Tout Terrain released a bike called the Silk road, which incorporates many of the things I've recently discussed, plus some never seen,before features that will give us a good indication for where touring bike design is going in the future. I contacted this German bike company because I liked their forward thinking, I wanted to find out more information than was publicly available, and I wanted to share with you the design considerations that go into a top tier bike because if you don't know bikes the Silk road kind of just looks like a bike! Okay, let's start with the frameset.
Tout Terrain has specialized in steel bikes for about 15 years. The biggest advantage of a steel touring bike in my mind is that you can easily repair and modify the frames. Let's say you drop your bike and a rock damages the top tube. That individual steel tube can be replaced by an experienced frame builder. The steel tubes of this frame are manufactured from raw materials in Taiwan and it's welded together there as well. This is actually quite unusual as raw materials, tube processing, manufacturing and painting often end up happening all over the world, resulting in a higher carbon footprint for a bike.
The Silk road frames are some of the first to pass the highest safety testing a bike can undergo, which is 180 kilograms. It helps that the Silk road uses oversized thick wall tubing to build a strong structure that can resist the twisting forces between the front and rear luggage. I can only think of a handful of brands with the equivalent tubing specification. While steel normally has a different ride feel to say aluminum, when it comes to super stiff touring bikes with a bunch of luggage attached, it's actually pretty hard to discern between materials. There is heaps of storage space on the frame for water bottles, folding locks or two bolt cargo cage bags. One of the nicest features on the Silk road is the steering limiter to prevent your cables from getting crushed and the integrated steering lock.
If your bike falls over when it's parked, it's usually because the front wheel has moved. With the push of a button, the steering can be locked in place on the Silk road making bike parking, mounting your panniers, and general bike maintenance a bit easier. A steering lock is particularly important if you use a double legged kickstand, as any front wheel movement can easily tip the balance of the bike. That said, after experimenting with many kickstand types over the years, I think a rear-mounted model is the most stable across all surfaces.
It's cool that this bike has mounts for both kickstand options and I really like the small brace from the kickstand to the rear brake mount. Up the back is an integrated stainless steel rack. As racks are one of the most likely components to fail on a bike trip Tout Terrain wanted to make something indestructible that has no bolts to work themselves loose on rough dirt roads. New for 2021 is an extra rail system which allows you to lower the center of mass of your luggage, resulting in better bike handling. The rails are made from corrosion resistant stainless steel and have a sandblasted finish so that they don't scuff over time. This is the neat bit though: Tout Terrain is producing their own heavy duty pannier system in partnership with Ortlieb.
Usually you need to adjust the pannier hooks and anchors to match the geometry of different racks, but this is not the case with the QL3 system. QL3 is no compromise as the bag and rack have a perfect fit, making it more secure on rough roads and quicker and easier to fit. It's worth noting that regular panniers can still fit on either the built in rack or the EX rails. The Silk road is using 12mm thru axles front and rear to maximize stiffness, and ensure your wheels are always perfectly aligned in the dropouts. The fork not only has all the mounts you need for touring and backpacking, but it has the fancy SL Dynamo wiring built in. If you haven't seen this system, it essentially eliminates the need to manually connect your dynamo cables to your hub. To send power to your system, the side of the dynamo hub just needs to touch the fork drop out. The power then runs up the inside of your fork leg, splitting between the dynamo lights and USB charger.
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And the rear light cable is fully guided through the top tube and rack, so it doesn't rattle inside the frame. Tout Terrain has chosen a sealed oil bath, 14-speed Rohloff hub for this build. This rear hub offers the same gear range as many derailleur drivetrains, but instead of the components being exposed to mud, grit and water, they operate entirely inside the rear wheel!
Are they reliable? Absolutely. I've been using Rohloff hubs for most of my journeys all over the world, and there is actually a Rohloff hub owner who has documented more than 380,000km on his! The drive efficiency of a Rohloff hub is as good as it gets for a sealed gearbox system, but if you want the highest performance drive train, you can still spec the bike with derailers, which work out to be about 2% more efficient on average.
But this assumes you fastidiously clean your chain and apply an efficient chain lube. When the conditions are bad, I suspect a Rohloff works out to be the most efficient drive train option. The chain isn't a chain at all, this bike is driven by a belt. Belts are my personal preference for touring as they require no lubrication and very little maintenance. Usually, just some water and a toothbrush is enough to keep you going. I've tested belts in the worst off road conditions, and even still, I tour for about 30,000km before needing to replace anything, whereas my chain drive trains usually don't reach 10,000km in the equivalent conditions. Despite what you may have heard, hydraulic disc brakes are often very reliable.
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I've personally been using XT brakes for the last decade, and have never experienced any leaks or damaged cables on my trips. I don't do any maintenance on my brakes other than a yearly refresh of the fluid and occasional pad changes. The Silk road uses post mount calipers as they will allow downhill mountain bike rotors right up to 203mm, which is great news for heavier riders with bigger loads. The stock rotors are perfect for most riders in most conditions, it's 180mm on the front and 160mm on the rear. This bike is using Schmidt lights and a matching dynamo hub. The Schmidt hubs are undoubtedly the most reliable and efficient option that money can buy.
Failures are rare, and the level of drag you experience for the amount of power generated is a class above the rest. The lights tapered beam shape is one of the best for touring. It's very well layered to give an even overall brightness, meaning the farthest away part of the beam is the brightest and the closest is the dimmest. Additionally, the beam has been designed so that it will not dazzle road users coming in the opposite direction. You'd think both of these characteristics are commonplace on bikes, but most bike lights are really just hand torches that connect to your handlebar. This bike uses a Cinq Plug5 Plus USB charger, which integrates very neatly into your steerer tube and is actually the most powerful charger at low speeds.