A V E R Y M O D E R N C L A S S I C
Charge’s ‘modern-classic’, noble and oft forgotten move into the realm of competitive race bikes.
It might be considered a moot point to write a review of a bike that is no longer available, but I’ve been riding this build, unchanged, for the last two years and, having ridden well over five thousand kilometres astride it, I felt equipped to share my thoughts on a fairly overlooked model; a model that upon it’s release, seemed to herald the genesis of an important chapter in the production of viable, British race bikes relying on something other than carbon.
Only available as a frameset, the frame is made from 3Al/2.5V Titanium and weighs a competitive 1.45 kg in a large. The slightly more ornate details seem to hide behind Charge’s graphically simple and striking, but not overwhelming logo design, which anyone familiar with the brand will recognise and have been aped to a serious degree by rival manufacturers in more recent years.
Upon receipt, the neat welds, which are visible testament to the builders’ skill, are evident, as are the elegantly cowled drop-outs. After some time of inspecting the nude frame the other details begin to grab attention; even the cable mounts on the underside of the top and down tubes are beautiful, with their recesses. Equally, the round mounts for the gear cable tensioners are similarly well thought out; if you look at the SRAM Red-clad prototype press photos, you can see that they were initially much further forward, interfering with the brake cables – no such problems with the production models. It’s nice to see that Charge keep functional design close to heart [not just a pretty face].
Both the top and down tubes are ovalised for stiffness in such a way that they start wide at the seat tube, become round and end tall at the head tube. This is in order to help stop pedalling forces from twisting the bike and losing efficiency. The head tube itself is straight 1 1/8th and features a tapered shape, which is also supposed to improve stiffness but, combined with it’s classic, high top tube, race geometry furthers the timeless look. I had been somewhat ambivalent about the Skewer’s lack of mudguard mounts; on the one hand this is not strictly a “race day” bike, and serves very well as am off-season training bike, but on the other, it does have a bit mean streak and is lighter than many bikes of it’s class and type.
Maintaining the sleek simplicity is an integrated headset type which despite its aesthetic benefits [and the fact that it’s a lot easier to set up than a conventional design] leaves you with little choice and makes it a bit difficult to find given as most bike shops won’t stock more obscure types and Charge’s website never included a list of compatible models. Charge were relatively helpful when contacted, pointing me in the direction of Cane Creek but never actually named a compatible model. I was at a loss to understand why it wasn’t just included in the frameset given as everyone who bought a frame would need a headset and no one would have one knocking around. The frameset does, however, include a fork made by Tange, the same company who provide the Titanium and steel tubing for Charge’s higher-level bikes, and features a carbon steerer and alloy dropouts and crown. Also included is a fairly substantial expanding headset wedge and cable tensioners, the combined weight of the frameset [including Cane Creek 40 series headset] coming in at 1.84 kg.
It goes without saying that Titanium gives a performance which, while in itself is unique, mimics certain characteristics of others. It isn’t quite as light as carbon but certainly more competitive than steel and even comparable with good alu frames. While the titanium doesn’t absorb sudden shocks in the same way, the long distance comfort is comparable with carbon. Fatigue from long, rough roads was never really a problem. It dealt with this kind of issue in much the same way as good steel does but combined with its low weight, gave it a particular kind of springy, responsiveness you won’t find anywhere else than in a Ti bike.
Not being rigid like a carbon or an alloy frame, one can feel very much the movement in certain extremities like the bottom bracket, but it’s springy responsiveness means that everything you put into the pedals comes back, milliseconds later shooting the bike forward. This attribute makes the Skewer, combined with its geometry, an aggressive sprinter and a comfortable accelerator. Not only that but it also feels particularly comfortable at speed, never jumpy or out of control and there were a lot of times when I looked at the Cateye only to be surprised by the rate of knots displayed. This also meant that it was a reassuring companion for descending the Pyrenean Cols, running through the steep flowing corners with confidence. Given the straight steerer / headtube combo there are however limits to what it can take through tight, fast corners. To be fair to Charge, this frame somewhat predates tapered steerers and hesdtubes appearing on anything other than mountain bikes.
Above all, however, the Skewer is silent. It actually took me a while to realise this since I’m part of the evil subculture of riders who ride with headphones. This attribute only became clear when I realised the number of times that would need to use the attention seeking Hope freewheel to announce my presence to other users of the piste. This is not usually an issue on other bikes. After that, I took it out for a spin sans music and its taciturnity become abundantly clear. Ultimately, if it wasn’t for it’s good looks, it would be very easy to forget that it exists, which in my opinion is the hallmark of any great bike and in fact any great product.
For me it’s a real shame that Charge have elected to dismiss the more classic shape of road bike from their line up this year. It’s certainly not to say that I don’t like the new simple range, but I felt last year like it was more the four hundred different types of ladies and gents commuter bikes that cluttered their range, not the distinction between cyclo-x and road frames. Charge have placed themselves very firmly on the disc-brake side of the fence this year and while this isn’t really a problem for me, I can’t help but feel that this, along side the lack of a classic road race frame, could undermine the competitive aspect of their collection. In writing this, I was loath to get bogged down in weeping for the loss of this classic style from Charge, but it’s hard not to be a bit disappointed when you see the competition, none of which is as light or features this kind of shape, for this price point. In short I can’t help but feel that this was a bit of an unsung hero; one that most won’t realise what they’re missing.