The Bicycle

I’m going to work on this page a bit at a time until I have I have described my bike in such detail that only a true enthusiast will bother to read it. Some of you know me as a needle-nosed obsessive, and that’s why I am devoting a whole page to this stuff.

The bike is a Thorn Sherpa. Thorn is a British company with a range of bikes. They are one of the few purveyors of what are called “expedition” bicycles. Expedition bicycles are like traditional touring bikes on steroids, with a few unique features. They are for the rider who will carry heavy loads in rough conditions in very remote areas. Therefore they are made of steel, which can be repaired by a barefoot welder in the third world. For ironclad reliability, expedition bikes use handlebar-end shift levers rather than the more complex and vulnerable (and relatively unrepairable) integrated brake/shift levers. Regular old cable-actuated rim brakes are used instead of hydraulically-actuated disc brakes, again for reliability, simplicity, and repairability. 26-inch (559) wheels and tires (mountain bike size) are both stronger and more widely available than the traditional touring bike’s 700c (622) size. Often equipped with straight bars and internally geared hubs, mine has a more traditional set up.

The Sherpa frame is made with Thorn’s own 969 tubing: seamless, double-butted, heat-treated, cold-drawn chrome-moly made by Reynolds in England; it was tig-welded (except for the lugged dropouts) in Tiawan. The fork is Reynolds 531 tubing with a proprietary lugged sloping crown. The frame size is what Thorn calls 560XL: a 56cm (c-to-c) seat tube; a virtual 57cm top tube (the top tube is sloping to give a longer head tube for strength and a more upright riding position for touring). I forget the BB height but it is on the low side. The seat and head tube angles are medium, perhaps 73 or 74. The head tube is a little steeper than the seat tube. A medium rake gives plenty of trail. A real head tube badge appears to be epoxied on. Down-tube shifter bosses hold Shimano adjustable cable stops (most modern bikes have brazed-on shift cable housing stops; this setup allows for down-tube shifters to be used in a pinch, and permits on-the-fly fine tuning).

Braze-ons include three sets of water bottle cage bosses in the traditional locations on the seat tube, the down tube, and under the down tube (many cyclists carry stove fuel in this last position to keep accidental leakage away from the goods); a pump peg on the left seat tube (which I don’t use, except to hook the thin elastic cord that holds my Fedora); a rear brake cable stop, hoop style, on the seat stays (unused, since I’m using V-brakes); and a mount on the right fork blade for a bottle-style generator (which Thorn has discontinued because nobody uses them on bikes in this price range now that quality dynamo hubs are available); dumbbell-style seat stay rack mounts; dropout rear rack mounts; dropout mudguard mounts; front low-rider rack mounts on the fork blades and fork tips; bosses on the fork bladesfor short mudguard stays; mudguard bosses on the seat stay bridge and chain stay bridge; rear brake cable housing stops on the top tube at the 7 o’clock position; and a rear dérailleur cable stop on the right chainstay. A threaded hole on the underside of the bottom bracket shell secures the nylon captive cable guide. All of the the threaded bosses accept the standard 5×0.8mm bolt size.

The frame is black with a satin finish and subtle silver decals. All of the components and accessories are black as well, except for the spokes and headlamp. A dirty black bike looks utilitarian and less theft-worthy, and suits my style.

Shimano drivetrain components provide a fairly low gear (22t chainring, 32t wheel cog) and a moderately high gear (44×11). The drivetrain mix: Deore M590 crankset, 22/32/44, 170mm, with a HollowTech bottom bracket; Deore XT 9-speed Top Normal Long Cage rear derailleur; Deore XT 9-speed Multi-fit bottom-pull front derailleur; Deore HG-50 9-speed cassette, 11-32; Shimano Dura-Ace SL-BS77 bar-end shifters; Deore FH-M590 quick-release 8/9-speed rear hub; and a Deore LX HG-73 9-speed chain.

The brakes are Shimano Deore M-590 V-brakes, operated by Tektro 917.12 V-brake levers with 90-degree Lead Pipe adjusters. The Zoom Anatomic 25.4 handlebars are 46cm wide, large for a man my size but an advantage with a heavily loaded front end, and a size I am used to from tandem and quad use. It also gives me a little more room around the handlebar bag. It is held on by a 110mm-long Kally Uno Ahead Stem with no rise (flippable to 17-degree rise). Foam handlebar tape covers the bars. Note: after six weeks, I flipped he stem to get a slightly shorter reach, a shorter and less flexible steerer extension, and to lose three ounces of steerer tube and spacers. I prefer the traditional look of a no-rise stem, but I am trying to increase the handlebar bag payload without sacrificing stability, and losing weight adds to the logic.

The saddle is a Brooks Team Pro Special. It’s narrow, hard, and smooth, with large hammered rivets which won’t wear out my wool tights. It came with a nice cover and adjusting wrench. The RaceFace Ride seatpost provides excellent adjustability. Shimano PD-M520 (XT) pedals are familiar and reliable double-sided mountain bike pedals. I use the standard cleat with six degrees of float.

I chose nearly-smooth Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires, fat baloney-skins with excellent riding characteristics and a reputation for puncture resistance. Schwalbe tubes, too, and red reinforced nylon rim tape, 22mm. The rims are Rigida Grizzly mtb, 36 holes with stainless steel ferrules; spokes are Swiss DT stainless 1.8mm straight gauge; the excellent wheelbuilders at SJS put them together, three cross symmetrical front and rear. A FSA Orbit XLII 1 & 1/8″ Aheadset-style headset completes the basic package.

That leaves accessory items and special equipment.

A Schmidt Original Nabendynamo (SON) 28 Dynamo front hub (held on by a 5mm allen skewer) powers a Schmidt Edelux High-Power LED headlamp, 120cm. This is state-of-the-art lighting and has exceeded my expectations. The light is bright enough for the fastest descents, and it produces bright light at very slow speeds as well. A capacitor holds enough juice for four minutes of bright light after I stop. The light is completely sealed from the elements; a magnetic three-position switch operates through the aluminum housing. The middle position employs a sensor that will turn the light on at dusk or when entering a tunnel. Its stainless steel bracket is bolted to the fork crown. the location allows me to operate the switch on the fly, and there is no glare.

The dynamo also powers a Tout Terrain “The Plug II Plus” USB charging device. With a ballast housed in the steerer tube, it sits atop the stem (in fact it also acts as the headset adjusting cap), where the USB port is within inches of the handlebar bag. The “Plus” designation denotes the heavy ballast for us heavily loaded (read: slow) cyclists. It’s the coolest thing on the bike.

The Tubus Logo Expedition Rear Rack is the heaviest-duty bolt-on rack out there: it is designed to work well with Ortleib panniers. (I will describe my panniers in mind-numbing detail in a separate page devoted to my “kit”). It is a bit complicated for my taste, and I wish it were a bit stiffer, but it is plenty strong, good looking, and has an excellent reputation. It is made of tubular chrom-moly steel, tig-welded.

The Tubus Tara Lowrider Rack is, like the rear, designed for my panniers. I didn’t like the looks at first; now I do. It holds the load low and back toward the bike’s center. It lacks a shelf (as most modern front racks do). I have for decades employed a front rack shelf to hold a tool kit or other small load, which in turn supported my handlebar bag, allowing me to “overload” it with whatever I wished, sacrificing nothing in stability. Without such support, a handlebar bag will not hold much more than a windbreaker, a wallet, and a phone without causing the dreaded wobbles. I am coping.

I specified heavy-duty aluminum water bottle cages, my long-time favorite for touring and mountain-bike use. The fellows at Thorn talked me into nylon-plastic units, the Profile Design “Kage”. So far so good: great retention, good release, decent looks, holds oversized bottles and, according to Thorn, they won’t break.

I chose a Cateye TL-LD1100 10 LED Opticube Rear Light. Two rows of six red LED lights, each row with five modes and a separate, rubber-button switch. One mode is solid (non-flashing), satisfying the law in some European countries. It is said to deliver 500 hours on two AA batteries, and it is completely waterproof. I could have specified a wired-in light to run off the dynamo, but considering the long wire exposed to the elements and circumstance, the battery powered unit provides more reliability.

The mudguards are SKS Chromoplastic 700x45c with stainless mounting kit. Although my wheels are 26″ (599), with the extra-fat tires this size mudguards fit better. The front has a small mud flap built in (I wish the rear had one, too); the rear one has a reflector. They do a great job in the rain; however, they spray snow onto my shoes and panniers because of the close fit to the tire. The guys at SJS Cycles (Thorn) are the first I have ever seen to install the mudguards properly (other than Billy Romp), and it is in their honor that I have stopped calling them “fenders”.

In addition to Gary Barnet and Stuart Johnson, perhaps a few others have read this page to the end. If you are one, we should all get together at the Tavern on Jane Street in December for a session. You are my kind of people.

4 thoughts on “The Bicycle

  1. Yes, I read the whole stinkin’ page! Your bike is set up in a way that is almost identical to one I put together for my offroad trip to Patagonia. The main differences are that I used mechanical disks, and I had a Salsa Fargo frame.

    I hope you are having a great time, and I’ll look forward to following your trip. Will you reall be back in December? It would be fun to come down and see you in NYC if that is where you will be.

    Regards, Bud

  2. Hello Billy.

    I have just shown my parents your wonerful blog, they wish you all the luck in the world and if youre ever in the UK you’re more than welcome to the house for some more Cevape.

    I bought Christmas on Jane street, hats off to you. Great read, it will circle my group of friends.

    Keep safe.

    Kindest regards Arnela

  3. I read it. Very interesting, though some of it I skimmed over. I have a Surly Long Haul Trucker which took me through SE Asia last year. I am loving your blog, keep the posts coming! Just read about the boat to Istanbul, you are making me ready for another long cycling adventure!

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