If we were designing a do-it-all gravel bike, there's little we'd do differently than 3T has done with the Exploro
Lively racy geometry
Can take 650b and 700c wheels
650b wheels are slow on the road
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The 3T Exploro was launched - to some ridicule, I might add - as a fully aero gravel bike, with the tag line 'go slow, faster'. I must admit, I was one of those sniggering in the corner when 3T made its bold claims about aero savings. It struck me as an unnecessary consideration that was designed for the sake of following market trends, rather than for the sake of actual good bike design.
But why not? While we've not tested the aerodynamic efficiency of 3T's Sqaero tubing, we've no reason to dispute its effectiveness, and why wouldn't you take the aero benefits. Whether you're racing Dirty Kanza or just riding in the local woods, why not take advantage of the technology available to you and use a bike that's faster.
At €3,200 for a frameset, it won't be a whimsical purchase, but if you're looking to reduce the number of horses in the stable, the Exploro could well be the do-it-all, do-it-well bike you've been looking for. I'm often asked if I could only have one bike, what would I choose? Having ridden the 3T Exploro in all manner of conditions this past few months, it would sit near the top of that list.
Design and geometry
The Exploro is an unashamed gravel bike that features wide tyre clearances, a dropped drive-side chainstay and the option to run 650b gravel wheels or 700c road wheels. The full carbon frame features aero tubing, a press-fit bottom bracket, internal cable routing, plentiful mounting points, and the option to forego the front derailleur for a 1X setup.
The model we've been testing is the Exploro Team frameset, which weighs in at 1090g in a medium. The Exploro LTD frameset shaves 100 grams from this total.
Following the GravelPlus standard, the Exploro can fit either a 650b or 700c wheel. With the former, you've got clearance of up to 54mm tyres, which is 2.1 inches if we're looking at mountain bike tyres, and 40mm is the quoted limit for 700c rims.
One of the neater technologies employed by 3T is what it calls the Hang Loose hanger. Should you wish to remove the rear wheel, the derailleur hanger will come away from the frame, allowing your derailleur to hang loose (...hence the name). It allows you to refit the wheel without worrying about the derailleur. You simply align the disc, slide in the thru-axle and then hang the derailleur back in place with the wheel already secure. You do still need to consider the chain, but it simplifies the process no end.
The second thing of note is the 3T Charlie Exploro seatpost, on which adjusting the tilt of the saddle is convoluted at best, and a process you should probably get right before you head out of the door. Tilt adjustment is achieved by removing and refitting two splined interlocking rings. One of which adjusts by 9.5 degrees, the other by 10 degrees, thus allowing for 0.5-degree incremental adjustment. It requires full removal of the saddle and rail clamps, meaning when at the trailside, you'll need to remember to pocket those spare parts that are easily lost. To check you've got the saddle angle right, you'll need to put the whole assembly back together and then start the process again if it's not quite right. There is a reward for all this effort, however. Should you ever hit some undulating trail and come down hard onto your saddle, there's no chance of it slipping, so once you've got it right, it should be set for life.
Components and build
Our model is fitted with Discus Plus C25 Pro 650B gravel wheels, Panaracer Gravelking SK tyres, 3T Superghiaia flared carbon handlebars and a 3T Apto stem. The groupset is SRAM Force 1 with hydraulic brakes, and the saddle is courtesy of the Selle San Marco Mantra.
The BB386EVO press-fit bottom bracket can take 30mm and 24mm axles. We'd advise extra care and frequent servicing - we're already on our second set of bearings (partly our own fault being overzealous with a bucket and sponge) and set two are already creaking. Besides this contaminant exposure, they spin fast and free.
The 3T Discus Plus wheels have been absolutely bombproof throughout our test period, and at 650b in size, the bike becomes flickable and fun where 700c wheels might otherwise want to barrel on in a straight line. We've played with tyre pressures from around 20 to 35psi, and while the lower end of that scale has led to some rim strikes, the rims still run straight, true and unharmed.
Throughout our test period, we've stuck it out with the Gravelking SK tyres from Panaracer in all conditions. In dry, dusty conditions, they are great - the rounded profile and grip lead to predictable handling and confidence-inspiring control, which is forgiving enough to get you out of those situations that your poor handling might get you into. They are far from a mud tyre, though - in stickier conditions, wheelspins become the order of the day as the tyre collects the terrain over which it travels.
The SRAM Force 1 groupset isn't range-topping by any means, but both braking and shifting performance has been solid. The 44T chainring paired with an 11-42 cassette provides a wide enough spread for all terrain, ranging from brutally steep rocky climbs to paved road descents.
Ride, handling and performance
With 650b wheels and 1.9-inch gravel tyres, the on-road performance is unsurprisingly slow-going, yet with the 40cm wide handlebars and racy geometry (575mm stack with 370mm reach for a large), the position is more akin to a road bike than a mountain bike, and the handling remains nimble yet predictable. While we're yet to put it to the test, we're confident a pair of 700c wheels with a faster-rolling tyre would transform the Exploro into a bike that could comfortably hold its own on the road.
However, off-road is where the Exploro truly excels. The handling is forgiving and fun - if a little ferocious at times, and despite some poor line choices, the Exploro's forgiving nature has nurtured confidence and skill in the time we've had it.
The flared 3T Superghiaia handlebars add to the flickable nature of the bike. The 40cm hood-to-hood width makes for a particularly road-friendly hood position, yet once the trails begin, the 480cm drop-to-drop width offers assured control through tight, twisty terrain.
The 3T Exploro is an aero optimised gravel bike that is entirely capable on-road, yet it comes alive on flowing singletrack and off-road climbs. If we were designing a do-it-all gravel bike, there's little we'd do differently than 3T has done with the Exploro. That four-hour Sunday ride is becoming more and more rare, instead, we're opting for a half-the-time, double-the-fun approach on the local trails. A worth inclusion in our gear of the year.
- Temperature: 5-15 degrees
- Weather: Storm Ciara to glorious sunshine
- Trail/road surface: Bone dry to claggy mud
- Route: Tarmac, cycle path, fire roads, grass fields, man-made and natural singletrack
- Mileage: ~300km
Specifications: 3T Exploro Team
- Frameset: 3T Exploro Team, Large
- Front brake: SRAM Force hydraulic
- Rear brake: SRAM Force hydraulic
- Brake/shift levers: SRAM Force 1 mechanical
- Front derailleur: N/A
- Rear derailleur: SRAM Force 1
- Cassette: SRAM PG-1130, 11-42t
- Chain: SRAM 11-speed
- Crankset: SRAM Force 1
- Chainring: SRAM Force, 42T
- Bottom bracket: SRAM BB86EVO
- Wheelset: 3T DiscusPlus C25 Pro
- Tyres: Panaracer Gravelking SK, 27.5 x 1.9"
- Handlebars: 3T Superghiaia flared, 40cm, 48cm at drops
- Handlebar tape: 3T
- Stem: 3T Apto, 110mm
- Pedals: Shimano PD-M540 SPD
- Saddle: Selle San Marco Mantra Narrow
- Seat post: 3T Charlie Exploro
- Bottle cages: 3T
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