When Chicago's Kae Takeshita got the call to join the Panaracer / Stan's NoTubes p/b Bicycle X-Change gravel team, she almost missed it.
"In early 2017, when I happened to log in to a social network which I had not touched for many years, I found that Bob Cummings, the captain of the Panaracer/Stan’s NoTubes team had messaged me. Many months ago," Takeshita said. "I had responded back to him right away and we were on the phone the same day. It was wonderful to speak with someone who organized the team that shared the passion for racing and gravel." Soon it was official.
Fortunately for Takeshita, she did not miss the opportunity to join the impressive gravel outfit, and she has been traveling across the U.S. racing near the front of gravel races on her 3T Exploro Flatmount bike. Takeshita finished second at the Land Run 100 earlier this year and recently won the Hilly Billy Roubaix, which were among the many gravel races she did this year.
The biggest event on Takeshita's calendar this year, however, was the Dirty Kanza 200. Sure, the Dirty Kanza is likely the biggest gravel event of the year for everyone at the start line in Emporia, but it was especially big for Takeshita because she missed last year's race and had tough luck during her first two tries in 2015 and 2016. Fortune was on her side in 2018, and she pulled off a fourth-place finish with no flats or mechanicals.
Takeshita's ride for her gravel adventures this year has been her 3T Exploro Flatmount LTD bike. We close out our series of Dirty Kanza 200 bike profiles with a look at Takeshita's 3T bike.
Kae Takeshita's Dirty Kanza 200 3T Exploro Flatmount LTD Gravel Bike
Based in Italy, 3T entered the gravel market a few years ago with the Exploro adventure bike. 3T designed the Exploro with speed in mind and bills it as "the first aero adventure bike." The follow-up to the Exploro is the Exploro Flatmount, which, you guessed it, adds flat mount disc brakes to the aero frame. Our 3T Exploro initial test ride found it to be quite capable on technical singletrack and fast pavement descents, but less stable than its Open U.P. from the sister brand, Open Cycles. Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, is a partner in both 3T and Open Cycles.
3T says the down tube is the key to its aero design. The carbon down tube features 3T's "Sqaero" shape that is 50mm wide and 75mm deep. The same square Sqaero shape is also used for the head tube, seat tube, seatstays and seat post.
3T sells the Exploro Flatmount as a frameset and in two builds. Takeshita rode the higher-end LTD frame, which weighs 100g less than the Team frame. The decals on her bike were orange and blue to stay matchy-matchy with her team's colors.
The Exploro Flatmount takes the multi-wheel-size approach we are seeing many gravel bikes go with these days. The company claims it is built for 700c road and gravel tires as well as 650b mountain bike or GravelPlus tires up to 2.1" wide.
With Panaracer and Stan's No Tubes as team sponsors, Takeshita was well situated to find a tubeless gravel tire setup for the Dirty Kanza. Takeshita equipped her bike with new 700c x 43mm Panaracer GravelKing SK tires. The tires were labeled as 40mm wide, but Takeshita did not go the Doug Sumi route and modify the labels. She mounted her GravelKings to Stan's new ultralight Grail CB7 carbon wheels the company unveiled at the race.
"I found the new 3T Exploro Flatmount frame to be very responsive," Takeshita said about her setup. "With Stan’s NoTubes’ Grail CB7 wheelset paired with Panaracer GravelKing SK tires, it handles the gravel climbing and descending with confidence."
Not content with an aero gravel bike, Takeshita went for the double aero (what does it mean?) with 3T's Clip On Pro aero bars. The Panaracer / Stan's NoTubes p/b Bicycle X-Change team is a big proponent of aero bars for endurance gravel events and all the team members own them, Takeshita said.
She said they paid off during the 206-mile endurance race in Kansas. "It was nice to have them when I needed them. There were some very long stretches of lonely time and into the wind, and it was nice to give my back and shoulders another position to get through the race."
Gravel racers are split between their approaches in drivetrain and pedals. Takeshita takes a more road-oriented approach, with a double chain ring up front, using SRAM Red eTap with 50/34t chain rings in the front and an 11-32t cassette in the rear. To push the cranks and gears, Takeshita eschews the "flexible is more comfortable" approach to gravel shoes and pedals, opting for what looks to be stiff Diadora Jet Racer road shoes, clipped into the watts-counting Garmin's Vector 3 pedal-based power meter.
Her brakes were the SRAM Red HRD model. She split her rotors up with a SRAM CenterLine in the front and TRP Slotted Disc rotor in the rear.
Takeshita's saddle was the women's-specific Selle Italia SLR Lady Flow, and her handlebar was 3T's Aeronova model. 3T makes a cyclocross and gravel bar in the Ergoterra, but it is not clip-on compatible, and thus does not fit the aero bar needs of the Panaracer / Stan's NoTubes p/b Bicycle X-Change team.
For more on Kae Takeshita's double aero 3T Exploro Flatmount gravel bike, see the photo gallery and specs below the slideshow.
For more gravel bike profiles, see our extensive pro and gravel bike profiles archive.