tout terrain silk road



We did our last big tour on our tandem. A Thorn Discovery expedition with S&S coupling and a huge rear Hope hydraulic disc. We thought about taking the tandem but cramming our lives into 4 panniers would be a tall order. It would also be more difficult to take on trains buses and wouldn’t have the flexibility of 2 bikes. 2 bikes don’t have the wow factor of a tandem but would give us each our own space.

So I was on the lookout for a new bike. Something that could carry a load and still be fun to ride. I have been impressed with Pip’s bike and had ridden one in Amsterdam when we bought hers. When you are touring really boring things like a decent prop stand and a stop so your handlebars can’t do a 180 become important. The general advice seems to be stick to 26 inch wheels and a steel frame. It had to have a rohloff, after you have toured with one of those you don’t want to turn back the clock. So that meant straight bars, which is also better when riding on rough roads.

We went to the Bristol handbuilt show and saw some beautiful bikes and I toyed with the idea of getting something built. Then I came across an article on the tout-terrain silk road. This seemed to tick all the right boxes. The integral rack seemed a no brainer. Why don’t other bike manufacturers do that.

After 20,000km on the road the Silk-Road has proved it’s worth. I guess I have been carrying around 25kg of kit a bit more when fully laden with food. The bike feels rock solid and is very comfortable. The steel fork absorbs the shocks well and along with the fat tyres it does make for a smooth ride.The Shimano hydraulic XTR discs are excellent, plenty of feel and bags of stopping power.

DSC00801 Now with 2.125 Mondials

I was running 2 inch Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tyres which came with the bike. These are great on road but off road not so good. What can you expect from a slick? On hard packed dry off roads they are OK. When it gets wet they attract flints and just slide around when things start getting loose. Pip’s bike has Mondials and after 1000km were looking and gripping well in the dirt and quiet on road. I switched to the Marathon Mondials whilst we we were in Denmark and went up to the 2.125″ size. This meant a fatter 65mm mudguard and losing the spacer under the fork. They run quietly and stand up to off road use very well giving you plenty of confidence.The integral rack is such a simple but effective feature. It makes the load carrying section and the whole bike so much more rigid. It allows you to have the panniers mounted fairly low. I have had no problems with heel clearance despite my size 45 feet.

Poinsettias lined the roads

Poinsettias lined the roads

I played around with the gearing on the trip gradually reducing it so that 10% hills could be managed for prolonged periods. The final setup which can take most things has a 19 tooth rear sprocket and a 40 tooth chainring. The advantage of this setup is longer wear on the sprocket and longer chain life. With a bit of chain cleaning this set up should give you 20,000km with a quality chain.

I thought I might struggle with just flat bars and Ergo grips but that didn’t prove to be the case. The bars and grips are very comfortable and the ride courtesy of the fat tyres is very smooth even over poor surfaces. Dropping the pressures for the coarser surfaces of roads in Turkey also helps.

Regular maintenance consists of an oil change every 5,000km and chain cleaning and adjustment. I have reduced the amount of oil I use, putting in only  10mls of oil in the hub, Thorn cycles suggest you can get away with 8mls each time as 8mls stays stuck to the surfaces in the hub whenever you drain out the oil. It does mean that you need to carry around less oil and the cable box which sits right next to the rear disc doesn’t get so messy with oil weeping out of the hub.

DSC03478Chain cleaning is either with a toothbrush or a drinks bottle with a bit of diesel in and a good shake. I had wondered about going for belt drive before we set off. The big argument for chains is that they are easily replaced and fixed. Yes they require more maintenance but they can last up to 20,000 km and it’s easy to change the gearing.

Tyre wear is surprisingly low, despite being fully laden, there is still plenty of tread on the tyres. I have been very impressed with the Schwalbe Marathon Mondial 26 by 2.125 tyres. They are quiet on the road and grip well off road as well. I have had only 4 or 5 punctures in 20,000km despite plenty of glass on the roads.

Organic brake pads seem to last about 5,000km with sintered pads lasting 8-10,000. The sintered pads do feel better on a fully laden bike giving plenty of bite and feel. I love the power of the disc brakes which work even in thunderstorms. We hit one dropping down from the plateau in Georgia, the roads were a river but my brakes were still working. I had no problems with the discs. They are both well protected by the racks.

The only breakages I have had were to the tensioner on my B17 saddle in Japan and a few spokes which got a bit rusty on ferry crossings in Thailand which started breaking in Australia.

DSC03340The Silk Road is a great companion for that fully laden tour. It is comfortable even on rough surfaces and over long distances. One of our longest days was 8 or 9 hours cycling 145km in Lao. Once you get to the top of that hill it is a huge amount of fun on the way down, keeping in front of motorbikes, overtaking lorries with the confidence of solid handling and excellent brakes.

pictures courtesy of Victoria. 4 bikes and panniers on the roof

pictures courtesy of Victoria. 4 bikes and panniers on the roof

It has survived the inevitable knocks and bumps very well. It has been loaded on the top of Lada’s, thrown into coaches and trains and ferries. Even surviving a bus crash in Lao.The integral rack is stainless steel, so although the paint has worn away in places there is no rust. The front rack protects the fork pretty well from knocks.

There are so many good bikes out there it can be difficult to choose. The Silk Road is fun to ride, comfortable and dependable and designed to go the distance.


9 thoughts on “tout terrain silk road

  1. Yonatham

    Hello Bill and Pip,

    thank you for these helpful reviews and for sharing your experiences in such a nice way.

    My wife and I want to buy 2 new bikes for our off-road expeditions and, amazingly, we have chosen the same than you. However we’d like to get the same model for both of us in order not to duplicate components to repair / take care, and so we hope you could help us clarify a few doubts to facilitate our choice:

    FRAME: Have you already had any problems with corrosion with the Silkroad? We also think that the integrated rear rack is a wonderful idea but we see in your pictures that the powder-coating is going away where you fix your panniers.

    BRAKES: We have always used v-brakes and we wonder if you are suffering some kind of squealing with your disc breaks, or if it is easy to bend a disc.

    BIKES: Which one would you keep if you had to choose only one of them, although I can imagine that both of them are two wonderful bikes.

    Thank you in advance for your time to answer and best regards from Spain.

    Yonatham & Monique

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Yonathon & Monique,
      Thanks for getting in touch, glad to hear you are planning to do some expedition touring.
      The frame on the silk road if great, the integrated rack is excellent. It makes the whole frame stiffer and is lighter than adding a bolt on rack. Even fully loaded the bike handles very well. The rack, dropouts and bottom bracket are all in stainless steel so don’t corrode.
      The discs are a huge improvement on rim brakes, they don’t squeal and work well in the wet. I had no problems fully loaded descending through a thunderstorm where as Pip was on her brakes all the time and not slowing down. Our bikes have been loaded on trains, buses and on top of taxis and haven’t bent a disc. If you do they are pretty easy to replace.
      Pip loves her bike but wishes she had discs but the silk road comes with an integrated rack and discs so shades it slightly.
      I would recommend fitting Schwalbe marathons 2.125 size tyres. Go for the higher capacity Schmidt dynohub with Edelux lighting. The plug3+ is useful but has it’s limitations if you are doing a lot of hills.

      I am sure you will have fun choosing. Let us know what you decide.

      Good luck
      Bill & Pip

  2. Arkadiusz

    Hello , I am full of appreciation for your passion of traveling . Wonderful trip logs . Can you tell me what size frame Silk Road you use and how tall are you ?

    1. admin Post author

      Hi thanks for your kind words. I am 184cm tall and I have the large frame size of Silk Road. The top tube is relatively short, but with the wide bars it gives you a comfortable position for all day touring.

      best wishes Bill

  3. Grant

    Anyone’s thoughts/suggestions on fitting panniers to the SilkRoad would be appreciated. (Excuse the length; what I get for being able to touch type?!)

    I’ve just taken hold of a small size frame Tout Terrain SIlkRoad with Avid disc brakes.

    I’ve delayed setting off because I’m not confident of the pannier set up.

    I have no experience of Ortlieb panniers, but fitting them seems difficult, and the fitting I get doesn’t look sound to my novice eyes.

    In particular, the larger 35l rear panniers clash with the axle nuts and so won’t go on the rear rack unless I mount them from the upper (“main”) horizontal bars, not the lower horizontal bars on the rack intended for panniers and even then the mounting of the lower part of the pannier doesn’t seem stable. Measuring them, the 35l panniers have their upper and lower attachment points 1cm further apart than the smaller Back Roller Classics do. They look to have the same attachment scheme same by eye until you put a tape measure to them. The Back Rollers mounted on the lower pannier bar just fit above the axle, but using these smaller panniers would limit my load capacity, but unfortunately it may something I will have to consider. (More accurately it’d mean I’d have to rejig how I intended to use the top of the rack, as I’d have to put quite a bit more up there, and putting bags sideways on the narrow rack seems tenuous.)

    For the front panniers fitting to little clamp to restraint the lower part of the panniers around the disk brake and mud guard stay seems fiddly at best.

    For all four panniers, Ortlieb’s the little clamp that restrains the lower portion of the pannier by clamping onto a bar seems almost cosmetic and it seems the only real way I’d get the pannier to not “flap” each time I hit a bump is to tie the lower part of the pannier down one way or other. This bothers me, as I can’t recall seeing many photos of people doing this nor anyone making remarks about them. What is the usual case with Ortlieb panniers? (esp. to a Tout Terrain with disc brakes.)

    Lastly, the hooks that suspend the panniers onto the rack don’t have a fitting suited to either the Tout Terrain rear rack bars (both of them) or the Tubus front rack. I can hack a solution by wrapping either some tape around the racks, or perhaps some inner tube rubber. Do most people have to do this to get a fit so that the top doesn’t slide along the bars? It seems an useful idea regardless, even if rather “impure” on a good-looking bike! – it’s just I’d have thought the panniers would fit “out of the box”.

    1. admin Post author

      Hi Grant, my wife uses Ortliebs and has found that the small retention clips on the front don’t work well. We ended up buying a couple of straps to stop them flying around on bumpy stuff. You should be able to get different thickness inserts that allow you to fit the panniers to different thickness bars.


  4. eatmore

    I’m also struggling with panniers. Specifically Ortilieb Vario, both the QL2 and QL3 version, the QL3 version is just a no go… the rack clamps are too small for TT oversize rack tube 16m, even when I manufactured another clamp the bottom of the QL3 mount frame just doesnt sit well with the rack/frame of the TT, also the pannier sits very high. The QL2 is better, but the quick release handle hooks dont have 16mm inserts, so consequently slide around on the TT top tube, the bottom hook doesn’t attach nicely on the lower half of the rack, consequently bounces around. Spent a bit of time with various bodges, none of which very happy with. Like Ortlieb panniers for simplicity, but don’t play nice with the TT in my experience. Going to look at Thule.

  5. 26realmc

    Hi there,
    Just wondering if your still riding the Silk Road and anything you would add after longer term use? Just wondering how it feels/rides with no luggage?

    1. admin Post author

      Hi James, yes still riding it and I still love it. It is a friend, great for ever day use from commuting to shopping.
      I’ve switched to panaracer tubeless tyres. Makes it a useful gravel/ green lane bike. It’s holding together very well no mechanical issues. Great finish despite spending 2 years on the road in all sorts of weather.

      Safe cycling Bill.


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