Review 1...The Bikes
Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Our first experience of purpose-built expedition touring bikes. They've been used, abused, and dragged fully laden over alpine style climbs, and rocky, dusty, bush tracks; so how did we get on with them?
Our Thorn Sherpas
For those of you who are so inclined, it maybe worth chatting a wee bit about the bikes. Of course there is no such thing as one bike fits all purposes, but at the time of writing, I’ve done getting on for 20,000km on mine, so I know the bike pretty well.
At the moment, it’s my only bike, and my sole means of transport. This means I’m asking it to do a lot of kilometres, and at times, carry a lot of stuff. Am I happy? Well I smile almost every time I put my leg over the crossbar!
So the bikes are Thorn Sherpas, built to our own spec, fitted for us, and specced around our intended use In Africa. Before I go further with the details, when I mentioned I was getting a Thorn, one of my friends made a tooth sucking sound (you know – the one plumbers make when they take a look at your boiler!). They were convinced that Thorn bikes were out of range of the ordinary chequebook. They had bought off the peg, reputable, very good value tourers. But…once you added aftermarket bars, shifters, saddle, racks, and pedals etc. The price worked out pretty much the same as our spec, or near as damn it. Now I’m definitely, definitely not saying my bike is any better, but we get good after sales support, they are fitted and specced out for us, and we absolutely love them!
The Techy Bit
So we’re running;
- Standard Shimano Deore 10 speed, with wide ultra-low gearing. (42-32-24 and 11-36) This gets our kit, our bikes, and us up virtually any hill. Highly recommended for expedition touring.
- Thorn heavy-duty expedition racks (not light, but seemingly Bullet-proof).
- We have Andra 30, 26” (36H) heavy-duty rims – they weigh a ton, but they're indestructible!
- Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 2” Folding tyres (run slightly soft for comfort). these are the standard expedition tyres
- Standard wide polycarb mudguards
- A Brooks B17 saddle
- Handlebars are Thorn flat -track bars with Ergon GP5 grips; these are marked for cutting and we shortened ours slightly (1 grad) for comfort
- And finally bog-standard Shimano SPDs
Extras include a wee gadget from Ortlieb, that drops your front light below the Bar-bag.. it's ingenious and very practical. it can be reversed to mount a computer or GPS above the bag.
Also...possibly the best gadget we ever bought. It’s called a SteerStopper. I will come back to the SteerStopper in another post, but it’s transformed our experience and convenience, particularly with the unusual geometry of Thorn touring bikes. If I wrote off my bike, it would be the loss of the SteerStopper that would be a worry; everything else would be much easier to replace. Both bikes carry three Thorn bottle cages (very sturdy design) and we fitted small foldaway bar-end swivel mirrors - a valuable addition to stay in touch in crazy traffic.
Being a Sherpa owner
Firstly, full disclosure; I’m not in any way connected to Thorn or their bike shop SJS, although I do have a soft spot for them. There are two sides to being a Thorn owner, firstly the after-sales service; in my personal experience, they have been absolutely brilliant when I have needed them (and I have been needy once or twice). That reassurance is worth a lot, especially far from help. Secondly riding a Thorn has been a pleasure always. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve loaded the bike up, or rode it through the bush on horribly rough terrain, it always gives a lovely ride. For those who spend long days on a bike, you can appreciate how good it feels to get off a bike after eight or ten hours and not feel beat up. The frame and the geometry are perfect for me, and it has never let me down so far. The only thing I don't like is the mudguard attaching directly to the fork. It doesn't work in porridge type mud; it is of course well thought out and bombproof for 99% of uses; but it reduced us to pushing once. It’s a small thing, but this is the only problem we have ever had.
We’ve bumped into a few Thorn riders on our travels, and after a minute or two of pleasantries, the conversation always comes round to the bikes. We’re a bit nerdy about our rides...and perennially chuffed!
A word about Rohloffs
A post about Thorns wouldn’t be complete without a mention about Thorn’s USP, the Rohloff bikes. their reputation for designing a bike around the Rohloff is well documented. Firstly, I’ve never ridden a Rohloff equipped bike, so an opinion from me is not worth that much, but I know that people that do have them swear by them. They were outside our budget, so we didn’t consider them, but they do sound pretty good. If I were a dollar or two behind Bill Gates in the bank, I would definitely consider it!
I’ve got to say that we love our Sherpas, and even though they are the cheapest expedition bike from the Thorn stable, we wouldn’t dream of parting with them.
My Sherpa has got the highest “smiles per miles” ratio of any of the bikes I’ve owned, and although it goes nowhere very fast, I’ve definitely punished it on occasions and it has always been up to the job. When we opted for the Sherpas, we wanted a bike that would outlast us, would go practically anywhere, and carry practically anything we needed it to carry. We haven’t been disappointed…even once, so far.