Thorn Raven Sport Tour: One Year and 1500 miles On

Back now to a cycling theme.  Regular readers will know that, a year ago now, I sold my beloved Thorn Audax Mk3 in order to fund the purchase of a Raven Sport Tour.  It hardly seems like a year ago – but having now completed my second Rohloff oil change, the anniversary is very real.  So, in the tradition of Flamme Rouge’s Long Term Test series, what have I found?

Preamble:

The inspiration for this unusual choice of cycle was based on the fact that my cycling pal Mark had bought one a year earlier for his trans-Wirral commute.  You can read his reports for FR here [the first year], and here [the second year].  Now, not being possessed of much in the way of original thinking, I saw his bike, rode it briefly, and experienced the magic of the Rohloff hub gears.  I was sold.  The only problem was that they are a rather expensive bicycle to purchase – you can blow two grand without extras no problem.  My reasoning was that this would represent a do-it-all bike which was designed to last a lifetime – well, you can justify anything of you really want it, can’t you???

The Purchase:

I scoured brochures, checked specifications and got glummer every day.  No way could I afford the price of a new one.  The Raven Tour, Thorn’s slightly less expensive touring steed, was a little less painful price-wise, but this would involve compromising on speed and sportiness.  Then, last June, I was browsing the Thorn Owners Forum, which includes a bikes for sale section when I chanced upon an advert for a used Raven Sport Tour with what seemed an incredible specification, for half the new price:

  • Red gloss finish
  • Rohloff 14 speed hub (black anodized)
  • Rohloff reversible sprocket 16t
  • Rohloff SLT -99 8 speed road drive chain
  • Rohloff chain oil
  • Rohloff gearbox full oil change kit (new)
  • Chainset Thorn alloy 110 PCD, crank length 175mm, Chainring 44t
  • Mavic EX 721 rims (black)
  • Shimano XTR M960 front hub (black)
  • Shimano XTR M960 V brakes and XT M739S levers
  • Thorn Comfort handle bars
  • Cane Creek Ergo Comfort bar end grips
  • Gents San Marco Rolls Classic saddle (new)
  • SKS P45 mudguards (black)
  • Profile bottle cage
  • S/S rear rack
  • All handbooks

500 miles approx., beautiful condition

That was enough.  I had to have it – and a flurry of emails with the seller sealed the deal, the only problem being that I am in Suffolk, and the seller was near Penrith.  Ho Hum.

I decided to bite the bullet and drive up to collect it.  And so, setting off ludicrously early, I drove through the dawn and ended up on the A66, snoozing in a layby as Northern England woke up.  I arrived by breakfast time, and after a quick test ride and an excellent coffee to revive me, I was on my way home again with a shiny red Raven Sport Tour crammed into the back seats.  I was home by lunch time, having completed a 600 mile plus round trip!  Here it is the day I got it back:

Now there were one or two changes I had to make.

  • I did an immediate Rohloff oil change
  • I swapped the 1.75 Panaracers for 1.25’s
  • I replaced the 42t chainring with a 46, and lengthened the chain with some kindly donated extra links (it has the Rohloff ST-99 chain and I didn’t want to lose this)
  • I put on my trusty Brooks saddle and Carradice SQR bag
  • I removed the foam handlebar grips and added a set of Ergon grips.

Riding:

It rode beautifully, and the Rohloff fulfilled its promise.  My buddy and fellow Thorn owner, Crudson, said ages ago that once you ride a Rohloff you will never want to go back to derailleur again.  And he’s right.   The bike was a pleasure to ride from day one – there are one or two eccentricities that the Rohloff forces you to get used to, chiefly the gorgeous whirring sounds made in certain gears, and the uncanny ability to change gear when stationary.  I rode it and rode it, tweaking things here and there.  The tyres had to be changed because they were four years old and perished, but thinner tyres gave a harder and faster ride.  But then….

Disaster!

I adjusted the chain tension using the eccentric bottom bracket one evening, and overtightened one of the two screws.  The screw head broke off!  I was stuck!  I tried drilling the screw out in order to use a reverse threaded extractor tool, but to no avail.  Eventually, in despair and missing my riding, I contacted a small engineering firm locally and they managed to get the screw out with a drill.  No need to re thread the screw hole, thank goodness!

Not Red Any Longer!

My only frustration at this stage was the fact that the frame size, although in theory perfectly ok for my height [6′ 1″] was feeling a little on the small side.  Mark’s bike is the next size up – 587L.  I began to research the possibility of selling the red frame and buying a used 587 L one, but again to no avail.  Everything I found was sold as soon as it was advertised, or in poor condition.  So on receipt of a little spare cash, I took the plunge and ordered a new frame from Thorn in the larger size and in the ‘Stealth Matt Black’ with no visible logos save for a discreet Thorn badge on the headset.  And, as of today, here she is:

I have acquired a few extras for the bike over the last year, perhaps most notably two new rims, and a dynamo lighting set up.  The rims, which were originally Mavic EX721, were not really built for high pressure touring usage.  As I reported at the time:

Modifications:

The rear wheel rim on my Thorn, being over 4 years old, has been retired.  I was using the original Mavic EX721 rim, which as well as being old and worn had the distinct disadvantage of being a extreme downhill mountain bike rim – designed for 2 to 3 inch wide tyres!  Quite why the original owner specified these rims I don’t know – they’re expensive and highly thought of within the MTB fraternity but not really suited to touring.  They are I guess a long-distance option in countries where few real roads exist!

The wheel was packed off to Madgetts last Saturday, and I have been in London working all week so today was the exciting moment when I went northwards to Diss to collect the wheel.  I have posted an article about Madgetts before, and in my opinion there are few wheelbuilders around that would gain more respect in the cycling world than Mick Madgett himself.  I felt that although not cheap, I was guaranteed a good job – and I was.  There’s a great quote on the shop’s website:

“Mick’s expertise in wheel building is renowned world wide having learned from his father at a tender age and his wheels have been used in the Olympics.

Eric Madgett still holds the Trump Card of wheel building as he also built wheels used in the Tour de France. The nearest Mick has got to this was supplying the ‘Mavic’ service mechanics with spoke keys!!”

True to form, it is a tremendous job.  I specified their last remaining Mavic XC717, the ‘standard fit’ rim for Thorn bikes where Mavic rims are specified.  The spokes are DT Swiss stainless, and the whole Rohloff hub has been given a good clean into the bargain!  It means I can now run the tyres at a much higher pressure than was safe before, and I can also run narrower tyres in the summer (Marathon Pluses at 1.5 inches in the winter, and something slicker in the warmer weather).  A quick chain lube and a tightening of the chain via the eccentric bottom bracket later, and the bike is fit for the year ahead.

So, having now got a new rear wheel in effect, I treated myself to a Christmas present of a dynamo lighting system to be included when I had the front wheel rebuilt:

I ordered a wheel and hub, plus a light, on 21st December and resigned myself to receiving it some time between Christmas and the New Year.  After all, the newspapers have spent days proclaiming with glee about how the country has ground to a halt and deliveries are piling up at sorting offices.  But I had not reckoned on German tenacity and efficiency [Bike24 is an online bike shop based in Dresden, Germany, if you are not already au fait].  On Christmas Eve, I got my parcel and within an hour or so, I had fitted the light and hub / wheel.

On the left, the old front wheel, soon to be usurped by the new dynamo-hub wheel, right.

The box contained one new wheel, with a Mavic 317 rim and a Shimano DH-72 Dynamo Hub.  This is a lovely bit of engineering, with Ultegra-quality bearings and a 3 watt, 6 volt output.  The wheel was beautifully made, and true running. After fitting the tube and tyre to the rim, which incidentally is far more suitable for my kind of riding than the old Mavic 721 rim, which is only built for wide, low-pressure tyres, I fitted the skewer and locked the wheel in place.  Next, I unpacked the light, a Busch and Müller IQ Cyo [175qndi, if you wanna get geeky].

The light is a beautiful, solid item, and obviously German – made.  B&M make the lighting for BMW among others, so you know you’re getting a quality product.  One note – you may find, if you have a Thorn like mine, that the standard-fit bracket fouls against the bottom part of the FSA headset.  If this is the case, then a stout pair of pliers will soon sort it out, although I opted for an old SJS bracket that was in my spares box.  I fixed the light onto the fork crown, and then began the fiddly process of clipping the wires to the fork, being careful to avoid the recently installed Cateye wireless computer [I have cleaned the bike since this picture was taken, you will be reassured to know].

**NOTE: In the picture below you will see two mistakes I initially made.  One, the Cateye sensor is, as Cateye advise, BEHIND the fork.  I have now repositioned it in FRONT of the fork.  If an obstruction got caught up in the spokes, the sensor would have been pushed into the wheel  The second is the wire from the dynamo, which is now routed INSIDE the fork to protect it from damage.**

Having fitted a lavish number of cable clips, the only really irritating part of the install was to insert the bare wire ends into the two little greased connectors on the dynamo hub.  This seems to be a process that has to be repeated every time the front wheel is removed, which I shall have to learn to deal with.  Then, I gave the wheel a quick spin and, behold, light issued from the small black pod.

I lost no time in getting wrapped up in my thermals, and then hitting the road for a ride.  I used the light as a day light running light, and could barely wait until darkness descended so I could witness its legendary output [I chose the 60 lux version, which throws the light beam further forward that the 40 lux version of the same light, which simply has an altered beam pattern designed for slower riding].

The most recent change I have made was a new rear V-Brake.  The old one, an M970 XTR brake, was the top of the range and when the cable retaining bolt threads sheared, I felt it safer to replace it rather than try to fix it.  So, horrified at the price of a new one, I dropped down a level and bought an XT one instead which, although noticeably less effective, is still a good solid brake.

Finally:

So, after all this excitement and 1500 miles added to the Rohloff, what are my thoughts?

  • It’s a seriously expensive choice for a bicycle!  But you get what you pay for.
  • The Frame is, like all Thorn frames I have ridden, enormously capable and endlessly entertaining in terms of comfort and handling.
  • The Rohloff hub has never missed a beat.  It is like a big Swiss watch [although it doesn’t tell the time!].
  • The flexibility of the gears, and the fact that all the mech is hidden away inside the hub, means worry-free riding all year round.
  • It is a bike built for long rides, possibly carrying luggage.  It is not a full blown touring bike, but most people will never need such functionaity.
  • The handling is not snappy like a road bike, but it is quick and it goes wherever you point it.
  • For anybody with the money, and a regular ride such as a year round commute or a regular riding habit like me, it is a near perfect choice.
  • You will rarely see another one, as they are as rare as hens teeth!
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2 responses

  1. Thanks for the review! I saw this just before I bid on eBay for a second-hand Thorn Raven Tour the other day. I won it so am looking forward to getting it soon! Luckily mine is being posted and I don’t have to drive to pick it up!

    November 10, 2011 at 9:51 pm

  2. Super useful posting, thank you. As a fellow, but very new to it TRST owner I was very interested to read of your modifications. I doubt I’ll ever work mine as hard as yours, but its good to know they can take hard usage and keep on going. Nice blog by the way. Norman

    July 17, 2012 at 7:33 pm

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