By now most of you should know the story; Gerard Vroomen, the former co-founder of Cervelo has moved on to start his own gravel/multi-purpose friendly bike brand (Open Cycles). In addition, he’s also taken an interest with legacy Italian component brand 3T where he set about to bring the storied brand back into a place of contemporary relevance with frames and bikes added to their catalog of wheel, seatposts, stems and handlebars.
June 1, 2020 marks the arrival of the latest model in the Vroomen stable of high-performance bikes; the Exploro Race Max. In addition to the ERM’s roll-out, it’s also become evident that 3T has now attained the status as an official bike brand. Proof of that is the number of models offered and the somewhat confusing naming conventions found in the 3T catalog.
For either road or gravel applications, the Italian brand offers a variety of framesets as well as a complete range of models with multiple (1x/2x, Shimano/SRAM) drivetrain and component options. Owing to their dynamic color and shape, the 3T bikes are as attractive in their own right as well as for simply standing out in a sea of black plastic normalcy.
BACKING UP JUST A BIT
For the last few years Gerard has been responsible for designing some of the most talked about bikes on the market. The dropped-chainstay design first used on his 3T Exploro (above) to provide added wheel clearance for the bigger tires the bike was designed around have now become appropriated by dozens of other bike brands looking to solidify their dual-purpose street cred.
And then last year GV rolled-out his new Open WI.DE at a press camp in Sun Valley, Idaho (above). Once again, the bike industry was forced to sit up and take notice – what was this fat-tire monster truck of a bike all about?! The facts would be revealed later in the year as the bike thrilled RBA test riders who collectively hailed it as one of the best bikes of 2019. With it’s 2.4″ knobby tires mounted on 650b wheels, the bike was a stupendous dirt bike while at the same time still being rated an exceptional road bike.
BACK TO THE KITCHEN
With the two bike brands at his fingertips, Gerard has had a unique ability to mix and match design feature as he sees fit. For his latest creation – the 3T Exploro Race Max – you have to picture Gerard Vroomen in the kitchen, apron on, trying to decide what special dish to cook up for his next dinner party. There he is and going back and forth between the cookbooks he wrote for the original 3T Exploro and the Open WI.DE. that was introduced last year.
When dinner is finally served what we found was a bike that could best be described as a mix of the previous Exploro and the Open WI.DE. Beyond the immediate contrasts in frame designs, the former is friendly to both a 2x drivetrain and 44t chainring while the really more dirt-oriented Open has a dedicated 1x frame with a 42t max chainring.
THE RIDE REVIEW
Since we were still finishing an issue when the new Exploro Race Max arrived, we loaned the bike out to one of our trustiest & strongest test riders – a rider who once he sampled the Open WI.DE test bike last year promptly went out and bought one. We figured it might be helpful to hear his opinion of the new 3T given his many hours on the Open….here are his impressions….
- For starters, the bike is beautiful! It’s like you’re taking your Porsche out for a romp in the gravel. It has all the clearance of the WI.DE but also has a 2x option (!). If you want a quiver-killer bike, this could be it. The bike does love to go fast. The 44/10 is a big gear and I was able to pinch 2 straight-line gravel KOMs straight away. If you point it and shoot it runs like a Cheetah. It does not, however, do as well on the twisty narrow stuff. The front-end geometry just makes it feel a tad unstable. I thought it might be the wheels but when I put the same wheels onto my WI.DE, it felt like an actual bike. So it’s not that.
- I like the 3T Torno cranks and solid aluminum chainring. Very clean and sleek. The cranks squeak sometimes under load…maybe the aluminum sleeve rubbing a bit against the shell/cups?
- It’s crazy stiff. This makes for quick power to the ground but I didn’t like the handling in most technical gravel sections. The Schwalbe G1s soak up a lot of chatter so they can get away with a very stiff frame, but if you ran 700c wheels with smaller tires it might be a pretty rough ride.
- Bike needs to come set up tubeless out of the box
- Double-drop stays are as wide as the WI.DE. The drive-side stay pinches down super narrow right at the BB shell to allow the 44 tooth ring (max on WI.DE is 42)
- There’s only one hole drilled into the BB shell. No idea what that’s for. The WI.DE has two so you can mount another cage or tool keg.
- The seatpost is zero setback (this is a Vroomen thing it seems and I wholeheartedly agree) but it’s aero and bespoke. See above comment about being too stiff
- Three holes drilled into the downtube, but you can only mount two cages if you use the upper 2 holes on the downtube, otherwise the cages overlap. A smaller frame may be doomed to only once cage.
- I would definitely swap the Aeroflux handlebars for a pair of 3T Superergo bars.
- 19.6 lbs (with pedals) isn’t too bad!
“At the end of the day, if want one bike for road and gravel, this one (2x and with two wheelsets) might be a great choice. If you want pure gravel performance, the lighter and more gravel-capable WI.DE. is the clear winner.”
When asked about the intention behind the Race Max, Gerard said it represented the evolution of a gravel race bike (btw, did we mention that he hates using the word “gravel” to describe the riding potential?). But more important was his notion that simply identified the benefits of what a dual-purpose bike like the Exploro is capable of. “I don’t see the value in riding a bike with the same tires as Chris Froome…who rides on swept roads with a team car following behind? It doesn’t matter if you’re the President or an idiot – in all likelihood your roads are in bad condition. With this type of bike you can go where you want and none of the ride is annoying!”
When asked about a preference on wheel size (650b or 700c), Gerard was typically direct, “Wheel size (i.e. the diameter (or radius) of the rim is completely irrelevant. You’re not riding on the rims are you? What matters is the tire size, i.e. the width and the radius of the tire. Well, the radius is pretty much the same for 700c and 650b, as the 650b always uses the bigger tires (this is the whole point of the Racemax, the radius between all these tires we recommend varies only by 7mm.” And to make his point GV went on about the level of tire measuring and testing 3T has done which seemed to include just about every tire made.
Unlike the original Exploro that was only available in four sizes, the Race Max can be had in six sizes including a new XXS size. Gerard also spoke about the Race Max having new steering geometry with two different fork offsets (54 and 62mm). And when it comes to pricing, let it be known that 3T still has original Exploro in their catalog with frames starting at $2500 and complete bikes at $2999. When it comes to the Race Max, the frame and fork will sell for $3200 with complete bikes ranging from $5599 to the $7799 price for the sample we received which is highlighted by a SRAM Force AXS drivetrain with a trick 3T Torno carbon crank along with a full complement of 3T components.
Look for more on the 3T in coming weeks as we get more time aboard the bike in a variety of conditions.