Low maintenance commuting and off-road touring bikes - head to head

Tout Terrain, Tern Verge Duo and Creme Ristretto on test

If you're commuting by bike or doing some off-road touring in the heart of winter, a low maintenance approach to your bike makes a lot of sense. 

Features such as hub gears and hub dynamos should be virtually fit and forget, disk brake rotors and pads are much easier to replace than worn out rims, and wide, sturdy mudguards and a chain guard help limit the damage done by salty muck.

Here, BikeRadar take a look at three very different commuting bikes that all offer some low maintenance credentials. 

Tout Terrain Amber Road (bespoke)

From £1,575 for the most basic 8-speed hub gear model. Frame kit £645

Weight: 15.8kg (34.8lb)   Frame: Columbus Zona CroMo steel in M/L/XL

German brand Tout Terrain make "dream bikes" for those in the market for extremely durable tourers and commuters. The bikes often get rave reviews from trail riding, fully loaded globetrotters but will also handle winter commuting duties on forest tracks and potholed trails. And for those sticking to tarmac there's a city range.   

Tout Terrain bikes are built to order, and in the UK this means via Bikefix of London (the shop should also have a demo model available). The Tout Terrain website configurator gives an idea of the massive choice of options available, and there are plenty of low maintenance possibilities with the Amber Road, including a belt drive, various Shimano and Rohloff hub gears, a Hebie Chainglider enclosed chainguard, SON and Supernova hub dynamos and super-strong alloy/composite Curano mudguards.    

The Amber Road has plenty of trekking features, all built around a supremely strong Columbus Zona CroMo steel frame with integrated rear rack. The 'split' in the rear frame allows a Gates carbon belt drive to be fitted as an option, while the eccentric bottom bracket means it's a cinch to keep the chain at just the right tension on hub gears without needing a tensioner.   

What comes across with Tout Terrain is the sheer thoughtfulness that has gone into their offerings, all aimed at ease of use and longevity. Examples include the anti-rotation stop at the top of the head tube (to prevent the forks spinning and causing damage in the event of a crash or if the bike topples over) or the numerous braze-ons to allow you to take just about whatever you want on your trips.

While our test bike was no featherweight, it rode like the biking equivalent of a Rolls-Royce – smooth, silent and supremely comfortable, even on trails. The 28x2in Schwalbe Dureme tyres (designed for tarmac and trail surfaces) ate up the miles.

In short, Tout Terrain are a make that deserve to be better known in the UK, where potholed roads and badly surfaced off-road cycle paths seem their natural territory.  

From: Tout Terrain

Tern Verge Duo 

£775 / US$1,000

Weight: 11.5kg (25.4lb)   Folded size: 36x79x72cm   Frame: Hydroformed 7005 aluminium, one size with adjustable seatpost to fit most heights

Tern's folding bikes are a relatively recent development, with the company offering a pared down range that doesn't change every year and has better backup than Dahon in terms of spares. So far, although it's early days, it seems Tern are succeeding.

The Verge Duo seeks to marry performance, low maintenance and sleek lines, and does so extremely well. Tern have redesigned certain aspects of the frame to make them stiffer while making the fold even quicker. We were particularly impressed with the extremely strong and stiff Physis handlepost joint. The result is a bike that folds to a reasonably small size (easily little enough to pop in a train luggage rack) but is a blast for quick rides around town.

Folding bikes can be hard on cables, so it makes great sense for Tern have fitted the cableless SRAM Automatix to the Verge Duo. It gives smooth, automatic shifting via a centrifugally activated mechanism within the hub, plus a nicely progressive back pedal brake (note that, by law, you have to have a front brake fitted in the UK – our test bike was actually a Dutch spec, and in the Netherlands front brakes aren't legally required). 

The lack of cables and shifters also helps keep weight down, again doubly important on a folding bike.

The automatic shifting kicked in just when it was needed (at about 10mph on this bike, although this will vary according to the wheel size and gearing ratio setup) and proved ideal for the moderately hilly Pennine foothills where we did our testing.

All in all, the Verge Duo is a speedy commuter and town bike, with superb low maintenance features, most notably the fit and forget SRAM Automatix hub and the BioLogic FreeDrive chain protector. 

From: Tern

Creme Ristretto 

€999

Weight: 15.2kg (33.5lb)   Frame: Chromoly 51cm, 55cm, 59cm

Our Creme test model was the 700c, 8-speed Alfine hub geared Solo, although the 2013 Doppio promises 11 Alfine hub gears, hydraulic disc brakes and high quality dynamo lighting for €1,499.

The Ristretto's has a lovely retro appearance complete with frame lugs, a threaded headset and swept back handlebar. But this shouldn't belie the fact that it's no slouch on the roads, despite a relatively hefty weight of just over 15kg.

As you'd expect, gear changes are smooth and the Tektro mechanical disc brakes are sharp and effective. Continental Sport Contact tyres combine speed with the comfort of large volume and puncture protection. The picture is completed by sturdy metal mudguards and braze-ons for a rear rack.

Our only real carp was that, without a rear rack or dynamo lighting, weight is a little on the high side. We chose not to fit the rather bulky, battery powered front light supplied, but dynamo power is a factory fitted option. 

Overall, the Creme Ristretto provides great low maintenance performance for the money.  

From: Creme Cycles

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