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Explorateur Road Disc review

18 May 2016
Verdict:

With a frame that can be split into two parts, the custom-built Explorateur is the ideal bike to go away with.

Price: 
£2,395 (frameset)

Travelling with a bike is, at best, an arduous task. Dragging a huge bag through an airport is no fun and that’s usually after the whole horrorshow of contorting it into cars, trains and/or taxis to get you there in the first place. Then you have to go through the same pain at the other end to get to your hotel. Renting a bike at your destination might seem appealing, but then experience tells us this can be a minefield of its own. 

Sick of these problems, Kadir Guirey and Max Broby formed Explorateur in the hope of making travel bikes that could ‘go anywhere and ride anything’.

‘It came out of a personal need for a bike that makes travelling a lot easier,’ says Broby. ‘It’s not the packing but the size of the boxes when you get to your destination – or even just the transit there. I already knew about the S&S couplers but those bikes always looked like travel bikes – the aesthetics of the bikes are compromised, which is why we use the Ritchey Break-Away system.’

Although neither Broby nor Guirey make the bikes themselves (instead preferring to select different builders depending on the project), Broby’s experience is extensive, albeit not in road bikes until recently.

‘I raced mountain bikes in Denmark, riding cross-country for some local teams and then Specialized,’ he says. ‘I got my first job at a bike shop in Copenhagen when I was 10, I think – jumping on boxes and moving stuff around. I lived in workshops after that, which led to me wrenching for the Danish national track team and for various Danish pro road riders.

‘I teamed up with Kadir because his road bike experience is so extensive, and then we went ahead and made the first two prototypes – just for our own enjoyment really, but the interest was insane and people wanted to order frames from us straight away.’

Oddly enough, there is no ‘stock’ Explorateur: ‘The first two frames were just copies of our favourite bike geometries to test the system, but it became the standard thing to do,’ says Broby. ‘Most of our customers actually want us to copy their existing bikes so that when they’re away with the Explorateur it doesn’t feel any different to the bike they ride every single day.’

Putting it all together

That said, Explorateur doesn’t just ape the work of others – Broby is keen to make big improvements on existing travel bikes.

‘Tom [Ritchey] was so friendly and helpful when we were starting out. He’s even helped us improve and integrate the system in totally new ways.

‘We started cutting our own seat tube lugs, instead of the cast lugs, by using externally butted tubing that gives us enough material [to braze on to] and he was always very helpful with that stuff,’ Broby adds. 

‘We think there’s vastly more scope in the system – especially with larger down tubes or ovalised tubing. We have two prototypes that are Columbus XCr builds but with carbon seat tubes, which utilise a new integrated seatpost clamp that only uses one clamp at the back. We’ve virtually eliminated all the tell-tale signs of the travel bike now.’

Explorateur has been producing frames for just over four years, but the client list has remained small, albeit with a few well-known adopters.

‘The guys and girls who have them now are a real mix of people but they all travel a lot for work, so the bike fits in with their busy schedule. Rapha founder Simon Mottram has two, for instance – it’s perfect for his lifestyle.

‘We’ve kept it a little under the radar for the last four years while we’ve refined the product and figured out how to make the best use of it – the best builders, combinations of tubing and so on. We’re ready now to show people what we can do.’

Breaking away

The Disc Road model I tested is a culmination of many of the new ideas. The frame is made from an oversized Columbus Spirit tubeset and has a fairly classic geometry, but it also has some modern touches such as disc brakes and the option to fit wider tyres. The cabling is a mixture of internal and external to help with the packing process. With some practice, Broby says it can be done in 20 minutes.

The bike’s paint comes courtesy of Aston Martin and there’s no doubting the matching Enve finishing kit makes the complete bike a head-turner, but if you want to be slightly less conspicuous, you can just have the whole lot in black.

For me the biggest question of all is: does it lose any performance compared to a standard bike? If it does, I don’t think the equation would quite add up: adding convenience with one hand and taking riding pleasure away with the other. Thankfully the answer is no.

The Explorateur climbs, descends, sprints, rolls along and stops like any other bike. For the first 30 or so seconds you ride, there is a minor undercurrent of terror (can that little bolt really hold it all together?) but once that subsides you can just get on with riding and forget about the Break-Away system entirely. 

The Explorateur is not the stiffest bike under heavy sprints, but it’s easily on par with other steel bikes, so it’s more a case of material limitations rather than inherent flex in the frame couplings. The front end of the bike is rather magical – the tapered Enve disc fork has no discernible flex under braking, which combined with the oversized head tube and Enve finishing kit gives it an incredibly stable and precise cornering feel. 

The one thing it does give away is the weight. Despite the flighty Super Record groupset, the extra steel couplings plus the discs adds up to a total build weight of 8.1kg, which is about 500g heavier than a comparable standard steel race bike. It doesn’t compromise the ride for me, though, so I wouldn’t consider it a deal-breaker.

At first, with the Panaracer tyres on, I did find the ride a little harsh at the rear. It didn’t have the fatiguing rumble of an overly stiff carbon bike, but the Explorateur did thud a little over big holes. I put this down to the fact that the frame has been made as compact as possible to allow it to pack away so neatly. 

Since the Disc Road is capable of taking large tyres (although Broby is quick to add ‘it’s not a gravel bike’), I swapped in some 30mm Challenge Strada Biancas to see what changes they would bring. The first few pedal strokes were nervous moments, as the clearance for the 30mm tyres was tight, but they never rubbed the frame. The comfort was noticeably improved, as was the cornering grip, but without much loss in either acceleration or straight-line speed, although in terms of weight and rolling resistance perhaps 28mm is a happy medium to allow a touch more tyre clearance.

Because the standard geometry is whatever your ‘best bike’ is, the temptation would be to think of the Disc Road as an excellent ‘second bike’, perhaps left collapsed in the suitcase ready to fly at a moment’s notice. But to do this would be a crying shame because the Explorateur is perfectly good enough to be your only bike.

Model Explorateur Disc Road
Groupset Campagnolo Super Record
Deviations TRP Spyre disc brakes, Hope 140mm floating rotors
Finishing kit Custom-painted Enve stem, handlebars and seatpost, Fizik Arione R1 braided saddle
Wheels Broby Carbon Clincher rims on Chris King R45 disc hubs
Weight 8.1kg
Price £2,395 frameset
Contact explorateur.cc

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