Charge plugs into non-bike media

Chic, zeitgeisty and with a dreamboat palette, Charge is a cult bike brand that hooks the style press and wows the in-crowd. Carlton Reid goes along for the ride...
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The London press launch, in mid-July, for hip British bike brand Charge – run by Nick Larsen and owned by Hot Wheels – was attended by the kind of mainstream media that bigger, older, richer bike brands would kill for.

Charge attracts big-hitter newspaper journalists and Asian lifestyle magazines because it’s stylish and has a cult following. Soho graphic designers can be fined if they aren’t seen riding around on Charge fixies.

The brand is at the cutting-edge of colourways, graphic design and street fashion. However, it’s not a ten-dealer brand, it’s available in 170-plus bike shops, like Brick Lane Bikes of London, Evans Cycles, and Wiggle.co.uk.

Want to advertise your coolness? Slap a Charge sticker on your window and stock the bikes and the accessories (who can resist a saddle called Spoon?).

Charge founder Nick Larsen, is very much in demand. On his Twitter feed he wrote: “A Japanese fashion mag wants me to choose my favourite Breitling watch for a feature.” It’s this resonance with the hip crowd that’s propelling Charge into the mainstream. BikeBiz went along to its all-day press launch where few bike media types were there. It was a launch for newpapers and the style media.

A press invite from Charge comes with gifts. In London, the media got Knog ‘hipster cyst’ lights and other cool stuff. At Eurobike, the press pack included limited edition Vans/Charge shoes, bottles of Charge beer from Bath Ales, samples from its new clothing brand, street clothing from designer Jeff Griffin, and a variety of 2010 bike accessories.

This amount of schwag isn’t pure brand bribery. The Charge product range, and the way its story is told, means the brand is like the cool kid you want to hang out with.

When Charge appointed a PR company, it didn’t appoint a flash London boutique agency. Instead it elevated two of its sponsored riders, Juliet Elliott and Posy Dixon. At the London press launch, they – and the cachet that is Charge – attracted the kind of magazines and journalists that most bike brands wouldn’t get in a million years.

Some confirmed visitors that day were: The Independent, Zest, Observer Magazine, Japanese style mags, Men’s Health, Health and Fitness, Wired, Exit, Telegraph, The Times, and the Financial Times.

Charge was formed with Hot Wheels in November 2004, after Larsen worked with the Bournemouth business on its GT and Mongoose team. Back then, he had a clothing brand and design consultancy called Gate Eight. Prior to that, he worked for Pashley for six years, where he was responsible for its entry into the bike scene. He got this job while doing an industrial design degree at Brunel University.

The link up with Hot Wheels makes sense. The Merry brothers have reps, money and a distribution network; Larsen has the marketing and design savvy.

Last year’s show stand was a beautifully distressed launderette; this year’s Eurobike stand was an English pub.

Charge’s products are not always available. “We’ve always had a lack of stock,” admits Larsen. “We’ve always sold out.” When stock’s here it’s snapped up, and not just by bike enthusiasts: “A lot of people attracted to Charge aren’t cyclists to start off with,” he adds. “The Plug sold well to snowboarders and skateboarders, but not cyclists per se. We pushed lots of new customers to bike shops.”

Larsen is embedded in the bike trade – he quit a two year furniture design job because he “missed bikes too much,” says his LinkedIn profile – but he’s a leader not a follower.

“I’ve always taken inspiration from areas other than the world of bikes. When I was designing the saddles, I looked at skate shoes, not other bike saddles.”

Charge isn’t just a domestic hit, it is distributed in Australia, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Taiwan. Naturally, as a cult brand, it’s distributed in Japan, but in a coals to Newcastle sort of way.

With the expansion of the range, including city cruisers for men and women, plenty of geared bikes, and the addition of a clothing sub-brand, Charge is powering ahead. But don’t just take my word for it, read all about it in mainstream press.

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