I remember when we were talking about this trip in September 2012. “Next April” seemed like ages away. Now here we are, counting down the weeks.
Just before Christmas, I had the very pleasurable experience of going down to Somerset to have my semi-tailored bike built by Thorn. http://www.thorncycles.co.uk
It involved real service: a guy sits with you to go through every single component and measurement. Three hours and a few £s later, the order is placed, ready for collection the day before Christmas eve. Nothing particularly fancy about it really: just good components and a solid frame. Much of the experience of buying a Thorn is having someone sit down a few hours with you and deconfuse your confused mind over intricacies and marketing bs, designed to confuse you. Also helped that the employees all seemed to be cycle tourers themselves. Robin Thorn himself is a regular tourer, test running his own products with his wife and injecting the savvy back into his bikes. I like that.
Test riding the Thorn around the steep Welsh roller coaster hills proved a painless experience. Actually the only fancy thing about it is the nice Rohloff hub gears meaning you don’t have to pedal to change gear, nor worry about derailleur malfunction. The drawback being higher cost and the fact that it is not serviceable by any of the finest bike mechanics one might find (let alone the local bike mechanic we come across in Turkmenistan!). The counter-advantage to this is that Thorn assure you of it’s 99.x% integrity. Should it fail, Thorn will courier-deliver a whole new wheel system within a handful of days, to wherever you are in the world.
I also spent a bit of time looking for someone to take us through buying Carmen’s bike.
Our research outcome is this: if you want service, get out of London, or at least don’t buy from Bikefix in Holborn. Although the manager seemed decent when I made a preliminary sniff-around visit, we were unlucky because he was then off on holiday for several weeks. During his absence, we had to visit the shop twice, waving money at his staff but receiving no information about the product. Then they admit to knowing little about the bike we wanted so offer to phone us once they’ve done their research. Did they phone us? Did they phucker-tee-too. Their message seemed clear : “Don’t buy from us“. In fact, we’re helping to spread their own marketing strategy by propagating their message: Don’t buy from Bikefix! Despite being a nice local shop and a knowledgable manager, the staff were just as indifferent as the bigger chains. We can’t believe they waved £1200 of business away, on two occasions. Maybe £1200 isn’t a lot to them, but it is to us.
We promptly phoned Chris’ Bikes in Cambridge http://www.chrisbikes.co.uk/, spoke with the man himself who had “great service” written all over him. He said he’d bring in his daughter’s VSF Fahraddmanufaktur TX400 into the shop because this is the exact same model and size Carmen wanted to buy. We also got onto a brief discussion about how the internet has jaded high street vendors as it becomes increasingly difficult for a vendor to differentiate between a customer wasting the vendor’s time by trying the bike in the shop and then buying online, and a genuine customer that wants to spend her money. We immediately booked a train up to Cambridge and duly placed the order after trying Ella’s bike. Chris knew the bikes well and spent the time with us. So we’re helping to spread his marketing strategy by propagating the message: Chris’ bikes equals great service!
Apart from the bikes, we’ve also bought our first house together: the Terra Nova Voyager XL tent. 3.3KG with a porch, nice.