Somerset-based Thorn have built themselves an enviable name when it comes to touring bikes, and their designer, Andy Blance, sets off on his own trips in South America and Australasia each year to hone designs. As the brand is increasingly associated with Rohloff's internal Speedhubs, you might have overlooked their entry-level Sherpa - our test model will get you on the road for less than a grand.
Like the Raven Tour, the Sherpa uses Thorn's proprietary 969 frameset - seamless 4130 chromoly, double-butted tubes - teamed with a Reynolds 531 fork. Our test bike was size 560S, which equates to a Large frame with a short toptube, making it best suited to drop handlebars. Of the six sizes available, three are long top-tube variants that can be run with flat bars. This said, as the effective top-tube difference isn't that big, it's really a frameset that lends itself best to drops - though women may well find it works well for straights too.
Typical of many Taiwanese frames, the finish is excellent, with some welcome touches, such as the socket dropouts found on Thorn's top-end eXp range. There's clearance for 2in tyres and mudguards too. The powder coat finish is simple but remarkably tough and there's every braze-on you could need, including three bottle mounts, pump peg, dynamo mounts and those all-important rack and mudguard eyelets. We can't fault FSA's Orbit XL2 headset either - it's always performed really well for us before.
The Sherpa is kitted out with Sun CR18s, with simple, well-sealed Shimano Deore hubs. They're machine built with plain-gauge spokes and finished by hand. Thorn don't recommend these wheels for extended, remote tours, pointing you towards the heavyweights of the touring world instead - Sun Rhynos with XT hubs; a £90 upgrade.
As they are, CR18s strike a reasonable balance between weight and strength, and certainly make the bike more enjoyable to ride unladen. Ours came fitted with Schwalbe's relatively light Hurricanes suited to dirt tracks, though a range of tyre options are available. We've found Hurricanes somewhat lacking in sidewall strength and picked up a couple of punctures from winter glass.
The Sherpa's built as a jack-of-alltrades. Unladen, it's livelier to handle than you might expect. To account for the short top-tube, the head-tube has been slackened off and the fork has a generous 52mm rake, which helps solve any toe overlap issues and still keeps steering on the spritely side. With its load spread under a full complement of panniers, it felt reassuringly planted on long tarmac descents with no shimmy in the frame, and surefooted enough on bridleways - a good all rounder. Its drop-bars mean you can tuck out of the wind and offer a variety of hand positions, staving off numbness in the fingers. Overall though, we do find flats offer a more confidence-inspiring ride position and better braking when the going gets rough, which those new to cycling may prefer.
Thorn has always offered a dizzying array of options and extras - there's even a flat-barred Sherpa available. In terms of the complete build, our bike came in fairly close to the £799 entry price.
The biggest upgrade is to the basic rear carrier, replaced by Thorn's Taiwanese chromo version (£50), with a matching low-rider front rack (£70). While the racks are relatively pricey and heavy compared to Tubus' benchmark products, we can't fault their quality or rigidity. Together with well-placed mudguard mounts, they offer a superb, fully integrated system of the kind you won't usually see at this price.
The rest of the bike is specced with solid, dependable kit. A choice of stems helps achieve your preferred riding position and there's 40-44cm ITM drop-bars to suit your shoulder width. Dura-Ace bar-end gear levers keep maintenance to a minimum and enable the front mech to be easily trimmed. Deore Octalink cranks make up the drivetrain; we'd have preferred square taper cranks, simply because we seem to get more life out of the bottom brackets. As it is, make sure you change the bolts out - you won't find a 10mm key on your multi-tool. Suntour's cantilevers may be old but offer progressive, powerful braking with drop-bars, though you'll need to carry a 19mm cone spanner to tension them. Brooks' venerable B17 also pushed up the price by £17. Cass Gilbert