Raven – a Thorn bicycle made for the longest of distances

Raven atop Minchinhampton Common

Cycling over to Stroud for my penultimate psychotherapy supervision session before heading off on (change of date) Wednesday April 4 prompted thoughts about a) the (at least temporary) ending of therapy for so many of my clients at once, and at a time not of their choosing, and b) the bike I’ll be using to cycle to Moscow, and then, with luck and a following wind, down through China.

I’ll post separately and later on the challenges of bringing therapy to an end as elegantly and supportively as possible – and finding just how powerfully and positively almost all the wonderful and brave people I work with are rising to that challenge of sorting stuff while there’s time.

But here, may I introduce the object with which I am to have an even closer  relationship for the months of April to August, going by the name of Raven – my extremely sturdy black steel steed, veteran of 4000 miles to Budapest and back and of 500 miles into Scotland a couple of years ago, and my all-time favourite bicycle.

Raven unloaded as yet

One of four bikes in my stable (the others are a racer, a Brompton folder for the train to London, and our tandem), she’s heavy, yes. Odd-looking, with the tallest of handlebar stems and seat tubing, most certainly.

But costing well over two grand, she’s just rock-solid reliable – except if I forget to clean the chain, which in 2008 saw the rear sprocket completely shredded by the time I – just – managed to make it home to Cirencester.

I won’t go into too much of the boring spec, beyond noting that a professional Dutch bicycle builder I met on a campsite in The Netherlands four years ago approvingly commented that this is the bicycle he also would have built for longer distances, although perhaps including a better quality headset.

Raven is made by St John Street Cycles in Bridgwater, founded by Robin Thorn in the belief that quality bikes of steel will always be more reliable than aluminium, and much easier to weld and mend should they come to grief in the Back of Beyond.

My version has ceramic brake pads (requiring extreme care when braking not to be catapulted over the handlebars – been there and done that on the racer…), and what are called S&S couplings which will allow me to take her apart, with the frame in two bits, and pack her into a suitcase for the Trassiberian to Beijing

Above all, she has my favourite touch, a Rohloff 14-speed hub, which means no messy derailleur sprockets, gears and breaking chains.

A little heavier, perhaps, than a racing 21-speed drive train, but so much easier and more seamless to operate, changing gear standing still, on a hill, anywhere. And going down to the lowest of granny gears which got me and about 30kg of luggage up some serious hills on the way to Budapest and back.

Raven will be very much more heavily loaded than in the pictures here when I set off in just over a month, with five waterproof Ortlieb panniers – two front, two back and one on the handlebars – and with a large watertight barrel bag on the back for camping equipment.

But I will set off with a spring in my pedal, as it were, recalling the one of the best accounts of long-distance solo cycling I’ve ever read, by  journalist colleague Mike Carter, who wrote in The Observer in 2009 about his own five-month, 4625-mile odyssey around the British Isles:

Life on the road assumed its own routine. Get up, pack away my tent, load the bike, ride, stop, eat, sleep. That was it. No real choices. A life pared back. As I crossed the border into Scotland just north of Berwick, I realised something: I was profoundly happy, all day, every day, with the kind of stupid grin on my face that, seen on somebody in the street, would make me want to cross the road to avoid them.

My own past experience exactly. Thanks Mike.

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