Just last week, we released news on 3T’s new versatile Exploro bike. With its “SQAERO” aero tubeshapes, RealFast trademark and aerodynamic gravel bike positioning, the bike was polarizing on social media, largely due to some readers’ backlash on what was perceived to be a contrived invention of a new bike category and label. We’ll be the first to admit that was a few of our initial reactions as well. The aerodynamic marketing became somewhat of a stigma.
At the 2016 Bike Press Camp, we had an opportunity to learn more about the new product and test the much-hyped bike. Was it a much-compromised bike? A solution to a problem that didn’t exist? Or an innovative bike with many benefits? The company boasts a 7 watt savings riding along at 20 kph due to the tube shapes. Can skeptics ignore the “aero” label and marketing for such “free speed?” If you’re serious about gravel racing, hope to be a contender, and are out there for many hours, the watts savings start to add up.
Of course nothing is free. We grabbed a 3T Exploro LTD bike, equipped with SRAM Force 1, an 10-42 XD Cassette and 38t Wolf Tooth chainring, THM Carbones Clavicula SE carbon crankset, 3T cockpit, 3T Luteus 2 LTD thru axle fork, and 3T Discus Plus 650b wheelset with WTB 2.1″ Nano tires. By almost every measure, our test bike was a show bike, with top-shelf components putting the price close to five figures. That frameset (frame, fork, headset, proprietary seat post) in LTD high modulus tubing is a whopping $4200. There’s a Team version for $2999 that adds about 240 grams.
Speaking of figures, the 3T LTD Exploro frameset reportedly weighs just 950g, has an ultra-short 41.5cm chainstay, relatively low bottom bracket drop at 7cm, and relatively steep head angle at 72.5 degrees. The seat angle is pretty slack at 72.5 degrees as well, but factor in the proprietary zero setback seatpost, and the seat angle and top tube lengths end up actually being pretty standard.
The crankset deserves particular attention. 3T recently purchased the Germany company THM Carbones. The company builds forks and cranksets, including our test bike’s Clavicula SE crankset that weighs just 420g including bottom bracket (without rings), and claims to have one of the highest stiffness-to-weight ratios.
It’s impossible, at least for us, to adequately test a bike on one 90-minute ride, in a foreign environment, at 7,000 feet. It is possible to gain some first impressions, especially on a ride with three climbs, three big descents, with a mix of gravel roads, pavement descent, and two downhill singletrack sessions.
Dressed with fat rubber, even with endurance road-like geometry, the 3T Exploro is a highly capable bike. It felt perfectly at home on technical Deer Valley mountain singletrack, climbed with great traction, and was confidence inspiring descending long, twisty pavement downhills at high speeds. Bombing down lift-accessed grin-inducing singletrack, there was no sign of a compromise from the aero tube shapes, and there was a chance we were going a bit faster with no extra effort.
The Exploro LTD and its fast steering was more of a handful on high-speed gravel roads, which might seem counter intuitive given the road bike-lean in geometry, but with a steeper head angle and relatively long rake (50mm) and short rear end, it commands more attention than the more relaxed gravel bikes, and even most cyclocross bikes, on the market.
We’re anxious to spend more time on this bike, and based on first impressions, it might be one of the first we’d grab if we had a mixed terrain race with a bunch of pavement and high-speed pack riding. Out for a long gravel race? Aerodynamics may not matter if you’re just out to ride with your buddies and finish, but if you’re looking to be a contender, those free watts could add up over the hours.
How would it handle a cyclocross race? The frameset has world class mud clearance and won’t dent your shoulder, even if it dents your wallet. Stay tuned as we await our longer-term test bike and hope to line up for a race to find out how it handles 45-minute racing.
See our full photo gallery below. See our ever-growing collection of cyclocross and gravel-related product news and photo galleries from Press Camp 2016 here.
More info: exploro.3tcycling.com
3T Exploro Gravel Bike Photo Gallery: