Thorn Nomad 26" flat bar tourer
Until bikepacking and fatter wheels finally got through to me, I thought this was my bike for life. I still love it, trust it completely and expect to use it for years to come on longer or winter rides where I need to carry more gear (so racks & panniers make sense). I love the Rohloff hub (more on that below), and expect to get one for my new ECR some day.
My Thorn has all the sweet basics - a Schmidt dynohub (with a Sinewave USB phone charge outlet embedded in the front stem) and S & S couplings to split the frame, great for packing small for flying regional airlines. On top of that it's bloody tough and just sucks up abuse (though heavy). Surly rack on front, and Thorn rack on the back. Brooks Flyer saddle. Thomson Elite seat post.
The Thorn is an example of today's manufacturing world. Thorn is an English company, and took my order and all the specs. The bike itself was fabricated and shipped from Taiwan. Website link.
I've beaten up this bike badly, so many times, and it's just smiled and kept rolling
Thorn Nomad, panniers & gear taking a break. It was a tough week long ride to get to the remote high altitude Himalayan valley of Zanskar in Ladakh, N India. I looked for another route out, and ended up on a 5 day trek to another road connection, with the Thorn & my gear on these 2 donkeys. We were up over 4,800m.
There's a number of sweet things on my Thorn set-up, but let me talk a little about the key one - the 14 gear internal rear gear hub, with grip shifter, built by the German company Rohloff. There are countless web sites that argue the pros and cons of going rohloff, so I'll leave it up to you to look further, but here's what I see as the key arguments:
very low maintenance and very little need to replace parts. All you have is one front chain ring and one rear cog, and rohloff has tough rings that you can flip to use in the reverse direction once one side wears down
reliability. For years I was held back by worries about the maintenance - the what-if? - issue. But I kept meeting incredible rough and experienced cycle tourists internationally who swore by their rohloff. So I eventually gave it a try
you can shift gears while stopped at an intersection or wherever. This seems like a non-issue, but after you get used to it, you'll find it real handy
you'll never jump gears because your rear derailleur or cassette is covered in snow or mud
See cons below pic ....
relatively heavy. That said, many argue the weight penalty is actually modest, as you don't need back or front derailleurs, cassettes or multiple chain rings, and can use a shorter chain.
grip shifter does not work that well with drop bars. True. That said, there are a number of options people use to work with drop bars
rohloff specific frame design limits options. Many frames are specifically built for rohloff hubs. On my Thorn, there's the rear mount, as well as an eccentric bottom bracket to pick up chain slack that a rear derailleur usually manages on traditional bikes. My new ECR, though (and many other bikes), are now designed to work well with rohloffs or standard gearing
14 gears is less than 27 gears (or however many). This is true, though the 14 gears covers a much wider range than you might expect. This is because in traditional 2 or 3 chain ring set ups, the largest gear on your small ring overlaps with the smallest gear on your middle ring, etc. My rohloff gives me as low a gear ratio as I need, and a slightly less aggressive high gear - I don't find this an issue.
what if it breaks? although rohloffs are wonderfully reliable, they do have troubles (sometimes self-caused). That said, tthere are options to manage (email me if you want to learn more).
The photo above is from Upper Mustang, a remote Tibetan Buddhist enclave in NW Nepal that restricts tourist entry, partly due to a sensitive past border with Chinese Tibet. To visit, I was required to hire a local guide, and that's Prakash you see here taking a break. His company specialized in bike tours (he was great company) and he had a brand new mountain bike. This was my only ride ever with a guide.
You can see my Thorn to the right, prettily heavily loaded as we did some high altitude travelling where one needed to be ready for awful weather. By the end of the ride into Upper Mustang & back, Prakash's new bike was badly beaten up, barely holding together. My trusty Thorn didn't even blink.
With all my backroads riding on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast, I've been feeling the love lately for my new Surly ECR. That said, if I were to head off on an around the world ride, tackling some remote routes, I'd still take my Thorn. It packs small (S & S couplings), 26" bikes are the easiest to find parts for around the world, the rohloff has proven almost maintenance free, and I really trust it.