St John Street Cycles is a longtime purveyor of steel bicycles to the touring cognoscenti, and its newest incarnation of the Thorn Club Tour is its take on a traditional touring bike.
You can have it with flat bar or drops, rim or disc brakes, or what Robin Thorn, Director at Thorn Cycles, describes as the “highly recommended front rim and rear disc” brake option.
The frame uses Reynolds 725 chromoly steel with a fork made from 853, which has increased dent- and impact-resistance.
Mine was in a somewhat muted Gunmetal Grey, but Green, Thorn Blue and Blood Red are available for the more extroverted cycle-tourist.
If you do want front and rear discs, Thorn says: “a disc fork is always heavier and less comfortable than a V- brake fork.” So now you know. As with many things, it’s a trade-off. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how powerful and controlled the V-brake was, even in the rain, which there was no shortage of during testing.
The ‘bite’ is quick and it works well in combination with well-modulated control from the rear disc.
Thorn’s V-brakes proved surprisingly effective David Caudery / Immediate Media
And yes, the Thorn proved impressively comfortable and the rear Tubus rack, while stripped down compared to others on test, coped with bulging panniers without budging, and the same is true of the Thorn’s frame with its comparatively skinny tubes.
The wheels pair DT Swiss’s 32-spoked touring-specific rims with Shimano hubs, though the front wheel has a braking track and the rear doesn’t, of course.
They’re fitted with Schwalbe’s excellent 35mm G-One Tubeless-Easy gravel tyres. These offer near road tyre-like speed on tarmac and very good grip on poorer roads, grit and gravel, and they’re a fine choice for touring.
If you’re planning on tackling more challenging terrain, this Thorn will accommodate 40mm tyres.
I went slightly over the planned £2,000 maximum I’d set for this test, but this allowed me to splash a bit more on the components. This meant 10-speed Shimano 105 levers and a fully compatible Shimano Deore mountain bike drivetrain with the near-ubiquitous triple chainset.
Along with the much-less expensive Fuji Touring Disc, the Thorn has low bottom gearing, thanks to the 48/36/26 chainset and super-wide 11-36 cassette. Shifting was as good as you’d expect from Shimano.
Tubus’s Airy Rack weighs 360g but can carry 26kg. David Caudery / Immediate Media
The Club Tour’s ride is perfectly judged. At 12.2kg it’s comparatively light for a full-on tourer, and commuting on it unloaded isn’t much slower than on a road bike, but 35mm tyres add plushness over broken and potholed winter roads.
Load it up, though, and it’s a super-sweet-handling distance machine.
In this specification the bike has a maximum rear pannier load of 18kg and a 120kg overall limit, but with different fittings it will carry 35kg of kit with a 130kg overall max.
The slack 72.5-degree head-tube angle provides leisurely handling and the long 1,047mm wheelbase bags of stability. I even got on with the Thorn saddle, which is more plushly padded than I would usually go for. But you can also buy it saddle-less, or with a Brooks, or, in fact, any other saddle that’s sold by SJSC.
The Club Tour: a super-sweet-handling distance machine. Robert Smith / Immediate Media
Thorn’s Club Tour MkV Build 4b does cost more than any of the other tourers I had on test, but I reckon it justifies the cost.
You can buy a frameset and build it yourself but, with the help of SJSC, you can have it in a standard flat- or drop-bar build with just about any kit changes you’d like to make, including the likes of dynamo lighting.
The staff will spend time discussing your own needs, requirements and budget and with 10 sizes now on offer it’ll be easier to
get your ideal fit; I sent the shop my bike-fit info and went from there.
The result is a bike that’s pretty much perfect for the sort of touring I’ve done – extended rides with rear panniers and bar bag, with occasional forays over rough stuff and unsurfaced roads that can appear from nowhere.
Thorn Club Tour MK5 geometry
Size (*tested): 50S, 50L, 52S, 52L, 55S*, 55L, 58S, 58S, 61S, 61L
Seat angle: 74.5 degrees
Head angle: 72.5 degrees
Seat tube: 48.3cm
Top tube: 54cm
Fork offset: 5.2cm
Bottom bracket height: 28cm
How we tested
This bike was tested against four other top touring bikes that have been designed to let you unlock your inner adventurer.
Other bikes on test: