Charge was one of the first fresh brands of the English steel bike renaissance, and on paper its Plug range looks perfect for, err, plugging through the dark months. Starting with just one singlespeed, the Plug family is now six bikes strong and the 3 is the cheapest geared, disc brake model ahead of fixed gear, rim brake siblings.
If you’ve been around biking for a couple of decades you’ll already be familiar with Tange tubing – and while its visibility might have declined with the use of steel for frames, it’s still one of the foremost ferrous fabricators in old Formosa. The Plug uses Tange’s double butted cromoly Infinity tubeset for all three main tubes, with slim stays completing the frame.
Neat curved and cut out dropouts take the mudguard and rear rack mounts clear of the chainstay mounted rear disc brake too. The straight taper bladed ‘Stilleto’ style fork also has a built in post mount brake mount for powerful 160mm rotors, as well as full mudguard mounts and big tyre clearance. Ring reinforcing around the head tube copes with extra leverage if you like to do your stopping hard and late. Even the rich ruby red paint job is designed to stand the test of time, with no less than three coats of paint and then a double dose of lacquer over the top keeping rust at bay.
There’s ample tyre clearance, and mudguard/rack mounts: Russell Burton / BikeRadar
There’s ample tyre clearance, and mudguard/rack mounts
Sturdy and practical sums up pretty much all the componentry this workhorse is wearing too. The double wall Alex rims aren’t light but they’re reassuringly pothole proof and the heavy duty, anti puncture versions of Kenda’s Kwik Roller tyres prioritise survival over supple speed too. While they look bulky against the slim steel frame tubes, the Promax Render R disc brakes get a cable adjuster on the caliper for easy pad wear compensation and they can use widely available Avid BB pads so spares won’t be an issue.
Sora shifters also use side exit gear cables, which don’t look as tidy as gear cables under the bar tape but benefit from the less tortuous routing to give smoother long term shifting than pricier sets. While the cranks aren’t as stiff underfoot as integrated axle sets, the square taper design means that when the original bottom bracket wears out you can replace it with one of Shimano’s legendary UN72 XT MTB brackets – which is likely to outlast you. Charge’s Spoon saddle is a multiple award winner too.
Shimano sora handles shifting duties: Russell Burton / BikeRadar
Shimano Sora handles shifting duties
While it’s street tough credentials are beyond doubt, all the bombproof armouring definitely impacts on the Plug’s all-round ride appeal. The solid feel of the stout tubes and pothole shrugging tyres give it a pitbull persona on short, urban commutes, but Plugging along solo for over an hour left us feeling battered by the thumping solidity. Excessive weight soon emptied our legs of enthusiasm on climbs too. The Plug 5 gets lightweight SRAM Rival 22 gearing and hydraulic discs to save significant heft if you fancy the durable rolling chassis ethos in a more efficient package and can afford the pricetag, which rises as the weight falls.