3T is an Italian cycling components company with a long and successful history in the sport. Originally founded in 1961, components manufactured by the company are synonymous in the world of amateur and professional road cycling. Originally known as 3TTT – Tecnologia del Tubo Torino (Turin Tube Technology), the Milano based company has always pushed the envelope with its components – the company is well known for its lightweight handlebars that were on the cutting edge of lightweight in the 1970’s, all the way through the 1980’s when the focus was shifted to aerodynamics. Riders such as Francesco Moser relied on the company’s aerodynamic bullhorn handlebar design to assist with capturing the world hour record at 51.151 kilometres.
Gravel cycling, while not as prestigious as professional road racing or world hour record attempts, has been garnering the attention of bicycle and component manufacturers across the globe. Early in 2015, Gerard Vroomen, one of the founders of the Cervelo brand – a brand long associated with cutting edge road bike designs and aerodynamics – with business partner René Wiertz, bought up all of the shares in 3T. Gerard also happens to own Open Cycle, a brand known for its own gravel bike, the U.P. (unbeaten path).
Gerard’s first creation for 3T is the all-new Exploro aero gravel bike. You’re probably thinking, “really?”, an aerodynamic bike for riding on gravel roads? That is exactly what 3T is touting – 3T’s argument is aerodynamics matter even at low speeds. “Go slow faster”.
Marginal gains anyone?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the styling cues in the design of the Exploro compared to Gerard’s other bike, the Open Cycle U.P.
While the distinctive drive side chainstay and general look of the bike are indeed similar, the 3T Exploro bike features “Sqaero” tube profiles. In a nutshell, the tubes feature a leading edge designed for aerodynamic efficiency with a square rear section.
Airflow behaves largely as if the tube profile had a long, tapering tail. In addition to a reduction in drag, this tube profile is designed to provide strength and stiffness without making the frame overly difficult to handle in crosswinds.
Large tubes have been a familiar sight in road bike design during recent times, and the Exploro’s downtube falls into that category. However, the downtube measures at 50mm across at its widest point, while the seat tube measures 25mm across; these are some seriously big tubes – and this is a gravel bike!
3T reported the oversized downtube helps to manage the airflow coming off a wider front tyre, and thus lead it on to the water bottles. The seat tube then “aerodynamically disappears” between the water bottles and the rear tyre.
The head tube, seatstays and seatpost use Sqaero profiles too.
The Open Plus U.P. bike may be cousins, but they are distant. The aerodynamic profile of the 3T Exploro is wildly different from anything else on the gravel bike market today.
These stays have big tyre clearance while maintaining a very clean and elegant look.
WTB’s Riddler tyre measures 700c x 45mm and fits with room to spare on the 3T Exploro.
According to 3T, all of the aerodynamic features on this bike add up to a seven watt saving at 20mph (32km/h), versus a round tubed gravel bike with the same tube widths, the same frame details and the same components. As the speeds go higher, so do the watts savings. However, the 24 watt savings at speeds of 30mph (48km/h) are seldom seen on gravel, unless you’re bombing a long and relatively non-technical descent.
The 3T’s unique drive side chainstay – this is all about the Exploro maintaining the same Q-factor as a road bike – Q-factor being the distance between the pedal attachment points – and for providing clearance for wide tyres. There isn’t much room for chainstays, so Gerard designed the 3T Exploro and the Open Cycle U.P. to have a drop in the driveside chainstay to move it a little out of the way. Chainstays measure 41.5cm in length, which is quite short.
Keeping with the aero theme, cables are routed internally.
The rear derailleur cable exits cleanly above the rear thru-axle / drop out area of the bike.
The above photo illustrates there is plenty of clearance beneath the fork for WTB’s Riddler 700c x 45mm tyre. For those interested, the head tube angle measures 72.5 degrees.
The 3T Exploro featutures a “fliptop” cable guide on the top tube. One version is for mechanical shifting, the other for electronic shifting. The design also caters for single and double chainrings. Full length housing is used throughout the frame to keep mechanical shifting cables free from contamination.
Keeping with the aerodynamic theme, the front brake cable is routed internally. To be honest, I was a little surprised the cable was not routed behind the fork – while I’m not an aerodynamic expert, I thought such routing may help to better maintain the clean look that this bike is all about.
This photo angle really emphasizes the unique chainstays and beefy bottom bracket.
The bottom bracket features Enduro bearings and is relatively low at 7cm of drop.
3T was showcasing Shimano’s all new Dura-Ace 9100 groupset on the Exploro.
Another view of the Exploro’s unique driveside stay, and Shimano’s sweet new 9100 Dura-Ace mechanical rear derailleur.
Surprisingly, the front brake is not flat mount. While I have noticed absolutely no difference in braking performance with post mount versus flat mount, I expect 3T will update their Luteus II fork sometime soon to adopt the new standard.
Likewise, the rear brake adopts the older post mount standard.
The Exploro is also available in black, although we love the classy white / red livery.
Like its Open Cycle U.P. cousin, the 3T Exploro does double duty. Those are WTB 650b 2.1 inch tyres residing beneath the fork of the other Exploro hanging out in the 3T Interbike booth.
To be expected, 3T parts adorn the cockpit of the Exploro.
What is the price of all of this aerodynamic goodness? If you have to ask, you probably don’t want to know. The 3T Exploro LTD high-modulus tubing frame / fork as seen in these photos retails for $US 4,200.00, and tips the scales around 950 grams. The slightly less pricier “Team” version frame / fork retails for $US 2,999.00 but adds on about 240 additional grams.
Either way, we hope to procure a sample bike for long term review in the near future. Watch this space.