If ever there was a bike brand destined for an electrified future, it was Charge. A British brand intermittently available in the U.S., Charge made modestly priced bikes in various categories as well as a line of well-liked saddles (this reviewer owned a Charge Spoon saddle for many years and feels some regret over selling it). You’d be forgiven if you didn’t know this — the bikes were entirely adequate but perhaps unremarkable. Now owned by Cycling Sports Group (the same folks who own Cannondale and GT), Charge is back after a brief hiatus, but if you want one, you’d better have access to an outlet.
The XC model, at $2,500, is the most expensive of the brand’s trio and the only one without a throttle option. Featuring a 250W Shimano motor, 50-mile claimed range, Goodyear tires, and a component spec that leans toward the mountain bike end of the spectrum, Charge promotes the XC in as a gravel and all-terrain ride.
Keeping things chronological, the XC shows up in a bike box that can be conservatively described as “immense.” And a little unwieldy, despite the XC’s svelte-for-an-eBike 55 lbs. More on that weight in a minute, but this hefty chunk of cardboard contains some clever tricks. Once you wrestle the XC from its environmentally friendly packaging (nearly all cardboard — credit is due to Charge for leading the, I’m so sorry, charge on sustainable packaging) the bike comes together in four easy steps. You know this because each step is indicated with a cute little sticker affixed to the bike. Raise the seat, flip down the folding pedals (very handy for packaging, very small for actual long-term ownership), spin the front axle into place, and rotate the bars using a clamping mechanism that will feel familiar to riders of folding bikes, and you’re off to the races.
Well, some kind of race. The XC is a Class 1 eBike, meaning its assist tops out at 20mph (and it lacks a throttle). Shimano’s 250W E5000 motor is silky smooth, and the power button integrated into the top tube looks like the high-end piece of kit it is. Once pressed, the unobtrusive bar-mounted display and buttons come to life and the rider can choose between Eco, Normal, and Turbo modes. Scroll through screens to see miles ridden, range remaining, and some menu options for turning the integrated lights on or off and other details. It’s simple but not lacking.
Compared to other, admittedly more powerful, eBikes I’ve ridden lately, Shimano’s motor was smooth to the point of requiring a little rider adjustment. Instead of the brute-force kick in the rear I’ve received from other brands when leaving stoplights, the E5000 rewarded gearing down a few clicks and staying seated as it eased in. Even in “Turbo” mode, this is not a bike that wants you to stand and hammer away from a stop. I’ve heard eBikes described as offering a “tailwind on demand,” and indeed, Shimano’s assist was a stiff breeze, not a rocket launch.
That smoothness also offered what I found to be a much more natural bike in an urban environment, allowing for brief trackstands and pedal hesitation to deal with poor parkers that other eBikes would’ve bucked against. The flip side was that I found myself glancing down at the control panel from time to time to make sure the darn thing was on.
This, of course, can be the paradox of eBikes. With 55 pounds of aluminum and rubber underneath you, a bare minimum of assist feels necessary just to get you back to zero. In Eco mode, the Charge felt like a fairly standard hybrid bike — with the e-assist turned completely off, well, let’s just say you’d get real fit real fast. This isn’t a knock on the XC, this is true for every eBike I’ve ridden — carrying all that power demands a little power!
The mass of the XC also becomes all too apparent when the assist tops out at 20mph. Pedaling hard with the motor on, you can blast from zero to 20 in a hurry, but getting from 20 to 22 seems to require Armstrong-esque, err, regimens. When the motor cuts out at the Class 1–delineated line, it’s like someone drops a drag chute behind you — so much so that I was legitimately surprised a few times to be jolted forward so dramatically as I sprinted to make a light.
Fine, the XC makes a solid if not quite perfect commuter and in-town runner, but what about adventure farther afield? Well, the included 29 x 2.25in. Goodyear Peak tires proved predictable and drama-free on a variety of dirt and tarmac surfaces, the factory-spec’d rear rack carried panniers with aplomb, the Charge saddle was extremely comfy, if perhaps a hair wide for this rider, and the 11–34T cassette and 8-speed Shimano Altus shifter and rear derailer offered plenty of range for a battery-assisted bike. That’s a pretty promising checklist for 2,500 bucks, so really it becomes a question of range. Is 50 miles under ideal conditions enough for you? Seriously, I’m asking.
Any eBike traveler needs to be radically honest with themselves about desired distances, otherwise they’re in for some rough days. If you like to ride 60 miles with a ton of stuff and spaced-out services, the XC is going to let you down. But if you’re hunting 30- to 40-mile days and moderate loads (potentially with options for mid-day top-offs), Charge arguably offers one of the best deals on the market. The jump to considerably more range — like the 100-plus miles offered by the BULLS Lacuba in the Oct./Nov. 2020 issue — comes with a considerable lightening of one’s wallet.
The seven weeks I spent with the Charge XC was the longest I’ve ever “lived” with an eBike, despite having ridden a fair number of them over the last few years. That familiarity uncovered some truths about the day-in, day-out ownership I had entirely overlooked — “revelations” likely to feel familiar to anyone who’s been riding with a battery boost for a while now. First, the XC is legitimately “light for an eBike” at 55 lbs. But that’s like being light for a linebacker or light for an ocean liner.
Charge founder Nick Larsen told me how hard they worked to bring the bike down to a manageable weight so riders of all sizes could handle the bike, and I believe him. But maneuvering the XC up and down a trio of steps to my back porch twice a day was a chore. The weight could also surprise in odd moments, such as opening the courtyard gate at Adventure Cycling HQ with one hand and rolling the Charge with the other. A light grip on the stem, like I’d have on my daily driver, wasn’t enough if the XC started listing to one side — it legitimately took some conscious muscling if it started to lean, especially if the panniers were loaded up. Basically, it’s a loaded touring bike … all the time. If you’re shopping for any eBike, carefully consider the stairs in your life.
Perhaps I’ve been too hard on the Charge: sure it’s heavy, the 50-mile range isn’t excessive (and at the onset of a cold Montana fall, it was less than that — lithium ion batteries and below-freezing temps are not simpatico), and it only comes in two sizes (the size large tested was indeed large; if you’re on the fence, size down). But honestly, after riding more than a few more-than-$5k eBikes the last few years, the XC is the one that might’ve finally really sold me on an electrified future. I wouldn’t reach for the Charge for a long tour, but then I also don’t buy full-blown loaded touring bikes for a simple reason: most of my riding isn’t touring. I reached for the Charge instead of car keys to head to a trailhead after work (for a run, not a ride), I plugged it in overnight at home or at the office during the day once a week, I zipped across town without worrying about breaking a sweat over the lunch hour, and I finally, really, truly get it.
Sizes available: Small, Large
Size tested: Large
Weight: 55 lbs. (including pedals and rear rack)
Head tube length: 134.6mm
Head tube angle: 68°
Seat tube length: 482.6mm
Seat tube angle: 73.5° (effective)
Top tube: 640mm (effective)
Bottom bracket drop: 56mm
Bottom bracket height: 317.5mm
Fork offset: 51mm
Standover height: 813mm
Frame: Charge 6061 aluminum
Motor: E5000, 250W
Battery: Shimano E8035 504Wh integrated with Abus lock
Fork: SR Suntour XCM 34, 100mm
Handlebar: Charge 6061 aluminum riser, 60mm rise
Stem: Charge quick release folding, reversible +/-7°
Rear derailer: Shimano Altus 8spd
Shifter: Shimano Altus Rapidfire
Brakes: Shimano MT200 hydraulic disc
Rotors: Shimano, 180mm front and rear
Crankset: Shimano E5000, 36T with bashguard, 165mm
Cassette: Shimano 11–34T, 8spd
Pedals: Charge nylon folding
Seatpost: Charge 6061 aluminum, 30.9mm
Saddle: Charge Comfort
Hubs: Shimano MT400, 100 x 15mm front, 142 x 12mm rear, thru-axles
Rims: WTB, 32h
Tires: Goodyear Peak 29 x 2.25in., puncture resistant and reflective sidewalls
Extras: Integrated rear rack, full-coverage fenders, front and rear lights, kickstand
Contact: Charge Bikes, 1 Cannondale Way, Wilton, CT 06897, 833.482.3822, chargebikes.com