Thorn Sterling (frame only) review£349.00

Adventure tourer

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Thorn call the Rohloff hub gear specific Sterling their ‘most multi-functional bike’ and as such, it’s available in a range of pre-built guises for adventure touring and mountain biking.

There’s also a frame-only option, which we built up into a bike suitable for touring on dirt roads, using Magura’s Odur (a reliable 100mm-travel, coil sprung fork), Rigida’s excellent Andra 30 rims and a Tubus Cargo rear rack.

This was finished off with a smattering of back-of-beyond-worthy components – a square taper bottom bracket teamed with Middleburn cranks, a Brooks Imperial saddle, Ergon grips and the adventurer tourer’s favourite, Schwalbe’s Marathon XR tyres.

 clearance for massive 2.4 inch tyres – or 2.25s with guards:  clearance for massive 2.4 inch tyres – or 2.25s with guards
clearance for massive 2.4 inch tyres – or 2.25s with guards: clearance for massive 2.4 inch tyres – or 2.25s with guards

The Sterling is built from Thorn’s proprietary heat treated, double-butted 858 steel tubing. It’s imbued with Thorn’s typical attention to detail and quality workmanship. This includes stainless steel, Rohloff dropouts, neat cable routing, a simple but reliable eccentric bottom bracket for chain tensioning and a disc tab. There are also two bottle mounts, eyelets for a rack, space for a full mudguard and Crud Catcher, and clearance for massive 2.4in tyres – or 2.25s with guards.

Testing took place across the US’s Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, the jeep and singletrack trails of Utah, and by linking the roughest terracerias – or dirt roads – of Mexico’s remote Sierra Madre mountain range.

Handling-wise, the Sterling’s longer than average chainstays offered welcome stability across rough Rocky mountains – as well as pannier to heel clearance – while the tapered rear triangle lent a surprising sense of sprightliness often lost with burlier touring bikes. In fact, it’s a ride that’s distinctly sweet and compliant.

Square taper bottom bracket teamed with middleburn cranks, ideal for mile munching: square taper bottom bracket teamed with middleburn cranks, ideal for mile munching
Square taper bottom bracket teamed with middleburn cranks, ideal for mile munching: square taper bottom bracket teamed with middleburn cranks, ideal for mile munching

Just don’t expect to shoe-horn everything into one bike. With its slender tubeset, the Sterling is not a frame that likes to be overloaded. Thorn recommend a load limit of 15kg on the rear rack and having ridden at times with more at the onset of a snowy Coloradan winter, we’d agree – keep your packing light or the frame starts to flex, particularly when stomping out of the saddle or descending boulder strewn tracks. 

Giving that the Sterling isn’t earmarked as a thoroughbred touring bike, it’s understandable there are only two bottle cages, though three would have been more useful. We’d also like to have seen open hose guides – as fitted to Thorn’s derailleur-equipped Ripio frame – allowing an easier exchange between discs (when mountain biking or commuting at home) and V-brakes (for adventure touring abroad).

Apart from these minor quibbles, the Sterling comes highly recommended for medium to lightweight adventure touring, and is ideal for those who are sure they can whittle down their possessions. Unless, that is, you intend to pull a trailer, in which case the Sterling will tackle whatever you throw at it.

The sterling is built from thorn’s proprietary heat treated, double butted 858 steel tubing: the sterling is built from thorn’s proprietary heat treated, double butted 858 steel tubing
The sterling is built from thorn’s proprietary heat treated, double butted 858 steel tubing: the sterling is built from thorn’s proprietary heat treated, double butted 858 steel tubing

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