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.
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.
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.
Chain 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.
The 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.
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.