel all-rounder.
Charge make most of their range out of Tange Cromoly tubing and the Filter is no exception. It's fashioned from double butted Prestige pipes and the nicely finished black frame is mated to a skinny straight blade fork. There's mountings for mudguards but not a rack, and bottle bosses on the down and seat tubes. All the cables run along the top tube so you can get your shoulder through without snagging the wires.
The Filter Hi comes fitted with SRAM's new Apex groupset, their cheapest offering to date that's set to do battle with Shimano's Tiagra and 105 around the £1,000 mark. Obvioulsy you don't get the dual pivot brakes here – it's Avid Shorty 4 cantilevers instead – but stoppers aside it's the full groupset. An 11-26 cassette is standard spec, as opposed to one of the wider ratio units; Apex goes right up to a 32T cog at the back. Wheels are Charge-branded hubs laced to Alex rims, they're functional and not too weighty shod in Kenda Small Black 8 tyres. FSA kit finished the build, with a Charge Spoon saddle the cherry on the cake.
You'd expect a full steel bike like the Charge to have a bit of life and it's certainly a responsive package. Stick the hammer down on the blacktop and the power transmission through the frame is surprisingly effective, there's a bit of spring but nothing feels vague. The fork, on the other hand, does feel a bit woolly at times, there's a lot of fore/aft flex and the dreaded brake judder comes and goes; it's at its worst in damp conditions. I'd like to see a fork-mounted hanger to remedy that. Once you leave the surfaced routes the fork suddenly makes a lot more sense. The flex that's a bit disconcerting on the road is very useful for tracking over rocks and roots. The frame has lots of clearance for mud, although if there is any you'll be wishing you'd changed the tyres – which are a good all-round compromise but useless in the wet – for something more aggressive.
SRAM's Apex shiftgear worked very well throughout testing. The feel of the shift isn't very different to bigger brother Rival, although the front change can be clunky at times. I didn't have to fettle much with the adjusters despite some very wet and frosty outings, and when I did the front inline adjusters were very useful. Avid's Shorty 4 brakes aren't bad either, although they lack all out power when you really grab a handful. The wheels roll pretty well both on and off the tarmac, and they stayed true in testing despite getting some fairly rough treatment in the woods.
So it's fun in the woods, pretty capable on the roads and nicely put together. But this is the high-spec build of the Filter, specced with knobbly(ish) tyres and no mudguards, unlike its cheaper sibling, so one can only assume that you're meant to actually race on it. And would I choose it as a race iron for those Winter Sundays? Probably not, in all honesty. It's just too heavy.
Look, I know bikes aren't all about weight. I also know that steel can give a nice forgiving ride and comfort is a performance advantage. But this is cyclocross we're talking about, an hour of racing on the red line. It isn't comfortable, no matter what you ride. I'm not ever going to win a CX race (two-thirds of the way down the field is my default position) but even I'd trade the small amount of extra comfort for the kind of weight loss we're talking about for comparatively priced Carbon-forked, Alu-framed bikes. The Charge, at 10.4kg, is about a kilo heavier than the likes of the Cannondale CAADX and the Giant TCX 1, which both squeeze in most of a 105 groupset for the same money. Put the Charge up against them and it simply isn't competitive as a race mount.
This is it seems to us is probably the penalty you pay for having a frame made ot steel, the Filter Hi is not the only steel cross bike we've got in on test that looks heavy by comparison with alu-framed rivals (we're guessing this may have something to do with meeting the CEN standard for frame construction). It's also interesting to note the the Filter is about the same weight as the current build of Tony's Cotic Road Rat which in some ways is a comparable machine.
If you simply want a runabout that'll handle a bit of mucking about in the woods with maybe – maybe – the odd race thrown in then it's a better fit, but to be honest you could go for the cheaper Filter Mid and a spare set of off-road tyres, and lose the mudguards if you did want to give it any Sunday morning outings. If you just want a capable Winter training bike and you're really not planning any actual off road – just the mucky lanes – then Charge's excellent Juicer is well worth a look. None of the Charge bikes have rack mounts on the stays or double eyelets at the dropout though, so if you're thinking of touring – even shifting heavy shopping – you'll want to find a bike that has or get a set of P clips..
Fun to ride and capable in the woods, but for this money you can have a dedicated CX racer that's a kilo or more lighter. The Mid spec makes more sense if you're after an all-rounder.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Charge Filter Hi
Size tested: 18
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame: Tange Prestige cromoly, traditional road geometry
Size: S, M, L
Fork: Tange Prestige
Brakes: SRAM APEX
Levers: SRAM APEX
Headset: HEADSET //FSA TH-857
Stem: FSA ST-OS-190LX
Handle bar: FSA Vero Compact
Shift Levers: SRAM APEX
Front Derailleur: SRAM APEX
Rear Derailleur: SRAM APEX
Chain Wheel: SRAM PC 1031
Crankset: SRAM APEX 48/34t
Cassette: SRAM PG 1050 11/26t
Pedal: Crank Bros
Tires: Kenda Small Block Eight 700x32
Front Hub: Charge
Rear Hub: Charge
Saddle: Charge Spoon
Seatpost: FSA SL 350x27.2mm
Seat Clamp: Steel Collar
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
The Hi spec is the more race-oriented, although Charge make no particular claims for it on their website.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Nicely built and finished
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
55cm effective top tube
55cm seat tube
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Fine on road although the fork sometimes felt a bit vague. Better off road where it was comfortable and stable
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The fork felt too flexy on tarmac
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very good power transfer, stiffer than expected
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
a touch but it wasn't a problem
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Neutral
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
The bike is well behaved both on- and off-road
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
Generally very comfortable
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The fork: it could do with being beefed up just a touch
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes but i wouldn't choose it for racing
Would you consider buying the bike? Probably not
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Probably not the Hi, but maybe the Mid as an all-rounder
Anything further to say about the bike in conclusion?
The Mid makes more sense as an all-rounder
About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium with SRAM Apex
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track