For months I have been deliberating what I am going to need to take on my trans-African bike ride. Listing the basic kit I need is easy; the difficulty is in the details and the hardest decision so far has been choosing which bike to buy. After countless hours of research, I have managed to list my requirements for a suitable bike:
- 26″ wheels
- Rigid forks
- Rim brakes
- Rohloff hub
- Steel frame
And the bike which fits all the above criteria is the Thorn Raven Tour.
Expedition Touring Bike
Basically I decided I was willing to spend the money on a good quality expedition touring bike – afterall, I’m going to be spending a lot of my time on it. I consider this a worthwhile investment.
In essence, an expedition touring bike has the frame geometry of a touring bike, but has a 26″ wheel base. The reason being that finding replacements tyres and tubes in developing countries is easier for this wheel size, whereas 700cc tyres are rarer outside of Europe/US.
The rigid forks (as opposed to suspension) and rim brakes (as opposed to discs) are simpler and therefore less likely to have something go wrong with them or need maintaining to the same level.
The biggest decision was probably opting for the Rohloff hub, which I had not even heard of until I started looking for a bike for this trip. For those equally unaware, the Rohloff hub is a 14-gear internal hub which is a replacement to a derailleur drive-train. The hub is completely sealed and therefore highly durable and reliable. The gears are equally spread across a ratio similar to a triple-chainset derailleur and are operated by a twist-shifter which pulls on cables; the indexing of the shifting lies inside the hub. As well as the durability and reliability advantages, the hub is easy-to-use and low maintance; all of which is very appealing to me for this trip.
The main disadvantage of the hub is the initial cost, but having chosen a budget for the bike I felt I could justify this. Since maintenance is low and durability is high, the total life cost of the hub is possibly comparable to a derailleur system anyway. The other disadvantage is that if something goes seriously wrong with it, I doubt I’ll be able to fix it and will instead have to send it back to the manufacturers for a replacement. Since I am not constrained by time, having to wait for a replacement to be shipped is not crucial; and besides, DHL can express deliver all over the world these days.
Having decided to go with a Rohloff hub, the obvious choice was a Thorn bike. SJS Cycles, based in Bridgwater, Somerset, who manufacture and sell Thorn bikes specialise in tourers with Rohloff hubs and have a good reputation for after-sale customer support.
Thorn bikes have steel frames – which I have been told are better for touring since they can be welded if they break (unlike Aluminium frames) and make for a comfier ride. I suspect that some of this is myth and I can’t say I’ve paid too much attention to what material the frame. So although I am getting a steel frame, I wouldn’t have ruled out an Aluminium one if it met all the other criteria.
So there you have it – the Thorn Raven Tour is ordered. I’m just waiting for the call to say it’s ready to collect. I can then get out on the road, give it some real test rides and I will let you know how it goes.
At the end of the day, the bike is just a mode of transport. After all my research and debating about which bike to get, in all honesty I doubt it really matters that much.
If they can…
I read about one man can cycle around the world on a penny-farthing. And then there was Rory Spowers who I saw give a talk at the Hay Festival last year, who with friends cycled the ‘Goodies’ three-seater bike, the Trandem, through Africa.
Frankly, if they can do it on these bikes, I can surely make it on a Thorn. (I just hope it doesn’t get nicked half way through France!)