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The Charge Plug 1 is a good looking commute, cyclo-cross, gravel, bit of everything bike with a simple alloy frame and fork, even more basic singlespeed drivetrain, and unremarkable parts and wheels. Room for large tyres gives it the potential to take on most terrains and travel further afield – that which the tall gearing will allow.
There are five models in Charge's Plug line, a range of bikes with what the brand from Somerset calls 'all-road' geometry, meaning room for on-trend large volume tyres and rack and mudguard mounts, making them ready for either commuting or epic adventures, or both, and everything in between. The Plug is available as the cheap as chips steel singlespeed Plug 0 (£350) all the way up to the £2.5K titanium 1x11 Plug 5 road bike, so there should be just the right bike in there to, um, sink your budget into.
The Plug 1 sits one up from the bottom of the fleet, a simple singlespeed cyclo-cross commuter hacking about sort of a thing. As a package it looks pretty tidy – Charge has always had a good eye for the aesthetic on a bicycle – and its coordinated looks suggest a far posher bicycle than it is with the stem, saddle graphics and underside, and even the bar-end plugs, matching the frame. If this Satin Rhodamine colour is a bit too brash for you then the Plug 1 also comes in a somewhat stealthier matt black which might be more sensible if you want to hide it among the bike racks. If, however, you like people smiling at you at the traffic lights and shouting 'nice bike' as you pedal past then get this pinky one. I bloody love it.
With its 6061 series aluminium frame, straight blade alloy fork and no geary gubbins, you might expect the Plug 1 to be a little bit lighter than it actually is. It isn't heavy per se, but there's no fancy lightening trickery going on with those tubes; the only concession to snazzy is an integrated headset, and the bike is adorned with standard parts designed to do their job at a price, rather than be exotic or svelte. But for what you're getting for a monkey, they're absolutely fine.
The frame comes with mudguard mounts front and back and rack mounts at the rear as well, with bolts either side of that bulging wishbone seatstay. There are twin bottle mounts should you wish to venture far from taps and pubs. The Plug has plenty of room in the frame and fork for the supplied 38mm Kenda tyres, though you could fit fatter in there without mudguards if you wanted. Knobbly 'cross rubber road.cc favourites Surly Knard 41s fit in both ends happily if you wanted to go chunky and off-road, as well as any of the new wave of voluminous gravelly tyres.
Wheels are, as is common with hoops that come on bikes of this price, the somewhat unglamourous side of perfunctory. Hubs are listed as Charge looseball, which equates to basic black hubs with sealed ball-bearings, not so loose then. The screw-on 16-tooth freewheel will benefit from periodic crude maintenance of dribbling in some oil to keep it going through the wet and the winter, but is cheap to replace when it dies. The other side of the hub is threaded for a fixed sprocket if you wanted to err that way.
Both wheels are held in place by 15mm nuts, which is a bonus for in-town security but don't forget to keep a spanner on you at all times otherwise a puncture turns into a right pain. The hubs are laced via black stainless spokes to black non-eyeleted double-wall 700C rims; you'll need to keep an eye on them for trueness if you like to crash through the urban jungle or bounce about off-road.
The wheels have custom skinwall Kenda Kwick Tendril tyres levered onto them. The amber sidewalls definitely help towards the bike's whole look, and the rubber has a smooth centre ridge with lightly treaded edges making them good for tarmac, ill-maintained bike lanes, gravelly tracks and as much off-road as your handling skills might allow.
The finishing kit is all Charge's own brand stuff; bar, stem, seatpost and its firm favourite to many bums Spoon saddle, although it's not that firm actually, and really quite comfy. The bar is about as wide as you'd want to get at 44cm centre to centre at the top, flaring out subtly to 47cm in the drops. Just riding along it certainly does feel rangey, which is nice for cruising around and then affording added control if you venture off-road, but noticeably wide into a headwind. It's a common shaped compact drop with a flat section just under the levers that's comfortable enough unless you're really fussy about your bar curve.
The Charge track cranks are 170mm long, they spin on a FSA square-taper bottom-bracket, and the chainring is a 42t. Nothing special here; you might argue over the length of the cranks, they make spinning a single gear easier but offer less loping leverage on the climbs, and the old fashioned cartridge bottom bracket is better served and sealed for a harder, less-loved life than any external BB, from experience. The Plug 1 isn't a bike that necessarily demands the extra performance benefits of a stiff and hollow crank spindle.
That 42t chainring is linked to a 16t freehweel via a chunky half-link chain. You might also want to argue about that gear. You could struggle if you live somewhere with lots of hills or headwinds, or prefer a more spinny cadence, or if you're going to take advantage of those fat tyres and head away from the tarmac onto more fluctuating terrain where that tall gear is going to test you quite significantly. And if you're going to make use of the rack mounts and pannier up, you'll definitely need to get the gear calculator out and swap the chainring or freewheel, or both. As it is, it can take a bit of effort to get the Plug 1 up to speed, and the sticky Kenda tyres don't help, but once it's there it trundles along really quite comfortably.
The Tektro CR-710 cantilever brakes do a very good job for what they are, even if they are 'old' technology. All-year all-weather riders might likely look elsewhere now for readily available disc brakes, but cantilevers keep the price down – discs would add a hefty percentage to the price of a £500 bike. And the Tektros are powerful enough – it's possible to induce judder in the fork, which can be alarming in alloy tines, but a little bit of pad toe-in soon sorts that out.
The straddle-cable feeds through an in-line adjuster on the cantilever arm to make subtle tension fettling easier, and in a similar vein there's a quick release spigotti on the brake lever to help you get the wheels out without taking the brakes apart. All small yet significantly useful day-to-day details.
There's not much subtlety with the frame and fork, both feel pretty solid with very little in the way of 'souplesse'. The Plug 1 is both laterally and vertically stiff – you can feel the large-volume Kenda tyres taking on the lion's share of the compliance work.
Angles on the Plug are in the ballpark for a standard issue, round the park for an hour, all-day adventure, bit of everything CX bike, so it has a bit of nip to its character, but the big tyres feel quite sluggish despite their smooth tread and make it feel more lethargic than it might want to be. Slip some skinnier 'cross sized semi-slicks on and the Plug 1 perks up immediately and shows more of its chirpy persona. And also a little bit more of the solid ride.
But as it is, the Plug 1 is just perfect for smashing through the city. What you might lose in speed and acceleration over the trendy skinny-tyred fixie-singlespeed bikes (actually, are they still trendy?) you definitely gain in being able to straightline through the usual bumps, potholes and urban detritus with cheery alacrity. And if you wanted to take the short-cut through the park, maybe go down those steps or skip along a snicket, then those large-volume Tendrils are spot on for the job of sneaking the cheeky way to work. The bike positively encourages a wandering behaviour, to be honest.
If you're keen to venture away from the suburbs and onto some more gravelly terrain, then the Plug 1 is well up for that too, and a bit of gumption with that stiff single gear will get you further than you might imagine. For more challenging territory, a simple swap to a more knobbly grippy tyre will help; there's tons of room for a standard cyclo-cross tyre in the frame – even some of the bigger girthed adventure bike rubber will squeeze in so there's potential to extend this bike's horizons if you wanted to, or just make it a bit more rufty-tufty for you daily riding. You'd want to ease that gearing to something a little more off-road-friendly, though, I've spent too much time riding one-speed bikes off-road to know this. As have my knees.
You can get a perfectly reasonable bike with all the gears and stuff for £500 and less (although if you snoop around you can also find the Plug 1 healthily discounted), but if you're comparing those to the Plug then you might be missing the certain 'thing' that a singlespeed bike has. While the market isn't as cloyed as it once was with such steeds, there are still enough brands offering them for the Plug 1 to be up against considerable competition at the lights.
It's the sort of market where street cred, skidz and looking good outside the coffee shop or craft beer establishment can be as important as equipment, weight, performance or value for money. The Plug 1 certainly looks good in either the satin rhodamine or black, depending upon your colour palette, so café credibility is certainly there.
The Charge wins against many one-speed town bikes thanks to its 'all-road' design, by being both city usable and off-road versatile straight out of the box, with rack and mudguard compatibility for city smarts and countryside travel. The supplied Kendas are great for smashing the streets and alleys but they do prefer an unrushed ride; slipping some of the new fatter road-specific rubber in there might suit your ProCommuting needs better. Or, as I've said, if you want to tread off-road instead then there's plenty of frame space for some big cushiony cyclo-cross/gravel tyres; you could happily enter a cyclo-cross race on the Plug 1 if you so desired. You'd absolutely need to change that gear for something easier, though, to enable you to tackle dirt, grass and gradients. And because the frame and fork are resolutely solid, you're probably better off sticking with the fattest rubber you fancy for absorption duties.
Simple and fun cyclo-crossy bike that can mix rough commuting with off-road exploring – but that gear would need sorting
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Charge Plug 1
Size tested: Satin Rhodamine 56
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Frame - 6061 series aluminium. Rack and fender mounts.
Fork - Straight blade alloy.
Headset - FSA No.16 integrated.
Gears - Single Speed.
Crankset - Charge track crank 42t.
Cassette - DNP 16t freewheel.
Chain - 1/8' shortlink.
Bottom Bracket - FSA sealed.
Rims - Double wall 700c Charge.
Hubs - Charge looseball.
Spokes -14g stainless.
Tyres - 700x42c custom skinwall Kenda Kwick Tendril, wire bead.
Brakes Tektro CR-710 canti.
Levers - Tektro RL-340 drop bar.
Ssddle - Charge Spoon.
Seat Post - Charge single bolt.
Seat Clamp - Charge single bolt.
Bar Tape - Charge U-Bend 45°.
Handlebar - Charge compact bar.
Stem - Charge alloy.
Pedals - Wellgo alloy trekking.
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?
Charge says that its new Plug range uses new all-road geometry and fast rolling, large volume tyres that provide comfort, confidence and inspiring grip. Every Plug features durable wheels, excellent groupsets and is rack and mudguard compatible, making them ready for the simplest of commutes or epic adventure.
That sums it up nicely. You could do the work run every day of the week on the Plug 1 and then add bottles and a rack for weekend jollies, or change the tyres and go Mildly Epic. For anything that requires more horizon hunting than the nearest pub, though, you'd really want to easy up that gearing.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
It's pretty good actually, its looks are certainly punching above its weight with a nicely done paint-job and while the welds are blobby they're tidy enough.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from 6061 series aluminium, the fork is straight blade alloy.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Size Tested – Medium
Frame Size C-T – 54cm
Seat Tube Length - 540mm
Actual Top Tube Length – 548mm
Effective Top Tube Length – 565mm
Front Centre – 610mm
Head Angle – 71.5
Head Tube length – 150mm
Seat Angle - 73
Chainstay Length – 435mm
Wheel Base – 1035mm
O.L.D – 120mm
BB Drop – 69mm
BB Shell Width – 68mm
Fork Length – 400mm
Fork Offset - 45
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The geometry was pretty standard for a cyclo-cross type bike (Medium tested), the top-tube a few millimetres longer than some though.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The unsophisticated alloy chassis was pretty rigid; thankfully the large volume Kenda tyres ironed out the rough edges.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The frame was stiff.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
A singlespeed drivetrain feels efficient as it is and the rigidity of the frame meant it didn't feel like there was much power suck.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? With the supplied tyres the bike was the slow side of neutral, this cheered up with a swap to narrower tyres, just to see.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
A confident bike with let's-go-down-there handling.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
All perfectly acceptable kit, the Spoon saddle a highlight and popular choice. Some might find the bar a bit wide.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The frame was the biggest component in the bike's stiffness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
The tyres felt well draggy.
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
As a singlespeed there's not a lot to say really. Some might find the gearing is a struggle if they live in a hilly part of the world or want to explore the bike's off-road potential.
Wheels and tyres
Tell us some more about the wheels.Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the wheels? If so, what for?
The wheels are cheap, basic and heavy, but as such perfect for the bike's intended use and the urban environment.
Tell us some more about the tyres. Did they work well in the conditions you encountered? Would you change the tyres? If so, what for?
Great tyres for surviving the city streets comfortably, and then some light off-road action. They did feel slow, though. A quick swap of these cheers the bike up.
Tell us some more about the controls. Any particularly good or bad components? How would the controls work for larger or smaller riders?
It all just did its job.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Yes. But I'd want to slot the fattest tyres I could in it and make that gearing easier to make full use of the bike's potential, and muck about on and off-road.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes, if they were looking for a versatile bit-of-everything commuter-crosser crossover thing.
Use this box to explain your score
If you can snap this up at a discount price then it's a bit of a no-brainer commute/pub/gravel bike.
About the tester
I usually ride: It varies as to the season My best bike is: The one I'm on at the time
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, cyclo-cross, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, fun
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.