14/08/2018 Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward is nomadonanomad.
I suppose it would be a good idea to say something about the bicycle that is going to be my beast of burden, along with some of the specifications and how I came to choose it. I must reiterate a point made in earlier posts that when it comes to cycle touring I am a complete and utter novice. The stuff that I’ve ‘learned’ so far is from watching videos and reading books. The expression, which I have on my name card, ‘all the gear and no idea’, could not be more appropriate. To really give everyone an idea of how much a novice I am, I have to relate a story about cycling ‘stuff’.
Whilst reading/watching/researching one day I found out about chammy cream. Now, expert cyclists will be only too aware of the abilities of chammy cream, coupled with a chammy leather lining to cycling shorts, to reduce/eliminate chafing. I had no idea, probably because I’d only been riding around Vientiane doing errands and going to and from the gym. It just didn’t occur to me that this might be something to be concerned about. Anyway, there were loads of experts waxing lyrical about the magical properties of this wonder cream so I thought I had better get some and try it out.
So eventually my delivery arrives, things happen slowly in S.E. Asia, and I rush home to experiment. No real instructions but it’s not rocket science after all is it? I know that one applies a liberal amount to one’s ‘nether regions’ and one is then supposedly able to ride for many many kilometres without suffering from chafing. Well, I don’t know much about chafing, but all I will say is that after a liberal ‘application’ to my ‘bits’, I didn’t leave the house for three weeks!
More recently, having taken delivery of the Thorn Nomad Mk2, complete with Brooks saddle, something else occurred to me. This was also along the lines of what happens ‘down there’ but in a slightly different way. A Brooks saddle, after the ‘breaking in’ period will, allegedly, give the rider many years of super comfortable riding. Upon receipt of a new Brooks it is imperative to ‘prep’ it with another type of cream called ‘Proofide’. (Maybe non cyclists, hearing of all these creams and lotions, may start to think that cycling is only for deviants?)
A good number of applications of Profide, and about 500 miles of riding and the saddle will, again allegedly, mould itself to the shape of one’s sit bones. (For British non cyclists that’s bum or arse, for American non cyclists it’s ass) Now, at the time of writing I’m only at the 3 or 4 applications, and about 300 miles of riding but I am starting to wonder whether my Brooks saddle and my sit bones will ever be compatible. I’m thinking that, if things don’t get markedly better, there may be a condition named after me called Wardy’s Arse?
Now, that is possible, although unlikely, because at least one cyclist that I’ve heard of has had a medical condition named after them. However, the gentleman concerned is what I would call a real cyclist, an ultra endurance cyclist, definitely not a numpty like me. His name is Dr. Michael Shermer and I would encourage everyone to Google him as he is a truly remarkable man. Not only is he a prolific author and incredible academic, but he was one of the very first participants in the Race across America, RAAM, which fewer people have successfully completed than have climbed Everest. RAAM, another suggestion for a good read.
During Dr. Shermer’s 2nd ride in RAAM he suffered a problem with his neck muscles. They completely gave out meaning he was unable to hold his head up to see where he was going. Subsequently this has happened to a number of other competitors over the years but, as Dr. Shermer was the first to suffer this problem it has become known as ‘Shermer’s Neck’. I saw an interview with the, in my opinion great man, and he was slightly aggrieved to think that after all his academic work with many books of a very highbrow nature written, he was going to be remembered for having a bad neck! Very bad luck Doc, if I might say so.
I used the term ‘beast of burden’ earlier, and I must add to this that I have decided to call my bike ‘Muffin’. As in Muffin the Mule, which I believe was one of the very early cartoon animations. (I may be wrong about that as, I must add, it was way before my time.) There is also a bit of a shoutout to a Belgian guy who makes Youtube videos called Patrick Thibaut.
He is a cycle tourist and has called his bike ‘The Mule’, and what a beast it is. Patrick is obviously pretty capable when it comes to design and build skills and he has adapted his rear racks to carry the biggest rear panniers I’ve ever seen. I am absolutely convinced that he will upload a video to YT one day and unveil a Smart car in one of these huge carriers. What’s going to emerge from the other I can only guess at. To top all this he’s also changed the front of the bike to accommodate an enormous front rack which could probably have a dishwasher fitted to it. What his rig weighs I have no idea but he must be able to put a hell of a lot of power through the pedals just to move the damn thing. He also has a very, very dry, almost British sense of humour. Check his stuff out.
Anyway, my decision to go with a Thorn was only after watching and reading no end of reviews and checking out the opinions of folks who have travelled extensively and have infinitely more experience than I do. The cycling industry is massive, with many different niches, but obviously I had to concentrate on touring bikes to carry all the gear I was going to need and to survive the effects of getting a bit off the beaten path, as I hope to do. Also, as my bicycle repair skills were at that time (and still are) pretty non existent, I quickly decided that the bike of choice was going to be as bomb proof as possible.
I really didn’t want to spend my retirement sitting at the side of the road trying to fix something whilst secretly hoping someone with far better skills than mine (not difficult) would come rolling along and stop and help! I’m sure I will quickly learn about how it works and be able to do the maintenance needed but that was my thinking in those early ‘research days’. Lots of manufacturers make tough and capable touring bikes and I set my heart on a succession of different marques before being seduced by the next ‘find’. After some considerable time I discovered the Thorn brand and set about the research process again.
The comment that swayed me to the idea of buying a Thorn was made regarding a Youtube video about a Thorn Nomad Mk2 and, as usual, there was all the bitching and disagreements in the comments section as to who was right and who was wrong. Yes, the bike is expensive to buy, but is it good value? My thought was that for every year it lasts and remains trouble free, it just gets cheaper and cheaper to run and thus becomes excellent value. After a few naysayers had made their points regarding the purchase price someone made the comment went along the lines of, ‘serious cycle tourists either have a Thorn or are saving up for one.’ That was good enough for me.
I must point out right now that I have not been incentivised to wax lyrical about the Thorn brand. I paid the full price for the bike and have the receipts to prove it. So many folks have suggested that I should be getting sponsorship etc. etc. but my thoughts were along the lines of, ‘I’ve not done anything yet so why would anyone give me anything with no proven record?’ I also think that folks who are asking before doing something are eBeggars. I’m not, ok?
So then I read the ‘Mega Brochure’ that Thorn produce, and mega it certainly is! 30MB of memory it takes up, but seems to answer every question it’s possible to think of, and in my case many I’d not got a clue about. I immediately got the feeling that these bikes were built for purpose by folks who knew exactly what they were talking about. The self titled ‘Chief Designer and Test Pilot’, Andy Blance, has been there and done it. He’s been over the Andes 26 times and that was more than enough to capture my attention. Respect Sir!
I quickly decided that this was the bike for me and that it would also comfortably outlast me. It has a full ‘expedition’ specification that would appear to be up to almost any challenge that I could possibly take on and probably many that I would be totally incapable of even starting to attempt. So what options did I have to think about and decide on? Colour was the first and most obvious decision and was made reasonably easy by only having two colours to choose from. (Suits me as I’m the sort of guy who takes forever to choose from a menu and then always wishes I’d ordered the dish that someone else has got!)
Black or Tonka Yellow???? The reasoning being that Tonka Yellow may look more attractive to thieves but can be spotted from miles away and would be hard to hide. Black would possibly not be so desirable but would disappear into a crowd very easily. I’ve always loved colour and my friends would all say that I’m not an introvert so Tonka Yellow it was. (By the time I finish with it it will look like something from the psychedelic sixties!) S and S couplings to enable the bike to be split in half, I have already mentioned in an earlier post, and will never forget, again, what to do to get the gearing right when putting it back together.
Rohloff are the makers of the internal speed hub (means no derailleur) which requires an oil change every 5,000 kms but apart from that should just run and run. Rohloff have been making these gear systems for 20 years and have no idea of the likely life of a unit as no-one has worn one out. I don’t think they will be worried about me doing so. Not a chance! With an internal speed hub the big choice is sprocket size. Taking the advice of the aforementioned Mr. Blance who has, after all, been there and done that, I’ve gone with a 43 x 19 set up which I hope would get better and younger cyclists than me up the steepest of hills. I am sure, however, that a fair amount of pushing will ensue and I won’t have the excuses from my first day’s ride.
One regular comment about Rohloff speed hubs is the noise made by the unit when cycling in gear 7. Supposedly this noise gets less and less with use and users tend to say they quickly get used to it and it doesn’t bother them. So what would I think? On my test ride, which lasted just a few minutes because of a sudden downpour, I selected gear 7 and listened. If people are bothered by that they must be picky in the extreme! It didn’t bother me at all and I immediately thought that it would easily be drowned out by my huffing and puffing whilst turning the pedals. I also had a secret weapon which anyone who is bothered by this ‘racket’ should heed.
The solution is a ‘Zealot’ front light/speaker/powerbank that I found on Aliexpress when I was in Laos. It cost me the princely sum of $25 (US) plus a 16GB Micro SD card which I haven’t got enough music with which to fill it up. The sound quality, for something so small, is superb, it keeps me entertained and encouraged when going uphill, and means that on the occasions when I’m in gear 7 I can only hear Led Zeppelin, U2, The Beatles and the like. Job done! It’s also a great talking point with folks keen to know how to get hold of one. If you’re a cyclist with a Rohloff and are fussy about the ‘noise’ when in gear 7, get one!
A dynamo hub was selected to give me the ability to charge up my electronics. With this I’m hoping to dispense with the need for a solar panel, fingers crossed. I went with the suggested rear light which is powered by the dynamo and have added a pump which sits behind the seat post, handlebar extenders for the ‘Zealot’ and my action camera (which I will use to film my adventure when I’ve learned how to work it!) and to complete the set up I’ve added reflective spoke clips. Now, earlier I mentioned the ‘psychedelic sixties’. This is where the spoke clips come in. They are red, yellow and blue and mean I can be seen, and in some cases laughed at, (I care not a jot) from miles away. It certainly is a talking point although some may just think, ‘bloody hell, he must be a nutter’ and leave me alone! Photograph to follow soon.
Anyway, my apologies for taking so long to get this out. The ‘boonies’ in the UK are not that good for internet connectivity and I’ve been busy getting stuff sorted. I am currently into my second week of touring and am already gathering stories which I hope will keep everyone entertained. I can laugh at them all afterwards, but at the time it’s not always funny. More will follow more quickly than has happened thus far.
As always, take care everybody, and may your God go with you.
Simon ‘Wardy’ Ward.