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