3T’s gravel benchmark Exploro gets an all-new RaceMax evolution, delivering improved aerodynamics, plus optimized fit & geometry for the latest in aero gravel racing. The new RaceMax is essentially built on a deeper analysis & better understanding of the actual wheel + tire setups gravel riders actually use, allowing 3T to dial in how those tires tuck into the frame & fork for improved efficiency.
All-new 2020 3T Exploro RaceMax aero gravel race bike
The new Exploro RaceMax takes lessons learned not just from 3T’s own Exploro – which pretty much introduced many of us to the idea of fast gravel or “going slow, faster & going fast, slower“. But it is also simply built on the evolution of gravel riding in those four years since 3T’s first bike introduction. In that time gravel has somewhat divided itself into three somewhat distinct camps – those out to ride any road surface, riders looking to race dirt & gravel roads as fast as possible, and bikepackers pushing the boundaries of riding drop bar bikes deep into the unknown.
3T took a deep look at what separated each camp and realized of course that it was often a tire choice. They wanted to evolve their gravel racer, maintaining or even improving its off-road capability while keeping road-like speeds. That meant again refining aerodynamics. But to go more aero on gravel, you have to first start with the tire, and better understand real tire width & radii…
A Study in REAL gravel tire size: Radius & Width As Measured (RAM/WAM)
To do that, 3T wanted to know what tires people were riding and really what variation there was. So, they started a study of hundreds of gravel tires essentially divided into three categories: low profile slicks >35mm wide almost all 700c, medium profile knobs >35mm wide but still 700c, and generally wider & knobbier >2.0″ 650b tires.
3T measured all of those tires on 3-4 different rims widths from 3T, Fulcrum & WTB (700c x 19, 23 , 25 & 29mm or 650b x 19, 23 & 28mm internals), aired up and allowed to stretch for two days to see how big they actually were. 3T logged the real data using two new terms for uniform comparison: Radius As Measured (RAM) is the real distance from the center of the axle to the outside of the tire & Width As Measured (WAM) is the real maximum tread or casing width.
What they found is that varying rim internal width (and to a lesser degree bead/hook shape) created a wide variation in RAM relative to the width stated on the sidewall. But varying rims had less of an impact on WAM.
The takeaway from the entire study though, was that the RAM of the 700c tires that 3T & gravel racers perceived as the fastest for racing fell mostly between 348-353mm, and the bigger volume 650b tires fell between 343-352mm, across those rim widths. So, that upper 353 measurement became their benchmark, and with a few millimeters of mud clearance, set the tight rear wheel cutout, and close fork crown & downtube clearance of the new bike.
3T doesn’t list official max tire sizes, but recommends tires with that 347-353 RAM, and provides a list of tire combinations that work best, beyond those spec’d on their complete bikes. Essentially it comes down to a max of a 700×38 Schwalbe G-One Bite on a 29mm internal rim at 352mm RAM (real 42mm WAM), or a 27.5×2.25 Schwalbe G-One Allround on a 28mm rim at 352mm RAM (real 61mm WAM) for 1x setups, or a 27.5×2.1 Panaracer Gravel King SK on a 28mm rim at 351mm RAM (real 58mm WAM) for 2x drivetrains with a front derailleur to clear.
Exploro RaceMax, now more aero gravel than ever
Thus, the new 3T Exploro RaceMax is said to be more aerodynamic thanks to those tighter clearances between frame, fork & tires and overall wider frame tube shapes (without tossing around wind tunnel drag coefficients). The top of the down tube is now 46mm wide (optimized from a 40mm wide tire for max aerodynamics). But not far below the crown it grows out to 75mm wide to smooth air over your water bottles.
3T explains their focus on aero gravel as “RealFast™ Aerodynamics”. As silly as trademarking real fast sounds, the idea behind it is rational. RealFast is based on real 35-60mm wide tires, real gravel racing speeds of just 20mph/32kph, wind speeds that can reach 50mph/80kph when a rider is often riding alone, and a muddy bike carrying water bottle & likely small gear bags.
Exploro RaceMax – Geometry tweaks
One of the wildest changes in geometry is the almost road-level axle-to-crown measurement of just 370mm, down 25mm from the original Exploro. Tied in with that better understanding of real tire diameter, that allowed 3T to drop the downtube lower for improved aero gains thanks to a tighter tire:downtube gap.
But they didn’t lower Stack heights to go with it, instead going for taller Stack based on the analysis of more than five thousand bike fits on the original Exploro (while keeping standover height the same.) The result is more realistic & comfortable fits, without a giant stack of spacers under the stem.
While those fit movements are happening, much of the rest of the frame geometry received more minor treatment – which 3T says refines handling thanks to decreased variation in tire diameter. Headtube angles remain effectively unchanged around 71-72° (+/- 0.5° from before) and chainstays stay at just 415mm for quick road-like handling. But bottom bracket drop increases 5-9mm to 75-79mm (depending on size, and importantly coordinated with crank arm length) and seattube angles steepen slightly 0.5-1° (more on the smaller sizes), both to get rider weight a bit more forward & down for improved stability – on or off-road.
The new Exploro RaceMax also comes in a wider six size range (XXS-XL), adding two extra sizes – one on the smaller end to take advantage of the lower fork & tighter clearances, and the other offering smoother step throughout the range. 3T recognizing the impact of dropping the headtube angle back on the two smallest sizes to minimize toe overlap, the XXS & XS also get a larger 62mm fork offset to keep similar trail & ride feel as the larger frames with steeper head angle and 54mm offset.
The result is more options to fit a wider range of gravel cyclists. 3T now recommends the bikes for riders from just 4’8″/142cm tall on the XXS, up to the XXL which is for riders over 6’3″/192cm. The smaller steps in between also mean a rider could have more possibility to size up or down to get the combination of Stack & Reach they most prefer.
Next gen Exploro – Tech details
Overall the new carbon Exploro RaceMax gets much bigger tube profiles. But 3T says the tapered downtube especially varies in depth with size to prevent over stiffness in the smaller frames. While previous Exploros were offered in different carbon specs (Pro-Ltd), the new RaceMax is offered in a single carbon layup – fabricated in Taiwan.
3T says it’s somewhere in the middle-high range of their high-mod/high-strength carbon spec with a claimed frame weight of 1050g (for a M), which maybe leaves open the possibility of a lighter, higher carbon spec in the future.
The new fork has a super low profile crown to get that low axle-to-crown measurement, with an integrated lower bearing seat for a special 1 1/8″ to 1 1/5″ tapered headset made for them by Cane Creek. It is still 1.5″, but requires a smaller outer bearing diameter & headtube (closer to a 1.25″ bearing) and decreased stack thanks to 52 smaller balls inside vs. the conventional 24 or so.
The legs of the fork themselves have a varying aero profile from the crown to the 12mm thru-axle dropouts for optimized aerodynamics. And they also now use a direct mount for the front flat mount disc brake caliper that threads the bolts through the fork leg without the need for an adapter plate.
The frame moves to a double dropped chainstay for extra tire clearance and good stiffness, while dropping its seatstays even more for additional rider comfort. The frame uses the popular Syntace X12 x 142 thru-axle standard, and gets a replaceable fixed derailleur hanger (like the Strada, not the original Exploro) with standard & direct mount hangers available. Both frame & fork are designed to be used with 160mm rotors, as 3T thinks that is the best solution for technical & loaded off-road riding.
A wedge-style seatpost clamp drops into the toptube where it is easy to access, and on top of the proprietary aero D-shaped carbon post, a one-bolt Ritchey clamp tightens any type of saddle rails in place.
The frameset features hidden fender mounts for versatility, maintains the same pressfit BB386EVO bottom bracket, keeps the same internal cable routing with the single port behind the stem. The frame keeps mounts for a direct-mount bag behind the headtube and two bottle cages inside the frame, with 2-position mounts for the downtube bottle. But now it also adds another set of bosses under the downtube for an extra bottle.
3T Exploro RaceMax aero gravel bike – Options & availability
The new Exploro RaceMax does not replace the original Exploro, which will generally continue on unchanged in its Pro, Team & LTD editions. The new Exploro RaceMax will be available as a frameset at $3200 / 3200€ in three different colors, and in two different types of complete bike builds: Race with 700c wheels and Max with 650b wheels.
Complete bike prices start at $4200 /4200€ and climb to $7800 / 7800€ depending on build & wheel choice… including an optional set of 3T Discus 45|40 LTD (700c x 45mm deep, 40mm wide external, 29mm internal) aero carbon gravel wheels that don’t officially exist yet! We’ll break down the differences in a separate post, but most should be available to order starting today.
And our thoughts on riding the new bike?
I was at the original launch of the Exploro back in 2016 and have spent a good bit of time on more than one Exploro since then. Now, I’ve been riding the new Exploro RaceMax for the last several weeks, and have found it to be every bit as capable a gravel racer as the original, now even faster.
Keep an eye out for my review coming soon… Update: Detailed review of the new bike is live now, here.
Still have more questions? Ask 3T live starting tomorrow!
To celebrate the launch of the Exploro RaceMax, 3T are running a 12-hour marathon Q&A session starting tomorrow June 2 at 5pm-5am in Europe, which translates to 11am-11pm east coast in the US, 8am-8pm west coat US, midnight to noon June 3 in Japan, or 1am-1pm in Sydney. We talked to Gerard Vroomen about the bike design weeks ago, now he is pulling an all-nighter to speak to you about it! Follow on 3T’s Youtube channel.
And you can join me around 18:30 CET/12:30 EST to hear my first impressions.