We’re on the Isle of Arran in the run-up to the first UK edition of the Grinduro and title sponsor Charge has just launched its new bikes for 2018 to a select group foolish enough to brave wind, midges and omnipresent rain on this beautiful lump off the West coast of Scotland.
Heading into its 12th year, the brand has refreshed its two core platforms — the Plug and the Cooker — and introduced a whole new rad one in the form of the retrotastic Cleaver.
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It’s worth stressing that you’re looking at new frames here — the builds aren’t necessarily indicative of exactly what you’ll see moving forward, but should give you a taste of what to expect from the brand in 2018.
Key changes include a move back towards steel for the majority of Charge’s bikes.
The company has a longstanding relationship with Tange and there’s some seriously tasty, high-end tubesets used on the brand's more expensive bikes.
For those that aren’t massive steel frame nerds, Tange is somewhat of a legendary name — albeit less well known than Reynolds or Columbus — in the cycling world, having worked with a huge number of famous names such as Ritchey, MuddyFox and others.
Full specs, geometry and prices for the bikes will be available in the weeks to come — with a full media launch expected later this summer — so we’ll update this article as soon as we get a hold of these details.
Final delivery of all of the new bikes is expected to be in January, with the range officially launching then, so yes, a 2018 Charge bike will actually be available in 2018. Truly revolutionary stuff.
2018 Charge Plug
The Plug is the bike that largely defined Charge as a brand.
Originally released as a singlespeed, steel oddity to the brand’s range back in 2006-ish, the now legendary bike rode the lucrative wave of the fixie boom, selling “container loads” of the bikes at a time to shops.
The Plug has been through numerous iterations since then, most recently realised as an aluminium gravel/groad/cross bike, with 2014 being the last time we saw a steel Plug.
For 2018, Charge has moved back to steel, with the new Plug built around a gorgeous looking, super-skinny Tange Champion tubeset.
Charge moved to aluminium after pressure to try to bring its bikes to a more global market, but this didn’t go exactly to plan, so the brand has instead decided to focus its efforts on its longstanding key markets in Japan and Britain, both of which still have a ferocious appetite for steel bikes.
Charge was keen to avoid over-categorisation with the new Plug, with the bike best described as more of a “drop bar platform”, with geometry that will handle everything from road riding, to cross dalliances, touring and #gnarmac adventuring.
In line with market trends, the bike features a bolt through front and rear with clearance for 700x40c or 650x45 tyres, though Charge was keen to stress that these are pretty conservative numbers and you’ll likely be able to squeeze something more portly in there.
The bike also features a threaded BB shell, flat mount brakes and rack and guard bosses. We’re particularly fond of the low-slung guard mount on the custom spec’ carbon fork, which should hopefully mean bending stays can be avoided.
The brand decided to build the bike using a tapered headtube with external cups, feeling that the aesthetics of this setup were more in keeping with the skinny frame over anything more integrated.
Spec wise, the firm expects to offer three or four price points, with the top-end builds likely to be built around a 1x SRAM hydro groupset, so quite similar to what you’re seeing here.
One thing that’s unlikely to change is the funky suspension seatpost featured on the orange bike. This prototype post from ProMax is said to bob far less than posts of old, with initial testing really impressing Charge.
The price of the new Plug is going to rise slightly, but that reflects the brand's focus on the higher end market.
In keeping with the heritage of the Plug name, a more budget-oriented single speed version is also in the works that will use an eccentric bottom bracket for tensioning the chain.
A titanium version is also being developed, with a sample frameset rumoured to be kicking about the Grinduro event village, so we’ll be sure to get a photo of this if we spot it.
2018 Charge Cooker
The new Cooker represents a change of direction for Charge, with the brand dropping 27.5 wheels — which it so readily embraced a few years back — in favour of 29” wheels for the new Cooker.
Just like the new Plug, the frames are built around a super skinny Tange tubeset — Champion in this case.
That said, the bike is built around a Boost front and rear, so is also still compatible with 27.5+ wheels. Extra small and small bikes will also be specced 27.5 wheels.
The new bike is designed to be an all-round trail hardtail, built around a 120mm fork with a 67.5 degree head angle, a 640mm top tube (in a size large) and 435mm chainstays. The frameset is also specced with a 30.9mm, stealth-routed dropper friendly seat tube, a BSA threaded bottom bracket and the same simple cable guides that we liked so much on the Plug.
The frameset is likely to change a little before the bikes go to production later this year, with a different yoke design likely increasing clearance a little at the back.
Charge did consider running cables internally on the bike, but the cost was deemed to be too prohibitive and would have resulted in having to use a larger diameter tubeset, ruining the desired aesthetics and ride quality of the frame.
Like the Plug, the Cooker will be offered in three or four different builds, though the company is still unsure exactly how it will choose to spec these.
The Cooker 0 will still be a offered as a single speed bike, with a rigid non suspension-corrected, bolt-through fork and a 12x142 rear. An eccentric BB will also be used here.
We love the throwback aesthetic of skinny tubed mountain bikes, and matched with the pleasingly simple paint job, this one has definitely captured our heart and we’re looking forward to trying it out on the trails.
2018 Charge Cleaver
The Cleaver isn’t a brand new name from Charge — the original bike being a 650b, 120mm travel bike hardtail that was limited to only 50 examples worldwide — but is a completely new and really fun platform.
Based on the bike that Charge produced for the Hack Bike Derby, the Cleaver is best thought of as an adult's kid's bike — a rad klunker designed for stylish around-town cruising and laying down fat skids.
Braking is taken care of by a single coaster brake, with the single speed bike rolling on #26aintdead wheels.
The custom steel bars are the real highlight of the build, with the production bars due to come in at a mammoth, rowdiness-ready 800mm width.
The production bike won’t differ too much from this example, but will feature a USA-Mid BB shell with a matching one piece crank and retro-tastic, round beartrap pedals.
As one of the very first production fixies, the Plug was something of an oddity and a foray into a totally new category when first released, with many expecting the bike to be a flop at the time.
Parallels can be drawn between the Plug and the Cleaver and Charge hopes that the new bike will bring the brand to a whole new audience who are looking for a super-simple and understated ride.
Charge puts the success of the Plug down to a few factors, but its collaboration with mainstream brands, which saw custom examples of the bike featured in shop windows across the country is singled out as one of the key ways that news of the bike got out.
A similar approach is being taken with the Cleaver, so you’re likely going to see a lot more of these bikes in high street windows in the months to come, though Charge was tight-lipped as to who exactly it’s planning on working with.
While a few brands have made klunkers in the past, few have been priced as keenly as this, with the final bike due to come in at an extremely accessible £399.99 (about US$519).