Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Charge Grater 3 – not Helen Pidd's two-wheeled soul mate

Matthew Moggridge writes: Bikes are definitely getting more expensive. These days, when I walk into a bike shop to see what's on offer, even the most basic-looking machine seems to cost over £500 and sometimes I spy bikes with block brakes that are even more expensive. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule, like Apollo bikes and other lower cost brands, and while it is often said that you get what you pay for, some argue that a cheaper bike is not only better for you if fitness is your goal – heavier, lower spec machines mean you've got to put in more work – but enables you to add your own higher spec components at your own pace. Some would argue that 'a bike, is a bike, is a bike' and why spend a fortune on one?
The Charge Grater 3.

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around Düsseldorf in Germany and while loitering outside the main railway station (on the quieter side, adjacent to the Leonardo Hotel on Ludwig Erhard Allee) I spied a rather good bike shop with some top-of-the-range machines going for 520 Euros. Now it might well be that the same bike in the UK would be far more expensive as these days you don't get much for your money if you've got just over £400 to spend. I doubt very much whether the bike I spied in the window in Düsseldorf would cost whatever 520 Euros works out to be in good old English pounds.

In this week's Guardian Weekend magazine, Helen Pidd was reviewing the Charge Grater 3 – a strange name for a bike in my opinion. Looking at the facts box at the bottom of the page I noticed that it costs a cool £549.99.

I don't know where Helen got that £549.99 price tag. Looking online this morning, they're much more expensive: £649 at Sunset Bikes; £749.99 at Cyclestore and Evans and also at Tredz Bikes, but only £467.49 from Wiggle.co.uk.

Well, at least it has disc brakes and high-spec Shimano Nexus 8 hub gears, and mudguards. I'm starting to realise the importance of the latter as avid readers of this blog will already know.

That aside, I don't think Helen was overly impressed. In fact she felt that the manufacturer spent all its money on the gears, claiming that normally a bike with Shimano Nexus hub gears would 'be significantly more expensive'. Hub gears in 'my day' – meaning my days as a kid – used to be Sturmey Archer. In fact I never had a bike with gears, just a single cog at the back. According to Helen the hub gear is ideal if you wish to ride to the office in work clothes as all the machinery is hidden away. That is a good point, although the Charge Grater 3 doesn't have a chain guard so what the manufacturer gives with one hand, it takes away with the other.

Helen says that the Charge Grater 'seems too good too to be true' and it's a little too pricey for what it is. Hub gears are a pain to fix, she says, and the bike she was given to test had faulty gears that kept slipping and the rear mudguard kept catching on the wheel – now that's annoying – and, she said, the handlebars looked cheap. Now I know what she means about that; I often take a long, hard look at a bike's handlebars and sometimes, yes, they do look kind of cheap and unimpressive and that will be enough for me to consider not buying it. Helen reckons that the manufacturer of the Charge Grater 3 spent all its money on the gears and had to settle for lower quality bars and other lesser components.

On the plus side, she said that the Charge Grater was very light, looked clean and modern and was light enough to lift on and off the Transpennine Express. The saddle was also comfortable – 'mega comfortable' – and it was a ladies' saddle (Helen says that 'far too many manufacturers think women won't notice if they whack on any old blokes' saddle'). The Charge Grater 3's saddle, she says, was shorter and wider and included a 'pressure releasing' channel 'to keep one's bits in working order'.

She wasn't keen on the 'skinny down tubes' and wasn't happy either with the wider-than-standard handlebars.

Helen summed up the Charge Grater 3 as being her 'two-wheeled soulmate' (a reference to her opening paragraph in which she compared the bike with a dating profile 'that promises more than a real-life human could ever deliver.

Helen Pidd can be followed on Twitter – @helenpidd

To read Helen's complete article, click here.

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