Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

3T Exploro RaceMax review

26 Aug 2020
Verdict:

Coupling ultra-wide tyre clearance with aerodynamics, the 3T Exploro RaceMax could be the most on-trend bike of the year

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
€7,298 (approx £6600)
For 
Fast, fun and thoroughly well thought-out • Great integration of components, from wheel set to bars • Rigid and racey road character
Against 
Nothing

Gerard Vroomen loves nothing more than to disrupt the market. He did it when he kick-started the aero road trend with Cervélo.

He did it again when he created the first ‘aero gravel’ bike, the 3T Exploro, and again with the 3T Strada, a road bike built solely for at-the-time-non-existent single-chainring road groupsets.

No surprise, then, that the new 3T Exploro RaceMax has already divided opinion.

Part of the debate is over how to categorise the bike. It’s an evolution of the Exploro but will not be replacing it. It can handle up to 61mm tyres on 650b rims, and so is equipped for rougher terrain than the Exploro, and yet it is also more aerodynamic than the Exploro, with a seat tube cut-out for the rear wheel alongside all-new tube profiles.

In an attempt to explain who the RaceMax is aimed at, Vroomen separates the gravel market into three categories:

‘The first customer is the all-roader. They just want to escape roads that are too heavy with traffic. That customer doesn’t want to give up any road speed.

'The second customer is the gravel racer. They don’t necessarily have to race, but they like the speed on the gravel.

'The last customer is the maximiser; what I like to call “go slow, faster”. They may still do events but the goal is to finish before dark or before they tear the finish banner down.’

I’m not sure Vroomen’s explanation makes it any clearer, but it seems the RaceMax is aimed at both the speedy gravel rider and the adventurer. As such, the bike comes in two guises – Race and Max – which are the same frame specced with different kit.

The bike pictured is a RaceMax Race, with more road-orientated 2x groupset and tyres. The Max version is predominantly 1x-focussed and uses 650b rims and ultra-wide tyres for the off-road adventure crowd.

At any rate, once you’ve worked out which bike is which, there’s plenty to get excited about.

RAM and WAM

First, let's talk about 3T's new wheels, and new wheel philosophy. Our spec frame came equipped with a brand new set of 3T Discus C45 Ltd wheels. The rims have a striking 29mm internal width.

That opens the possibility of creating an aerodynamic rim and tyre profile even with tyres that test the limits of road wheels. The specced 40mm tyres don’t suffer from an awkward bulb profile that we often see with wide tyres on road rims, and indeed almost create the torrordial profile that rim designers dream of.

‘We have gravel wheels but they’re not aerodynamic and they’re aero wheels which are not wide enough for gravel,’ says Vroomen. ‘So we made a new aero wheel and it’s 40mm. I don’t mean 40mm deep, I mean 40mm wide.’

The new wheelset comes alongside a new tyre and rim sizing philosophy from 3T. Vroomen makes the point that with the vast combination of different rim widths and tyre sizes, there is a huge variety in realistic widths of tyres against the stated tyre width.

With that in mind he’s developed two new measures of tyre width: ‘RAM (Radius As Measured)’ and ‘WAM (Width as Measured).’

3T has mapped out the realistic RAM and WAM of multiple rim and tyre widths to help design the new RaceMax.

‘For tonnes of tyres you realise there’s a lot of tyres which fit within a fairly narrow band of radii,’ says Vroomen. That means 3T has been able to create a more specific clearance range for different tyre and rim combinations, a range that has enabled 3T to create better aerodynamic design.

'The radius of course determines the gap with the seat tube or the gap between the downtube and the tyre, and those are all things that we want to play with aerodynamically,’ Vroomen adds.

The new Discus C45 wheels come alongside a new Aerogaia carbon flared handlebar, but that was unavailable for our test sample.

Having come to terms with the spec, it was time to take the bike out on the open road, and trail.

Fawning at first glance

I ride different bikes with my regular riding group all the time, and only once or twice a year does a bike generate the kind of response I got with the RaceMax: fascination bordering on fawning, and repeated picture-taking.

 

It’s a handsome beast, but even better than that my first ride was a blast. What surprised me the most was that it feels every bit like an aero road bike when on tarmac.

There’s no escaping that 40mm tyres at 50psi have a speed penalty, but the bike had a rigid, spritely response to any injections of power, aided by the bulky tube shapes and short rear end  (415mm chainstays). It also held speed well and felt notably more rapid than the standard Exploro – I even hit 50kmh in a friendly sprint for a signpost.

Yet, for all its ability on the tarmac, the road is not where the RaceMax really excels. I have spent much of lockdown riding the RaceMax on gravel trails in Surrey, and it is the most fun I’ve had on a bike in years.

 

Some gravel and dust evidence of our first ride

I got used to racing along bridleways, hopping over roots, taking on loose 25% ridges and clenching my teeth when descending steep tracks.

Key to that is the bike’s stability. I could keep the hammer down on rough trails while the bike simply swallowed up the imperfections. I’d wager that it’s the bike’s low bottom bracket (77mm drop on a size 56 frame) coupled with 
a reasonably generous stack height that made 
it feel so controlled on technical terrain.

Many people asked me whether the aero cutout meant the frame collected mud. I didn’t encounter any problems, although I didn’t subject it to the kinds of thick, sticky mud that an off-road ride in winter might throw at it.

But from what I can tell, the pinch point is no tighter than around the BB on most other frames. It simply comes at the top of the cutaway instead, where it potentially causes less of a problem.

For me, the 40mm tyres offered a sweet spot between speed, grip and comfort. That said, if money were no object, I’d be tempted to have two sets of wheels to really make the most of the RaceMax – a set of 700c rims with 35mm tyres for the road, and a set of 650b rims with 57mm tyres for the days on tougher terrain.

This is a bike that really excites me, and represents a direction of riding that more and more of my friends are heading in.

It’s a rare example of a bike that takes advantage of the best bike technology out there – from aerodynamics to tyre design to composites – to really deliver a new, and in many ways better, riding experience that doesn’t stop when the tarmac does.

Buy the 3T Exploro RaceMax from 3T

Geometry

The RaceMax comes in an impressive six sizes, which put the frame more into the fit-specificity we’re used to from road bikes (see geometry below).

Our picks

3T Exploro RaceMax Max GRX 1x: €4199

With 57mm tyres on 650b rims and a Shimano GRX 1x groupset, the Exploro Max GRX could ride over pretty much anything, and sits at the cheaper end of the range with a pricetag of around £3,800.

3T Exploro RaceMax Race Torno Eagle 1x: €7,798

The top-spec Exploro Race comes similarly equipped to our test bike, but with a Sram Force AXS 1x groupset married to 3T’s own Torno crankset, bringing the cost to €7,798 (approx £7,000).

Rest of range

3T Exploro RaceMax Race GRX 1x: €4199

3T Exploro RaceMax Race GRX 2x: €4399

3T Exploro RaceMax MAX GRX 2x: €4399

3T Exploro RaceMax Max Force Eagle 1x: €5899

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews