Adventure/gravel/all-road bikes are what all the kids are talking about these days. As manufacturers fall over themselves to bring new models to market, Italian component manufacturer 3T has seen fit to enter the fray with its debut frameset.
You likely know the brand for its stylish finishing kit and more recently, wheels, but for the first time ever the company is making an actual bike.
The Exploro is a drop-bar machine designed for what 3T calls "GravelPlus" riding, using 650b tyres in widths up to 2.1in, huge by road standards, but modest by mountain bike ones. The frameset will also accept 700c rims with tyres up to around 40mm.
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Along with the bike, 3T is bringing out two 650b wheelsets, the alloy Discus Plus C25 Pro and the carbon Discus Plus C30W Team. Both are ultra-wide and tubeless-compatible, a perfect match for the Exploro.
Exploro: an adventure bike with aero features
Ex-Cervélo engineer and founder Gerard Vroomen has always liked to do things his own way, and despite already having a gravel bike to his name in the form of the Open UP he's not resting on his laurels. As a longterm OEM customer and now co-owner of 3T, he's directed the company's resources to developing the Exploro, applying his considerable knowledge of bike aerodynamics and frame design to what is perhaps the fastest growing segment of the 'road' market.
Vroomen is justifiably proud of his new creation
Noting that, "In the early days, all road riding was gravel riding," Vroomen started by asking himself what performance aspects matter to gravel: stiffness? Weight? Comfort? Aero? He decided that all were important, and the result is a design that combines aero features like truncated aerofoils (3T calls them 'Sqaero' sections, i.e. square-aero) and fully internal cabling, with enormous tyre clearances and comfort-adding tech that includes a vibration-damping elastomer in the seatpost head.
The Exploro has one of the biggest down tubes we've ever seen
While much aero testing for bikes happens at a rather unrealistic 30mph, Vroomen chose to run his experiments at 20mph at San Diego's Low Speed Wind Tunnel, comparing various tyre, bike and frame combinations and even going so far as to investigate whether muck on the frame made a difference.
In fact, the team actually created a computer model of some mud, before 3D-printing it and sticking it to the test frames. The conclusion was that it had very little impact, and in some cases it produced a small performance gain.
One of the most interesting conclusions of the research was that a mid-sized knobbly tyre (WTB Nano 40mm) on an aero rim performs similarly to a slick road tyre (Schwalbe One 28mm) on a low-profile rim. Comparing a so-called ‘base’ frame (one with the same geometry but no aero tube sections) to the aero-tweaked Exploro, the latter beats the former even if it has the knobbly tyres and the base frame is fitted with slicks. According to Vroomen, the aero tube sections save 7W at 20mph or 24W at 30mph.
3T's people supplied plenty of graphs to back up their claims
We have to admit to a certain scepticism about the value of aero gains on a bike like this. The devil-may-care adventurousness of all-road riding and bikepacking is somewhat at odds with marginal gains aero-weenie-ism. It's the ride quality and real world usability of the complete bike that ultimately matters the most, surely – but every little helps, and we're certainly not going to reject a little free speed.
Even with a 47mm 650b tyre, there's plenty of room in that fork
In geometry terms the Exploro is again somewhat unconventional, bucking the trend for higher trail figures by using 50mm offset forks across the size range. (Higher offset produces lower trail.) Head angles aren't super slack either, particularly in the two largest sizes, which both sport a decidedly racy 72.5 degrees.
Vroomen's argument is that it's better to reduce the need for steering inputs (or rather the amount of input needed) rather than simple to rely on the high-speed stability imparted by slack angles and high trail figures. This runs somewhat contrary to conventional wisdom for off-road riding, so it will be interesting to see how well it works in the real world.
Much like 3T's finishing kit, the Exploro will be sold in two versions, the Team edition and the lighter, more expensive LTD. Both are full carbon with all the trimmings, including an immense BB386EVO bottom bracket shell.
We'll be bringing you a first ride review on this tidy LTD build in the coming days
Discs are a given on a bike like this, and the frames are compatible with both electronic and mechanical groupsets, as well as hydraulic or mechanical brakes. The one exception is that a 2x SRAM eTap setup won't work, because the front derailleur's chunky battery would foul on the big rear tyre. 1x seems like quite a natural fit for this machine anyway though, so Vroomen isn't too concerned.
Discus Plus: 650b wheels for fat-rubber roadies
The new Discus Plus wheelsets, one carbon and one alloy, are both aimed squarely at the likes of the Exploro, with hugely wide rim sections that are a natural match for fat rubber. The C25 Pro is 21mm deep with a 24mm inner width, a set weighing in at 1640g. The carbon C30W Team is deeper at 28mm and it measures an extraordinary 28mm internally; a pair weighs a respectable 1600g. Both wheelsets use the same hubs as 3T’s existing Discus line-up.
Pricing and availability
- Team frameset (white): £2400 / $3000 / €3000
- LTD frameset (black): £3300 / $4000 / €4200
- Discus Plus C25 Pro: £TBC / $900 / €900 (available in July)
- Discus Plus C30W Team: £TBC / $1900 / €1900 (available in August)