Thorn Sherpa review£1,069.95

Strong small-wheeled tourer

BikeRadar score4/5Find prices on Bicycle Blue Book

Thorn bring all of their touring bike experience into play with the Sherpa, successfully marrying 26-inch wheels to the drop-barred tourer without any compromise. The frame is tough, the wheels are strong, the kit high-quality, the value excellent – another top-notch offering from the Somerset specialists. Designed for medium-weight touring, it makes a great all-rounder.

  • Frame and fork: British-designed chromoly frame, handmade in Taiwan to a high standard. The forks show Reynolds 531 tubing still has a job to do, even after 73 years.
  • Handling: Stable, surefooted, confident – the Sherpa shows off steel’s strength to the full.
  • Equipment: Sensible, tough, reasonably priced nine-speed Deore kit and bar-end levers – a great choice for a rugged tourer.
  • Wheels: Shimano off-road hubs, Rigida rims and Panaracer tyres are a top combination for 26in-wheeled touring.

Thorn sherpa: thorn sherpa
Thorn sherpa: thorn sherpa

Sherpa? More like a Postie

Thorn make a massive range of touring bikes for just about every kind of trip. This includes the front suspension and Rohloff hub gear-equipped eXXp and the expedition-specific eXp R and eXp bikes, each nudging the £3,000 price bracket. The Sherpa starts at a much less eye-watering £899, but is still designed to "carry a week’s shopping, heavy camping kit... even both at the same time! It will take you to the other side of town, or to the other side of the planet".

Quite a claim for this bright red bike – so red a small child mistook one of our testers for a postman while he was cycling through Bristol. So, if you don’t fancy being taken for a postie on a pillar-box red bike you might go for the more understated black alternative.

Sizing our test bike was done online using Thorn’s own measuring system, and it turned out to be a perfect fit for our in-house cycle tourer. While the Sherpa’s multiple steerer tube spacers won’t appeal to everyone, once you get the correct bar height for your riding you can cut the steerer down. Don’t do this before you get it right though.

Finishing kit is sensibe and tough: finishing kit is sensibe and tough
Finishing kit is sensibe and tough: finishing kit is sensibe and tough

Big wheels vs 26-inch

The Sherpa’s frame is handmade in Taiwan of chromoly steel, in this case Thorn’s own-brand 969. The finish is good, though we’d get some frame protectors on the head tube sharpish to prevent cable rub.

The bike comes with 26in (mountain bike-size) wheels. These have several advantages over the larger hoops normally found on road bikes. Being smaller, a 26in wheel should be tougher. And if you’re touring off the beaten track – and let’s face it that’s just what these bikes are for – it’ll be much easier to find replacement tyres and tubes (and rims, if it comes to that).

Ultimately the riding difference between bikes with 700C wheels and 26in wheels is marginal, as once the tyres are on, the difference in diameters isn’t that great – 26in wheels are a little stronger, 700C wheels smoother over the bumps. In the end, the choice depends on what type of cycling you’re likely to be doing.

If you’re mainly on tarmac in the First World, the advantages are with the larger wheel, but if you’re riding roughstuff or over poorly surfaced roads – at home or abroad – mountain bike wheels are the sounder choice. As it was, the Sherpa’s ran smoothly over all the surfaces we threw it at, including wet, muddy canal towpaths, and the well-sealed Shimano hubs should provide miles of consistent running.

Rigida rims and panaracer tyres are a top combination for 26in wheeled touring.: rigida rims and panaracer tyres are a top combination for 26in wheeled touring.
Rigida rims and panaracer tyres are a top combination for 26in wheeled touring.: rigida rims and panaracer tyres are a top combination for 26in wheeled touring.

Ready for some rough treatment

The Sherpa’s ride is surefooted and convincing, and it coped with loads without murmur or complaint. The one area where we would consider some minor tweaks is around the handlebars – oversized bars do seem to offer greater comfort and the Tektro brake levers had a slight but noticeable ridge on top,  which took a little getting used to, rather than a more comfortable rounded surface.

Two final things: our Sherpa turned up with a little glass jar containing a red liquid. There were concerns that our tech ed was taking up wearing nail polish but this turned out to be paint for touching up the frame. A good call for a bike that’s likely to get some pretty rough treatment over its lifetime.

And the Sherpa, like all Thorn bikes, comes with a 14-day money-back pledge. “How is that for confidence in the quality of our product?” Thorn says, and given our time pounding out the miles on this we don’t reckon too many customers will be asking for refunds.

All the right eyelets and mounts: all the right eyelets and mounts
All the right eyelets and mounts: all the right eyelets and mounts

Simon has been cycling for as long as he can remember, and more seriously since his time at university in the Dark Ages (the 1980s). This has taken in time trialling, duathlon and triathlon and he has toured extensively in Asia and Australasia, including riding solo 2900km from Cairns to Melbourne. He now mainly rides as a long-distance commuter and leisure/fitness rider. He has been testing bikes and working for Cycling Plus in various capacities for nearly 20 years.
  • Age: 52
  • Height: 175cm / 5'9
  • Weight: 75kg /165lb
  • Waist: 33in
  • Discipline: Road, touring, commuting
  • Current Bikes: Rose SL3000, Hewitt steel tourer
  • Beer of Choice: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  • Location: Bath, UK

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