Thorn Audax Mk3: Long term review

Thorn Audax Mk3When I bought my Thorn Audax Mk3 over two years ago, I always thought it would become my go to bike… the machine I’d use more than any other. It would be out in all weathers, wouldn’t be loved too much and therefore needed to be reliable.

It has met those criteria admirably and has proved to be more than a ‘trainer’. With nearly 6000km on the clock, it hasn’t missed a beat.

Frame

Thorn Audax Mk3My Audax is the largest 600mm frame. I guess you could argue that it is a smidgen too small for me and, in common with many Thorn bikes on the road, has that characteristic stack of spacers and a long steerer tube. This doesn’t really bother me, and it provides a very comfortable relaxed, riding position, (but why Thorn can’t make a larger frame with a taller head tube I don’t know).

The finish on my example is excellent, as you might now expect from Taiwanese frames. Welds are neat and the lovely blue powder coat has proved to be very durable There’s some cable rub on the head tube, but those are the only blemishes. When polished up, it looks as good as new.

The frame is Thorn’s own 858 tubeset, the forks Reynolds. It’s not a particularly light, but it feels sprightly enough while giving a very plush ride indeed. Roadies will no doubt find it slow, but it’s good compromise of weight v comfort for me.

Thorn Audax Mk3 Reynolds forkThe frame has all the fixings you’d epxect from a touring bike manufacturer, with bottle cage bosses and fixings for front and rear carriers .

The rear drop outs are Ritchey and there’s a pump peg on the rear seat stay which carries a Zefal xp pump.

Wheels

The Audax came with hand-built wheels based on Mavic Open Sport rims and Deore hubs. The standard wheelset has 32 spokes, but mine came with 36 spokes after I discussed my weight with the guys at Thorn. My wheels are relatively heavy, but tough, only suffering one broken spoke in the time I’ve had it.

Thorn Audax Mk3 wheelsetThe wheels continue to remain true and the rims are wearing very well 6,000kms in. You could get a much lighter wheelset and the bike would not doubt feel quicker.

The Audax shipped with Panaracer Tourguard tyres in 25mm. I’d never tried these tyres before, being a die hard Schwalbe fan, but these have proved to be excellent with two punctures in two-and-a-half years. I’ve swapped the front and back to even out wear and I am just about to buy a new set.

Other Kit

The Audax came with a standard spec. Gears are largely Shimano Tiagra, with a triple on the front. On the back is an 11-32 cassette and a Deore rear mech. This is an interesting mix and again befits a bike supplier known for its touring machines. The drivetrain has worked very well and has required no adjustment at all. For long days in the Peak District hills for this heavy rider, it’s a very capable combination.

The shifts are smooth considering this is a relatively lowly Shimano groupset and the brake levers/hoods are very comfortable on the hands. The bars are ProLT 44cm centre to centre and bar tape is basic Deda. Other riders may want better quality kit here, but I’ve had no problems with numbness in my hands, which is probably more to do with the excellent riding position.

The stem is Thorn’s own, as is the seat post. Again, these will win no awards in the weight department but I haven’t felt the need to upgrade.

The headset is Cane Creek, different to the advertised spec of FSA Orbit, and it has proved to be very reliable.

The saddle is a wonderful Brooks B17. This is well broken in now and gets the occasional coat of Proofhide. Again, not light, but for me there’s no alternative to this fabulous perch. On the hoops I have a Caradice Junior Saddle Bag which carries all my stuff for a long day ride, including a waterproof and cake.

The Audax will carry 15kg of luggage on carriers according to Thorn, but I haven’t tried it. Judging by the performance of my Thorn Club Tour, though, I have no reason to doubt these claims, making an interesting option for ‘credit card touring’.

The bike shipped with excellent SKS mudguards and all fittings are stainless.

A note on price

Thorn Audax Mk3When I bought my Audax, it cost £899. Not necessarily cheap, but I think it represented good value for money, albeit for a bike which has a mass- produced frame. However, I note the price has now rocketed to £1,500-plus for the standard spec due to the increasing price of components etc etc.

This seems rather a lot of money given the alternatives on the market. There are some excellent trainer bikes built around aluminium frames which seriously undercut the Thorn, too. Add to this the popular ranges of sportive models from the major manufacturers, and the Thorn is less appealing. You don’t get that steel frame, though.

If you are thinking of spending this kind of money on an Audax bike, you could also save for a bit longer and have something really special from the likes of Mercian, Dave Yates or Bob Jackson. There’s some satisfaction to be gained from supporting a British framebuilder.

Thorn Audax Mk3 stemThat said, I love my Thorn. It’s done all I ask and more, be it my 16-mile lunchtime ride or a long 80-mile Sunday spinning up the hills of the Dark Peak. The ride is wonderfully neutral and it tracks straight and true. My model is too hefty for blasting up hills, but you could certainly shed weight with lighter wheels and components, including some carbon forks. With these mods, it could be a pretty rapid machine in the right hands.

The trundler-spec will do me though. The only modifications I intend to make will be upgrades to the transmission when the current groupset finally wears out… and that could take a while!

STOP PRESS!!!….. After writing this post, I spent a little time reasearching the market for similarly priced/specced Audax or sportive alternatives. Interestingly, there’s  piece in the recent Cycle magazine about Harrogate touring specialist Spa Cycles’ Titanium Audax machine. Built on a Chinese frame, you can currently buy one with the new Sram Apex compact chainset and carbon fork for £1350. You also get a set of Spa’s fantastic handbuilt wheels… I have a set on my tourer and and can confirm they are very decent indeed and good value. What’s more, Spa do a touring maching built around a Titanium frame and Reynolds fork.  More info here.

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18 thoughts on “Thorn Audax Mk3: Long term review

  1. Thorn make some fabulous bikes. I thoroughly enjoy touring on my xTc, which has proved completely reliable. The chain has needed putting back on, but that was my fault for a very late gear change. Other than that, it has been flawless on two tours of France, one round Ireland and a ride up to Harris and Lewis.

    Thorn also make great wheels. I got a faster pair for the xTc and moved the originals to my mountain bike. The originals have astonished me in their new role. Unbelievably tough (CR 18 rims). If I had known what they could take, I’d have given the xTc a much harder time.

    The one frustration is the xTc’s lack of speed. I gave way and added carbon to my small fleet with a Specialised Roubaix. It climbs so effortlessly that I have lost a lot of my respect for the guys on day rides who came past me on TdF cols. When I retire, I’ll drop to one bicycle and that machine will almost certainly be carbon fibre. So, not a Thorn. Probably.

  2. Thanks for dropping by sebwhyte.

    The XTC is a lovely ride… a friend has one and wouldn’t be without it. I’m a bit too traditional to get overly excited about a carbon bike, but I haven’t ridden one yet! I’m sure if I get the chance at some stage, I’ll be itching to add one to the collection.

  3. Hi,

    You may find it a bit squishy if you carry it all on the rear but spread over front and back should be OK. If you are in any doubt, the guys at Thorn will be able to advise.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this as I too have a Thorn Audax and, as with you, it’s been a really great bike. You’re right they do seem quite expensive now and there is some very worthy competition out there.
    When I got mine (January 2010) I offered my LBS the challenge of building it up if I ordered the frame. They did a great job on the whole, better hubs, useless mudguards and a B17 saddle. It came in well under the Thorn price. I think that was a quiet time of year for them and they wanted something interesting to do!
    Nice blog, BTW.

    1. Hi Doug. Thanks for the comments and for dropping by. I still really enjoy riding my Audax. I will only replace it if I can find an excuse to buy a Mercian and have a frame made to measure (40th birthday pressie perhaps).

  5. my dear, I also got a Mk3 Audax bike, but … I have a question: what is the specification of the bottom bracket Hollowtech that you used for the photo? 70mm (36 x 24TPI) or 68mm (1.37 x 24TPI)? – sorry my poor english… 🙂 Thanks!

  6. With havin so much content and articles do you ever run into any problems of plagorism or copyright
    violation? My blog has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it seems a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help protect against content from being stolen? I’d certainly appreciate it.

    1. Occasionally, but not often I’m pleased to say. I normally tackle it head on and contact the person who has pinched!

  7. Hi, thanks for the informative review, I’m wondering how tall you are to need the 60 cm frame? I am currently looking at a second hand one which is supposedly in excellent condition, hope to get it for around the 600 mark. Only thing is it’s a 56 cm frame and I’m 6’2. Obvioulsy I’ll try before I buy but just trying to get a sense of whether it’s worth the 2 hour train journey!

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