This review originally appeared in the February 2017 edition of Adventure Cyclist.
by Nick Legan
The Tout Terrain (pronounced too-ter-ahn) Tanami Xplore may be the most interesting touring bike currently on the market. A quick glance will show that this bike is designed with long miles in mind: a comfortable position, an integrated rear rack, fenders, and dynamo-powered lights all tick important boxes for touring cyclists. Taking a moment to linger on the rest of the bike reveals components that are not as commonly recognized. Instead of a chain transmitting power to the rear wheel, the Tanami uses a Gates Carbon Drive belt system, and where the bottom bracket and crankset would usually be is a large box bolted to the underside of the frame. This unit is a German-made Pinion gearbox, the home of 18 gears that deliver a huge ratio spread. The bike forgoes derailers entirely.
After more than a month riding the Tanami Xplore, I have to say that Tout Terrain and Pinion are onto something special with this combination.
The Tanami is named for a remote 1,000-kilometer road connecting Alice Springs and Halls Creek in Australia. Much of the route is dirt and gravel, and it offers few opportunities for food and water. With its robust frame, clearance for large tires, and smart, maintenance-free parts specification, the Tanami may be the perfect bicycle for tackling its namesake road.
Based on Tout Terrain’s popular Silk Road frame, the biggest difference on the Tanami is the accommodation of 29in. or a maximum of 700c x 55mm tires. Adding larger-diameter wheels helps the bike on uneven surfaces and adds a level of comfort that a smaller, more rigid wheel cannot provide. It also opens a Tanami owner up to a wide selection of tires, from road-oriented slicks similar to the Schwalbe Big Bens shown on the bike to mountain bike tires like the WTB Nano.
On the road, the Tanami Xplore provides a sublimely smooth ride. Whether that’s thanks to the Schwalbe Big Ben 2in. tires, the steel fork, or the custom-butted steel frame, even unloaded the Tout Terrain adeptly handled inconsistencies in the road. On dirt roads, the bike was a treat to ride. Throwing on a pair of loaded rear panniers, the bike was still exceptionally stable whether riding on pavement or bumping down a dirt lane. The Tanami is certainly up to the task of world exploration.
All braze-ons on the Tanami are rustproof stainless steel, a more expensive material but one in keeping with the long lifespan and premium quality for which Tout Terrain strives. Two water-bottle cage mounts on the main triangle are sufficient — the Pinion gearbox gets in the way of a potential third cage mount. The fork offers rack mounts, and the Tanami comes with fenders. The integrated rear rack, also made of stainless steel, is a nice touch from both aesthetic and practical perspectives. It eliminates any worry about bolts loosening and looks great with its slim profile and matching paint. It’s rated to carry up to 88 lbs. of gear.
The first thing to note regarding the Pinion system is that it requires a compatible frame, and there are few on the market. That number is growing all the time though, and custom builders can access frame parts necessary to use the system. Pinion offers several different gearbox models, and the Tanami came with the German firm’s top-of-the-range P1.18. Much like a Rohloff hub, the system is self-contained, runs in an oil bath, and is shifted via two cables. The biggest difference is the gearbox’s location at the bottom bracket instead of inside a rear hub. By placing almost the entire weight of the drivetrain at the bottom bracket, mass is kept low and centered. This is a much better place for weight, aiding in balanced and stable handling.
The Pinion P1.18 used on the Tanami offers a 636-percent gear range with even 11.5-percent steps. With the 39x32T gearing on the Tanami, the low is a wonderful 19.4 gear inches while its top is a massive 123.1 gear inches.
Like internal gear hubs, a Pinion gearbox can’t be shifted under load. Changing gears requires that you soft pedal for a moment, twist the gear shifter and then carry on. This might be a detriment to racers, but it’s less of a problem for touring cyclists. The upside is that you can sweep across the gear range quickly without worrying about jamming up your chain or derailers. It also allows for quick changes while at a standstill, which can’t be done with a derailer system.
Maintenance on the Pinion is straightforward. Pinion recommends an oil change yearly or every 10,000 kilometers. Shift cables should be replaced if they become contaminated, and occasional bolt checks are a good idea. That’s it. This, like a Rohloff, is one of the upsides to a self-contained system. It’s unlikely that you’ll damage anything during normal riding.
The only question that remains unanswered on the Pinion is long-term reliability. The Rohloff has certainly proved itself after countless globetrotting treks. While I would expect the Pinion to perform similarly, it will take more travel and time before we know with some certainty whether it is up to the task of long-range bicycle touring. (The Tanami is also available with a Rohloff system.)
One of the most striking things about riding the Tout Terrain was its near-silent operation. On pavement the sound of the tires rose above all else. Some of this can be attributed to the Gates Carbon Drive belt. Although a chain can be used with a Pinion gearbox, the Gates option is advantageous as the belt and compatible chainrings and cogs offer virtually maintenance-free performance. All you need to do is hose it off from time to time and apply a silicone spray if the belt begins to squeak.
Checking the belt’s tension is a fairly easy affair with Gates offering both a tension tool and a smartphone app.
The Tout Terrain Tanami Xplore with Pinion’s P1.18 gearbox and Gates Carbon Drive belt is an exceptionally capable self-contained touring bike. One look at the frame and the parts hanging on it will tell the keen observer that the Tanami is a make-no-apologies premium bicycle. As tested, the Tanami sells for $7,400, but if you’re seeking a durable, top-shelf touring machine, the high price tag is worth it.
All that’s left is to throw on a set of panniers and a front rack if desired and head off for the horizon. A spare belt, a couple of shift cables, perhaps some brake pads, and a couple inner tubes are all you’ll need to carry with you. Change the gearbox oil once a year, keep the shift cables running smoothly, rinse off the belt periodically, and your next biggest maintenance concern is keeping air in the tires and food in your stomach.
Nick Legan is Adventure Cyclist’s technical editor; you can reach him at email@example.com.
Tout Terrain Tanami Xplore
Sizes available: M, L, XL, XXL
Size tested: Medium
Weight: 36.5 lbs. (without pedals, with rear rack, lights, and The Plug USB charging port)
1. Seat tube: 510mm (center to top)
2. Top tube: 580mm (effective)
3. Head tube angle: 70.5°
4. Seat tube angle: 73°
5. Chainstays: 455mm
6. Bottom bracket drop: 80mm
7. Crank spindle height above ground: 287mm
8. Fork offset: 45mm
9. Wheelbase: 1075mm
10. Standover height: 750mm
11. Frame: Dedacciai chromoly, all stainless-steel braze-ons, stainless-steel integrated rear rack, stainless-steel dropouts, specially butted down tube for improved load handling
12. Fork: Bladefork, asymmetrical rigid fork with stainless-steel dropouts
13. Rims: Rigida Andra 210, disc, 32h
14. Hubs: Schmidt SON 28 front, American Classic singlespeed disc rear
15. Tires: Schwalbe Big Ben, 29 x 2.0in.
16. Bottom bracket: Pinion
17. Crankset: Pinion gearbox P1.18 with 18 gears, 175mm, 39T Carbon Drive Centertrack ring
18. Cassette: Carbon Drive CDX Centertrack, 32T
19. Brake levers: Cane Creek
20. Shift levers: Pinion twist shifter
21. Brake calipers: TRP Spyre mechanical disc brake
22. Seat post: Tout Terrain Black Label
23. Stem: Tout Terrain Black Label
24. Handlebar: Salsa Cowbell, 440mm (not pictured)
25. Headset: Ritchey Comp
26. Saddle: Fizik Rondine
27. Gear Inches: 123.1, 109.9, 98.5, 89.1, 79.7, 71.6, 64.1, 57.2, 51.1, 46.2, 41.5, 37.2, 33.3, 29.7, 26.6, 24.1, 21.6, 19.4