Before I started my trip, I read a fair number of journals on CrazyGuyOnABike trying to work out the best gear. The biggest decision to make was, of course, the bike. It seemed that Americans predominantly read Surly Long Haul Truckers, and a fair number of Brits (including Peter Gostelow, one of my favourite blogs) rode Thorn bikes, either the Raven or the Nomad so that’s where I started researching
Thorn, sold by St Johns Street Cycles (SJS Cycles), are based in the town of Bridgwater in the south-west of the UK and have been building Rohloff-specific bikes since around 2005. Everything I read about Rohloffs made me want to get one, and that logically lead to me getting a Thorn. That, and a fair number of emails forwards and backwards with Lisa and Dave (workshop supervisor), was what lead to me arranging a visit and then me and my dad driving to Bridgwater within a few days of arriving back from South Korea in March 2011.
On arriving we were warmly welcomed and I was measured by a lady who worked there. I was then given the appropriate sized Thorn Nomad to test ride around the local park. My first experience with the Rohloff confirmed that it was what I wanted, but the Nomad was a bit more than I wanted so that’s how I ended up ordering, and shortly after receiving in the post, a Thorn Raven Tour (Thorn simplified their line-up in 2012 and now it is called the Thorn Raven). The bike was definitely not cheap, and I’m certain that it’s not necessary to have such a fancy bike to tour, but that kind of price buys you not only a fantastic bike, but also the customer service, which includes things like Thorn’s 100 days “money back if not delighted” trial period, and is the main thing I’m going to talk about in this blog post.
I’ve had my Thorn Raven for 6 years and I’ve been in touch with SJS on numerous occasions throughout that time. I’ve almost always had speedy and courteous replies which helped work out the problem that I was having with, even when I was asking what I thought were quite probably foolish questions.
The first time that I had to contact SJS happened much sooner than I’d have liked. Between Florida and Washington DC, I managed to break 4 spokes in my rear wheel. Breaking one frustrated me, but breaking 4 was just ridiculous (especially as I only had 3 spares). I sent a couple of emails and Robin Thorn, the owner of SJS, responded to me in person on email and then later on Skype. I was told that I could either just keep replacing one spoke at a time, or more sensibly just get the whole wheel rebuilt if I found a bike shop that I trusted. I lucked out by finding Spokes Etc, a bike shop where the guy who builds wheels, Bill Mould, has so much experience that he has released his own DVD in how to build wheels. On arriving, Thorn called them up to explain exactly what was needed in terms of spoke pattern, and a couple of hours later I had a fully rebuilt wheel. I paid for it, sent SJS a copy of the bill and had a full reimbursement in my bank within a few days. A while later it turned out that they had received a small bad batch of spokes but they had resolved the issue for everyone that had been affected. A frustrating problem solved superbly.
I took the bike back to SJS for a service in April 2013 when I was home for my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary. There was only a brief window to get everything sorted out, as I was also wanting to have S&S couplings installed on the frame and get a fit done in London. Communicating with Dave was hassle-free as ever, and even though their mechanic had broken his hand everything got resolved in time. It was the first time that I’d been having issues with my Rohloff, it was skipping between gears 10 & 11, but they fixed it too.
In July 2014 I received an email from Robin saying that they’d had an issue with some of their handlebars, with a single customer having theirs fail, and offering me a replacement handlebar to make sure it didn’t happen to me. I was in South America at the time, having no problems with my handlebars, but when I was next at SJS they gave me a new set of handlebars for free. Unfortunately, I was having to communicate with them a couple of weeks later for a more concerning issue. Even though SJS stripped, cleaned and re-lubricated my Rohloff in April 2013, by late July 2014 the Rohloff had developed a more serious skip rendering 3 of my 14 gears basically unusable. I got in touch with Robin and he got in touch with Stewart at Rohloff. In just a few days I had a new internal for my Rohloff and the bike was once again fixed. Another stellar reply from SJS, and Rohloff.
Flying from the UK to Iceland my bike got a bad beating. The front wheel, fork and handlebar grips all got destroyed (my front rack got bent too but I was too lazy to replace it). It was a Sunday, and we had to take public transport to our campsite. The next morning, I took my bike on public transport to a decent bike shop and found out that there was no way I was getting a satisfactory replacement in Iceland. I got on the wifi, called Thorn and 20 minutes later I had a new wheel, fork and handlebar grips ordered with next-day delivery. The wheel builder was on holiday so I got one that he had pre-built, which meant I couldn’t get a 100% replacement, a shame as the front wheel that was broken was still going strong after more than 80,000km. To top it off, when I spoke to them again 15 minutes later as I realised I needed to add some brake pads they realised that as it was going to Iceland that they wouldn’t be charging me VAT and automatically sorted out the refund – something that other companies would have needed chasing up to do.
On top of the examples above, I’ve had numerous smaller matters resolved speedily by Thorn. They have had my bike back a couple of times for a complete service. Each time I’ve mentioned what I think needs doing, but mentioned my complete confidence that they do whatever they think needs doing. When I had to get my rear wheel replaced due to a small crack in the rim I suggested changing the front one too, but Dave looked at it and said that there was no reason to do so. That kind of honesty is fantastic, as I’m well aware that other bike shops would have been eager to replace the front wheel too.
I’ve had almost 100% spectacular customer service from the people at SJS/Thorn and would recommend them wholeheartedly to anybody.