TESTED: Thorn Audax 853
Racing bikes have developed a lot over recent years, with manufacturers making extensive use of materials like carbon fibre and aluminium to make incredibly fast, agile and lightweight bikes. While these bikes are all about speed, touring and Audax bikes require something designed for comfort, rather than out and out speed. You might think touring bikes have gone largely unchanged for the past 30-odd years, and essentially they have, but Thorn have launched the Audax 853, combining all their experience with a dose of some new technology, to suit a growing number of cyclists - the long distance Audaxer.
Touring bikes typically conjure up nostalgic images of hard old men, racks and panniers, and riding thousands of kilometres from Paris to Brest and back, for some unearthly reason. The Audax 853 brings the fast touring and Audax bike into the 21st Century, building a swift and versatile bike which is happy riding to work, long summer rides or heading for the south coast of Spain.
Frame and fork
Steel tubing experts Reynolds has been rolling tubes of fine steel since 1895; when Alfred M. Reynolds saw the need for thin and lightweight tubes for frame builders. Fast forward 111 years and steel is still the choice of the discerning bike builder and the latest is 853 Conical tubing is pretty impressive. The obvious feature is that the downtube increases in diameter as it reaches the bottom bracket. Thorn have used Conical tubing before in their Cyclosportif frame, but decided it was too good not to use in an update of their original Audax frame.
First impressions when looking the frame up and down is that it is beautifully finished off. Thorn has been building frames in Taunton, Somerset, for a long time and it shows. All the fillet brazing is expertly done, and the welds are all expertly filed, leaving an ultra smooth appearance. To protect the frames integrity, all the tubes are sealed to prevent rust forming; even the bottle bosses are sealed. There’s a Ritchey drop-out at the end of the skinny stays, and the frame is covered in plenty of mounting positions for racks and mudguards. On the non-drive side of the rear triangle are two mounts for a frame pump, the list goes on - brazed on gear bosses, metal slides for the cables under the bottom bracket, three sets of bottle bosses, bosses under the fork crown. Thorn really has thought of every little detail, even down to the stainless steel headbadge - a very nice touch.
Thorn designers have intended the Audax 853 to exhibit a sporty and lively ride. They’ve achieved this primarily by steepening the headangle and choosing a compact design. But the beauty of buying a bike from Thorn is that you can have the geometry tweaked to suit your personal preferences. There are eight sizes on the list, for our 6ft+ tester we chose a 56" with a long top tube, and seeing as the style of riding you do dictates the build, we opted for a sporty ride. They also do relaxed, racing and upright - so don't be shy and tell them what type of rider you are. It’s worth taking a look at the order form for the myriad of available options. Got a favourite colour? Thorn will spray it up in any shade you fancy.
The forks are very traditional in their appearance, bending halfway through their length and elegantly swooping down to the dropouts. Also elegant are the cutouts on the crown, something you don’t see often these days. There’s a discrete dynamo mount on the right side, though we’re not sure how many people use dynamos these days, especially as LEDs are getting better and better, but it’s there if you need it for an all night Audax.
As we said earlier, you can spec the Audax to any level you like. Ours came with a Shimano Ultegra 10-speed groupset with RXD100 callipers. Wheels were Mavic OpenPro rims centering on Shimano LX hubs, with 36 spokes holding them all together - weighty but definitely tough and durable. Continental Ultra Gatorskin 25mm tyres have been superb, fast rolling and we’ve had no punctures despite plenty of riding on rough roads – we even rode over a load of glass the other day, the tyres just shrugged it off. If you wanted to swap for a set of lighter summer hoops you could save a load of weight here and reap the benefit of a faster climbing more responsive machine, not that we're complaining as the wheel spec was perfect for winter clubruns and the daily battle to work through London's pot-holed streets.
One of the upgrades Thorn fitted to the bike was a carbon seatpost, saves a little weight and adds a modern touch to the overall look. ITM stem and handlebars were fine, though we experimented with different stem lengths to fine tune the length. Thoughtfully there were a stack of headset spacers so we had a lot of height adjustment.
SKS Chromo Plastics mudguards are light, but still tough and for someone who usually rides 'sans 'guards' they are a very welcome addition.
The Thorn is a hell of a bike, simple as that. It’s one of the smoothest and most comfortable bikes we’ve ridden in a long time. It only took one short ride for us to fall head over heels in love. It has a relaxed and graceful poise especially when wafting around country lanes. The 21lb weight does make itself felt when first starting off or trying to make sudden speed increases, but it’s rarely noticeable once you learn to just gradually build up to speed. And anyway it's certainly not heavy by most training bike standards and remember with the spec altered you could shave a fair bit off the overall weight.
Perhaps we should have opted for the shorter top tube as we did change the stem for a shorter one, but the relaxed long position is surprisingly agile too and once up to cruising speed it’s a super smooth expressway that’ll remain comfortable until it gets too dark to ride. The geometry gives a lot of stability, with the steering just lively enough to make the ride exciting, yet reassuringly under control.