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3T Exploro LTD review

20 Jun 2017
Verdict:

3T's aero gravel bike has plenty of promise but makes a few too many compromises for the sake of versatility

Price: 
Frame, fork, aero seatpost £3,360, approx £8,100 as tested

Tecnologia del Tubo Torinese (Turin Tube Technology) was founded in 1961.

The name was soon shortened to 3ttt and the company quickly became known for its top-quality handlebars and stems, ridden to countless wins by the likes of Merckx, Moser and Gimondi. 

‘We were the first to produce an aerospace-grade alloy bar and stem in the 1970s,’ says René Wiertz, CEO of what is now 3T after another rebranding in 2000.

‘3T likes to be first. More recently we were the first brand to deliver a full range of disc brake wheels to market.’

The latter is an indication that 3T is a brand willing to test new concepts and explore areas outside of its core expertise in components.

Its recent decision to start manufacturing bike frames is a case in point. It doesn’t look like an ordinary road bike.

I’d go so far as to say that it’s not immediately obvious what sort of bike it is at all, so I endeavoured to find out.

Expert input

The name behind the Exploro’s outlandish design might sound familiar – Gerard Vroomen. He is one half of the partnership that founded Cervélo, and one of the most respected frame designers in the world.

He joined 3T a little over two years ago and started working with Wiertz on the new bike.

‘Gerard and I prefer the kind of riding where we can get off the roads, away from traffic and we can be more free to explore,’ says Wiertz.

‘When he joined 3T we started talking about what the next big development would be, and we both agreed this kind of bike would be the most likely growth sector.

‘The idea was to expand the “go anywhere” principle to “go anywhere faster”.’

3T claims the so-called Sqaero tube shaping (most obvious on the massive down tube) and the super wide stance of the Luteus fork means the Exploro has less drag with 40mm tyres, water bottles and covered in mud than an equivalent round-tubed road bike with 28mm tyres.

It’s not a claim I can verify, but even if it’s true you have to ask if there’s a demand for aero gravel bikes. 

‘Currently it is a niche market, I agree. But for sure it will be growing rapidly in the years ahead.’ In Wiertz’s view, the 3T Exploro is all about giving the customer options.

He says that by swapping the wheels, the Exploro can perform on practically any terrain, dispensing with needing to own multiple bikes. 

‘With 700c wheels and 28mm tyres the Exploro is an extremely fast and raceable bike,’ he says.

‘Switch the wheels for a 650b mountain bike set up with 2.1-inch tyres and you have a completely different ride.

‘You get so much suspension from the big volume tyres you can take the bike on mountain bike trails no problem.

‘The middle ground is to fit an off-road 700x 40c treaded tyre, or something like a wider 45mm slick, which provides versatility across almost any terrain.’

Let’s ride!

I tested the Exploro LTD with 700c 3T Discus C35 LTD carbon wheels and WTB 30mm tyres (tubed, not tubeless), which I felt would provide good all-round versatility.

Its first outing was at La Resistance, a fairly tough 130km Alpine gravel sportive in France.

The event’s mix of road climbs, the first of which is 15km at an average of more than 8%, plus gravel sectors that would have been arduous on a mountain bike, provided plenty of opportunities to test the bike’s limits – and my own.

Man and machine both finished in one piece, and I was still smiling at the end.

I continued to test the Exploro on more familiar roads at home, and I was always stuck with the lingering question – would I actually want one?

While a highly versatile bike such as this is appealing, it inevitably has to compromise in certain areas, and this became more apparent the more I rode it.

It certainly felt fast on the road. Unsurprisingly given the girth of the frame, it’s incredibly stiff and highly reactive to pedalling inputs.

Whenever I injected some extra wattage it dutifully responded with snappy acceleration. Once up to speed, it also held its pace well, which could be attributed to the aero credentials that Wiertz alluded to. 

Confident handling

Handling was hard to fault too. The front end felt light and free in my hands and it gave me the confidence to hurl it into tight corners.

It really did perform well, but I still had to ask myself, are there better aero road bikes out there? I’d have to say yes, especially given the Exploro LTD weighs in at 7.70kg for an £8k+ build. 

Next I took the Exploro off road, as its designers intended. The stiffness again quickly became apparent, this time in a less positive way.

Even with 30mm tyres at 75psi it was too harsh to be truly enjoyable on anything but the lightest gravel, and the fairly aggressive geometry (compared to a dedicated gravel bike) means it’s less stable than others I’ve tested.

As an aside, it’s also quite noisy, the massive down tube seemingly acting as a kind of amplifier to the chatter of the trail.

The 3T Exploro promises much but can’t quite deliver in any of the areas in which it claims to perform. If you want to go fast on the road there are faster, lighter bikes out there.

If you want gravel or off-road capability there are better options. The push for versatility means it doesn’t feel quite right for any situation. 

Having said that, Gerard Vroomen has a habit of spotting trends and developing concepts that are ahead of the pack, so maybe it’s just me the bike doesn’t feel right for.

In a few years I may have to eat my words. 

Verdict: 3T's aero gravel Exploro LTD has plenty of promise but its versatility comes at the cost of excellence in any particular area.

Spec

3T Exploro LTD
Frame Alchemy carbon, Enve fork
Groupset Sram Red 22 HRD 
Brakes Sram Red 22 HRD 
Chainset THM Clavicula SE cranks with Praxis Works rings 
Cassette Sram Red 22 HRD 
Bars 3T Ergonova Pro
Stem 2T Arx II Team
Seatpost 3T Luteus
Wheels 3T Discus C35 LTD
Saddle Fizik Arione
Weight 7.7kg (size L)
Contact exploro.3tcycling.com

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