3T’s original Exploro gravel bike broke new ground by combining the aerodynamic know-how of Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen with the tyre clearances and comfort required for gravel riding.
The lightweight, aerodynamic Exploro is still the mainstay of 3T’s range (alongside the 1x aero road machine, the Strada) but now there’s an even more extreme version on the horizon: the 3T Exploro RaceMax.
The RaceMax has been added to the Exploro range and features a new chassis designed to offer more versatility than the original.
In fact, the new RaceMax version is designed to – 3T claims – offer an aerodynamic advantage on both the tarmac or trails, and appeal to skinny-tyred 700c fans and 2in-plus 650b gravel grinders alike. 3T hasn’t specified the exact aerodynamic advantage of the Exploro RaceMax over the existing model.
Interestingly, 3T doesn’t state a maximum tyre clearance for the Exploro RaceMax either (for reasons we’ll come on to), but it’s safe to say the frame has a lot of room. Bikes with 700c wheels come with 35mm tyres, while 650b builds are specced with 57mm tyres.
From launch, the new Exploro will be available as a frameset priced at £3,199 / $3,200 and as a selection of complete bikes. These will be based around either Race and Max variants, with wheels/tyres to match the intended use.
Builds start at $4,199 for a complete bike with Shimano GRX, rising to $7,799 for the flagship bike equipped with SRAM’s latest wide-range wireless Force AXS groupset.
Meanwhile, 3T has also launched two new carbon wheelsets alongside the Exploro RaceMax, with the 700c Discus 45 / 40 LTD and 650b Discus Plus i28 LTD both featuring fashionably-wide rims.
Aero is still important for gravel
3T’s design guru Gerard Vroomen has never been a man to follow established norms; his first forays into cycling as one of the founders of Cervélo arguably began the mainstream aero-road bike revolution when most rivals were still focused on round tubes. More recently, Vroomen has pushed the boundaries of low weight in off-road bikes with Open.
Vroomen’s partnership with 3T led to the Strada, a 1x aero road bike not without controversy, and, of course, the original Exploro.
Just as the Strada explored the possibilities of 1x drivetrains for the road and the Exploro posited aero as equally important off-road, the new RaceMax focuses on the importance of tyre size to versatility (and refines the Exploro’s aero proposition, too).
In fact, 3T claims the new RaceMax aims to be all things to all (gravel) riders, so we spoke to Vroomen to find out how 3T believes it has achieved that.
“People thought the original Exploro was a little crazy,” Vroomen told BikeRadar. “An aero gravel bike? But if you’re riding on a gravel road across a plain slowly with a 50mph head wind then aerodynamics are as important as a pro rider riding a time trial. Riding into 50mph means the resistance working on you is the equivalent of going fast even if your ground speed is relatively slow.”
Three times a rider
Vroomen says 3T used the fit data from more than 5,000 riders in developing the geometry for the RaceMax, while maintaining the Exploro’s race-focused position.
“We have added a little to the stack but retained the same standover as the current Exploro,” said Vroomen. “But we also needed to factor in the variety we’ve found in [existing] Exploro riders, which can then be distilled down to three types of rider:
Vroomen describes ‘the racer’ as the sort of rider who likes to get a little off-the-beaten-track, but who needs a bike that can perform on the road when riding with friends too, with no sacrifice in speed.
It needs to be light, have an aero position and all of the dynamics of a road bike, and they’re probably running 28mm or 30mm tyres on 700c wheels, with either a 1x or 2x drivetrain.
The gravel racer
Vroomen says ‘the gravel racer’ is a very similar rider but the focus is more off-road. They compete to win and want a fast, aerodynamic ride position and a light but tough build. Again, this rider may be a 1x or a 2x user, and normally opts for 700c wheels with a wider 35c or 40c tyre.
The max rider
Vroomen says the ‘max rider’ (or maximiser) will want a bike to ride on almost any terrain, without having to stop or look for diversions. That means wide-range 1x gearing and 650b wheels, with as big a tyre as you can use.
If you walk a couple of miles in a 100-mile event that’s 20 minutes or more you’ll never get back no matter how aerodynamic your bike is, according to Vroomen. It’s about conserving energy, not wasting it trying to get time lost back, he adds.
A ‘max’ setup also opens the RaceMax up to proper exploring, bikepacking and off-road adventures.
It’s all in the rubber
Vroomen claims the RaceMax is a bike that will work for each of these riders equally well, and choice regarding tyre size is at the heart of the bike’s development.
“Everything starts with the tyre but there are so many variables,” he told us. “So when we were developing the bike, we came up with two new measures: RAM and WAM.
“RAM is ‘radius as measured’,” explains Vroomen. “We took as many of the leading tyres as we could find and mounted them on various width rims – 19mm, 23mm, 25mm and 29mm. Not only does the width of the tyre change but it also alters the radius of the tyre as a whole and sometimes with some significance.”
WAM, meanwhile, stands for ‘width as measured’ – it will be no surprise to many riders that rim width has a significant impact on actual width of a tyre once mounted.
“Something like a 38mm Schwalbe tyre comes up at over 40mm even when mounted on a 19mm rim, so tyre sizes have to be measured and not just read from a label,” adds Vroomen.
Vroomen says 3T’s analysis identified three major influences when it comes to tyre size: rim width, tyre pressure and a tyre manufacturer’s definition/honesty when it comes to actual size compared to claimed.
Painting by numbers
Vroomen says it was only once this research was complete that the dimensions of the bike could be defined.
He says the data helped improve the bike’s aero efficiency on key areas such as the fork crown shape, the interaction between the down tube and the back edge of the front wheel (which looks to all intents and purposes like an aero road bike) and, most critically, the aero cut-out in the seat tube, which Vroomen says is designed to closely track the most voluminous tyres.
3T Exploro RaceMax frame details
Let’s take a closer look at some of the frame details.
In terms of weight, 3T isn’t yet ready to state the final weight, but the first round of final production samples (of which we have one) tip the scales at just under 1,100g for the frame (we’re not sure if this is with or without hardware).
3T will confirm frame and fork weights once the full first production run of frames is complete, stating a desire to have a wider sample size to measure.
Vroomen says the RaceMax’s double-dropped chainstay design improves tyre clearance for both wheel sizes.
3T doesn’t believe in stating tyre clearance based on tyre labelling – for reasons alluded to by the company’s RAM and WAM data.
However, our test bike running 3T’s current C45 Ltd wheels (25mm internal width) and Pirelli’s Cinturato 35mm tyres (which measure up at 35.5mm) leaves 18.1mm clearance on each side front and rear, with 8.6mm from the top of the tyre to the fork crown, and 10.8mm from the rear tyre to the seatstay yoke.
The ISO required minimum standard for clearance is 4mm, which means you could effectively fit a 700c tyre that comes up 67mm wide, though we don’t think there’s a tyre in existence that’s 2.64inches wide yet shallow enough to take advantage.
3T will publish RAM and WAM reference tables on its website soon, with recommended tyre options and the actual dimensions so you can work out potential tyre fittings for yourself.
The head tube is aerodynamically shaped, with a narrow profile that suggests it houses a 1-1/4 steerer. However, the bike is actually built around a 1-1/2in steerer for a claimed improvement to front-end strength and stiffness.
The bearings used in the headset also use smaller ball bearings than standard, packing in more than 50 per cartridge rather than the more standard 24.
The down tube is also designed with aerodynamics in mind. The top third of the tube is 46mm-wide and sculpted to optimise airflow coming from the front wheel running a 40mm (actual size) tyre.
This then swells to a huge 75mm-wide to completely shield a bottle cage and bottle (Vroomen says no-one ever rides gravel without carrying at least one large water bottle).
The down tube depth also varies according to size, as does bottom bracket drop, to provide consistent ride feel and pedal clearance across the board.
The bike also has plenty of fixtures and fittings, with three water bottle mounts, a top tube bento box mount and, most welcome for UK riders, mudguard/fender mounts front and rear.
The rear of the frame is compatible with standard and direct-mount rear derailleurs, and the thru-axles are Syntace’s X-12 standard.
Vroomen claims 3T’s in-house testing has shown the German brand’s design to be the stiffest and most secure option available.
The minimal disc caliper mounts are designed around 160mm rotors and are truly direct-mount, with no clumsy adaptors front or rear.
The proprietary carbon seatpost is aero-profiled and uses Ritchey’s new, easily-adjustable saddle clamp.
The fork, meanwhile, is an all-new design for the Exploro but follows the same cues as the road-going 3T Strada fork, with a crown-to-axle distance (370mm) that mirrors the road bike too.
The fork profile is aero-optimised with a variable profile that modifies its shape to best work in tandem with the front wheel and the forces it generates. The fork also comes in two offsets – 54mm and 62mm – per size (shorter for smaller frames).
With the RAM/WAM data, 3T is also able to calculate the effect of tyre size on the fork’s trail (the horizontal distance between the front tyre’s contact patch and the point at which the steering axis meets the ground).
For example, a 700c wheel with a Panaracer Gravel King 35c tyre has a diameter of 702.mm and creates a 57.3mm trail, while a larger Panaracer Gravel King SK 43c tyre has a tyre diameter of 714.2.mm and creates a 59.3mm trail.
At the rear, the seatstay cut-out is optimised for clearance and aerodynamics when used with a tyre with a RAM of between 347mm and 353mm.
Finally, the frame will be available in six sizes: XXS, 51cm, 54cm, 56cm, 58cm and 61cm. (Yes, 3T sizes the smallest frame as an XXS)
Aero gravel bar launched alongside RaceMax
3T has also launched a range of new components to complement the RaceMax.
First up is an aerodynamic gravel bar, the Aeroghiaia LTD. This flat-topped carbon bar has an interesting take on the flare usually associated with gravel bars.
The 3T bar has a proper vertical shape to the start of the drop, so your brake/shifters are in the plane they were intended for, then the flare element only starts below where the hoods fit.
On the hoods it’s designed to feel like a road bike, on the drops you’ve got the gravel-friendly flare.
The Aeroghiaia LTD handlebar is priced at $350 / €350, UK pricing is TBC.
Next its two new wheelsets, the new Discus 45 and 40 LTD, and the Discus Plus i28 LTD.
The Discus 45 and 40 LTD is a 700c wheelset with a huge 29mm internal width (40mm external). The rim is 40mm and 45mm deep at the front and rear respectively. The claimed weight for these tubeless carbon wheels, which run on Carbon-Ti hubs, is 1,665g. You can get your hands on a set for €2,400 / $2,400, UK pricing is TBC.
Custom colour hub options will be available with Carbon-Ti, Chris King (€2,700 / $2,700) and Industry Nine (€2,400 / $2,400) hubs.
Finally, the Discus Plus i28 LTD is a 650b wheelset with a 34mm external / 28mm internal rim width.
These weigh in at a claimed 1,500g a pair and are priced at $1,999 / €1,999. Custom colour hub versions will be available with Chris King (€2,700), Industry Nine (€2,400), and Carbon-Ti (€2,400). The 650b i28s are available now.
Vroomen tells us to expect more Exploro-focused components and accessories soon, including bottle cages, tool bags, a pump and fenders.
Our test bike | 3T Exploro RaceMax GRX 1x
We’ve received the new 3T Exploro RaceMax in its €4,199 / $4,199 Race GRX 1x guise.
Our bike, however, has 3T’s Discus C45 wheels fitted with the aforementioned Pirelli Cinturato 35mm tyres, rather than the stock WTB Serra or the upgrade offering of the new Discus 40/45 LTDs (which bump the bike price up to €5,799 / $5,799)
It tips the scales at 8.72kg in a size 58cm. That’s pretty light for this type of bike. We’ve also got a set of the new 650b Discus Plus i28 LTD wheels with bigger rubber.
We’re looking forward to seeing how the Exploro RaceMax performs – will it live up to its billing of ultimate versatility?
3T Exploro RaceMax range and prices
The new 3T Exploro is available in the following builds, with Race and Max variants.
Race builds come with Schwalbe G-One All-Round Evo TLE tubeless tyres labeled as 35mm; Max bikes come with Schwalbe G-One All-Round TLE tubeless tyres labeled as 57mm .
3T Exploro RaceMax frameset
- Price: £3,199 / €3,200 / $3,200
- Available: Now
3T Exploro Race GRX 1x
- Price: £4,199 / €4,199 / $4,199
- Upgrade build with 3T Discus 45/40 LTD: €5,599 / $5,599
- Available: September
3T Exploro Race GRX 2x
- Price: £4,399 / €4,399 / $4,399
- Upgrade build with 3T Discus 45/40 LTD: €5,799 / $5,799
- Available: August
3T Exploro Race Force AXS 2x
- Price: £5.899 / €5,899 / $5,899
- Upgrade build with 3T Discus 45/40 LTD: €7,299 / $7,299
- Available: June
3T Exploro Race Force AXS 1x
- Price: £6,399 / €6,399 / $6,399
- Upgrade build with 3T Discus 45/40 LTD: €7,799 / $7,799
- Available: September
3T Exploro Max GRX 1x
- Price: £4,199 / €4,199 / $4,199
- Upgrade build with 3T DiscusPlus i28: €5,399 / $5,399
- Available: August
3T Exploro Max GRX 2x
- Price: £4,399 / €4,399 / $4,399
- Upgrade build with 3T DiscusPlus i28: €5,599 / $5,599
- Available: August
3T Exploro Max Force/Eagle 1x
- Price: £5,899 / €5,899 / $7,099
- Upgrade build with 3T DiscusPlus i28: £TBC / €7,099 / $7,099
- Available: now