Start the week….
It’s 25 minutes until the second week of March as I write this, which has some significance I’m sure somewhere in the world. Sunday night, and I’ve done a number of things this evening which have made it somewhat memorable. But, apropos of none of this honeyed banter (and there’s a highbrow literary reference in there too which you have no doubt already spotted…), I wanted to note down some thoughts and appreciations regarding the Thorn cycles ‘experience’ which I have been involved in for the past few weeks.
The bike is sitting in the garage and will hopefully see some more road action shortly. But it’s the whole aesthetic of the Thorn ‘brand’ (if you’ll permit me to use such an appallingly vacuous and modern term) that has really pleased me thus far.
Now I haven’t been to the shop (SJS Cycles, Bridgwater), so cannot pronounce thereon. I imagine it to be something so wonderful and fascinating that I should be turned into a child in a sweet shop, but hey, when you’ve got Madgetts of Diss within a half hour drive you take some impressing as far as bike shops are concerned.
No, it’s probably best summed up by the website and the brochures, which talk the same language as the bikes in a sense. Slightly amateurish, ever so English (think Parish Council newsletter style), packed with streams of relevant, hype-free (mostly), knowledgeable and useful information, they are a riot of clashing colours, text boxes that are stuffed to the gills with words, in general a gleeful two fingers to the ‘less is more’ attitude of many bike manufacturers these days. In the Thorn brochures, which run to many pages in the style of an old-fashioned engineering led British car maker’s missives, fonts and text sizes are almost randomly chosen. Images are haphazardly inserted. But this is part of the charm of the whole thing – here we have a watering hole for those shrewd souls who have realised that this is how bicycle buying should be.
What you get is an untrimmed, unpolished, enthusiastic and joyful appraisal of not only why you should consider a Thorn as your next (and let’s face it, only) bike, but just for good measure, a few reasons why perhaps you should not.
And so to a ramble. In the course of my job, I attend an exhibition once a year at Olympia, a London venue where unionisation means that there is still a person employed to manage the lift, in other words to press the ‘1’ or ‘G’ buttons (there are only the two floors) – inspiring multitudes of passing passengers to make the ‘How was your day dear? – ‘Oh, up and down!’ joke.
When I am at this exhibition, the hotel we stay in abuts the corner of what becomes Kensington High Street. Under the corner of the hotel, decked out in wood-effect formica wall panelling that evokes the 1970s, is the only showroom in the world of Bristol cars. They still, to my knowledge, require that you write to them (yes, a real letter), should you wish to be considered for the purchase of one of their cars. You then get a treatment, I am led to believe, similar to the Thorn buying experience – photocopied forms giving details of inside leg, which Jermyn Street tailor you frequent, which regiment you served in, etc.
The reason I mention this, and of course it is a certainty in the game of roulette that is life that I shall never be addressing a letter to Mr Tony Crook requesting permission to buy a Bristol 410, is because in bike terms, it’s the same thing. And so is the aforementioned Jermyn Street tailor. You want a machine (or a suit) that does a job. Functionality is key – not marketing. If you want hype, go to the Specialized Concept Store and get yourself a carbon-covered road bike, sold to you by a salesman with a fat target.
In many ways, I am straying into the ideological territory of one of my literary idols, the late, great L.J.K Setright. A man who wrote eloquently about machines with an engineer’s insight and an understanding about their reason for being. Setright knew that when reviewing a car (or an aircraft engine, if the mood and circumstances took him), he was concerned by not only the immediate – sensations, performance, and so on, but its place in the wider world. Did it do what the designer intended it to do?
And that, I guess, is the thing. Thorn have established a set of products – bikes to you and me – that are seriously good at a very defined purpose. They do not rely on slick photographs and clever wording. They do what they say on the tin.
And in a world where one gets tired and cynical just wandering down the street because of the onslaught of advertising that seems able to be both aggressive and also idiotic, that is a wonderful thing to be.