Quite often, I get the question: what kind of bicycle do you use for your tours? The answer usually is a ‘hybride’ or ‘trekking’ bicycle, something between a race and mountain bicycle. But that’s not completely true. There is more to a bicycle than that. Let me explain why I choose the Thorn Raven 26″ Rohloff.

For me, the search for the perfect bicycle starts with experiences in the past. What kind of cyclist am I? I am not a racer. I like traveling off road, back roads, mountains, desserts, sea side, through cities and forests, with luggage, without luggage, to places where there is no bicycle repair, to countries where they don’t speak Dutch or English (try to find a new saddle bolt in a remote Chinese village!).

Then there is of course ‘me’ as a person. I am no lightweight and have quite some power in my legs. I know I ask the max from my gear – if it’s not solid, it will definitely break. I am careful but I do demand a lot when I use something. Quality above good looks. And I have to admit, I’m a bit lazy when it comes down to cleaning my bicycle (Pascal can confirm).

This gives me the basic specifications:

  • Solid steel frame, which fits perfectly with my shorter legs and longer arms
  • Solid front and rear panniers with the best lightweight waterproof bags (obviously Ortlieb Classics)
  • Puncture proof 26” tires (Schwalbe Marathon XR are the best: strong with low resistance)
  • Shimano XT drive chain (compared with LX, it’s worth the extra pounds)
  • Either 21 speed derailleur or 14 speed Rohloff (same gear coverage)
  • Shimano V-Brakes (simple and strong, definitely no disk brakes)
  • Proper saddle
  • Good quality pedals (I found KBR to be good, they manufactured them since 1941)
  • I prefer a straight steer with bar ends
  • And I prefer mudguards with max space between mudguard and tire (avoiding blocking a wheel)
  • Not bicycle specific, but I do have my bicycle computer (+GPS) mounted on my steer
  • And because the GPS is using quite some battery power: A SON 28 Dynamo hub with the Cinq5 The Plug III Hub Charging Device (certainly a nice-to-have for long remote tours as a Powerbank does the trick as well)

While there are many trekking bicycle manufacturers a few are worth mentioning:

I’m not going to compare them, I guess it becomes a matter of preference and weather you like some specific details. Snel Tweewielers for example uses bicycle frame lugs to give their frames more strength and a beautiful classic look. Santos has cool colors and a lower horizontal tube, giving it more mountain bike characteristics.

Anyway, I was quite attracted to the SNEL Savanne (see me cycling the Silk Road 2012) but have fallen for the Thorn Raven as new bicycle. Couple of features I particularly like:

  • THORN 969 double butted seamless heat treated Cro-Mo steel frame: this higher quality cycle frame is made by drawing tubes down to achieve very thin wall thicknesses. When one end of the tube is given thicker walls, to provide greater strength at the joint, the tube is said to be butted (when both ends of the tube are given thicker walls, the tube is said to be double butted).
  • The frame has an eccentric bottom bracket, the most reliable way of adjusting chain tension. The eccentric bottom bracket is crude but fool proof – it’s been the method of choice on tandems for years! The weakest point of a bike was always the joint between the Rohloff chain stay and the Rohloff dropout. This is where most frames used to fail first. The Thorn Raven has a very strong joint by using socketed dropouts.

    Eccentric Bottom Bracket

    Eccentric Bottom Bracket

  • The RAVEN makes light work of 28Kg loads and will carry 40Kg.

And like any bicycle there is also room for improvement:

  • The space between the (Schwalbe Marathon XR) front tire and the mudguard could be an inch more. Given my experience with muddy off roads in rainy weather, a lot of clay could be accumulated.

But that’s all I have to ‘complain’ about… And in all fairness, the team in Bridgewater assembled the mudguard with max space possible. It’s for sure something I can live / cycle with.

Take time to find your perfect bicycle as it’s going to be your friend for many years to come. Imagine all those wonderful or difficult moments, you know, beautiful views or steep mountain climbs. Great moments to share with friends but sometimes your bicycle is the only friend around. I usually talk to myself but it sometimes does help to share things (moments of joy or frustration) with your bicycle friend. Some people give their bicycle a name, and during the Silk Road my cycle buddies named my bicycle ‘The Tank’.

When I bought my new bicycle the name Biggles came to mind. Biggles is the character of a fictional pilot and adventurer of a series of books for young readers, written by W. E. Johns (1893 – 1968). A quote from Biggles and the Black Raider (section 2, Plans and preparations, page 26/27):

“I’ll give you a tip worth remembering,” answered Biggles sagely. “It was given to me by a Nepalese who spent most of his life hauling loads on his back up the Himalayas. He said it was a mistake to look too far ahead. He admitted that if he looked too often at the top of the mountain up which he had to climb, he would either sit down or go back. The size of the job would knock the heart out of him. So he never looked up. He only looked down – and kept on plodding.”