The Thorn Nomad MK2 is my bike of choice for bicycle touring. I purchased the Thorn Bike several years ago based, in part, on reviews from people on cycle touring blogs.
This is my Thorn Nomad MK2 review from someone who has been bicycle touring for several years. It’s been on more than three tours and completed over 33000km of fully loaded bicycle touring. In total the Thorn bicycle has traveled over 40000km.
I purchased the Thorn Nomad online from St Johns Cycles, England. I rode straight out of the showroom and commenced my first bicycle tour. It lasted for about 1500km around England, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland.
Second Tour on the Thorn Nomad MkII
The second tour was around the greater Blue Mountains of Sydney, Australia. About 1500km of back roads, part of which was on the National Bicentennial Trail which consisted of rough tracks and dirt roads.
On this second tour I learned that I needed to lighten up my gear.
I also used the bike for commuting in my home town of Darwin, Australia. The bike is heavy with a very rigid frame and not the best commuting bike. Load the Thorn Nomad up with some weight in the panniers and the bike rides very well. I guess that’s its purpose in life and why I bought it.
I also canoed 715km of the Yukon river with the Thorn Nomad Mk2 strapped to the canoe with me. I hiked 698km of hiking trails and carried all my hiking gear with me, most of which is the same gear as my bike touring gear anyway. Eventually I will cycle from Alaska to Argentina.
There is little to dislike about the bike. The fit and finish is good. It’s reliable and works as promised. I am using the Thorn Comfort handlebars but think I will swap them out, they just don’t work for me. I’m not sure what I’ll replace them with, I’d like to try several different styles of handlebars such as the ‘Jones Bar’ or ‘Butterfly Bar’. Time and money will tell what happens in the future.
Thorn Nomad MK3 Review
The updated Thorn Nomad Mk3 is an upgraded version with several very impressive new features which include:
Choice of wheel sets with either 26′ to 650 or 700
Frame is not suitable for suspension forks
Choice of frames suitable for either Rohloff or Derailleur
Choice of disc or rim brakes
Impressively strong frame suitable to cycle around the work (I have used one to cycle over 35000km)
I started using the Schwalbe Dureme 26 inch x 2 inch folding tyres. They had a hard life with about 4000km or dirt road use and about 16000km or road use. As the tyres started to wear I had consistent problems with flat tyres. The front tyre lasted around 20000km.
The first rear tyre exploded in Alaska after about 8000km. I think it was my fault, I may have (did) put too much air in the tyre and it blew out the side wall. The second rear tyre has about 12000km of travel. Both tyres should have about 2000-5000km more wear but they are both a bit tired with lots of minor cuts on the tread and side wall.
I replaced them with SCHWALBE Marathon Mondial. So far these tyres have done several thousand kilometers through the rough deserts and mountains of Mexico and Central America. I destroyed a sidewall of one tyre early on but effected a repair job by sewing the sidewall together. That repair has lasted over 5000km so far. Apart from that I am happy with these tyres and will continue to use them.
Note: One of the Cheapest places to buy Schwalbe tyres for bicycle touring is Cyclocamping.com.
Bicycle Touring Rims and Brakes
My Thorn Nomad Mk2 has the Rigida Andra 26 inch rims with Ceramic Tungsten Carbide coating and Swisstop blue brakepads. The rims have no sign of wear. I have not had to adjust the tension of the spokes, they still spin true and none of the spokes have broken.
The brake pads at the rear were replaced at about 13000km but the front brakes pads were fine and have not been replaced, they have done over 30000km! I replace the brake cables every 10000km or so.
The new Thorn Nomad MK3 can use disc brakes. Years ago disc brakes were not the best idea. Spares were not common in the middle of nowhere when bicycle touring. In recent years disc brakes and bicycle mechanics who can repair them are almost everywhere. Granted, you may need to carry more spare brake pads with you, specially if it is muddy and hilly, but they weight nothing and don’t take up any space.
I am a fan of disc brakes and I’m already making plans to install disc brakes in the future. So, future proof you bike now and get the model with disc brakes. I recommend the Thorn Nomad MK3 with disc brakes and Rohloff Hub.
Rohloff Hub Review
The Rohloff hub is a high end specialist internal gear hub known for its reliability and long term problem free use. The Rohloff developed an oil leak which was first noticed after a airplane flight. There was oil covering the interior of the bike box. I didn’t think too much of it until there was a pool of oil on the bottom of the canoe when I set off canoeing the Yukon River with my bike strapped to the canoe.
I took a photo of the oil leak and sent it to Thorn to assess. They advised it wasn’t a problem so I put up with the leak. Each time I change the oil as per the manufacturers recommendations I notice that there is no oil left in the hub. The new oil injected into the hub leaks out over time.
Most of it leaks onto the chain but also leaks onto the rims and sometimes onto the ground, the leak increases if the bike is laid on its side rather than on the kickstand. I’m assured this is not a problem but I’m not so sure!
I changed the gear cables at around 30000km. They started to show signs of wear with minor freying of the cable that indicated they were coming to the end of their life.
I replaced the gear change selector on the handgrips at the same time. They were showing signs of excess wear from UV and sweat. I would recommend changing the Rohloff cables and gear change selector at around 20000km.
Overall, despite the oil leak the hub, the hub has performed well, no problems with gear changes and no excessive noise. Changing the oil every 5000km is easy (even if there’s no oil left in my hub when I change it!). Check out Rohloff prices at Amazon.
Thorn Nomad Chain and Chainrings
The chain and both chainrings were replaced after 13000km and 26000km. They could have lasted longer but several teeth on the front chainring had broken off. I started with a 40 tooth front chain ring but soon replaced it with a 38 teeth chain ring which assisted with the steepest of steep climbs.
Rarely do I need the lowest gear unless the climbs are above 10% with the new gearing. Although when I am tired or at altitude I wish I had smaller gearing.
When I reached the high altitudes of the Andes mountains in South America is reduced the front chainring to a 34 tooth. So far so good. In fact wish I did it earlier. Really, I wish I started with a 34 tooth rear sprocket. Take my advice, if you are Bicycle Touring gear down. If light touring or bicycle touring in flat areas a 40 tooth chainring will be fine.
Hills are the biggest struggle with a loaded touring bicycle. Slow and steady climbing with a small sprocket makes easy work of all but the steepest mountains.
I reverse the chainrings and Rohloff sprocket at around 7000km. On the first occasion I also replaced the chain, on the second I did not. It doesn’t seem to make much difference with a new chain. The wear is still similar. Although, chains are cheap so in future I think I will replace the chain every 7000km or so when I reverse the chainrings.
The chain is adjusted via an eccentric bracket which is adjusted with the tool provided by Thorn. I had an issue in Canada when the eccentric bracket seized. This was caused by prolonged exposure to salty conditions such as riding along beaches in Tasmania. I was unable to adjust the chain. To try and loosen the bracket I used WD40. I also hit the cranks to try and loosen the bracket but unknowingly at the time I broke the bolt holding the crank.
Eventually I loosened the bracket but soon after, while peddling uphill the crank fell off. A passing motorist luckily had a spare bolt that fitted and I made it to a bike shop to effect proper repairs and re-grease the eccentric bracket.
I will pay more attention to this type of maintenance in the future. While having a seized bracket I managed to bend the Eccentric Bracket adjustment tool. I recently purchased a new one. Poor preventative maintenance from myself is to blame, I think. Oh, and maybe I shouldn’t have ridden on all those beaches while in Tasmania!
After 26000km the bottom bracket started to sound a bit clunky. I replaced it after about 35000km. Most people are getting around 20000km out of the bottom bracket on average.
Rear View Mirror
I fail to understand how cyclists can tour without a rear view mirror. I like to have an idea what is going on all around me. If I am cycling on a narrow road with no shoulder and a truck is coming towards me and a sight a truck behind me in my mirror then I’ll just pull off the road. In 26000km I’ve only had to do it 3-4 times. I’d rather get off the road and ride another day, rather than stay in my lane and risk being hit and injured or worse. Too many cyclists die every year.
Just my opinion, not everybody agrees with me on this point. After 26000km the CatEye Bicycle Mirror is quite scratched and I’ll replace it with the same model, unless I replace the handlebars and it doesn’t fit!
GPS and Navigation for Bicycle Touring
I used a combination of paper maps, Garmin Edge 810 GPS, Google Maps and the Pocket Earth PRO Offline Maps App on Iphone for my navigation. Unfortunately, the app is only available on iPhones. For Androids I’m looking for an equivalent navigation app that is super easy to use. So far there is nothing as simple to use as Pocket Earth Pro. What do you recommend?
GPS for Bicycle Touring
Garmin Edge 810 GPS is not only my GPS but also my trip computer to determine my speed, grade of climb, daily distances and a plethora of other stats. The info about the days ride is extensive and fun to look at either while riding or at the end of the day. It is loaded with Garmin Maps that allow me to make route etc. The routing function is customisable and very frustrating. All up I am wanting to get rid of the GPS and use only my smartphone for all navigation and Bike trip computer stats.
I think it will not be long before I get rid of the Garmin and rely completely on my smartphone for navigation and bicycle touring stats. Time will tell. Do you still use a GPS? or have you moved to using a smartphone for all your navigation and bicycle touring needs? Let me know in the comments below.
Pocket Earth PRO Offline Mapis an app that allowed me to download maps for offline use. The topo maps give a good indication of the sort of terrain that you will be cycling through and offline Wiki info on towns and attractions. It is able to create routes and give turn by turn directions.
I am also able to search out campsites and places like McDonalds and other places in town for free WiFi (not the food). Employees tend not to be paid enough money to care if a cyclist comes in, sits down and uses the free WiFi! I liked it. It has routeable maps which can be used while offline and appears very accurate. I’m still learning the power of this app and the more I use it the more impressed I am.
In future I would like to try other smartphone based navigation aids. What do you recommend?
I use a Pletscher Esge rear mount bike stand. A lot of cycle tourers are against kickstands. I’m not sure why. Once you have started using one, you will not go back. Maybe you should re-assess and starting using a bicycle stand.
I have toured without a kickstand and it annoyed the crap out of me having to find something to lean the bike against or lying it on the ground often in mud. For my second tour I used a clickstand, a small lightweight pole made with the same material as most tent poles. I found it also annoying and it broke part way though the tour. Not that I overly cared as I was not happy with it by this stage. Many cyclists carry an easily accessable stick that works as a bike stand and to fend off aggressive dogs.
I found the Pletscher Esge kickstand to work well on all but the softest sand and mud and even then I still managed to make it work for me. Thorn states that they void the frame warranty if a kickstand is used. I say that if their bike is a strong as they state, and they are very boastful of its strength then I surmised that its not a problem, and so far its fine. I don’t load my bike with 100kg of gear which might bend the frame in the wrong circumstances so I don’t think its a problem. Very happy with the stand.
The most common question I have received is in regards to the front dynohub and how I charge my electrical gear. I use a Son Schmidt Dynohub which powers my front headlight and was also connected to the Sinewave Revolution USB charger and the Anker 20000Mha Battery. With this combination and when cycling at speeds of about 15km/h it charges my phone at the same speed as mains power.
When traveling slower it still charges ok but not as quick. When I’m not charging my phone directly I charge an Anker 20000Mha Battery, I use this to charge up my GPS every night as well as all my other USB devices such as my Kindle, headlamp, etc.
I charge my computer off mains power as I travel. Places such as fast food restaurants, coffee shops, RVers who let me charge on their power etc. I started this tour with the Pedalpower plus system.
In 2015 I had a Brooks saddle which failed in Alaska when the adjustment at the front of the seat broke, I was unable to affect a repair without waiting for spares to arrive. I wasn’t prepared to wait an unspecified amount of time so I replaced the seat with another found in a bike store.
The new seat, called a Phorm, worked OK for me. It traveled about 20000km and I was very happy with it. Eventually it started to fail due to exposure to my sweaty butt and UV rays. In 2018 I bought my second Brooks Saddle, let’s see if it lasts a bit longer or if I will be disappointed a second time.
Panniers and Frame Bag
Custom Made Frame Bag
When I decided to get rid of front panniers I toyed with the idea of getting a frame bag. A girl I hosted through warmshowers, Marie, was a genius at sewing and made one for me from offcuts of shade sail material. I was able to store all my spares, tools, pump, rope, gloves, hat, raingear etc.
The framebag worked well on my Thorn Nomad Mk2 but was not completely waterproof in heavy rain. I seam sealed the stitching but this didn’t solve the problem, I suspect it is the zippers which are not waterproof. It could be solved by fitting waterproof zippers or replacing with a length of velcro as a flap. Wrapping things in Zip lock bags also works. I love the small bag between the frame and rear wheel. It stores my Rohloff Oils, spares and tools that I very rarely use. I will look into waterproof zips or velcro in the future, until then I’ll use waterproof bags.
My choice was to use the rear Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Panniers. I managed to break the bottom mounting bracket (twice). It’s the smiley face shaped bracket. Instead of replacing it I used a combination of superglue and reversing the mount as a temporary fix. This has lasted over 12000km before I replaced it. After another 5000km the bracket broke again. Both top mounting plastic mounts are bent and no longer straight. They have taken a fair amount of punishment but remain dust and waterproof.
The Ortleib Ultimate handlebar bag worked well and is also waterproof and surprisingly dustproof. I also used the map case from Ortleib which worked well. After 20000km and several years the plastic map case started to turn yellow and the map underneath became unreadable. I replaced it with the new style of Ortieb Map case. So far, I think it is crap. I wish they didn’t change it. The case is connected to the bag via elastic straps instead of snap lock buttons. It makes the map case very flimsy in my opinion. I think Ortieb failed with this redesign. But I love the handlebar bag.
Rear Rack bag
On the rear rack I use an Ortlieb Rack-Pack 49L, bright yellow. It stores my hiking backpack, tent poles and jacket. When covering long distances between re-supplies it is loaded with extra food etc. Several of the buckles broke but are still usable, I will replace them and take a spare or two with me. Initially I wasn’t impressed with the rackbag but it’s grown on me and cant find a better way to store extra gear and keep it both accessible and waterproof.
I travel with my 48 litre hiking backpack which easily fits inside. My trekking poles, tent poles and other large items also fit in easily.
I also use 2 Revelate Design feed bags on the handlebars which I use as waterbottle holders. While in Alaska and Canada I used one of them as a Bear Spray holder, great for quick access if needed, which I didn’t! Some of the stitching has broken and needs to be repaired.
If you have ever thought of ditching the panniers and setting up a Bikepacking rig then read this article about Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags.
Suspension vs Normal Forks
I have toured with the supplied fixed fork that comes standard on the Thorn Nomad Mk2 and with Rockshox coil suspension. My choice of coil suspension over air suspension was made because I thought if there was an air leak then I may have a huge problem and may not be able to ride.
The Thorn Nomad MK3 does not take suspension forks. They are a waist of time and effort anyway. They don’t work as well as most people might think. Rigid forks are the way to go, and you could pair them with disc brakes if you wanted.
I was not completely happy with front suspension, let me explain. By having front suspension forks I thought I would have a more comfortable ride and be able to move over rough ground faster. Well, it sounds good in theory but in practice I found it wasn’t the case. While loaded I was not able to travel fast over rough roads, when I did I risked pinch flats on the rear tyre. After several pinch flats I learned that I could go no faster over rough roads with suspension forks.
On stoney roads or mildly rough roads the suspension was of benefit but those same roads could be ridden comfortably with solid forks at the same speed. When the bike is loaded it works well with the solid forks, they seem to flex just the right amount. In fact the more weight on the Thorn Nomad Mk2 the better it rides.
The next things was technical mountain biking. Riding the bike unloaded over technical trails was not as great as I expected. It is not a mountain bike. Yes, I knew that already. It’s a heavy, rigid touring bike.
In conclusion the extra weight and money of front suspension was not worth it. The Thorn Nomad MK3 will not fit suspension forks but can fit disc brakes. I never bought the bike like this as a mountain bike.
Loaded or unloaded the bike did not perform much better with front suspension. I tried mounting water bottles on the front forks, the bottle holder kept breaking.
One time they broke and sent the water bottle into the front spokes while at speed. I was lucky my front spokes didn’t break. I will not be mounting water bottles on the front fork again. Maybe there is a better, stronger way of doing it. I’m open to suggestions from anybody, anyone have a better way of fixing waterbottles to the front forks?
So the end result is I will install my original solid forks in the future. I’ll save about 1kg in weight and have better reliability issues. The Thorn Nomad Mk2 performed well. It exceeded my expectation. There were many envious cyclist who wished they had the same bike as me. Highly recommended. You can read my bike specification here.