The Brooks B17 Select is the latest model of the long running B17 classic from Brooks England. What attracted me to it was the claim that it was a bit thicker than the standard Brooks B17 and suited to long-distance use. The fact that it was made from organic Swedish cow hide and was a natural un-tanned leather made it even more interesting.
I had read that world travellers had sometimes reported that after serious and sustained abuse, the standard B17 could become a bit soft. Not that many complained about that fact, indeed the B17 was up to the job, though the Select model seemed like it would stand up to even more punishment. It was a new model and I was intrigued to see how it would perform.
After almost 500km in the saddle, it is becoming supremely comfortable. Some may never find that a Brooks is the saddle for them, but for what seems like the majority of long distance cyclists, the initial discomfort is worth it. Its worth the perseverance in case you miss out on a great touring saddle.
Being of natural leather it would develop a ‘patina‘ over time adding to its unique appearance. Documenting the changes in the saddle over time seemed like a good mini-project.
Brooks B17 Select at 7km
Brooks B17 Select at 489km
Brooks B17 Select at 8000km
Before setting off from Scotland to Istanbul in the Summer of 2016, I added a waterproof RandiJo Fabrications waxed cotton saddle cover. This is it after the 4326km tour
The ‘naked’ Brooks B17 Select at 12500km after the 2016 tour. Now it is REALLY comfortable! Only applied two half turns of the tension bolt so far
There is some discussion about adding a suspension fork to a traditional touring frame on various forums. It appeared from the internet that a maximum of 100 mm travel may be acceptable for the Thorn Raven Tour. Back in 2009 in fact Thorn offered the Magura Odur 85 mm fork as an option. The Magura Menja is of the same solid design but is an air fork.
Forums confirmed that there were Thorn Raven Tour owners who had had few problems using the short travel 85 mm Odur fork. It was important it seemed not to affect the geometry of the bike as this can affect stability and steering. Tom of Tom’s Bike Trip has a good review. There is a great four-part video series showing the bikes in action.
So the search was on! The Magura Odur fork had, much to the dismay of many expedition tourers, been discontinued in 2009. It was a solid, German manufactured coil spring fork. Were they still available? After over an hour of ‘Googling’ I found a web site in Tallinn, Estonia that appeared to have one in stock. Being so rare, I immediately contacted the shop. After a few emails to the very helpful Rauno at VeloPlus confirming steerer length, V-brake fittings, other specifications, and checking the business out, I transferred the funds and a week later it arrived. It is indeed a solid basic fork fit for purpose. Spare parts and the service manual were found on-line so I should be covered for future maintenance.
I was now one step closer to an off-road tour. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route was one trip at the back of my mind. The Magura Odur would be perfect for the washboard tracks that apparently feature on the route.
Hearing about Thorn bikes while idling on the internet one day, it seemed to be the perfect touring/general purpose bike. I needed a bike. The Sherpa looked like a good choice.
Some time passed before one day while travelling through Somerset I chanced across SJS Cycles in Bridgewater and walked through the door. I was given a guided tour by a friendly staff member and shown the Thorn Sherpa. When I was introduced to the Rohloff hub on a Raven Nomad MkI via a test ride round the local park, I never looked back. This was the set-up! Dreams of doing a big tour took flight. I bought some books about world bike travel and became fascinated.
Time passed and dreams grew and grew – maybe a short tour round Scotland? I would be able to relive that first bike tour when at the age of fifteen years and with three friends from school we nervously set off to do a tour of Scotland. What an adventure that was! Rain, wind and steep hills through stunning scenery. I wanted to get back some of that adventure, and, to be honest, some of my lost youth! Why not more … maybe the North Sea Cycle Route – yes, that looks interesting. Maybe more?
It was over two years later when one day in Edinburgh I visited a bike shop and spontaneously bought a pair or Shimano bike peddles. But I didn’t have a bike! They were SPD on one side, flat on the other. The perfect touring peddle.
A few days later, again the dream in my head, by chance a second-hand Thorn Raven Tour was on sale from SJS Cycles. Strangely it had all the components I had researched as the ideal build. It came with a Rohloff 14 speed hub gear so revered by experienced long distance cyclists. It was exactly the right frame size too. The dream sparked to life, I bid for the bike never really expecting to win but soon it became a reality when a few days later a huge cardboard box arrived containing the Raven Tour! Within minutes it was unpacked, checked and taken for a ride. It was solid, comfortable and sweet. It needed few adjustments.
I had joined the Thorn Club!