Our rating: 9/10
Having looked long and hard for the ideal touring bike we set our hearts on the (not cheap) Thorn Nomad and were delighted to receive sponsorship to justify buying them.
We were attracted by the sturdy steel frame, which would be easier to fix on the road than an aluminium one, and which would be likely to stand up better to the bumpy roads of South America. The choice of frame size was also an important option. It meant that we could have the same bikes, so share spare parts, and that Paddy, at 6’5, would have a bike that actually fit him.
The positive reviews of the Rohloff hub we read and advice from Thorn prompted us to choose that option rather than a classic derailleur, and to date we haven’t been disappointed.
Buying the bikes from SJS cycles
The store isn’t open at weekends, so we took a day off work to go down to Bridgewater to test ride a bike and select the specifications we wanted. Fitted up with the store models we spent about 30 minutes riding the bikes around the local park. SJS did offer for us to take them on a longer ride up a local hill, but we didn’t do this. In hindsight it would have been good to have done this and the same when we picked our new bikes up a few weeks later. The bikes felt very different to the ones we were riding in London and so it was difficult to tell on a quick ride if they were set up properly.
SJS didn’t look at us sat on the bikes and check that we had the right riding position, it was left to us to say if they felt ok or not. If we were to do it again, we would take a checklist of the position and make sure the bikes were set up to those specifications. As it is Laura’s riding position is not quite right, the problem being the stem is too long and that she leans forward too much. We haven’t been able to find replacement parts on the road so are waiting until we can get them sent out from the UK.
The staff at SJS are very friendly, but when we picked the bikes up it was done very quickly. Laura’s brakes weren’t fitted properly and rubbed. We wish we had been more aware and asked them to go through things in more detail with us. Having said that though, we were more than delighted with our bikes.
One thing we wish we had included in the order is a mirror that fits over our handlebar grips. Because the grips are so wide we have struggled to find a mirror, which in the big cities and busy roads we have really needed. The helmet mirrors we have used break and scuff easily, and require you to be wearing a helmet, which we don’t necessarily do all the time.
Maintenance on the road
We haven’t had to do much major maintenance work on the bikes. After six months on the road all we had done was remove a link from both chains and tightened every now and then the eccentric bottom bracket. Since then we have changed the chains and whilst in Colombia, after 11,000km, we replaced the sprockets. They weren’t particularly showing any signs of wear, but with good bike mechanics in Colombia we decided to change it now, so that the replacement should last the rest of our trip. With the sprocket removal tool and a vice it was a very easy job.
Laura had experienced some problems changing between certain gears since collecting the bike, but about 10,000km in it became a real problem. We emailed SJS and Rohloff who suggested a half oil change whereby the cleaning oil (thinner) was to be left in the hub to give the clutch ring less resistance. This worked well and the procedure was thankfully quite straightforward with the Rohloff oil change kit. We have since also changed the oil in Paddy’s hub as his gears were beginning to make a grinding noise, which has now gone.
Thorn Nomad bike
- Tough: The steel frame is designed to withstand the hardships of poor-condition roads, so is ideally suited to cycling around South America.
- Sturdy: Underneath us the bike feels strong and safe, even travelling at speed downhill. It bears the weight of our panniers incredibly well, in fact we prefer to cycle it with luggage than without.
- Easy to repair: Being steel, the frame is easier to repair than an aluminium one.
- Plain: The bike isn’t the snazziest, but the plain black design suits us fine by not drawing undesired attention.
- Warranty: Thorn issue a warranty for each of their bikes and offer a great support service once the bike has left the shop.
- Heavy: Our bikes average about 20kg fitted out with the Rohloff Hub. With luggage added, Paddy’s bike weighs about 35kg. That’s a lot of weight to cycle uphill.
- No suspension: The bikes don’t come with suspension, however, that’s not unusual for a touring bike.
- Price: It’s not a cheap machine, and for that reason we are quite precious about where we leave them at night, especially as it was also way too expensive to insure the bike for the trip. Therefore, they often share our bedroom with us.
Rohloff hub and chain
- Ease of gear change: With the Rohloff we can change gear when standing still or whilst pedalling, something a derailleur doesn’t allow for. The greatest advantage though has been on dirt and sandy roads, where we have been able to quickly change through the gears to keep on moving.
- Simplicity of use: There’s just one simple gear-shifter for all 14 gears. It’s so easy to use.
- Low regular maintenance: Six months in we have done nothing with the Rohloff. At some point soon we may need to change the oil, but haven’t needed to yet. The only work we have done is removing a link from each of our chains. At some point we will need to do some slightly more complicated work with it, but nothing so far.
- Noise: Many reviews warn off the noise when using gears 8 and 7, but we don’t find it so bad. There is also a noise when cycling downhill, which is not dissimilar to the sound of a car engine. Again, it’s not that bad, but it is there.
- Spare parts: In preparation for the work we’ll be required to do on the Rohloff we are carrying a number of spare parts which we won’t be available in the countries we are visiting, including oil change kits, spare sprockets and sprocket removal tools.
We would definitely recommend the Thorn Nomad and Rohloff hub, it’s a brilliant bike for this kind of trip.