UK-designed and built in the Far East, the Charge brand started out in mountain biking, but soon brought in several models of stripped-down single-speed road bikes to their Plug range. The Racer is the most stylised, ﬁxie-ready ride of the four-strong family for 2010.
Ride & handling: Dialled for strength and survival in an urban environment
While the Plug Freestyler (£529.99), Plug Grinder (£549.99) and limited-edition Plug Grifﬁn bikes get narrow straight bars and the basic Plug (£499) gets cowhorn-style base bars, the Racer gets a super-curved track-style ‘bowl’ handlebar.
Rather than ﬁtting conventional brake levers on the curves, Charge have used cyclo-cross-style cross-top levers. They’ve also stuck rubber grip sleeves on the bottom of the short radius curves rather than using a completely taped bar.
This makes the default position aggressively short and low. It also puts the brakes where you’d normally put your hands on the tops and means you can’t reach them from the drops either.
This all looks great if you’re likely to get rid of the brakes and go ﬁxed so you can use the gears for braking rather than the levers. It’s deﬁnitely a victory for style over practicality otherwise. The option is there to get other cockpit setups on the same chassis if you prefer them, so we’re not going to dwell on it too much.
The lack of bottle, rack or mudguard ﬁxtures combine with the basic ride to reinforce the obvious short intent of the Charge. Regardless of handlebar setup, this is a bike dialled for strength and survival in an urban environment rather than being geared towards long winter mileage.
Plain gauge rather than butted tubes create a signiﬁcantly heavier chassis and overall weight which really tells on hills. The robust tyres can be felt as you heave the bike out of slow corners too, particularly as your legs are working with less crank leverage to get them spinning.
The thick-walled tubing also takes away less of the vibration and rattle coming through from the road, although the Plug still has a more resilient and well sprung ride than a basic alloy frame, so you’re still getting the steel ride beneﬁts you’re paying the weight offset for.
The sturdiness of the frame gives it accurate line holding and a very solid authority on the road, and once rolling it carries on spinning with unshakeable purpose. It’s likely to survive year after year too.
If you can adjust to the bar setup, the handling is also sharp and responsive for dodging potholes or sneaking down the inside of trafﬁc in its natural urban environment.
Chassis: Super-cool minimalist frame gives an accurate holding line
The frame and forks are the same across all Plug models, using super-strong and light Tange brand straight-gauge steel tubing. A slightly bobbin-shaped head tube reinforces the front end if you bury it into a pothole or your ﬁxed gear braking doesn’t quite stop you before a wall or car.
At the other end, wide-spaced stays give up to 40mm of tyre space if you want to stick in some knobblier cyclo-cross treads or super-fat touring or street rubber for extra protection. Bolt-on chromed cable clips let you go totally bare framed if you ditch the rear brake, which will please the ﬁxie fashionistas.
There are no bottle cage or rack bosses either, which is either a super-cool minimalist approach or frustratingly impractical, depending on your view. The rear dropouts are simple horizontal slotted plates without wheel tensioners, which is deﬁnitely a downspec, whatever your aesthetic leanings.
Equipment: Decent own-brand kit plus fixie-friendly touches
Every year Charge add new equipment to their line-up and there’s no shortage of their gear on here. Drooped ‘bowl’ handlebars, ‘spoon’ saddle, eye-catching red-painted half-link chain and even the white painted rims are Charge items.
The steel headset adds weight to an already heavy package, though. The Dicta freewheel doesn’t have the enviable reliability reputation of Shimano's freewheels, but ran smoothly enough. The Kenda Kwick Roller tyres are deﬁnitely more about endurance and urban survival than supple speed.
The 165mm cranks give lots of cornering clearance in ﬁxed mode, as you won’t to be able to stop pedalling – even if you want to. The 42-tooth chainring also makes up for the lack of leverage underfoot and a ﬁxed cog is supplied with the bike, which is a nice touch. Cartridge pads sharpen up braking from the slightly ﬂexy long-drop Tektro calipers too.