Choosing the best touring bicycle (updated January 2013)

Thorn Club Tour parked up for the nightNon-touring cycling friends often ask me: ‘What’s the best touring bicycle you can buy?’ In some respects, it’s a hard question to answer as the
choice of bike hinges on so many factors, not least the kind of journeys you are planning to undertake. That said, the simple answer to the question more often than not would be: ‘The bike in your garage or shed.’ A solid mountain bike, road bike or hybrid will be sufficient for your first tour.

For the purposes of this post, though, I will focus on the ‘dedicated’ touring cycle, which can be loosely categorised as ‘traditional touring cycles’, ‘expedition touring cycles’ and ‘others’ – including folding bicycles for touring. Not intended to be a definitive list, it does feature models that are available for purchase in the UK.

I thought it was about time I updated this post as it it generates so much traffic on this site. So, I’ve had another look at the touring bike market in the UK with a couple of new names providing frames and bikes to the domestic market.

And if this isn’t enough to satiate your touring bike appetite, check out this site. Touring bikes in action all over the world.

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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. Continue reading

Thorn Club Tour: Cutting a fork steerer tube

Thorn Club Tour

With rain and wind lashing the window when I awoke this morning, it seemed a good day to spend in the garage and cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

I’d purchased a dedicated tool for this job, the SJS steerer cutter clamp, and all I needed was a decent hacksaw.

Reading the cycling forums, cutting a steerer tube is one of those jobs that requires a deep breath before you start. It’s pretty final: get your measurements wrong and you’ll need a new set of forks.

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Time to hit the workshop – SJS Cycles steerer cutter

SJS Cycles Steerer Cutter Clamp

Christmas is only two weeks away and that usually means a little ‘project’ over the festive break. With (most of) the DIY done for the year,  I’ll get the opportunity to cut the steerer tube on my Thorn Club Tour forks.

As is the norm when it comes to buying tools, I check to see if something is available on the Park Tools website, and then see if I can find a cheaper alternative. I’d like to be in the position to fill the tool box with Park’s finest, but my pockets aren’t deep enough.

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(Day) Dream Rides

When I’m not on my bike, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about them. It’s a pretty sad admission to make, but there you have it… I’ve come out of the closet.

Normally, I’ll be thinking of new components to add or composing a new ‘high end’ wheelset for my Audax. Then there are new tools I can acquire so I can do more jobs in my garage rather than resorting to my LBS.

The best daydreaming (or worst, if you ask my other half) focuses on new bikes to add to the stable. I’ve already ‘fessed up to my love affair with Mercian frames and one day I may own one. The other target of my desire is the Moulton.

I had the great pleasure of riding a ‘Bradford-on-Avon’ machine a few years ago. It was stunning, as was the price.

The ingenious suspension provided deliciously smooth ride despite the frame being incredibly stiff and strong. The stainless steel tubing and brazing were astonishing. I can understand why travel writer and Moutltoneer Eric Newby once said these machines are the work of Faberge.

They are quirky, admittedly, but this only adds to their appeal.

Many frown at the hoops, but small wheels have never bothered me. I cycled daily across London for five years on a Bike Friday Pocket Llama and I like the quick acceleration and incredible strength of the 406 wheelset.

I note now that the Double Pylon New Series Moulton is £5,500, which is more than my car cost. This I will never afford unless the Camelot gods smile upon my other half (I don’t play) and feels I deserve a present.

There is another option, though. Stratford-upon-Avon manufacturer Pashley make a Moulton under licence, the TSR. The ‘touring’ version is bedecked with Campagnolo bits and might just fit me with some fettling.

I don’t need another bike, I know, but there’s no room for rational thinking here. As long as I have garage, it’s my ambition to fill it. If the worst happens, I can always sell them.

Creaks, squeaks and clicks…

Working on bikes is all part of the pleasure of owning them. I’m no mechanic, but having three bicycles gives me an excuse to disappear into the garage of an evening and,for want of a better expression, have a tinker.

Yesterday evening was bike repair heaven. I put the Audax on the work stand and got busy curing an annoying click that I’ve had since I bought the bike and a creak from my Brooks B17.

The click was cause to send the bike back to Thorn who found no problems. I put it down to my heft and lived with it. However, what was once a minor creak/click when climbing out of the saddle has degenerated into a regular, infuriating accompaniment to every pedal stroke.

The click led to a nervous tick and I thought it high time I dismantled the bottom bracket to see if I could find the problem. I hoped it would be something associated with Mr Shimano’s external bearing rather than a crack in the bottom bracket shell or something equally onerous.

After an hour with a wrench or two and some grease the bike was soon back together. Out on the lunchtime run today peace descended.

Given my limited mechanical ability, my success did prompt the question of what the folk in Bridgewater actually did when the bike was returned. No matter, the Audax is now even better than when I bought it.

And the Brooks creak? To be honest, this wonderful saddle could squeak and grind every pedal stroke and I would still use it. Now 4,000 kms old, it’s well broken in and, well, perfect.

Shaking the Web for an answer, I discovered that many a Brooks owner gets ‘the creak’ at some stage of their perch’s life. Numerous cures can be found, particularly from the CTC crowd, ranging from a bit of three-in-one on the nose bolt to immersing the saddle in a vat of warm lard (well, not quite, but many an extravagant suggestion has been offered to break in these wonderful saddles).

I opted for the former, and my B17 is silent.

So, the Audax is now in stealth mode and all fellow riders will now hear is the clattering of my lungs and the click of my knee joints (and the swearing at motorists).

Thorn Club Tour 620s pics

Here are some more detailed pics of the Thorn Club Tour I have recently built. I hope you get an impression of just how huge this bike is… it fits really well, though.

I realise the steerer does need cutting, or I could achieve a slightly more elegant line by changing the Ritchey adjustable stem, but I’m not really bothered. This bike is my ‘Land Rover’ and function reigns over form. It’s a supremely comfortable ride with those large tyres and the position is upright and sedate. It can still rattle along, though, as the Thorn frame is considerably lighter then my Gal.

The overall impressions on ride is that the bike wants to go in a straight line, even when pressing on. Seems a rather strange observation, but there you have it. I am yet to try it with a proper full load (20kgs) although I have every confidence it will handle it with aplomb.

(Forgive some of the photography… these shots were taken on a pretty lousy day and achieivng a steady enough camera for some of these exposures was tricky.)

Spec:
Thorn Club Tour 620 s frame, Orbit XLII headset.
Spa Cycles wheelset… Rigida/LX
Panaracer Pasela Tourguard 700×35
Ritchey Comp Adjustable Stem
Shimano Altus CT90 cantilever brakes and Tektro RL340 levers
Shimano Deore drive train:
HG50 Cassette: 11-32
M531 rear mech
22T/32T/44T replacement front chain rings
UN54 bottom bracket

Tubus racks