Well-known for their up-scale cockpit pieces, forks and more recently over the last few years, carbon wheelsets, the Italian brand, 3T, has ventured into the gravel grinder segment with its new Exploro bike.
Designed in partnership with Cervelo co-founder and bike guru, Gerard Vroomen, the Exploro is designed to cater to road, cyclocross and mountain bike riders alike, by virtue of its ability to accommodate a wide range of wheel/tire configurations.
Indeed, the frame’s versatility fits the current trend of gravel grinders wanting bigger tires with more volume, by allowing the use of 700c wheels in combination with either road or ‘cross’ tires, while 650b wheels can also be used along with MTB tires in order to tackle a variety of riding conditions and applications.
Furthermore, with the idea that most gravel events are long and grueling, 3T wanted the Exploro to be a bike that not only afforded riders comfort, but could save them a few watts as well – “even when covered in mud and muck from the trails”.
To accomplish this, 3T made low-speed wind-tunnel tests with water bottles in place. And, if that wasn’t enough, they even went so far as to add 3D printed mud to the Exploro, as a mean of further exploring the bike’s aerodynamic properties.
“When cycling started, all road cycling was gravel cycling so in that sense it’s nothing new,” says Gerard Vroomen. “We’re excited about this gravel 2.0 movement as we think it connects back to what cycling is all about. For us it’s about experiencing the great outdoors, it’s about freedom, it’s about going to places you might not otherwise go to and exploring your surroundings.
“A lot of people initially think it’s something for the US Midwest, but when you start to look around where you live it’s amazing how many unpaved roads still exist in this world.”
“Aerodynamics should in theory matter even at low speeds,” Vroomen added. “We wondered whether an aerodynamic product would give us an advantage over a non-aerodynamic product even at gravel speeds and in gravel conditions so we went to the Low Speed Wind Tunnel in San Diego [California] to find out.”
According to 3T, they first tested a concept of the Exploro using a round-tubed frame, fitted with different wheelsets of varying rim depths and tire styles.
“The drag was roughly the same with a deep section aero rim with the knobbly tires as it was with the shallow rim with a road (28mm tire),” says Gerard. “At zero [yaw] it doesn’t do quite as well – no matter what rim you have, it’s invisible to the wind behind that wide tyre – but as more of the deep section rim becomes visible to the wind, it can start to straighten out the messy airflow you get off the knobbly tyre.
“This got our imaginations going and we started wondering what we could do to make gravel riding even faster, and therefore we are introducing the Exploro which is the world’s first frame that combines a gravel road capability with low speed aerodynamics.”
The Exploro features what 3T calls Sqaero tube profiles, which utilize a leading edge designed for aerodynamic efficiency, which in turn flows into a square rear section.
3T says this results in airflow similar to tubes comprised of long, tapered tails, which not only translates into less drag, but also increases strength and stiffness without making the frame too difficult to manage in crosswinds.
“Even with knobbly tyres fitted, the Exploro is faster than the round tube bike with a road tire,” says Gerard. “That’s how big the effect of the Sqaero tubing is in straightening out the airflow. At 20mph the difference is 7 watts and at 30mph the difference is about 24 watts. If you go to wider (2.1in) mountain bike tires, the Exploro frame will still save you time compared to a standard frame.”
The layout of the Exploro’s frame is designed to more closely mimic the geometry of a road or cyclocross bike, than that of an MTB.
For example, a medium size frame has a 490.2mm seat-tube, 550.3mm top-tube and the head-tube that is 125.2mm, while the stack height is 546.5m and the reach is 377.96mm.
In addition, 3T added what they call a Hang Loose Hanger rear derailleur, which detaches from the frame when the rear wheel is removed, making it easier for riders to re-install the rear wheel after a repair in the field without having to wrestle with the chain. And, once the rear wheel is back in place, riders only need to remount the derailleur hanger and tighten the thru-axle.
Additionally, the Exploro features internal cable routing throughout, along with a small window in the seat-tube, which allows riders to check and see if there’s sufficient seatpost inside the frame.
The Exploro is available in two different versions, which are differentiated by fork selection and grade of carbon.
The stealth black LTD version represents the brand’s flagship model, using 3T’s top-tier carbon (950g), while its lesser sibling, the racing white Team, is said to weigh in at 1,150g.
Pricing is as follows:
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