3T-Exploro-LTD_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_gravel-road

It really shouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see a bike come out of the new 3T after Gerard Vroomen joined René Wiertz at the head of the company last year. Vroomen’s hand shaped innovative bike designs at both Cervélo and Open, and we clearly see some influence of that design progression in this new Exploro frame under the 3T brand.

Since its founding in 1961 3T has focused on making bikes more aero, so a gravel bike seems like a grand departure. But as long, gruelling gravel adventures have grown in popularity 3T thought, “why not see if it was possible to make gravel more aero as well?” 3T took the idea to San Diego’s low speed wind tunnel and found some interesting results adding in 700c x 40mm and 650b x 2.1 tires, and even some boundary air breaking mud. The concept turned into the idea “Go fast, slower.”

Check out our first look at the bike, full details, and even the new 650b+ wheels after the jump…

3T Exploro

3T-Exploro-Team_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_Magnus-Backstedt-side

We got the unique opportunity to join 3T in Tuscany this week for a preview of the new bike and some first rides ahead of a small group of European journalists. Besides getting to ride with fast guys from 3T’s team both in Italy and the US, we were joined by 3T ambassador Magnus Backstedt who has been riding on the new Exploro this spring. We snuck off with Maggy’s bike in the more affordable Team version to get a couple of shots at his setup, highlighted by a Force 1 Hydro group, 3T Discus C35 Pro carbon wheels and 40mm WTB Nano cross tires. All in all it was a pretty attainable spec.

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Getting back to the heart of the frame, 3T developed the bike around a new GravelPlus concept. Gravel riders seem to want ever bigger tires and more volume, so 3T is happy to oblige. In the early days, all road cycling was gravel riding. And 3T is excited about this gravel 2.0 rebirth as it reconnects people with the essence of cycling: freedom and exploration. Plus, Gerard and René love it because they say they are slow and so it fits their personal riding style.

Since a 700c x 33mm tire and a 650b x 2.1” tire have essentially the same outer circumference, 3T designed the new Exploro to fit road, cyclocross, and even some 27.5 mountain bike tires. That lets the bike adapt to different styles of mixed surface riding depending on how much tire floatation and bump absorption you are looking for. With the 700c size 3T matches the frame to their Discus wheels, and for 650b they’ve added a new Discus Plus wheel option (details below).

3T-Exploro-Team_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_Magnus-Backstedt-front 3T-Exploro-Team_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_frameset-front_studio

The resulting bike can be set up from narrow file tread cross tires for smooth fast rolling riding, to supple 650b+ road tires for the ultimate cush ride, and even 27.5 XC mountain tires to make the bike more capable on some proper single track. But in the middle of that is the setup that most (from Magnus to us) would probably use, with high volume cross tires like WTB’s popular 40mm Nano(raptor) that make the bike ready to take on some techy trails, but a blast to hammer out the miles on endless dirt and gravel roads.

3T-Exploro_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_sqaero 3T-Exploro-LTD_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_aero-downtube-dirt

With the idea of getting areo on wide tires, Vroomen took a similar start as on previous designs, mixing square and airfoil shapes to get some of the best of both. But with the idea here of moving air off of and around fat tires 3T didn’t try to just go for a small frontal area. In fact they went the opposite way with a downtube that is a full 5cm/2” wide. But the leading edge of that tube (and others) gets a proper aero shape and a truncated tail – somewhat amusingly called Sqaero (yes, we are thinking Squoval 2.0 also) – that ends up actually sheltering a pair of water bottles pretty well. Not just the downtube, the headtube, seatstays, and proprietary seatpost also get Sqaero shapes.

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We end up spending a lot of time out in the wind on good gravel adventure rides, so the idea of saving a few Watts is appreciated if realistic. 3T worked then on what they call RealFast aerodynamics, which amounted to testing the bike how people would really ride. That meant designing and testing the bike with pedals and bottles, and even mud (3D printed mud so it was replicable, and so LSWT didn’t kick them out) on the bike.

So that’s where testing at the San Diego LSWT came in, and running tests at a more realistic 20mph/32kmh (vs. the 30mph/48kmh that most bikes are tested at, but few riders ever achieve.) And in the end, putting the aero frame to the test with 40mm cross tires (and even the bottles and mud) it comes out faster than an equivalent round tube frame with 28mm road slicks.

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The wider downtube works well to pick up the airflow coming off a wider cross or even mountain front tire and smooth it around a couple of water bottles, then past the more narrow 25mm (but deep) seat tube that leads air over the rear tire. At the slow speeds that comes to just 7W savings (or 24W at 30mph). And while that isn’t a lot, less energy required is always good, and the fact that it makes the fat knobby beat out a 28mm slick in the first place is pretty surprising.

The take away from the aero perspective is that with the Exploro you can match the speed of an endurance road bike, and when you hit the dirt and gravel you can drop everyone like a bad habit.

charlie 3T-Exploro-LTD_carbon-gravel-plus_dirt-gravel-asphalt-bike_Checkpoint-Charlie

The Exploro gets a wide flat mono b-stay at the top of the seat stays that hits the seat tube below the seat cluster to help calm any chatter. That’s pretty important because the frame has such oversized downtube and asymmetric chainstays. The D-shaped ‘Charlie Sqaero’ seatpost means that the bike won’t offer any other seatpost options for now, but it does use 3T’s elastomer-damped head that does a decent job of tuning out the buzz without feeling flexy. The post gets an integrated internal wedge clamp accessible from under the toptube with a 4mm allen. Its location means it won’t be very accessible for some short multi-tools which is a bit annoying, so keep in mind that you might have to find what tool works best for on the trail use (we’ll take a look at a few when we get a bike in to test this summer.) The seattube gets a small hole to check to make sure you have proper post extension (since the clamp sits lower in the frame) and is the excuse of why the post got a personified name, just so Vroomen could call this feature Checkpoint Charlie.

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At first glance a weird feature of the bike is a new Hang Loose derailleur hanger. The hanger actually contains the threads of the rear 12mm thru-axle, so when you remove the rear axle the rear derailleur and hanger slide out of the frame as the wheel is removed. To be honest, it sounded like a stupid idea to me at first, but in practice it means that when you go to replace the wheel all you need to do is align the rotor and slide in the axle. Then you just slide in the hanger and spin the thru-axle to lock everything down. It’ll take a bit of getting used to, but it seems to have really made alignment and rear wheel install easier, without the rear derailleur pulling the wheel out of line before the axle is threaded in.

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The Exploro gets fully internal routing with a modular cap behind the headtube. Placing everything there can make for a clean look, but will require more attention to keep it tidy. But the frame uses full length derailleur housing, so you do end up with a bit of flexibility and can push it inside. We’ve had issues on some carbon frames making a ton of noise with that housing whacking the inside of the tubes. 3T includes a noise-cancelling foam sleeve for the cable, which seems to work. In a few rides we haven’t had an issue yet, but it is worth keeping an eye on.

The Exploro will come in two monocoque carbon framesets. The white Team version that Magnus Backstedt was riding has a frame weight of 1150g and comes in 3T team white with red logos. Paired with a 15mm thru-axle 3T Luteus II Team fork and seatpost the Team frames will sell for $3000/3000€/£2400. The Exploro LTD trims weight back to 950g and gets matched to the LTD edition fork. Pricing for its frameset is $4200/4200€/£3300.

Size large frames in both versions are available now, with the S, M & XL coming by the start of August 2016. 3T was calling the £ pricing Prexit or pre-Brexit pricing since they have no idea what it will be if that happens in a couple weeks. Anyway you can lock in the Prexit pricing if you buy now. Complete bikes will not be on offer, and you can get ahold of one of the framesets through any regular 3T component retailer.

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The Exploro has one of the fastest, most responsive rides you’ll likely find on a gravel bike. That’s thanks to a relatively steep head angle with a short 50mm of trail and super short 415mm chainstays. (That’s short for an endurance road bike; crazy short for gravel or cross.) That gives quick steering, but at the same time means that the bike won’t suffer from getting the front wheel knocked around by rocks and ruts as much a slacker bikes with a lot of trail. It also makes the bike no slouch when it hits smooth roads, and no similar bike can match the acceleration with such a short rear end.

The Exploro frames use a BB386Evo, and can run either 1x or double ring setups (although no eTap double when that comes around. The front derailleur battery gets in the way of the rear tire.) The frame is designed to use compact road cranks, and can run up to a max of a 36T inner, 50T outer ring or on a 1x a max of a 46T for SRAM offset rings or more ideally a 50T max for a flat ring like the WTC I was riding.

The bike uses post mount 160mm rotors front and rear. It also has adjustable accessory mounting bosses. Three downtube bottle bosses let you optimize cage placement for 1 or 2 bottle setups, and the toptube gets bento box mounting points.

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We had a chance to ride the bike a couple of days on smooth gravel, and bit of the Tuscan strada bianca, plus super steep 30% pavé climbs, dirt roads, and even some rocky trail and singletrack. I rode the bike with WTB’s new 34mm Exposure semi-slick gravel tire and came away fairly impressed. The bike felt really fast on asphalt and smooth gravel, and went up the hills as quickly as I could turn the pedals. Unfortunately, the other 4 guys I rode with were riding the same bike, so I didn’t benefit from any aero advantage, but the stiffness seemed to shine on the punchy climbs. On rough gravel downhills the bike flew, although there and on a bit more technical singletrack it was clear that I wasn’t on a mountain bike. Combined with 3T’s Luteus II fork, the front end is stiff, and the techy descending required a loose grip on the var to let the bike do its thing.

3T sees gravel as an extension of road riding, and that’s something i can get behind. I am curious to get more time on the bike and will look to get a long term test bike in soon. So look for a full bike test probably at the end of the summer.

Discus Plus

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As for the new Discus Plus wheels in 650b, I didn’t ride them myself, but they will be interesting to try out. They are a smaller diameter version of the current 700c Discus wheels and share the same flexible end cap hubs. They are designed for wider Road+ and now Gravel+ tires so get a new wider rim and more spoke offset. A C25 Pro version will use a 21mm deep aluminium rim with 24mm wide inside and 1640g. A second C30W Team version will add in a 28mm deep carbon rim that grows to 28mm internal and drops to 1600g. Pro wheels will be available in July for $900/900, and carbon Teams fro $1900/1900€ in August.

Exploro.3Tcycling.com

28 COMMENTS

  1. Wow. I love everything about this bike except the bottom bracket. Probably just as well. I need another bike like I need another hole in my head. If it had a threaded bb shell I’d wind up having to sell one of my internal organs (or better yet someone else’s) to come up with the money. Nicely done 3T.

  2. It is undoubtedly a very cool if very extravagant bike, I’d ride it. I recall people jokingly saying that pretty soon the gravel genre will get tires so wide they will reinvent the mountain bike and it seems that the joke is coming true.

    Do have to disagree with the reviewer on this point though: “no similar bike can match the acceleration with such a short rear end.”

    Unless you are spinning your rear tire due to your massive leg power and need more traction then the chainstay/rear center measurement has no influence on acceleration. Some people also think a short rear end will improve acceleration due to improved frame stiffness, and while they are very loosely related, it is entirely possible for a longer rear end bike to be stiffer than a shorter one, so in other words, you can’t make any such assumptions from the geometry chart.

    • I certainly like the bike. This essentially what Johnny T was riding back in the day with exception to geo, build materials and groupo. The pricing is a bit high but that is a subjective subject.

  3. larger down tube is a good idea for this kind of bike though the squareo stuff is (deleted) and im always allergic to (deleted).
    the so-called aero shape only works when there is nothing behind it as the exiting air is no longer clean. the round front flat back is made that way to get the unclean air out of the way of the tire, not for strength and (deleted). It just looks bigger because the tires on this bike can be huge.

    which means correct engineering, bs marketing. always reminds me of V shape rims (which in this case werent made for aero and are totally not aero – meanly creates unclean air vs a more rounded shape, due to the angles of the rim.

    Nyway bike looks pretty cool. Marketing bs.

    • Looks like an adoption of the Kamm Tail design from cars. A bottle will spoil the air for part of the tube span, but the rest of the span will still be smooth.

    • I am digging this bike as I love things that are left of centre most times but…. “and when you hit the dirt and gravel you can drop everyone like a bad habit.” I read that to mean that having a [marketing] aero advantage you’ll be super fast on the dirt…. I think if you are so fast in the dirt you need aero, the drug labs will come knocking. Or if you think you need aero on dirt, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.

      Marketing, hehe.

      • If you are moving in air and want to do so at the maximum rate for given power input, aero is an advantage. With competitive mixed surface events like BWR, DK200, etc being contest with an average speed of 20mph, the benefit is real. This is why it was considered and implemented. If you think you DON’T need it, you are not interested in maximizing this output rate/input effort. Fair enough. Many people take to the backcountry, gravel, trails for the enjoyment of a quiet car-free carefree ride; thus they can benefit from the other two dozen features the bike employs.

  4. I can give you some reasons. When I bought my Open Up I found some issues: The brake cable exit hole blocked up, the right chain stay was stopped by a jumble of plastic and carbon, it was impossible to put in the seatpost because a plastic burr prevented the seatpost insert, finally the bottom bracket had an ugly carbon wrinkle. It was some mounths ago, by the moment neither G. Vroonen nor Andy give me no answer.

  5. That’s Charlie with a D! You almost sit on him while crossing the border of political, economic, and sexual freedom. Oriental women worked hard to produce his ambiguous tube shape, some moonlighting as spies for the factory up the road. You’re welcome to check him whilst riding, but it voids the warranty, which doesn’t cover Canadian Yoga. Next week on BR, he and Anna Schwinn discuss his prospects of edging out Cobble Gobbler in the Chocolate Factory 500 Circuit Edition. Hang loose, as foam will prevent excessive whacking.

  6. It looks like they either licensed, or straight up stole, the chainstay design from Open Cycles, then added aero tubing and a prettier seatstay.

    • Vroomen has his hand in 3T and Open, and designed both bikes. A fact clearly covered in other articles about this bike. An omission by BR the should be remedied here.

      • Apparently, I’m as blind as the other commenters here, as the Vroomen info and Open reference is here. Must read better.

  7. “The Exploro frames use a BB386Evo, and can run either 1x or double ring setups (although no eTap double when that comes around. The front derailleur battery gets in the way of the rear tire.)”

    I wondered about that when SRAM first announced eTap, like the front derailleur was an afterthought. Which, for a company with a history of poor shifting front derailleurs, it probably was.

    Not that it matters in this case, since the eTap rear derailleur maxes out at 11-28.

    • When 7970 was introduced it took some clever work from K-Edge to fit it with a larger rear cog than a 27t and couldn’t be set up 1x with a clutch. Now road Di2 can be run with an 11-46t and single ring without these hacks. I assume we’ll see something similar with clever folks getting eTap on their adventure bikes.

      • SRAM themselves are saying the eTap rear derailleur can’t support a cog greater than a 28t cog. These are the people who brought us wide stock WiFli rear road derailleurs, so I assume if eTap could be made to support a 32t (or 36t or 42t) they would know.

  8. I wonder why, many of you, guys, are over-focused on details and are missing a simple yet cool idea of having one fair frame equipped with a top tier group) and three (or more) decent wheel sets for each type of a road/path/track and for snow/sand/gravel/mud or tarmac – all at the price of the proverbial “n+1” mediocre bikes.

  9. Would be interested to see FD clearance with the new Shimano long-arm designs, a 2x setup and those bigger 700×40/27.5×2.1″ tyres. My guess is that with 415mm chainstays things are going to be awfully tight when you shift into the big ring. Would be great to get some clarification from 3T if the big tyre set ups are 1x only.

    • The problem isn’t with the front derailleur. The problem is that they reused the streamlined eTap rear derailleur battery in the FD, and that pinches off all that carefully designed rear tire clearance behind the seat tube.

      If you go 1x with eTap, the max cassette range is 11-28t, so basically useless except in special purpose cases such as CX racing.

    • Very good observation. Yes, with Shimano long arm 2x mechanical systems the larger volume 2.1″ 650B tires are a no-go. 2x NEW-mechanical Dura-Ace FD-R9100 and Di2 systems are fine as are the 47mm Road Plus tires and a host of 700c options.

  10. Sqaero is actually like Squoval 3.0 not version 2.0. Version 3.0 is the aero version and it debuted on the Cervélo Rca.

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