Saturday, 4 June 2011

Thorn Audax Mk3 - my first 1,000 miles

Please be mindful that I bought just the frameset from Thorn Cycles / SJS Cycles and had it built up at a Local Bike Shop (LBS).  The LBS used some components that may differ from the complete bikes supplied by Thorn but it is a long similar lines.

Before I go into all the details, I'd like to say that this is a really great bike and without doubt a good choice for me.  Secondly I'm really disappointed in myself for not being able to clock up more miles in the last 5 months.  If you're a regular reader you'll know how an injured hand caused me to stop riding for several weeks and it still prevents me from riding as much as I should.  That's the challenge: it's a fantastic bike that begs to be ridden and yet I know I have to allow my hand to heal properly.

I digress, back to the bike.  Here's a review which I hope will be of use to anyone interested in this kind of bike.  It's worth bearing in mind that there are a number of alternatives which I'm sure will have their merits; the light touring bike seems to be popular these days, though probably terms such as "sportive", "audax" or "training bike" may have more street cred with some cyclists.

The frameset
The frameset, the heart of the bike, is where it all springs from and I reckon it's worth spending an appropriate amount of money to get this right from the outset.  Please click here for Thorn Cycles for all the technical details.  It is supplied complete with a headset and a seat post which contribute to this being good value.  Before I rode the bike I looked over the frame.  It was flawless.

I like many of the thoughtful touches.  There are a number of braze-ons which are all very worthwhile:

  • Pump peg on the seat stay
  • Two sets of bottle cages
  • Four point fixing for a rear pannier rack
  • Low rider fixing points on the front forks
  • Slotted cable guides
  • Mudguard eyes
I was impressed to find the mudguard mounting is threaded; not just for the eyes for the stays but also on the bridging tubes on the seat and chain stay tubes - this is nice as well as functional in avoiding the use of those nasty mudguard clips.  Again, a lesser bike manufacturer could economise there and you'd never think to ask about this in the shop (well, I wouldn't!).

I appreciated the small bottle of touch-up paint and I've already had to use this.  I have also found the gear cable casing rubs against the head tube (just because of the natural curve) and so I've used a little gaffer tape to stop any more paint wear.

It handles beautifully overall.  It has a nice lively sporty feel compared to my 1984 Dawes Galaxy.  Also it's nice and stiff, useful when stomping down hard on the pedals.  And yet it's not too sporty either; it's stable on fast down hill swoops (I've hit 38mph a few times) and yet has that steel frame springiness to make long rides less jarring.

I'm pretty sure this is the same as what is offered by Thorn as a complete bike.  Deore chainset with 48, 38 and 26T chainrings, combined with a 9 speed cluster of 12-26T.  The mechs are Shimano XT at the front and Deore at the rear.  The shifters are the bar end type, indexed for the rear only.  The chain is a 9 speed KMC with a quick link.

The performance is impressive.  It changes so fast and smoothly (compared to what I was used to) and remains the case.  It has retained perfect adjustment with only the need to tension the rear cable once.  The range of gears is lovely, though in practice I've not had much need to use the 26T chainring but it's nice to know it's there.  I'm sure there will come a time when I appreciate it being there.

The choice of shifters was something I dithered about.  I got put off STI shifters because of their complexity against the long term simplicity of the bar end alternative.  They work fine though it still does not seem a completely natural place for shifters to be.  The STI ones seemed really comfortable when I tried them.  Perhaps for this comfort reason, I might go for those if ever I need to replace the bike in the future.

I have the same 32h Mavic Open Sport rims.  After the initial bedding in period they were trued and have remained perfectly true for hundreds of miles (including a few bumpy trails, fully loaded).  The Miche hubs are different and a suggested upgrade by my LBS.  These are fully sealed cartridge bearings, replaceable of course.  They're light, ultra smooth and reckoned to be better than the Shimano equivalents.

The Panaracer Tourguard tyres are fine with nice handling and grip.  They're not heavy and I'm confident they're a good choice.  I have, however, had two punctures but looking at the offending glass and thorn I think they can be forgiven.
The tyres are perfect on the rims and at 28c they're a sensible size for all round use.  I doubt if there's much scope for wider tyres though,

As for wear, you can see just a little wear in the picture but that's after 1000+ miles on the rear.  So therefore I guess there's another 3000 miles.  You can get cheaper tyres but it's just not worth it over that number of miles.

Contact points
The LBS used Cinelli bars and stem with the sizes based on those in the brochure, with the offer of changing them free of charge if the need arose.  No such need cropped up and they're fine, though a little wider than what I was used to.  These though are, I'm sure, the correct width.

The pedals are the Shimano clip less, carried forward from my old bike.  They're fine apart from being single sided.  Even though they cost, from memory, £35ish, and have done thousands of miles, they're still smooth, in perfect adjustment and therefore good value.  I hate the Specialized shoes but that's a subject for another time.

I went for a Brooks B17 saddle as I already had one on the old bike.  I just like it and appreciated being able to still get something like that.  The LBS doesn't usually stock them, "no demand" they say.  Shame. If people think a cheap squishy plastic saddle is the route to comfort, I reckon that's a mistake.  I also like taking care of the Brooks saddles with an occasional wipe of Proofhide - a kind of ritual.

These are the standard issue Shimano ones and are fine but only adequate in terms of their stopping power.  Maybe better pads would help.  They have stayed in perfect adjustment.  One other observation is that the pads are at the bottom of the slot and only JUST sufficiently far down enough to miss the tyre.  Another 1 or 2mm wouldn't go amiss.

Other bits
I had a Cateye Strada wireless computer for my birthday, a while after I got the bike.  It's great, I love it!
The Nimrod rack is too flexible and will be replaced before too long. I do like having a proper fixing plate for the rear Cateye light, so that's good.  Yep, I'm disappointed in this rack as it seems to be made with a one-size-fits-all approach which is undoubtedly useful on some bikes but not this.  It just sways from side to side too much.   The mudguards in the top photo got replaced as they were too wide for the forks and flapped around - I went for some narrower SKS mudguards with two sets of stays.  I think the original ones were Blumels Commuter type, grrrrrr. Nothing less will do and they're not expensive.

This bike is great, no doubt.  I'd buy another if it got nicked, crushed or whatever but I'd ponder some of the details once again.

As for the elusive question of whether it has that certain "something" where I feel totally in tune with it, I'd have to say "no, not quite, not yet".  That is partly due to my injured hand, naff shoes and whether STI levers would be more comfortable.  But they're only details which can be dealt with as-and-when.  This bike holds great promise and I look forward to getting my money's worth over the next 25 years.

Any comments, questions?
Just leave me a Comment below....


  1. Nice bike but it looks a bit old fashioned to me.

  2. Thanks but I don't care if it looks old fashioned, seeing as how it will last me 25 years it is bound to become old fashioned sooner or later.

  3. Are you old fashioned yourself or something?

  4. Cheers - lots of detail in this review. Hope you become more 'at one' with it. Nice bike and don't worry if it's old fashioned looking, the other bloke is the one with the problem.


  5. Thanks for supporting me, I appreciate that

  6. Old fashioned? No - a classic look, is what it has. Timeless and classic, with a pinch of elegance!
    I dare say, as well, that it likely looks just right with, and especially without - a full outfit of neon coloured spandex, so as I see it you are quite far ahead of the latest "me too" carbon bike which is soon to look simply and only "old fashioned".

    Kudos - for both the bike and review.

  7. Many thanks Pavel, clearly a person of good taste!
    Tell me, what kind of bike do you ride?

  8. Doug, it has been a quest for me. I started last August with a Fuji Touring bike but found it fairly uncomfortable no matter what I tried if ridden slowly and for a longer time than an hour or so. I had been away from cycling for approximately twenty years so it has taken me a while to get enough base fitness to really start to get an idea of what may work for me. I ride a Moulton TSR with a Rohloff finessed in, and while the Moulton is a great bike it is a bit too quick handling for my tastes. It takes too much concentration to ride smoothly and in a straight line. I was starting to think that cycling may have not been for me at my age now but decided to give it one more chance and bought as my third bike the bike which I should have started with - The Thorn Nomade MkII.
    That made me a believer in the Thorn brand! I really enjoy it and am putting in the miles so I can go on a summer tour from here in central North Carolina to Texas and back. But the touring has woken up a desire to go faster on some days and I am considering one more bike. I've got it down to two and the Thorn Audax is my main interest. I really appreciate your reviews in light of my desire to sell the Fuji and replace it with a more comfortable bike designed for faster riding, and if the Audax is comfortable while still delivering a good stable ride I hope use it as my "go to" bike with the Nomad for those days I want to haul more than is sensible. It sure has been a learning experience on how little design details can really make a difference!

    I wish I had found your blog earlier. Your approach to life is enthusiastic but balanced and I find it inspiring - so thanks and keep the posts comming!

    1. Hi Pavel

      That's really good to know, thank you for sharing. Here in the UK few people cycle but more and more middle aged men are now cycling, often using fairly upmarket sportive type bikes. It is said to be the "new golf" or perhaps a cheaper alternative to buying a sports car or a Harley Davidson.

      While I don't know the other bike you're considering, if you do invest in a Thorn Audax you'll find it to be very versatile and a good general purpose bike with scope for longer brisk rides. Being steel it's not the lightest but arguably the most durable. Hope your Texas tour goes well and thank you for your kind comments - I value the feedback and encouragement.


  9. This is all really helpful and well balanced Doug.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anon, glad it was useful for you.

  10. Hi Doug. Just read your blog. You sound like a man after my own heart. I too like nothing better than touring. But, I can, (and do the full lycra thing occasionally). I have five bikes at the moment,(soon to be six) from a Van Nic titanium to a Ralegh Stratos. I build my own bikes, wheels included, and am self taught. And, like you, I would never ignore anyone on the road, whether it be the lycra clad 'boy racer' or the old lady with the wicker basket on the front. You are inspiring, keep being who you are. I wonder how these boy racers would feel if they found themselves wrapped round a tree and WE cycled past them and gnored them! We are the REAL cyclists and they are, (pardon the pun) a.......s on bikes.