Thorn Nomad MK2 2012 Touring Bicycle

nomad, showing all bag and other attachments
23 liters of water, 10 kg of food, 9 kg camping gear/clothes/electronics, 3 kg bicycle repair/maintenance gear

Planning

This was the second bicycle I bought. While the Novara, which was the first bike I bought (see here), performed very well on my initial tour, it had been my intention from the start to use that bike merely as a learning experience, and then buy a dream bike. Based on my experiences on that first tour and internet investigation, I decided a Rohloff hub would be a worthwhile investment, to eliminate shifting problems due to the derailleur mechanism getting clogged with grit, otherwise reduce maintenance, produce a stronger wheel, and allow for changing gears while stalled. The big downside of Rohloff is that cannot be easily repaired at local bike shops like a derailleur system. On the other hand, based on my investigation, reliability for Rohloff is fairly good, so likelihood of needing repairs should not be that great.

I briefly considered a true fat-tire bike (3" or wider tires), such as the Surly Pugsley, built around a Rohloff hub, so as to enable pedaling through deep sand. But fat-tire bikes are undergoing rapid design changes right now and all the kinks may not yet have been worked out. There will likely be problems obtaining spare parts and repairs several years in the future, as current designs become obsolete. Very fat tires probably don't do too well on paved roads, and I may be traveling on paved roads some of the time. I don't much care about speed on dirt roads, but on paved roads I want to move quickly, so as to get back to dirt as soon as possible. Finally, bike racks on buses typically don't accomodate very fat tires (letting some air out might be a workaround).

Rohloff issues

Below are some of the problems I read about or considered with Rohloff hubs.

Some hubs have manufacturing defects with an internal shim or bearings which don't show up until after about 100 miles of use. From Thorn's Living with Rohloff brochure: "Very occasionally, a new hub rapidly becomes difficult to change between 3 and 4 and/or 10 and 11, even more occasionally, this can be accompanied by slipping in these gears, sometimes a small foreign particle is the culprit, it can be flushed out and the hub's oil replaced, but usually the wheel has to go back to Rohloff; who return the wheel inside one week, after they have re-shimmed it. The problem has never been reported to arise a second time. As this malfunction has almost never been reported on anything other than very low mileage hubs, it shows that there must have been an error, in deciding which shims are required, when the hub is assembled, which can't be detected until the hub is built into a wheel and comes under operational load." Worst case, if something like this happens and isn't detected during shakedown rides, the hub is still usable in the remaining gears, and so wouldn't leave me stranded in the middle of the desert.

Hub flange can break (see photos of such failures here and here). According to the Rohloff service manual (available on their website), this is primarily caused by spokes with the wrong diameter at the elbow bend next to the flange, wrong shaped elbow bend, wrong tension, wrong lacing pattern. Broken flanges are supposedly rare for hubs on normal bikes (i.e. not tandems) where the wheels are built exactly according to Rohloff's instructions. Rohloff recommends Sapim double-butted 2.0mm-1.8mm-2.0mm spokes, and that is what Thorn uses in their wheels.

Thorn's Living with Rohloff brochure mentions another possible cause of flange breakage: "Rohloff say that this is due to undetectable flaws, in the alloy billet, prior to manufacture". Someone using the name "pq" on the lonelyplanet forum wrote: "It's because Rohloff don't want to spend the money on casting the hub shells, so they CNC machine them out of alu billet. Machined hubs are much weaker than cast ones, and particularly prone to cracking."

Spokes can break at the nipple, due to mismatch between Rohloff hub and rim, as Thorn's Living with Rohloff brochure explains: "flanges of the Rohloff hub are so wide that, with most rims, the spokes tend to bend as they leave the nipple, eventually this causes them to break at the nipple...We solved the problem...we now have rims drilled so that the spokes leave the rim in a perfectly straight line". The Rohloff manual specifically recommends the Ryde diagonally drilled rims that Thorn uses.

Thorn's Living with Rohloff brochure reports a bad batch of Sapim spokes in Spring 2011, that was causing multiple broken spokes. They don't say what they mean by "bad", whether wrong size or shape, or defect in the steel.

There are also reports on the internet of very rare bearing failures, which take about 10,000km to manifest. Supposedly, the hub can still be ridden if this happens. Once back home, the hub will have to be returned to a Rohloff service center for repair. Example of such a failure here: "How's the Rohloff rolling these days?...you might wonder. Wobble I do, on a possible warn bearing, through Kashmir, Manali to Leh highway and Spiti Valley of N. India. My Rohloff began wobbling in the Taklamakan desert, China with increasing retaliation about 4000km ago, instead of rolling with the same steady flawless confidence it has always shown. I contacted Rohloff, a company notorious for great service and support of bicycle tourists like me on the road. True to form, Rohloff responded immediately and will be replacing the bearing and warn sprocket at no cost, a 2 day repair plus shipping. Rohloff's sturdy internal 14 gear system and longevity means the wheel wobble will not prevent me from pedaling forward through Pakistan, Iran and closer to Europe, where the entire wheel will be shipped back to Germany for the repair at no cost under an amazing lifetime warranty. I have met cycle tourists who over the course of a 4 year continuous bicycle tour had to replace their cassette, derailleur and entire gear unit not once but 3 times. Sure my wheel at the start costs a little more but after all this time of flawless gears while pedaling, one repair at the cost of 38 euros for shipping seems like quite the bargain. Rohloff or Roll on, you decide."

Discussion here: "After some heavy days of cycling steep hills I noticed that while on descents or flat ground that it would slip while pedaling. I initially thought it was because I had ground my rear cog into a sharp throwing star, neglecting to change it (and also trying to see how far I could go with the original cog), and went through trauma when trying to remove the old cog to replace ending up damaging the specialized removal tool, shearing off exterior parts of the hub in the process. I ended up changing the rear cog, flipping the front chainring, changing the oil, and replacing the chain, only to find 10km later the problem persisted. Rohloff stands behind their products and drop shipped a new gear assembly along with a new removal tool which I had to replace on my own once I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia. 25,000km some odd kilometers shouldn't have caused this problem to the hub as there have been other long distance cyclists who have traveled much more distance on these hubs with no problems, and I'll be careful to watch how it functions in the future."

Discussion here: "Part of the shell cracked spontaneously - a fault that allegedly occurs in around one in five thousand hubs. True to form Rohloff and Santos posted a fully built wheel and hub for free to Khartoum within a week so whilst it was frustrating that this problem occurred in the first place, the customer service was exemplary." Thorn guarantees similar replacement service in the event of hub problems.

Guarantees make economic sense assuming the Rohloff hubs really are reliable. Suppose 1% of the hubs have problems (and 1% is probably a very high estimate, based on my research), and the cost of a new wheel and hub, including shipping to someplace remote like Khartoum, is $2000. Then $20 added to the price will accommodate the service guarantee. $20 can easily be buried in the $4000+ total cost of the Nomad. Rohloff offers a guarantee for the hub alone, for those who build their own wheels rather than going through a bicycle builder like Thorn or Santos. A Rohloff hub alone costs like $1500, so again, provided the hubs really are reliable, the cost of the guarantee represents a small fraction of the total cost. So these guarantees aren't unrealistic.

Discussion here: "The bad news – Departing with great Gusto from Mongu earlier on this week I noticed halfway throughout the day some resistance when changing gears. After a bit of wrenching on the shifter it seized entirely. Uh oh! I took the assembly off and noted that the cable assembly was broken – rendering my ability to shift up and down with my hand impossible. I can change the gears with a spanner manually, so this helps a bit, but close to impossible when you are trying to effectively shift on ascents or descents to keep your cadence. Because of this I’ve been in the middle gear (7) and now single speeding it." He elaborated on this failure in some facebook posts. The twist shifter on the handlebar is what broke and will have to be replaced, but that requires a special order from Europe since no distributor in Africa stocks such items. The Rohloff hub itself was unaffected, but shifting requires using a wrench at the hub, which is a nuisance. I suggested cutting off the cable housing near the shifter, then attaching bolts or other objects to the cables, and then pulling the cables that way to shift. Couldn't shift while riding like this, but easier than using a wrench at the hub. To put this failure into perspective, this is the same bicyclist who sheared off the external parts of the hub while attempting to replace the "cog" (see above, sprocket is the usual term for what he calls a "cog"), and he has damaged countless other pieces of equipment as documented on his blog (including some spoke breakages about the same time he broke the shifter), and he has wrecked his bodily health numerous times (several cases of malaria, plus the complication of malaria known as Blackwater fever; yanked out a tooth once doing some sort of repair to his gear; damaged his testicles due to excessive hours riding on a stretched Brooks saddle, to the point of planning to have one or both of his testicles cut off to stop the pain; etc), plus he apparently had some psychological issues growing up (his memoirs of those times for sale on Amazon).

Possible to strip the threads of the tiny oil drain screw if not careful.

If hub is submersed, water may get inside. Multiple oil changes may be required to flush all the water out. If water is not flushed out prompty, rust may set in and hub may need to be returned to a Rohloff service center for overhaul. On his website, Herr Rohloff writes of how he was inspired by experiences riding a derailleur-equiped bike on the beach (the derailleur became clogged with sand as waves rolled over the mechanism), and how the Rohloff hub works fine in these conditions. So evidently, the hub isn't particularly vulnerable to water, not even salt water. Then again, Herr Rohloff has ready access to a Rohloff service center.

Rubber shifter handle wears out over time. Easy to replace.

Bottom line is that while I don't like the idea of being dependent on hard-to-source one-of-a-kind gear subject to problems like those just listed, there is also much to be said for the reduced maintenance of the Rohloff system, assuming it can be made to work. Spoke problems can be avoided by proper spoke and rim selection and proper wheelbuilding. Manufacturing problems might require sending the wheel to Rohloff for servicing, but once necessary repairs have been made, the hub should then work reliably for 100,000+ miles (assuming I don't foolishly ride through streams or otherwise submerse the hub in water), at least according to what I've read on the internet. In other words, in addition to making an investment of money in buying the hub, I might also have to make an investment of time getting the hub to work properly. But over the 20+ years I expect to use the hub, both these investments should eventually pay off.

Final decision

I finally decided on the Thorn Nomad MK2 expedition touring bike, which uses a Rohloff hub and which is specifically designed for a combination of paved and rugged dirt roads, which is more or less the sort of touring I plan to do. The options that gave me the most difficulty were as follows:

Sizing: The 590M geometry was similar to that of my Novara frame, which fit me well, and this is also the size recommended by Thorn for someone my height (181 cm) who prefers a shorter, more relaxed riding position. The 565L size (recommended by Thorn for someone my height who prefers a longer, sportier riding position) might also work, with a short stem and extra spacers between stem and headset.

Handlebars: I chose 640mm wide flat track bars instead of 645mm wide MTB comfort bars even though the Novara bars more closely resemble the latter. However, since I plan to retain the full width of the flat track bars, and since they pull back by 10°, the position of the grips should be similar to that with the MTB comfort bars. Also, this is an easy option to change.

Steerer: I used the same handlebar height as on the Novara, but added 50mm just in case I want to raise the handlebars later. [Update: As it turns out, I did want to raise the handlebars, by exactly 50mm. If I were ordering again, I would specify an uncut steerer and have the steerer cut down, if necessary, by a local bike shop. Easy to reduce length of steerer, impossible to increase it.]

Dynohub: Retrofitting would require rebuilding the front wheel, so very important to make the right decision. In my case, the decision was to do without, so as to save money, weight, complexity and hassles getting the bearings serviced when they wear out. (Schmidt SON dynohub bearings are supposedly very durable, but only Schmidt can service the hub and the Schmidt factory is in Germany.) I don't ever plan to travel frequently in darkness, so no need for powering head and tail lights, which is the main reason people want dynohubs. And even if I do someday need power for head and tail lights, the Nomad fork includes an attachment point for a bottle generator, such as those sold by Peter White Cycles. Bottle generators are less efficient and provide less power than dynohubs when in use, but they are more efficient when not in use (zero drag versus minimal drag), weigh less, cost less, and are easier to replace in case of problems. The other use of a dynohub is for charging electronics, using a converter of some sort. The only device I carry that needs frequent charging is my smartphone. Power packs (see smartphone page for details) is a simpler solution than dynohub/converter for keeping smartphone charged between town stops, plus less weight, less expense and easier to replace in case of problems.

Mudguard: After much thought, I decided not to include SKS P65 chromoplastic mudguards on my initial order. Later, I changed my mind and so installed these mudguards myself, and so learned by personal experience how difficult the initial install is. Removal/install after the initial install is much easier. Mudguards are a bad idea while touring on dirt roads, since they collect mud, but they can be very useful for paved roads. The Thorn brochure recommends thinner mudguards than the P65 model for use with thin tires, for appearance rather than functional reasons. I find the Schwalbe Mondial 55-559 fat tires fast enough for me on paved roads, while giving the option of going onto dirt (at least dry dirt), and so I would be unlikely to use thinner tires. Also, even if I did use thinner tires, appearance isn't that important to me. So I see no reason for getting the thinner mudguards. If ordering again, I would have Thorn do the initial install of the SKS P65 mudguards, which I would then remove for dirt road touring. Front mudguard alone weighs about 250g, after trimming stays and drilling out the front bracket, which is not required because the Nomad has mudguard attachment bolts under the fork crown. Rear mudguard weighs about 300g, after trimming stays.

Schrader vs Presta

There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted the rims drilled for Schrader valves. However, because Thorn's ordering brochure (as of July 2015) is so negative about Schrader, it's worth discussing the issue at length, in case anyone reading this page is contemplating buying a Nomad. According to Dave Whittle, Andy Blance did a test and found that inflating tubes was much more difficult with Schrader valves, when using handpumps, due to bad seal between pump and valve. I suspect the problem is he used a junk pump in his test, the Topeak Mountain Morph in particular, which he raves about ("superb piece of kit"). My first pump was a Topeak Mini Morph (170g), which is similar to the Mountain Morph. The seal to Schrader valves was indeed bad with this pump. The pump was also clumsy to use and eventually the t-bar or something else on the pump broke, I forget exactly. I ended up throwing the pump in the trash. Replacement was a Lezyne Pressure Drive handpump (90g for smaller model). The tube on the Lezyne pump screws onto the Schrader valve and so the seal is perfect (the other end of the tube screws onto Presta, so seals with Presta are also perfect), plus the Lezyne pump is much less clumsy to use. True, the Lezyne pump does take a while to pump up a 55-559 tube to 45psi (the max pressure I would use), but I'm in no rush while touring plus I very seldom need to pump up tires anymore, now that I've licked the goathead problem by using Stans sealant. Why does Andy Blance need a pump like the Mountain Morph that, in his words, "quickly reaches required pressure"? Probably because he is constantly fixing flats at the side of the road and the slowness of the Lezyne pump gets old fast under those conditions.

Because I was paranoid about pumps failing in the field, I bought two of these Lezyne Pressure Drive pumps, plus a set of replacement o-rings (from SJSCycles). These two pumps fit easily into my saddle bag. In other words, for little more than the weight of the Topeak Mini Morph, I have two very reliable and easy-to-use pumps which both make a perfect seal with Schrader valves, plus a repair kit for the one part of these pumps that might possibly fail someday. If you are buying a $4000+ bicycle, you can afford to buy a decent handpump (or two) at the same time. So we can dismiss this argument that handpumps don't work well with Schrader. (Topeak has a number of pumps on their website which appear similar in design to the Lezyne Pressure Drive, though there may be differences not apparent from the photos.)

The primary reason for going with Schrader, contrary to what Thorn's brochure says, is NOT because Schrader tubes are more widely available in many parts of the world (though that is true), but rather because it is easier to add sealant to tubes with Schrader valves. According to Dave Whittle, Andy Blance tried sealant and didn't much care for it because it didn't work properly and affected handling. Probably he tested with junk sealant, the way he tested with junk pumps, and thus drew the wrong conclusion. I use Stans myself, though I'm sure there are other good sealants (for example, I have heard good things about TrueGoo). The most commonly available sealant where I live (Reno, Nevada, in the west of the United States) is Slime. In my tests, Slime did not work. Slime also weighs a lot more than Stans (190g vs 60g per tube). Use the right sealant and you don't have problems.

Sealant is required in areas infested with goathead thorns, unless you have an extremely high tolerance for fixing flats, and most cyclists don't. (You could also use a solution much worse than sealant, like ultra-thick thorn tubes or even solid rubber "tubes"—the fact that such junk is even sold is proof that people in goathead territory are desperate for a solution.) The typical first question I get from people curious about my touring is "Do you get a lot of flats?" That question reflects these people's experience as children riding bicycles in the western United States, back in the days before there were good sealants. I am not exaggerating when I say it is easy to get 50 punctures/day in goathead territory if you are riding without sealant in your tires and happen to run across a nest of goatheads. Are you carrying 50 patches? Maybe you had two spare tubes and so can simply replace the tubes rather than patching them. What if you then encounter more goatheads? Don't take my word for it, search on the internet for what other people have to say about goatheads. "These things suck all the joy out of cycling" is a typical quote.

Andy Blance points out that you can always have rims drilled for Schrader later, if you find Presta isn't working for you. Yes, you could, but one of the reasons for buying a ready-made Rohloff-equipped bicycle like the Nomad rather than cobbling together your own system is to take advantage of the designer/builder's judgment as to what works and what doesn't under real-life conditions. Being forced to redrill for Schrader implies Andy Blance's judgment is poor, which makes you wonder if the whole bicycle is poorly thought-out. Fortunately for me and other Nomad owners, this Schrader-Presta issue is the only place where Andy Blance's judgment is wrong (I say this based on over 20,000 km of bicycle touring on rugged dirt roads with my Nomad thus far). The reason his judgment is wrong here is that he evidently has no experience with goathead thorns. Similar to how the know-nothings in the various bicycle forums pooh-pooh the goathead issue. Invariably, it turns out these know-nothings live in areas where there are no goatheads. You really have to experience these goatheads in person to appreciate what a menace they are (though photos you can find on the internet might help with understanding the issue).

For more on flat prevention in goathead territory, see here. If you are touring strictly in Britain and elsewhere in northern Europe, this is a non-issue, since there are no goatheads in those areas (at least not that I'm aware of). But if you plan on possibly touring in goathead infested regions, including the western United States (plus parts of Africa, the Mediterranean area and Australia, if I'm not mistaken), then I strongly recommend you ignore Andy Blance's advice and take mine instead: get your rims drilled for Schrader. Also, buy a handpump like the Lezyne Pressure Drive that works properly with Schrader valves. There are no downsides to using Schrader rather than Presta if you later decide not to tour in goathead infested areas, at least with very sturdy rims like the Andra 30. (With weak rims, such as on a road bike, the smaller Presta hole might be an advantage. Also, sealant won't work with high-pressure tires, so no reason to go with Schrader on road bikes.)

Obsolete options

Back when I ordered my Nomad MK2, there were various additional options which have since been removed from the ordering brochure, though you could ask to have them installed as a custom option. I tried two of these additional options, and rejected them both:

Mr Crud CrudCatcher, 2009 edition (here): After running with this several tours, I concluded the crud catcher was unnecessary and removed it: (a) I normally am so filthy while touring that a little extra dirt and water isn't going to make any difference; (b) I normally go slow enough that the mud and water flung up by the front tire doesn't even get past the down tube much less hit my upper body. Those touring in wet conditions and going fast, and who aren't already filthy and so do care about getting wet from tire spray, are probably touring on paved roads, in which case mudguards are better option than the crud catcher. Bottom line, I don't think the crud catcher idea is good for anyone and so don't recommend it. Weighs 75g.

Thorn chainguard (here or here): A few years after buying my Nomad MK2, I installed the 38T chainguard, then removed it almost immediately when I decided I didn't like it. What I found was that the chainguard simply doesn't really add much protection from grease. Partly this was because the chainguard I tested with was only slightly larger diameter than the chainring (I was running 36T at the time), but the 44T chainguard probably wouldn't be much better. Also, my chain is no longer so greasy as it was initially, now that I've developed a system for cleaning it before relubing, so protection from grease is no longer so important. Also, I've developed muscle memory so I don't touch the chain so much with my legs anymore. The chainguard might help protect the chain and chainring from being bashed on rocks ("bashring"), but then again, my Surly chainring is stainless steel whereas the chainguard is aluminum, so it's possible the chainguard would be weaker than the chainring, and thus become a source of trouble itself if it got bent. Also, the narrow space between chainring and chainguard could cause the chain to get stuck when it falls off the chainring, this space could get clogged with hard to remove dirt, and the chainguard impedes cleaning the chain and chainring. Finally, the chainguard adds some weight (85g for 38T chainguard itself, plus a few more grams for longer chainring nuts and wider bottom bracket). Note that it is necessary to install a wider bottom bracket to allow installing the chainguard while still maintaining proper chainline for the chainring. Wider bottom bracket increases Q factor (distance of pedals from frame), which some bicyclists dislike. According to Dave Whittle of Thorn, less than 1% of Nomad MK2 buyers selected the chainguard option, back when it was still offered in the ordering brochure. Also, Andy Blance (who apparently designed the chainguard) never had a high opinion of it: "protects trouser legs, or simply adds weight? you decide" was the blurb beside the chainguard option in the old ordering brochure. In other words, almost no one seems to think highly of this chainguard.

chainguard

Final bike specs (including items added/changed after initial build)

Frame
Thorn Nomad MK2, size 590M, black (Reynolds 969 steel, 31.8mm (OD) top and seat tubes, 34.9mm down tube, 19mm seat stays)
Fork
Thorn rigid steel fork
Headset
FSA Orbit XLII threadless headset
Rear hub
Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 OEM CC/DB, 32h, black, ser# 153079
Front hub
Hope Pro3, 32h, black
Bottom bracket
Shimano UN55 73x110mm sealed cartridge, english thread
Sprocket
Rohloff, steel, 17 tooth
Chainring
Surly 110bcd 5arm reversible stainless steel single ring, 36 tooth (original order was for 42/17 gearing, but I replaced this later)
Chainring spacers
2mm (needed to use the Surly chainring with 73x110mm BB, not required for the thicker Thorn aluminum chainrings with this size BB)
Crank bolts
Shimano type chromed 8 mm allen key
Cranks
Thorn 175mm 110bcd 5arm cranks for 73mm shell
Chain
SRAM 3/32 Inch PC830 114 Links 7/8 Speed HG Compatible
Skewers
Titanium quick release (100mm outer-lock-nut front, 135mm OLN rear), black
Rims
Ryde (used to be Rigida) Andra 30 CSS 26" (559x19), black, 32h, rear rim drilled for Rohloff hub, (735g/rim), 24mm outer width, suitable for tire widths 28-62mm, drilled for Schrader valves
Spokes
Sapim stainless-steel Race-series double-butted (2.0mm/1.8mm/2.0mm), 238mm rear, 264mm front, 14mm x 2mm nickle-plated brass Sapim nipples, 3.23mm spoke wrench required
Rim tape
Thorn reinforced nylon rim tape, 26" (559) x 22 mm
Tires
Schwalbe Marathon Mondial HS428 folding, 26" x 2.15" (55-559)
Tubes
Schwalbe av13 schrader tube, 26" (40-559 to 62-559)
Brakes
Shimano Deore M590 V-brakes with BL-M591 brake levers, black
Brake pads
Swissstop blue, for ceramic & carbide CSS rims
Saddle
Selle SMP TRK Men's black (original order was for Brooks B17 standard, black with black steel rails, which was comfortable but which I replaced due to concern about long-term damage to my genital area)
Seatpost
Thorn micro-adjustable black 27.2mm outer diameter, plus shim for fitting in 29.8mm internal diameter seat tube
Pedals
Shimano PD-GR500 double-sided BMX platform pedals (originally PD-MX30, later replaced by PD-MX80, then by PD-GR500)
Stem
1 1/8 Ahead, Kalloy AS-009 UNO, 25.4mm clamp, 75mm x 35°
Handlebar
Thorn flat track, 25.4mm clamp, black
Grips
Ergon GP1-L anatomic, large, black
Rear rack
Thorn Expedition, cro-mo steel, black (850g)
Front rack
Thorn MkV Low Loader, cro-mo steel, black (560g)
Accessory bars
2 x Thorn 105mm x 0° (110g each), for supporting handlebar bag
Spares/tools
Rohloff sprocket removal tool
Spares/tools
3 spare rear spokes, 3 spare front spokes, all with nipples
Size
590M (for riders 1740 to 1880mm, I am 1800mm)
Seat Tube Center-Center
445mm
Effective top tube
585mm (Novara was 597mm)
Mid-tube standover
800mm (my standover height, wearing boots, is 900mm)
Front-tube standover
865mm
Chain stay length
466mm (Novara was 432mm)
Seat tube angle
73° (Novara was 72.5°)
Head tube angle*
71° (Novara was 70°)
Fork offset*
48mm (Novara, which had suspension forks, was 41mm)
Trail*
63mm
Wheelbase*
1135mm

* indicates geometry information from review of older Nomad model, since I couldn't find a source for this geometry information for the Nomad MK2.

Ordering process and costs

I placed my order with Thorn on Dec 22, 2011 and paid a £100 deposit. However, Thorn was closed the next week for Christmas holidays and so couldn't begin building the bike until Jan 3. The bike was finished on Jan 16 and I paid the balance due on Jan 17. Bike was delivered Feb 6, 2012, after about a week of delay due to an incorrect phone number on my invoice.

VAT is not charged for American customers, however there are other charges for international orders. Thorn offered two shipping options: £440 for tracked shipping in one box by Tuffnells, or £190 for untracked shipping in two boxes by Parcel Force. Thorn recommended the Tuffnells option and I went with that recommendation. (I've read too many horror stories about bikes damaged by delivery services. I don't mind money risks, but the risk of frustration and wasted time is another story. Better to pay extra for the recommended delivery service.) Visa charged 3% currency conversion fee for payment by credit card. United States customs duties on complete bicycles is 11% (see here, search on bicycle). I was charged this 11% on both the bicycle and the shipping, rather than the bicycle alone. (Note that duties on bicycle parts is 0%, so no hassle with duties on future orders for repair items.)

I originally listed the total price here, but that price was misleading, since bike specs shown above are different from what I initially ordered, my order included some spares not shown in the above list, some of the parts I bought from US distributors and finally the $/£ exchange rate has changed. Current prices are on the Thorn website. Total out-of-pocket was over $4500. Compare with about $800 for the Novara, after replacing the tires and saddle and adding a rear rack, mirror, computer and bell. Of course, the Novara could really stand for other upgrades as well (rigid fork to replace the suspension fork which is a nuisance, decent pedals to replace the plastic pedals which are already falling apart, etc) and will soon require maintenance to the drive train, plus the wheels are much less solid than those on the Nomad, the Novara doesn't have a front rack, etc. I think the Nomad is fairly-priced, all things considered. Also, even with an expensive bike, bicycle touring is cheap compared to RV'ing and other forms of travel, though more expensive than hiking.

Initial comments

Rather than the excitement most people would feel upon receiving a brand-new bike, my initial feeling was one of sadness at abandoning the tried and trusty Novara in favor of something which is all talk and no action thus far, mixed with dread at the potential of the Rohloff hub for causing problems. However, given the heavy loads I plan to carry, I probably would have eventually been forced to replace the Novara. Better to make the change now and get it over with it, than leave it dangling like a sword of Damocles over all all my future plans. This purchase is basically an act of faith in the judgment of Andy Blance (Thorn's designer and the author of the Nomad sales brochure and the Thorn Living with Rohloff brochure) as to how to carry heavy loads on rugged dirt roads with a bicycle.

Front cartridge brakes were reversed from the correct orientation. I sent an email with photo to Thorn. They confirmed that the orientation was wrong and the brakes needed to be reversed. While reversing the brakes, I dropped the washers and they got lost on the floor. It took me two hours of searching to find them again. I consider this incident a blessing in disguise, because it makes me cognizant of the danger of something like this happening in the middle of the desert. Given how hard it was to find these light grey washers in my apartment, it might be impossible to find them amidst similar-colored rocks and sand outdoors. There should be no need to disassemble brakes in the desert, of course. But who knows? The brakes might get clogged with grit so that I'm tempted to disassemble them to clean them out. This incident in my apartment shows clearly the danger of such a procedure. Add to my list of rules: "assume I will lose any small parts I work with in the field, so either carry spares for small parts I must handle (such as Schrader valve cores, which must be removed to fill tubes with sealant), or avoid field procedures involving small parts".

Spoke lacing doesn't match that specified by Rohloff. In particular, the trailing spokes have the head facing inwards rather than outwards (equivalent to saying pulling spokes do not cross the flange), whereas all the photos in Thorn's brochures show wheels built according to Rohloff's specifications. Thorn's response was that they are more interested in practice than theory and have confidence in their wheelbuilder. But that doesn't explain the difference between my wheel and the wheels in Thorn's brochures. I'm not particularly concerned about the discrepancy, since I'm pretty sure the Nomad's wheels are far stronger than those on the Novara (which also did not run the pulling spokes over the flange), mainly due to the lack of dishing, but also due to better spokes, better rim and higher spoke tension. Also, I too am more interested in practice than theory.

Bottom bracket height from ground is less than on the Novara (29cm vs 31cm). This is probably good, since it makes it easier to put my toes on the ground when the saddle is raised to the proper level. Down side of lower bottom bracket is greater likelihood of hitting objects underneath, and of grounding out the pedals while cornering. Since I don't ride aggressively, these negatives are not a concern.

Stem a little on the long side, so I ordered a replacment (75mm x 35° versus the original 120mm x 17°) as part of my order for various additions and spares. I prefer a fairly upright riding position.

590M seems the right size. No toe overlap, unless I install front mudguard, in which case there is slight overlap if I position my feet with the middle rather than front of the foot centered on the pedal. Also, no heel strike of the panniers, even though I moved them forwards several notches from where they were on the Novara. The 565L size would have added 20mm to the effective top tube length, and reduced the front standover height by 20mm. The longer top tube would eliminate toe overlap even with mudguards, but would cause me to be more stretched out than I prefer, though I could gain back at least half the 20mm with a shorter stem (current stem is 75mm x 35°). Lower standover height implies I would have a truly gigantic stack of spacers between stem and headset. Park Tool Big Blue Book of Bike Repair recommends no more than 40mm between stem and headset (they don't explain the reason for this recommendation), whereas I currently have 115mm. With the 565L, I'd need something like 135mm between stem and headset, and that's before possibly moving the stem up in the future if I decide I want the handlebars higher.

I ordered the Rohloff hub and Hope front hub in black, which requires anodizing, so as to match my overall color scheme of black and more black. However, I later read that anodizing weakens aluminum and the last thing I want is weakened flanges on my hubs. Also, there are plenty of other silver elements on the bike, and these blend fine with black, so silver hubs would also look fine, and the standard silver color would have been cheaper. Though perhaps I'm worrying about nothing. Presumably, Rohloff and/or Thorn would not be offering the black anodized version if it really did cause significant flange weakness.

55-559 Marathon Mondial tires are clearly sturdier but also slightly less wide than the 57-559 Marathon Extremes. Tread pattern is similar and both tires can be installed and removed with bare hands, though a single tire lever helps with removal.

6 spare spokes (3 each of front and rear), padded by foam, fit easily into the handlebar.

Small size of the Rohloff oil drain screw makes me worried about the possibility of stripping the threads in the hub shell when reinstalling it. This would be a mess to repair. I covered the screw with duct tape to help keep it clean. Supposedly, the screw is secured internally with Loctite, which should also protect it.

There are lurid tales on the internet regarding the difficulty of removing the Rohloff sprocket after a bike has been ridden for a while: muscular young bike mechanics straining and swearing and breaking chain whips right and left, etc. I decided to test removing the sprocket while the bike was still brand-new, so as to establish a benchmark for how difficult it might be down the road. And indeed, even on a brand-new bike, removing the sprocket is difficult, though mainly to the awkwardness of the posture required. I greased the sprocket well before reinstalling it. I plan to make a practice of removing, greasing and reinstalling the sprocket at every oil change (every 5000 km), rather than waiting until the sprocket is worn (which might take 15000 km).

Some Thorn Nomad owners going on long expeditions have expressed a desire for a derailleur hanger on the Nomad frame, as a backup solution in case the Rohloff hub or other rear wheel parts break somewhere remote, where it is impossible or unacceptably expensive or time-consuming to get the rear wheel repaired, but where standard mountain bike wheels can be obtained locally. However, there is no need for a derailleur hanger to mount a wheel with derailleur hub. Rather, a derailleur hub wheel can be mounted as a single-speed wheel, using whichever of the cogs gives an acceptable gear ratio and chain line, and using the eccentric bottom bracket to take up slack in the chain. Then package up the broken rear wheel, strap it to the rear rack somehow, and continue on with the journey, dismounting and pushing whenever hills are encountered. After all, people have ridden around the world on single-speed bicycles.

Customization

Some of the items below were transferred from the Novara.

Weights

Replacement parts

The Nomad will eventually require maintenance, and some parts are hard-to-source and might someday be unavailable, so stock up on spares if possible, and have a plan otherwise.

Chain cleaning and adjustment

At least on my 590M frame with 36/17 gearing, brand-new chains (8 speed, SRAM PC830 or similar, 57" or 114 half-links initially) should be shortened to 50" (7 full-links removed). This will cause the grub screws to sit under the rearmost side hole of the eccentric bottom bracket, leaving slightly more than 50% of the EBB available for tightening as the chain stretches, before needing to remove a link.

Tightening grub screws creates a permanent indent in the eccentric body. If indents are too close together, grub screws will slip. So some thought should be given as to indent positioning. I created 7 approximately equally-spaced indents as follows: (a) 1 centered between wrench holes; (b) 2 inline with wrench holes; (c) 2 outside of each wrench hole. Then I went back and put 6 more holes in between these 7 initial holes, for a total of 13 indents. Final spacing between indents is roughly 6mm.

To shorten chain: (a) open at master link, which may be difficult if master link is clogged with dirt, or else break chain next to master link using chain tool; (b) remove two half-links; (c) replace master link. Because shortening the chain in the field might damage existing master link, include 3 spare master links in repair kit (along with two spare chain links in case chain breaks, though this is very unlikely).

Thorn shipped a pedal/eccentric/mudguard/rohloff wrench with the bike. However, I found it easy to turn the eccentric using the handle of my chain tool, and I can manually turn the rohloff gear with my adjustable wrench, and I don't need to remove pedals or mudguards on my tours, so I will leave this wrench behind in the future and save 70g of weight.

Unlike with derailleurs, which won't shift properly if the chain is dirty, internal gear hubs like Rohloff work fine with dirty chains. However, it's probably best not to let the chain get too dirty. Among other things, a very dirty chain means very dirty hands if the chain is ever touched (to remove rear wheel, adjust eccentric) or very dirty pants legs. My chain cleaning system consists of two 125ml bottles of citrus chain cleaner and two toothbrushes (one of each is spare, since these can break), shop towels, water bottle. Dip toothbrush in chain cleaner, run chain backwards against tooth brush, repeat until chain is coated with cleaner. Then rinse chain with water bottle. Optionally, wipe off water/dirt using a shop towel. Allow chain to dry. Apply new lube. Citrus chain cleaner can be obtained at either bicycle shops or auto parts stores. Toothbrush, bottles of chain cleaner and bottles of chain lube are all stored inside my saddle bag, so leaks will only contaminate my bike tools.

I use mostly a lightweight silicone chain lube (White Lightning Epic Ride). PTFE lubes (TriFlow) are also good and longer-lasting than silicone, however the smell of these PTFE lubes is far more unpleasant than with the silicone lubes, which is a consideration if they lube bottle leaks or you get the lube on your hands somehow and don't have access to washing facilities. I found wax lubes to be a mess and they don't work well in low temperatures. Oily lubes just make the chain filthy and are not needed in the mostly warm and dry conditions that I encounter. As with chain cleaner bottles, lube bottles can break and leak, so best to choose a lube that is not too messy and smelly. Also, bring multiple small bottles rather than single large bottle.

Unlike with derailleurs, it is not necessary to replace chains frequently with internal gear hubs. The approach recommended by Andy Blance is to let chainring, chain and sprocket all wear together. Then flip chainring and sprocket and install a new chain and let that side of chainring and sprockets wear. Finally, replace chainring, sprocket and chain. This approach works if the chainring and sprocket wear at approximately the same rate. What I found, when running a steel 36T chainring and steel 17T sprocket, was that the smaller sprocket wore faster than the chainring and so the chain began to grind once the chainring and sprocket were out of sync. Andy Blance supposedly uses a Thorn aluminum 40T chainring, and perhaps that wears at the same rate as a 19T steel sprocket. In any case, I just went back to the traditional system of changing chains after each tour, so as to reduce chainring and sprocket wear.

Initial test rides

Nomad performed as expected and left me feeling very good about purchase. Test ride was with 30 kg of gear, but there should be little difficulty with my 45 kg max load. I had read reviews in which the Nomad was described as an overbuilt tank, but it feels lighter and faster to me than the Novara, which is my only basis for comparison, besides the heavy steel single-speeds I grew up riding forty years ago. (I don't think I've ever ridden a truly lightweight bike in my life.)

Rohloff hub shifted smoothly and I hardly noticed any noise in the upper gears, just the pawls clicking when coasting. The lower gears are noisier, but this is a minor consideration, since situations requiring lower gears (strugging up hills or over broken terrain) typically distract me enough that I am unlikely to notice gear noises, as long as these noises are normal.

There was much talk in the Thorn brochure about ear-splitting squealing noises from the Swisstop brakes against the carbide rim, length of time before this squealing diminishes, recommendations to minimize squealing, etc. I noticed no squealing whatsoever from the brakes.

Change from suspension fork on the Novara to rigid fork on the Nomad resulted in better handling but no arm or shoulder soreness. Suspension is overrated. The best suspension is fat tires plus strong muscles so that the body actively rises from the saddle as bumps are encountered, thus neutralizing shocks rather than passively absorbing them.

Comments after 1st tour (odometer 970 miles, 1561 km)

24 day, 811 mile (1305 km) tour of Nevada backcountry, described in detail here. I started the tour with a 43 kilo load and the bike handled that fine. I also tested riding downhill at 47mph with a 30 kilo load, and the bike handled that fine as well. Rohloff hub was a true joy to use. I cannot recommend these Thorn Nomad bikes highly enough for mixed paved/dirt road touring where heavy loads must be carried.

Rohloff recommends an oil change every 3000 miles (5000 km). However, I decided to change my oil immediately upon returning from my tour, to see what was involved. Had some difficulty gluing the oil change tube to the plastic syringe. Superglue doesn't seem to work well, not sure why. So used duct tape to secure the tube to the syringe. Once this was done, procedure was quick and straightforward, with very little mess. Screw in the oil change kit is wrapped with some sort of white tape on the threads, which presumably serves to secure the screw in place. Regardless, I didn't apply loctite to the new screw before installing. I did cover the new screw with black duct tape after installing, to keep it clean. Not sure if this is necessary, but it can't hurt. I also saved the old drain screw. Probably not necessary to use a new screw with each oil change.

paint abrasion on inside of chain stays from tire
While examining the bike, I noticed the paint had been abraded down to bare metal on the insides of both chain stays, right where the tires pass. Not sure what this is from, since there is plenty of clearance between the chain stays and tires. I sanded and painted these spots with touch-up paint, along with a few other areas where paint had been scratched, probably from rocks thrown up by the tires. [Update: based on discussion on Thorn forums, such abrasion is to be expected with mountain bikes, and is known issue since the 1970's. This is especially true with fat tires like the 55-559 Mondials, which have little clearance between tire and chainstays. Mud sticks to sides of tires, is carried around, then rubs off on chainstays, abrading paint. I encountered mud several times on this just-completed tour.]

I did nothing to soften or otherwise break-in the Brooks saddle, other than smearing the underside liberally with Proofhide when I first received the bike. Nevertheless, the saddle was comfortable from the beginning. There are now barely visible impressions of my sit bones just in front of the rear flange, but the saddle surface remains quite hard. I think the real breaking-in with a Brooks saddle is the body of the cyclist. In particular, the skin under the sitbones needs to adapt so that it doesn't produce pimples or other inflammation. The desk chairs I've sat on for many hours/day for many years now (folding metal chair with thin cushion or wooden chair without cushion) are at least as hard as the Brooks saddle, and I tend to sit upright mostly, so the skin under my sitbones has long been adapted to hard surfaces.

I'm comfortable with the 640mm wide Thorn flat-track handlebars myself, but just barely. Someone significantly taller than me (I'm 181 cm tall) or with broader shoulders might want something slightly wider. I think these handlebars should be made 680mm wide and then let the user cut them down if so desired.

Comments after 2nd tour (odometer 2080 miles, 3347 km)

30 day, 1040 mile (1673 km) tour of the Lassen and Plumas national forest, described in detail here.

Replaced nylon rim strip with cloth rim strip. The nylon rim strip shifted position, so that the hard edge starting cutting into the inner tube and eventually sliced it open. Initially, I replaced with cheap rubber rim strips, which are okay for the low pressures I run (nylon or cloth is required for high-pressure tires). Then I read some rumors on the internet that rubber rim strips can break. The rubber rim strips didn't seem fragile to me, but it seemed penny-wise pound-foolish not spend $5 for the cloth rim strips, which everyone seems to agree are best. The cloth rim strips even weigh slightly less (22 grams versus 32 grams for rubber). [Update: Andy Blance had problems with the glue on Velox cloth rim strips melting in hot climates, allowing the rim strip to shift position, ultimately resulting in flats from tube rubbing uncovered spoke nipples. I also experienced such slipping (see here), though not to the extent of uncovering spoke nipples. I will be returned to nylon rim strips in the future.]

Performed another an oil change on the Rohloff hub before this tour. As with the first oil change, this one was well before schedule, which is every 3000 miles rather than every 1000 miles. However, it can't hurt to change oil more frequently than recommended and these oil changes are not expensive, give that I ordered Rohloff oil in bulk from Thorn. Also, I want to get thoroughly familiar with the procedure. I used a new drain screw this time, but will probably reuse the drain screw next time. I continue to worry about somehow stripping the drain screw threads. After replacing the drain screw, I covered the area with duct tape to keep it clean and also help prevent the drain screw from coming unscrewed (unlikely, given that new screws come wrapped with loctite material).

Replaced Finish Line Dry teflon lube with White Lightning Epic Ride silicone lube as my chain lube, mainly because the latter is more widely available and I dislike mixing lubes. I briefly tried the White Lightning Clean Ride wax lube, but this becomes very viscous when cold and probably won't work well then, and I need something that works in both warm and cold conditions. Also, though I try to avoid wet weather as much as possible, there will times when I can't avoid wetness and wax lubes don't work well in wet conditions. For all these reasons, the Epic Ride is probably better for me. What definitely is a no-go is the Prolink Gold that I used on my first two tours, since the bottle for that lube leaks from changes in atmospheric pressure due to changes in altitude. Both Finish Line Dry and Epic Ride have secure caps on their bottles.

Given that I'm running an internal gear hub, I can afford to abuse my chain far more than people running derailleurs. However, even with an IGH, the chain needs to be cleaned occasionally when traveling in dusty conditions, or else it will cause horrible grinding noises. What I discovered on this last tour is that simply dumping more lube on top of a dirty chain, which was my original plan, doesn't work to stop squeaking, at least with lightweight teflon and silicone lubes. While on the tour, I cleaned my chain with some aerosol cleaner in a can, but I don't want to carry a can like that in my panniers since it might leak. Nor did I like the looks of those huge plastic chain cleaners. The system I devised after returning from my tour is as follows. Add toothbrush and citrus chain cleaner (repacked into sturdy Nalgene 125ml bottle to minimize leaks) to repair kit. Dip toothbrush into chain cleaner, run chain backwards against toothbrush, dip into chain cleaner again, etc. When chain is completely wetted with chain cleaner, squirt with water from water bottle. Then finish up by wiping chain with a shop towel. Allow chain to dry, relube.

Experimented with running the tubes without sealant, hoping not to encounter any goatheads, but the experiment was a failure. Goatheads are everywhere in the dry parts of the western United States and sealant is mandatory.

Still unsure as to what sorts of spares I should be carrying. I'm probably carrying too much, but then better safe than sorry. A few pounds of extra weight hardly makes a difference on a bike. Big change from backpacking, where every ounce counts.

Comments after 3rd tour (odometer 3726 miles, 5595 km)

37 day, 1611 mile (2592 km) tour of the Nevada and Utah backcountry, including the Nevada portion of the American Discovery Trail, described in detail here.

Checked spoke tension with my Park TM-1 spoke tension meter. One spoke was slightly loose relative to the others, though not absolutely loose, so I tightened it a bit. Wheels are both still true. Spoke tensions are very high, average over 131 Kg. But that is how Thorn built the wheel and I suppose they know what they are doing. The Rohloff guide is unclear as to max spoke tension, though they warn against low tension, which can cause the hub flange to break due to flexing.

I kept the 55-559 Schwalbe Mondials inflated to 42 PSI (3.0 bars) typically, and that worked well enough on all surfaces: paved roads, gravel, hardpack dirt, sand.

Replaced both brake cables, to get experience with this.

Experimented with cutting brake/shifter cables with Leatherman tool from field repair kit. Totally ineffective. Mangles cable without cutting it. So I pre-cut front and rear brake cables to the proper length using cable cutters, then superglued the ends to stop fraying, then stored in the repair kit, using a home-made cable holder to protect other items from sharp cable ends.

I wanted to also pre-cut shifter cables. However, according to Dave Whittle of Thorn, the new Rohloff twistshifter, which is what I have, requires Rohloff or Fibrax shifter cables, as the head on Shimano and similar shifter cables is too large and will damage the plastic drum in the twistshifter. [Update: according to another bicycle tourist, the head on Shimano cables can be reduced in size using a file or sandpaper so that it fits properly into the Rohloff twistshifter.] The only place to get these cables is from Thorn. I'll order in bulk when I return from my next tour. Specific cable he recommends here. He also says any 5mm outer brake housing will work, but be very sure NOT to lubricate the cables and to fit sealed ferrules, such as these. The other part of the Rohloff system that is likely to need replacing is the rubber shifter handle.

Some people on the Thorn forums have high praise for the Hebie chainglider. Some issues: (a) if the chainglider is so great, why doesn't Andy Blance use it on his expeditions? (b) these people praising the chainglider use it mostly on roads, for commuting and short tours, so I'm not confident of their assurances that the chainglider doesn't let in dust; (c) requires use of the thinner Surly steel chainring rather than the thicker Thorn aluminum chainring; (d) more weight (about 300g, according to something I read on the internet) though this would be partially compensated for by less chain cleaner and chain lube in the repair kit; (e) early version damaged Rohloff hub shell, though apparently that problem has been fixed; (f) makes removing rear wheel (to fix flats) somewhat more difficult, though this is not enough to dissuade me from the chainglider if it actually did protect the chain from dirt.

Comments after 4th tour (odometer 5278 miles, 8492 km)

55 day, 1477 mile (2376 km) tour of the Mojave Desert, described in detail here.

Big news is that Rohloff has authorized use of lower gear ratios, so I'll be switching to 36/17, giving me a low gear of 15.4 gear inches. Thorn is selling a 19T sprocket Thorn for the same price as the 17T Rohloff sprocket. 40/19 has similar gears to 36/17, but should give better chain and sprocket life, though I'm not really having problems with chain or sprocket life as is. And since I already have a 17T sprocket with plenty of service life left, plus a spare 17T sprocket, it doesn't make much sense to switch to 40/19.

Tested replacing shifter cables, but not housing, using the shifter cables Thorn recommended. This was for practice only, since the cables supposedly only need replacement every 20,000 km. Lots of dust inside cable box. Tightening headless screws on cable pulley mangles cable ends, after which they won't fit into tiny holes on cable pulley, so make sure everything is setup correctly before tightening. It would also be wise to superglue ends of cables immediately after cutting, to prevent fraying. I managed to bungle things the first time, by forgetting to install the cable adjusters before tightening headless screws. Since I had extra cables on hand, I simply cut replacements.

Small parts that can be lost while replacing shifter cables: cable stoppers, ferrules, cable box torx screws, headless screws for cable pulley. Dave Whittle had mentioned the headless cable pulley grub screws as being very small, so I ordered those to add to my repair kit. Now that I've gone through this cable replacement procedure, I think I know how to avoid losing these screws. However, since I have them and they weigh next to nothing, I wrapped them in clear tape and threw in the repair kit.

I also pre-cut spare cables for my repair kit, in the obvious way: install cables in shifter, measure, cut, superglue end to stop fraying, remove from shifter, place in repair kit. Spare cables weigh about 25g. Cable housings are slightly different lengths, so pre-cut cables are not interchangeable. To know which pre-cut cable is which, I painted head of gear 1 cable black. I also cut 200mm of cable for repair kit, to allow field measurements, in case I forget about black colored head or black coloring wears off somehow. I regret not cutting two sets of pre-cut cables, just in case I bungle the field replacement procedure. [Update Oct 2015: Spare shifter cables in the repair kit frayed over the course of the three years since I cut them, so I removed them from the repair kit. If shifter cables break in field, then use single-speed to get to nearest town, then order uncut cables and cable cutter. To avoid breakage in field, replace cables at 20000 km.]

Performed another oil change. Reused the oil drain screw. Once again put a piece of black duct tape on top of the screw afterwards, to keep the area clean and prevent the screw from unscrewing.

The issue with abrasion on the inside of the chainstays (discussed above and with a photo to illustrate the problem), seems to have gone away for the most part. The touch-up paint that I applied to these abraded areas is still mostly intact, with a few scratches on this paint. The abrasion was probably due to mud clinging to the outsides of the tires, since that initial long tour was in the spring, and there was some snow and mud at times during that tour. By contrast, my tours since have been mostly in dry weather. The scratches on the touch-up paint might be due to occasional pebbles getting stuck to the outsides of the tires during these dry weather tours. I'm not too concerned about this abrasion at this point. Worst comes to worst, I'll have to replace the frame in 10 or 20 years.

Checked spoke tensions with my Park TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter: range 117 Kg to 167 Kg. Both wheels continue to be true and I did not tighten any spokes.

brooks saddle after 5000 miles
Above is a photo of the brooks saddle after 5000 miles and about 625 hours in the saddle (at 8 miles/hour). Note the slight depression in front of the rear flange, caused by my left sitbone. There is no collapse of the saddle into a hammock or banana shape, like in some photos of well-worn Brooks saddles.

Despite the misgivings discussed above, I decided to try the Hebie chainglider for Rohloff hubs since I dirtied my boots and probably my pants too several times due to leaning against the middle of the chain while stopped. Actual weight of Hebie 38T chainglider is 250g. The chainglider is intended for 38T chainrings, but according to comments on Thorn forums, it should also support 36T. Though in fact, it doesn't fit that well, as shown below. Plenty of clearance at the rear sprocket, so whatever the problem was there originally has been fixed and there is now no danger of abrading the Rohloff hub shell.

hebie chainglider for 38T chainrings with my 36T chainring

[In Oct 2015, I noticed abrasion to the Rohloff hub shell, exactly like what people said could be caused by the Hebie chainglider. This was two years after I removed the chainglider, so either I didn't notice the damage at the time I removed the chainglider (such as because the shell was covered by dust), or else something else caused this abrasion since then, though I can't imagine what.]

hebie chainglider damage

Thorn recommends a Surly stainless steel chainring for use with the Hebie chainglider. Since Thorn doesn't sell the 36T Surly chainring, I ordered from JensonUSA. Weight of 110mm x 36T Surly chainring is 90g, versus 120g for Thorn 110mm x 42T aluminum chainring I had on previously. Weight savings is partly due to smaller diameter and partly because the steel chainring is half the width of the aluminum ring.

Thorn aluminum chainring gives a chain line of 55mm when placed on the outer position of the crank. Compare with Rohloff's recommendation of 54mm chain line and the difference is within my error of measurement. Whereas the Surly steel chainring gives a chain line of about 52mm. So I added 1.2mm chainring spacers to bring the chainline closer to the Rohloff recommendation. See here. 2mm spacers would probably be better, but I ordered incorrectly and 1.2mm seem adequate.

Tightening chainring bolts runs risk of stripping nut slots if using a screwdriver to hold the nut. I ordered the Park CNW-2 chainring nut wrench, so as to be able to do the job properly in the future. I also added a spare chainring bolt/nut/spacer to my repair kit, just in case one gets loose on the road (single chainring bolts).

Comments after 5th tour (odometer 7271 miles, 11706 km)

80 day, 1929 mile (3104 km) tour of the Lassen National Forest, described in detail here.

Hebie chainglider failed to protect chain from dust, started to add drag as it became clogged with dust itself, and finally chainring began catching on the chainglider plastic, bending it out of shape and causing a rattling noise, which was annoying plus it might mask sounds of other bike components failing. So I threw the chainglider in the trash. This happened after exactly 3 weeks and 642 miles of riding on rugged dirt roads. Part of the problem is surely due to using the 36T chainring in a chainglider designed for 38T chainrings. However, even with the proper chainring, I doubt this chainglider would hold up under the rugged and dusty conditions I encounter.

Thorn chainguard is an alternative for protection from getting pants dirty. However, now that I've gotten my chain cleaning routine down pat, the chain is never really that dirty anymore, and thus getting my pants dirty is no longer a major concern, so I've decided not to get the chainguard at this point. (My pants are black, so I was only ever concerned about major amounts of grease, not trivial spots.)

Difficulty turning eccentric to get new chain to fit, whereas it was easy to turn previously. Removed it and found some of that Lassen dust inside. Cleaned and greased the shell before replacing.

After about six weeks, I noticed my leg muscles were becoming unbalanced because I was only pedaling and never pushing. So I made a point from then on of pushing 2 miles (about 35 minutes) per day. During desert tours, there will probably always be sandy stretches where pushing is required, so I won't have to deliberately force myself to push on those tours.

I had no flats and didn't notice many goathead thorns during this tour, perhaps because I'm getting pretty good at recognizing goathead thorn areas and avoiding them. I'm going to experiment with tire liners on my next trip instead of putting sealant in the tubes, though I'll carry sealant in the repair kit. There was still some liquid sealant in the tubes. I've considered going tubeless, but that seems like a big hassle, though maybe not. I've never tried tubeless. Updated my page on this issue (see here).

Before performing the post-tour oil change, I first drained the existing oil, but very little came out. Evidently, the oil had mostly leaked out during the tour because of how I store the bike on its right side at night. I don't think this is a problem. I cleaned around the sprocket about halfway through the tour, and then it got oily again soon thereafter, so evidently there was still free oil in the hub at that point. Which means at most the hub was empty of oil for half the tour. But Rohloff says it is possible to run the hub for 5000km with no free oil, just whatever oil clings to the gears. So I'm probably okay.

One of the cable ties holding my bike computer cable in place broke. Replaced with a spare from my repair kit.

Saddle continues to look as in photo above. I applied another light layer of Brooks proofhide to maintain the water-repellancy.

Rear rack is being abraded away by the bouncing of the panniers. Some people install tape to stop this abrasion. I tried that but the tape only lasted a few days. Heavier tape might work, though I can foresee some possible downsides (need to replace tape periodically, thus one more maintenance chore, tape accumulates dirt, tape makes it more difficult to install and remove panniers). Racks should last at least 7 years at my current rate of abrasion (and assuming about 150 days and 500 hours of touring per year). Cost of new rack is at most $200, including shipping and assuming a bad exchange rate. Divided by 7 that's $30/year, which is small. Front racks show no abrasion, because I'm using home-made fabric panniers there. [Update: CycloCamping.com is selling something called "Tubus Anti-Scratch Protection Foil Set", which is specifically designed to protect the powder-coating on steel racks from pannier hook abrasion. Lizardskins.com sells various Bike Protection products which could probably be used to protect racks from abrasion. I haven't tried any of these products myself.]

Checked spoke tensions with my Park TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter. All tensions at least 117 Kg. Both wheels continue to be true and I did not tighten any spokes. No evidence of rim wear and brake pads showing minimal wear.

Reinforcements and other design changes I made to my various home-made bicycles items seemed to have fixed all the problems I was having initially. Some stitching coming undone on the front panniers, which I resewed at the motel. I'm getting close to having my bike touring system at the same level of perfection as my hiking system.

There was some discussion on the Thorn forums (see here) about rusting handlebar, stem, chainring and crank bolts, and about replacing all these bolts with stainless steel versions. I'm not sure if these bolts on my bike are regular or stainless steel. According to Dave Whittle of Thorn, as of 2014 Thorn has replaced the crank and chainring bolts with stainless steel versions, but will not be replacing the handlebar and stem bolts due to liability concerns. Stainless steel has lower tensile strength than ordinary steel, and the handlebar/stem manufacturers refuse to warranty use with stainless steel. However, users can replace these bolts on their own, if they are willing to take the risk. Probably not an issue for me, given how I tour in mostly dry areas.

Comments after 6th tour (odometer 9367 miles, 15072 km)

83 day, 2069 mile (3329 km) tour of the Mojave desert area, described in detail here.

Both my Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 55-559 tires failed on this tour, as shown below. The first failure was due to bead separation on the rear tire after about 8611 miles usage (13855 km). The second failure was due to a tear in the rubber on the front tire after about 8687 miles usage (13977 km). I had previously swapped tires to even out wear, so neither was exclusively rear or front. The bead separation failure manifested as a thumping and wobbling sensation with each revolution of the rear wheel. At first, I thought this might be bearing failures in the Rohloff hub. But then when I turned the bike upside down and spun the rear wheel to investigate, it was obvious it was just a tire problem. (What a relief that was!) I replaced this tire immediately with the spare in my repair kit (Schwalbe Marathon Extreme 50-559), then placed an order for new tires when I got to town, and also picked up a cheap temporary spare at Kmart. The front tire failed before the replacements arrived, but I didn't have much confidence in the Kmart tire and so decided to put a tire boot in the front tire and continue running with that for another few days. However, the Park-brand tire boots in my repair kit had somehow gotten lost, so I just reinforced with duct tape instead. It may not be obvious from the photo, but the kelvar fabric is still intact under that torn rubber and remained intact until the new tires arrived. I'm not sure if my lack of confidence in the Kmart tire was justified. Maybe I'm just being a snob because the Kmart tire only cost $17 and the Schwalbe Mondial costs $80. In any case, the front tire held on for another 4 days and 100 miles of touring until the new tires arrived (via UPS from cyclocamping.com, shipped to a motel with whom I had made arrangements).

tire failure due to bead separation

tire failure due to torn rubber

I've read of people getting 25000 km from Schwalbe XR's, which is what the Mondial replaces, but I'm not dissatisfied with 14000 km. At least 20% of my riding is on extremely rugged hardpack, with sharp rocks that tear into the rubber and with the tires pulled from side-to-side during descents, which stresses the bead area. I suspect those people getting 25000 km are mostly running on paved roads. Given that my average speed is under 8 mph (13 km/hour), due to being mostly on dirt roads, I'm probably getting more usage in terms of hours than the people running on mostly paved roads, even if I get less usage in terms of distance. I'll probably not push the tires to failure in the future, especially not in the Nevada backcountry tours, since those are where I am furthest from civilization.

Tire liners I experimented with didn't work well (failed to protect from goatheads, caused flats by slicing into the inner tube), as discussed on the flat prevention page. I threw the tire liners away after 1200 miles and went back to my old system of Stans sealant in the inner tubes.

Handlebar bag needs to be redesigned to avoid abrasion that is occurring with current design. New design requires dual 105mm x 0° accessory bars rather than just one, so ordered the new bar from SJSCycles. Even with two accessory bars, still much less weight than Ortlieb handlebar bag, and also roomier and more convenient for my purposes.

Reinforcement patches on front panniers doing their job, but need replacing. Saddle bag needs new straps and also a spare set of straps. Rack bag also needs a spare set of straps. Nothing wrong with straps and reinforcement patches wearing out, since this is an easy maintenance issue and I am saving huge amounts of weight on tour by using my own rather than commercial gear.

Two problems with Ortlieb panniers. First, the nylon carrying handle broke, but this is an easy field repair. Second, one of the side-release buckles partially broke. I was able to limp along with the partially broken buckle until I got home, then replaced it using a sewing machine. Full discussion and photos here. I continue to be very happy with these panniers. Over 300 days of touring on rugged ground (causing the panniers to bounce a lot) and still going strong, other than the problems just noted.

Damaged the brake pads on the front brake due to trying to jam the wheel back in after repairing a flat. I forgot that the tire needs to be deflated to fit between the brake arms. Stupid of me. Luckily, I had spare brake pads in my repair kit. These are Swissstop blue pads, because of the CSS coating on my rims. These pads are only sold by a few distributors, mostly in Europe. Ordered another set as part of an order with SJSCycles, to replace the one used from the repair kit.

Met another dirt road bicycle tourist for the first time (blog is wanderingbybicycle). He was riding a Surly Troll frame with Rohloff hub, Marathon Mondial tires, Brooks saddle, just like me, but using disk brakes. Said his frame swayed into an S-shape when heavily loaded, yet I doubt his maximum load is anywhere near my 45 Kg. I've sometimes wondered if the Nomad might be overbuilt (I'm not enough of a bike expert to know for sure), but a comment like that makes me appreciate its stiffness. My Nomad laughs at a mere 45 Kg plus 80 Kg for rider with clothing. As noted above, my initial order included the disk brake option for the Rohloff hub, so I can later change to rear disk brakes, but I see no reason to change at this point, since rim brakes are working fine. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Of course, I tour in mostly dry conditions.

Speaking of brakes, Thorn has updated the Nomad brochure to indicate that CSS rims can become polished with use, leading to poor braking performance in the wet, and so using CSS on both wheels is not advisable. They advise a non-CSS rim on the front and CSS on the rear as an acceptable combination. This is probably not an issue for me, since I avoid riding in wet conditions and also avoid riding very fast. I'd rather have longer-lasting rims than great braking performance. My brakes continue to work fine when I merely run the wheels through puddle, since the brakes soon dry out the rims.

Checked spoke tensions with my Park TM-1 Spoke Tension Meter: range 117 Kg to 167 Kg. Both wheels continue to be true and I did not tighten any spokes.

Performed another oil change. Procedure is very easy now that I've done it five times. My average interval is thus 3000km vs the 5000km Rohloff recommends. Since I'm reusing the oil change kit (syringe, two bottles) and oil drain screw, and getting oil from liter bottles I ordered from SJSCycles, cost per oil change is very low. The waste oil goes in an empty yogurt container to carry to the dumpster.

At the end of the tour, chain measured over 1% stretch. At the start of the tour, this chain wore down quickly and made horrible grinding noises as it settled in to match the worn sprocket. The grinding never entirely disappeared due to the mismatch between sprocket and chainring, which is worn only slightly. Decided to reverse the sprocket and install a new chain. Grinding of new chain was horrible initially, so maybe there is wear on both sides of sprocket. My notes don't indicate, but I may have reversed the sprocket previously. Plan is to just leave the whole drivetrain alone for several years until everything needs to be replaced.

In July 2014, Thorn sent an email alert that one owner had experienced a failure of the flat-track handlebars, possibly due to corrosion from perspiration seeping down the gap between the Rohloff shifter and the Ergon grips. (I thought aluminum was immune to corrosion other than under exceptional conditions?) I removed the shifter and grips to inspect the handlebar, but saw no signs of corrosion or other damage, other than a small scratch (probably caused by a piece of dirt caught inside the grip, which scratched the paint when I rotated the grips to get them positioned just right). TBC To be continued...

Comments after 7th tour (odometer 11793 miles, 18795 km)

71 day, 2008 mile (3231 km) tour of the Northeast California (Lassen and Modoc National Forests) and Northwest Nevada, described in detail here.

Installed new tubes and sealant prior to trip, as a precautionary measure. Old tubes were still in fine condition.

Small dent in top tube, as shown below. Has no impact on performance. Very unlikely to be a manufacturing problem. I see this dent as confirming that Thorn made the right decision in going with thick-walled and thus heavy tubing, since whatever caused this dent would have ruined a frame with thin-walled tubing. A bicycle used for adventure touring is going to suffer abuse. An extra pound of weight to move around is a lot less of a problem than a frame that gets damaged beyond repair.

small dent in top tube

Sigma BC509 wired bicycle computer stopped recording several times for a short period of time (maybe 15 miles total during the entire tour). Once this while riding in the rain, presumably due to water getting between computer itself and wire contacts, and the other times while dry. After jiggling the wire, the computer resumed recording. I'm going to replace with a wireless computer at some point.

Another side-release broke on the Ortlieb panniers, as described here, except on the other pannier. As before, the side-release only broke partially and I was still able to close the panniers with it. Replaced when I got back home. Maybe these Ortlieb side-releases are flimsy or maybe breakage is to be expected at some point. I once had the 3/4" side-release on my backpack break and I've seen other people with broken 1.5" and 2" hip-strap side-releases, so side-releases are known to be a point of failure. I'll probably add something to the repair kit to enable closing the panniers in case a side-release every breaks completely. All things considered, I continue to be happy with these Ortlieb panniers.

I ran out of White Lightening Epic Ride lubricant, and so picked up some PTFE-based Triflow in two forms: (a) bottle specifically designed for bicycle chains at a bicycle store; (b) aerosol spray can at a hardware store. The Triflow spray can is bulky to carry in the saddlebag and makes something of a mess during application, but otherwise works the same as the bottle form. This is good to know, since Triflow in spray cans is commonly available at hardware stores in the United States. The Triflow bottle has a secure lid and can be applied to the chain as easily as Epic Ride. Both versions of Triflow appear to last significantly longer than Epic Ride and don't pick up any more dirt than Epic Ride. However, Triflow stinks horribly, much worse than Epic Ride. If I spill even a single drop on one of my fingers, I have to be careful to wash with chain cleaner and soap, or I'll become nauseous when I bring that finger near my nose later while eating. I'd hate to think what would happen if the Triflow bottle leaked somehow in the saddlebag. So I'll be returning to Epic Ride as my standard lube, but will be more careful to make sure I start tours with a full bottle, since Epic Ride is only available at bicycle stores (and sometimes the bicycle section of Walmart).

After trip, performed another oil change.

After trip, installed Thorn chainguard, which required replacing the bottom bracket. (I used the tools at Reno Bike Project workshop for this.) Then I removed the chainguard a day after installing it, because it seemed useless and perhaps a future source of problems. Full discussion above, in the section on obsolete ordering options, where there is also a photo of the installed chainguard. Not sorry about this experience for two reasons: (a) I needed practice replacing bottom bracket; (b) I can finally forget about this chainguard, which has distracted me for years with the question of whether it is worthwhile or not.

After trip, replaced the Brooks saddle with a Selle SMP TRK Men's saddle, black color. The Brooks was never uncomfortable, but I became concerned that long-term use might cause injury to the soft tissues of the pelvis. Selle SMP TRK saddle is also less weight than the Brooks, doesn't require protection from rain, won't collapse into hammock shape if ridden when wet, doesn't require periodic proofhide application. In looking back, now that I've seen the light, I think there's a cult effect associated with those Brooks saddles. Maybe they are better than cheap saddles, but they are definitely not better than hi-tech saddles like the Selle SMP models. (Selle SMP TRK Men's saddle is 280x160mm and 395g according to Selle SMP website. Other models are Glider 266x136mm and 270g, Drakon 276x138mm and 290g, Pro 278x148mm and 320g. Brooks B17 is 275x175mm and 520g, according to Brooks website, but some of the Brooks width is non-functional.)

Comments after 8th tour (odometer 12603 miles, 20278 km)

23 day, 754 mile (1213 km) tour of the Mojave Desert, described in detail here.

Selle SMP TRK saddle significantly less comfortable than Brooks B17, however I plan to continue with the Selle SMP saddle for health reasons.

Needed to replace rear Swiss Blue brake pads after returning to Reno from this trip. These were the original pads, so they lasted about 12700 miles (20434 km). They would have lasted longer with with less toe-in. I had forgotten how to put the washers together for the shoe holders, so the job took about two hours and also got my arms dirty with chain grease from flipping the bike over several times. Once again, I noticed how easily the small parts of these brake shoe holders can be lost, so I decided to add a replacement set of shoe holders to the repair kit (40g).

Though I'm fully satisfied with the Nomad for my purposes, I think there are several improvements Thorn could make to their product line. One of the reasons I'd like to see these improvements is so I could unequivocably recommend Thorn to persons curious about my Nomad, rather than getting involved in a detailed discussion of whether these persons need disk brakes so as to travel through mud, and how heavy a load they plan to be carrying, and so on. For someone planning to carry very heavy loads in mostly dry areas, like me, the Nomad is the perfect choice. But for someone who plans to use their bicycle differently from me, other bicycles might be a better choice, due to limitations of the current Thorn product line.

Comments after 9th tour (odometer 14489 miles, 23313 km)

64 day, 1732 mile (2787 km) tour of the Lassen and Modoc forests and northwest Nevada desert, described in detail here.

Selle SMP TRK saddle is very comfortable for 2 hours, okay between 2 and 4 hours, painful after 4 hours of riding per day. I average about 3 hours/day of riding and seldom go beyond 5 hours, so this is not a problem for me. I'm thinking of replacing with the leather coated PRO model (TRK model is vinyl coated), which might be slightly more comfortable.

No flat tires or other breakdowns.

For city use only, added Cateye Volt100 front light (150 lumens, micro USB chargeable lithium-ion battery, 2 hours usage on high, 6 hours low, 30 hours blinking), NiteRider 5.0 SL tail light (2 AAA batteries). I already have a Planet Bike tail light (2 AAA batteries) which I carry while touring (though I almost never use it) and also use in the city. However, the tail light could fail on me while riding, without my noticing it until I get to my destination, so I wanted two tail lights for city use. Failure of the front light would be obvious and also that light is less important from a safety point of view.

Checked spoke tensions with Park TM-1 Spoke tension meter: range 105 Kg to 167 Kg. Tightened two spokes on the front wheel that were under 105 Kg tension.

Cleaned and greased EX-box. Long time since I did this, though Rohloff recommends every 500 km, plus the box had come unscrewed during the tour and gotten filled with grass crud.

Oil change. Some mess when the filling tube came loose from the syringe. I'm using the same syringe I've been using since I first got the bike, with duct tape holding the tube to syringe (originally tried superglue, but that didn't work). Afterwards, took a fresh syringe and put a big blob of Seam Grip around the nozzle of the syringe, then buried the filling tube into that blob. Seems to hold well, but I won't know for sure until the next oil change.

I noticed abrasion to the Rohloff hub shell, exactly like what people said could be caused by the Hebie chainglider. This was two years after I removed the chainglider, so either I didn't notice the damage at the time I removed the chainglider (such as because the shell was covered by dust), or else something else caused this abrasion since then, though I can't imagine what. Photo here.

I had a number of issues with lube bottle caps leaking, breaking or jamming during this tour. Final conclusion is there is nothing wrong with the lube bottle design, but I do need to ensure the cap is tight and not defective when removing from the factory packaging. Because lube bottles can break, bring multiple small bottles rather than one large bottle. Same thing for chain cleaner and other liquids: multiple small bottles better than one big bottle.

Tightened the chain by one notch of the eccentric bottom bracket during the tour. Experienced constant difficulties during the tour with the chain making noises unless I kept it heavily lubed. Upon returning home, replaced current 17T sprocket with spare 17T sprocket I had in storage and also fitted a new chain. Unable to loosen sprocket at home, so used bench vise and shop size chain whip at Reno Bike Project. See photo below comparing old and new sprockets. Current sprocket was not heavily worn, but it was worn enough to get out of sync with chainwheel, and that was likely the cause of the grinding noises. Next time the sprocket is worn, I will switch to a Thorn 40T aluminum chainwheel with 19T sprocket, versus my current 36/17 gearing. My thinking is that the alumimum chainwheel will wear faster than the current Surly stainless chainwheel, even though it is slightly larger diameter, while the 19T sprocket should wear much slower than the 17T sprocket, due to larger diameter, so it will take longer for the chainwheel and sprocket to get out of sync, like maybe 50,000+ km. Even the 23000 km I got out of this sprocket is not bad, however.

old and new sprockets

After tour, replaced YWS Ring Lock, from Velo Orange (390g), with TiGr Mini Lock (490g). I had some concerns about the YWS Ring lock jamming somehow, leaving me unable to unlock it, whereas this seems less likely with the TiGr Mini due to higher quality construction. Other advantages of TiGr Mini: (a) stored on underside of down tube, using water bottle mount, rather then taking up space in saddlebag; (b) more conspicuous, so less likely that opportunistic thief will not notice bike is locked, then break spokes when he tries riding off with it; (c) large enough to lock frame to bike rack or other pole. Shouldn't ever need lubrication, but only use graphite lubes if lubrication is eventually required.

After tour, added side screws to pedals. I left these off when I initially installed the pedals, due to concerns about them tearing the backs of my pants or legs when the pedals rotated while I was pushing the bike. I have since gotten into the habit of keeping my legs away from the pedals when walking, so they no longer hit me, so no longer a reason not to have side screws. Pedals don't slip much, but a little extra traction wouldn't hurt, which is a reason to add them.

After tour, added a spare 6 liter Dromedary bladder to the repair kit. Cost in terms of weight and space is small versus convenience of having a spare on hand in case of a leak that can't be field repaired.

Front pannier attachment strap was tearing, so replaced it when I got home. These panniers have been used since July 2014 and are starting to show other wear. So probably I should plan on replacing straps every 9000 km or thereabouts (typically 3 tours, 1.5 years) and entire pannier every 18000 km (typically 6 tours, 3 years). I continue to think these home-made front panniers are better design for my purposes than Ortlieb front panniers.

3 breakages of Ortlieb straps during the tour, all quickly repaired in the field to the good design of those panniers. They lose about a centimeter of length with each repair, so replaced the straps when I got home.

Examined spare brake and shifter cables in repair kit upon returning home. Ends of both spare shifter cables were fraying, despite having applied superglue when they were cut. This will make it impossible for them to fit through the cable guides in the Rohloff EX-box, hence they are useless as spares. Removed them from repair kit and will henceforth be careful about replacing shifter cables every 20,000 km, as Rohloff and Thorn recommend, so as to avoid field replacement. Last replacement was at 8500 km, so I'm still okay for another few tours. No fraying of spare brake cables, so those remain in the repair kit (stored in the home-made cable holder).

Washed collapsible hiking staff (stored against front fork and used for defense against dogs and for supporting front of tarp) upon returning home, as staff had gotten dirty from grit and was jamming.

Comments after 10th tour (odometer 15623 miles, 25143 km)

43 day, 1063 mile (1710 km) tour of the Mojave desert, described in detail here.

Never noticed discomfort from Selle SMP TRK saddle, so evidently my body is adjusting to it. This is a plastic saddle, with foam padding, and so never "breaks in" and conforms to the body like a leather Brooks saddle. Rather, the body must conform to the saddle.

Grit got into TiGr Mini lock cylinder and jammed it somewhat. I managed to clear the grit out, and thereafter stored the lock cylinder in the saddle bag, with only the bow stored on the underside of the down tube. Otherwise, I'm very happy with this lock.

Mirror somehow cracked, maybe a hairline crack long ago from dropping the bike at some point, that later propagated due to vibrations and thermal expansion when the outer part of the frozen mirror warms up rapidly as the sun comes up. Replaced upon returning home.

One flat tire, due to a large thorn (not a goathead) that got stuck on inside of rear tire and kept ripping tube open so that sealant wouldn't work. Dismounted, applied a patch, installed new sealant, no further problems. Noticed nylon rim strip had shifted and crinkled, and seemed stiff as well, as from age. Replaced with spare rim strip from repair kit. Stiffness suggests these rim strips should be replaced periodically. Perhaps replace every 8000 miles (13000 km), same as tires and tubes. Upon returning home, replaced following items in repair kit: (a) spare rim strip (but need to order more of these, since the local stores only have Velox and rubber rim strips, rather than quality nylon); (b) tube of patch cement (since it will dry out now that it has been opened); (c) bottle of sealant.

Bent the stainless steel Surly chainring when the bike bounced to the side during a rugged descent and the chainring hit a big rock. Managed to bang it back into shape in the field using the side of my adjustable wrench. Based on this experience, I might stick with the steel 36T chainring, rather than switching to aluminum as I discussed above in the report of my previous tour. Aluminum might have fractured, whereas steel tends to bend and then can be bent back into shape. Need to think about this some more. TBC

Tightened eccentric bottom bracket once. Chain was getting loose again towards end of tour. Replaced chain upon returning home, per my new plan to replace chains frequently and thus reduce wear on chainring and sprocket.

Used less than one 2oz bottle of chain lube, and also still had some chain cleaner left over from what I started with, so what I'm carrying is overkill. Nevertheless, I will continue to start tours with three 2oz bottles of lube (one of which might be only partly full) and two full 4oz bottles of chain cleaner, given that bottles can break and the extra chain cleaner is useful for cleaning hands as well as the chain.

For 2016, Rohloff has announced a new sprocket design, which eliminates difficulty replacing the sprocket. See here.

Comments after 11th tour (odometer 17250 miles, 27755 km)

64 day, 1578 mile (2539 km) tour of Lassen and Mojave national forests and northwest Nevada backcountry, described in detail here.

Before tour, replaced tires installed at 8902 miles (14323 km), so that makes 6721 miles (10814 km) of usage, without rotation. Tires showed signs of wear, especially rear tire, and I want to stay on the safe side, since I really don't want another experience of tire failure during a tour. Replaced inner tubes at the same time, also to be on the safe side, and filled new tubes with sealant.

paint abrasion on outside of chain stays from boot
During tour, noticed paint had been abraded down to bare metal on outside of left chain stay, as shown above, due to occasional contact with hiking boots while pedaling. I don't plan to touch up the area, since the bike stays dry most of the time, and rust is thus only very superficial.

Used less than one 2oz bottle of chain lube during tour, and also still had some chain cleaner left over at end of tour from what I started with.

After tour, replaced chain and performed oil change (last oil change at 23313km, so almost at recommended service interval of 5000km). No more problems with bond between filling tube and nozzle of syringe (see discussion in comments regarding ninth tour). So SeamGrip (or similar urethane-based glue) rather than SuperGlue is definitely the way to connect these pieces of plastic securely.

After tour, checked spoke tensions with Park TM-1 Spoke tension meter: range 85 Kg to 148 Kg. Not sure why the tensions are lower than previous readings. Maybe I'm measuring differently. Wheels continue to be true and I did not tighten any spokes.

After tour, replaced shifter cables (last replaced at 8492 km, so almost at recommended service interval of 20000km) and lubed external shifter box. Had some problems installing new cables initially, so dismanteled twist shifter to see what was wrong. Cable pulley inside the twist shifter is made of plastic, which seems a weak point. Compare with aluminum cable pulley in the external shifter box at the hub. Might want to order a spare plastic cable pulley for the storage locker.

Vinyl covering of Selle SMP TRK saddle starting to crack, though should last another tour. Saddle was installed at 11793 miles (18795 km) and so has lasted 5457 miles (8780 km) thus far. Ordered a replacement but won't install until the current saddle falls apart completely. A bicycle that looks like junk, which is how my Nomad looks with that cracked saddle and dirt covering everything, is less tempting to thieves.

Comments after 12th tour (odometer 18538 miles / 29828 km)

43 day, 1207 mile / 1942 km tour of Nevada backcountry and Mojave desert of southern California, described in detail here.

Nomad frame broke with about 18250 miles / 29364 km on the odometer, weld between top and seat tubes. I was able to continue riding back to the nearest town, where I checked into a motel and contacted Thorn for advice on a temporary fix to allow me to continue riding. Best suggestion was a compression strap from an auto parts store to hold the top tube in place. Since edges of broken weld still mate perfectly, and since top tube is normally under compression while riding, all that is needed is something to keep the weld together when hitting bumps, and a compression strap does just that. See photos below. This allowed me to continue riding another 288 miles / 463 km, much of which was over rugged dirt roads, to where I could catch a bus to my hometown of Reno, where I will have access to a workshop. Frame will be replaced under Thorn's lifetime warranty. According to Robin Thorn, this is the first failure ever of any Thorn frame at the top to seat tube weld. I am not a very heavy rider (170 pounds / 77 kg) and my loads are well within the Nomad's specs. The reason I'm the first use to break a frame at this weld is probably either manufacturing defect or because I have been doing a lot more pushing than normal. Pushing, or rather wrestling, the loaded bicycle forwards using the handlebars, in order to get through deep sand and over rocks and ruts in washed out roads, puts unusual stress on top to seat tube weld. Pushing is a very unpleasant way to travel, but was necessary as part of my exploration of the backcountry dirt road network. At this point, I am finished exploring and plan on repeating the same routes over and over for the rest of my life, doing my best to avoid those roads that require excessive pushing, so there shouldn't be a problem with frame breakage in the future.

Once I got back to Reno, I arranged with Thorn to send a replacement frame. Shipping was by air freight, with delivery exactly 7 days after finalizing the warranty replacement order. There was no charge for either replacement frame or shipping. Replacement frame included installed headset, eccentric bottom bracket holder, seatpost, seat tube shim. As with the original bicycle, there was also a vial of black touch-up paint included, which I immediately put to use covering up the more obnoxious logos on the new frame, leaving only the small logo at the bottom of the seat tube and the logos on the chain stays.

Seatpost included with the frame was a pleasant surprise, since I had ordered another seatpost to be sent in the same box as the frame, along with a new handlebar. So now I have a seatpost in storage, which is actually good since I really need to replace that part on a regular basis. Both seatpost and handlebar are aluminum and thus have limited lifespan under heavy use, whereas steel can last forever in the absence of rust. According to Dave Whittle, I am well overdue for seatpost replacement. Stress is particularly high on the seatpost, since it flexes every turn of the pedals, as my weight shifts from side to side. Because I sit fairly upright, stress on handlebar while riding is low, however there's significant stress during pushing. Also, handlebar is thinner and longer than seatpost. Also, failure of seatpost would not be a disaster, since I could still ride standing up or else push, whereas failure of handlebar would make riding impossible and pushing difficult (hiking stick could be used as an improvised handlebar for pushing, if necessary). Which is why I am replacing both of these items.

Stem is also aluminum, but I use a short 75mm stem, ride fairly upright and so don't push down much on the stem, and stems are massive compared to handlebars and seatpost, so failure is unlikely. If stem failure did occur in the backcountry, I would probably just hike out to town, order a replacement, then get a ride back to wherever I left the bike and perform a field replacement. Cranks are also aluminum, but massive and hence unlikely to fail, plus I could still push after crank failure. Finally, there is the Rohloff shell. As discussed here, Hebie chainglider apparently etched a line in this shell during the short time I used that contraption, and it is conceivable that line could propagate and eventually cause the shell to crack open, which would be a real disaster. I'm thinking of having the shell replaced when I eventually need to replace the rim on the rear wheel, though of course this will be very expensive. TBC To be continued...

I used the Reno Bike Project workshop, just down the street from the motel I currently call home, to transition to the new frame. Despite having performed a shifter cable replacement just three months ago, and so having recent experience at this task, I managed to bungle things twice. Luckily, I had ordered two sets of new cables and also brought with me two additional sets from storage, just to be on the safe side. The first bungle occurred when I cut the cable 200mm from the stops without pulling tightly, so that the cables were too long. After seeing my error, I cut again, but by now the cables had been handled too much and were starting to fray, so the ends wouldn't fit in the tiny cable pulley holes. The second bungle occurred when I failed to put the cables through the cable adjusters before inserting the ends in the cable pulley holes. I noticed this error before tightening the headless screws, and so was able to pull the cables out, install the cable adjusters and try again to insert into the cable pulley holes. However, as with the first bungle, the cables had been handled too much by this time and were starting to fray, and so would no longer fit properly into the cable pulley holes. Two of my fingers were bleeding at this point from punctures from strands of shifter cable wire. I finally managed to get everything put together on the third attempt. Lesson relearned: have lots of spare Rohloff shifter cables on hand when doing one of these cable installs/replacements. It would also probably be a good idea to perform this shifter cable replacement as the first or only maintenance procedure of the day, so that the mind isn't tired, and perform it in a calm environment (such as back at the motel room) versus a crowded and noisy public workspace. I should note I also ordered a spare plastic Rohloff twist shifter cable pulley (discussed in the comment for the eleventh trip), just in case I bungled that. That spare now sits in storage.

New handlebar only 580mm, versus 640mm for the old. I liked the wider bar, but everything managed to fit on the new bar, so I guess it doesn't matter. What I ordered was this. Maybe I ordered the wrong item. I had stashed spare spokes in the older handlebar, but now that I have more experience, I feel comfortable riding without spare spokes, so I will put those spare spokes into storage rather than carrying them with me while touring. (Andy Blance writes, in either the Thorn catalog or Living with Rohloff brochure, that he also tours without spare spokes.)

Eccentric bottom bracket holder included with frame was another pleasant surprise. I already had one of these in storage as a spare, and now I will have two spares. While moving old eccentric to new frame, noticed I'd managed to bungle that part pretty badly over the past few years with unevenly placed indents. There is a long discussion earlier on this page about how to make indents evenly spaced, but evidently that theory didn't work out too well in practice. In any case, I've experienced no slippage or other problems, so maybe the bungled eccentric isn't a problem.

Replaced rear brake cable.

Removed, regreased and reinstalled Rohloff sprocket.

Replaced chain with another SRAM PC830.

After transitioning to new frame, used hacksaw to cut off broken area of old frame. Photo below. No evidence of rust (reddish color in photo appears to be copper-colored anti-seize and anti-corrosion compound applied during frame manufacture/preparation). Cut pieces sent to Thorn for evaluation. TBC To be continued...


During last week of trip, only time there was heavy rain while camping, I noticed that both Ortlieb panniers now leak. No plans to replace panniers yet however, given how infrequently I encounter rain. Leakage not a problem when it does occur, since food in panniers protected by opsaks and electronics by dry sacks.

Replaced reinforcement patches in home-made front panniers. Replaced drawcord in saddlebag.

Changed oil in Rohloff hub and replenished consumables in repair kit, as part of plan to move all bicycle annual maintenance to January.

Comments after 13th tour (odometer 19096 miles / 30725 km)

22 day, 497 mile / 800 km tour of Lassen National Forest, described in detail here.

Rohloff rubber twist shifter handle disintegrating. Maybe I spilled some sort of solvent on it while replacing frame and didn't clean properly, then solvent gradually dissolved rubber these past 8 months. Fixed problem by wrapping handle with duct tape. Duct tape quickly became dirty and ragged looking. Combined with cracked saddle, dusty frame and homemade panniers, ragged duct tape on shifter helps make bicycle look truly junky, reducing likelihood of theft. Several times people asked if I was looking for day labor jobs, so evidently rider of bicycle also looking pretty junky these days.

Comments after 14th tour (odometer 20453 miles / 32909 km)

48 day, 1269 mile / 2042 km tour of Nevada backcountry and Mojave Desert of southern California, described in detail here.

Head of 8mm bolt attaching saddle to seatpost sheared off during tour. No spare 8mm bolts in repair kit. Removed saddle and stored in pannier. Lowered seatpost to avoid injury in case I fell back accidentally. Rode standing up to get to town (only an hour away). Only 8mm-1.0 thread x 25mm bolts at auto parts stores had hex heads, rather than allen wrench heads, which made tightening and adjustment difficult, but nevertheless managed to tighten adequately using adjustable wrench. Original seatpost lasted 29828 km, when it was replaced as part of frame replacement, without bolt breakage. Current seatpost, of different design, had bolt break at 32719 km, so less than 3000 km usage. Either defective bolt or bad saddle attachment design. Seatpost whose bolt failed resembles photo below:

Upon returning to Reno, discarded above seatpost and replaced with seatpost in storage, which resembles photo below:

New seatpost configured as follows for max comfort with Selle SMP TRK saddle:

Since trip ended in Jan Iuary, performed annual maintenance: oil change; regrease Rohloff EX box; new SRAM PC830 chain.

Additional maintenance: replace rubber grip of Rohloff shifter, which was disintegrating, with new grip ordered from SJSCycles; resew worn stitching on one homemade front pannier; buy another TiGr lock cylinder to replace lock cylinder lost during tour; tightened front hub; minor truing of front wheel (using tools at Reno Bike Project) to eliminate some rubbing against brake.

Comments after 15th tour (odometer tbc miles / tbc km)

At about odometer 20675, right pedal broke free from spindle. Maybe broke some sort of lock ring, due to repeatedly resting heavily loaded bicycle on right side. Still able to pedal, using just spindle, though more difficult than usual, especially going uphill. Proceeded 90 miles to town. Replaced pedal using parts and tools ordered by internet and delivered to local RV park with whom I made arrangements. Broken pedal Shimano PD-MX80, replacement PD-GR500, since PD-MX80 no longer available.

For some reason, I forgot to note in this document when pedals were installed. I believe after tour 7, or about 11793 miles. So need to think about replacing pedals every 10,000 miles, assuming I continue to rest bicycle on side. Alternatives to resting on side are even worse. Kickstand attacked to frame invalidates Thorn frame warranty, which suggests such kickstands somehow cause damage to frames, which I definitely don't want. Long ago, I tried using stick to prop bicycle up (and continue to use hiking stick in this way while cleaning/lubing chain, on desert tours where nothing else to lean bicycle against) but configuration not stable in high winds or if ground soft. When heavily loaded bicycle falls over, after being propped up by stick, shock impact damage to handlebars, stem, pedals, crank, bottom bracket and other parts is much, much worse than damage from gently lowering bicycle onto side and then leaving it there.

TBC To be continued...