Author: Tobias Sommer
I recently bought the new Exploro, I wanted to let everyone know why I chose to buy it and why you should look at this bike as a serious choice if you are looking to buy. Let’s start with what is the 3T Exploro. If you look it up the Exploro online, you will find it in two categories. First you will find it as an aero gravel bike and second as an adventure bike. Well, I know what gravel biking is, but I never have done it yet. Adventure bike? What the hell does that mean? I researched some more and found that people are backpacking and doing cross country rides and can take this bike where a typical road bike cannot go. Where the road ends and trail/gravel begins. Well if you are like me and ride mostly on the road you can relate to being on a longer 40 to 60-mile ride where you started with an idea of where to go. But finding yourself turning around after the silent backroad you were on turned to gravel. Another situation could be your favorite route is being developed for new houses and construction has shut down a stretch where you normally travel. If you are riding a pure road bike and have 23 or 25mm tires on carbon wheels, this would be an adventure. Take the old highway home that is a brick road? Hell no, that’s like Paris Roubaix and will destroy either the bike or your butt.
I think you could find many times that you have rode that you wished your road bike could turn into a mountain bike for a small stretch. With that being said why did I choose this bike when 90% of the time I am on smooth roads and trails? I have been riding a Specialized Tarmac Race Pro Disc since 2016. I had a Felt AR1 before that. I also own a Cervelo P2 for racing triathlons. Now looking at my bike choices you can see I like to go fast. I bought the Felt AR1 in 2013 and used it with bolt-on aero bars for riding road and racing triathlons. I also raced a few crits and time trials. This bike worked very well for that purpose and got me by, but I wanted to be more competitive in triathlons. I purchased the Cervelo P2 in 2016 and when I qualified for AG Nationals in both Duathlon and Triathlon. I needed to go faster, and this bike really made the difference. I ended up selling the Felt and bought the Tarmac for the purpose of having an agile road bike with disc brakes to handle some of the problems I had with the Felt. First, the Felt AR1 would be very close to the Specialized Venge and I wanted a bike that cornered better. The AR1 was too stiff in corners and for the crits I had raced it was great in the straights but skipped and hopped corners. You really had to force it to dig in the corners. Second, I wanted disc brakes to deal with the wet conditions when you get caught in a sprinkle or rain cloud coming home. I also had a bad experience when coming down Mt Rushmore into Keystone and my pads heated up too much on my Zipps. They squealed and howled down the hill and with a bad crosswind I really got nervous. By the time I made it to Keystone my forearms and hands were sore from gripping so hard.
At this point, I had a race bike and an all-around bike that could handle all my other situations. So why is all this in a review for the 3T Exploro? Because I think it’s very relevant to know what type of rider will see value in the Exploro. I also want to make sure that you understand what other bikes I have ridden that I am making comparisons to. So at the end of the season in 2016, I had a major ankle injury running and took the whole 2017 season off. I had a very rough time in 2017 and wanted to get back to basics and just do some riding without racing in 2018. I got my chance when the major road closed near my house. They closed 168th St for widening and it would be closed for the whole year. This meant I would have a long drive to work and home. It had been 5 years since I had commuted to work on a bike, but this would be the year to do it again. It is 12 miles from my house to work and takes 40 minutes on average to get there. My drive with alternate routes because of road closure was 40 minutes at best and sometimes take 60 minutes with heavy traffic. Commuting to work is an adventure every day. You learn many things about people and cars. They own a car, so they own the road! They have no patience for a guy trying to stay healthy and ride his bike to work. You have to learn that you are sharing the road with people that if you died on your bike because of something they did, it was your fault for riding on their road. You also learn how to handle your bike better. You will have many road conditions that change in a split second. From trees/branches on the trail, mud or ice patches, potholes, broken glass, debris, and worst of all cars coming close to you. Now all of this leads up to I have a $6000-dollar road bike that I am riding in crazy situations. I also feel like I am destroying a great bike that while it can handle the abuse, was not meant to be curb hopping as a commuter bike. But I love riding to work and did not want to sacrifice speed. As winter started coming, I started looking at different options.
What are my options? I started to look at different bike options and costs. I did not want to lose the Tarmac for a bike that I could not take on a fast group ride. I also did not want to spend another $2000 or more for a new bike that just was commute only bike. I had a race bike, my road bike, a mountain bike and now a commute bike. My wife would kill me! I started the quest by looking at options to make the mountain bike way faster and more urban friendly. It had the comfort but rolling resistance would be huge. I already had the bike and it is a Trek Marlin 7. It is not a light bike and is really an upper end/entry level mountain bike. Looking at tire options I was striking out. Not many options to make a mountain bike a road bike and the few I found were tires that were not made for wet conditions. I started looking at used cyclocross bikes hoping to find a deal. The problem I was having is used bikes were beaten to crap. I didn’t want to buy a used bike that had a cracked frame or may have some problem that would rear its head later. I was hearing so much about gravel riding and it looked safer than jumping over barriers in the mud that you find in cyclocross. Maybe I could find a used gravel bike. At the same time that I was doing the search, I also was getting ready for a 2019 comeback to racing. I was at Greenstreet getting a bike fit for my P2, I never did in 2016 and had some comfort problems I wanted to fix before doing a ton of trainer time thru winter. That was the first time I heard of the 3T Exploro.
I was immediately struck by the looks of the bike on the website. I was also fascinated with the thought of having a bike that could use a 25mm race tire for the road and also a 2.1-inch mountain tire. This bike was also designed by Gerald Vroomen that was from Cervelo, after riding the P2 I knew the difference in aero design. This was an aero road bike made for the gravel with mountain bike tires. Could it be the holy grail of bikes? A Swiss Army knife for my bike arsenal. You mean I could sell the Tarmac and replace it with one bike in the garage instead. Well, I won’t go that far! It is a multipurpose bike and should be the one I can take for daily commutes, group rides, gravel rides, taco rides, all-weather rides, crit race and ride to the park with my kids. So, for me, that checks off a lot of situations and looks like I have found what I needed. So let’s get this ordered!
Things that you may have concerns with. The first obstacle you will need to tackle. This is a 1X 11 speed, yes this is not going to have a front derailleur and small ring. That blew my mind and I was overwhelmed with the thought of not having enough gears. So first let’s be honest, most of the time you are not in the small ring on your road bike, but you do use it in hills. You also know that many gears are never used as the small ring and 11 sprocket is cross chain. You never use that no more than you should use the big ring and largest cog cassette. Your 2x setup is not a complete 22 or 20 gears. It is more like a 14-gear setup. You don’t have to worry about it being not enough gears I will attest to that not being a problem. I did fret over this and read enough articles that confirmed what I later found to be true. Also, you need to realize that it’s a 44-tooth ring in front. You are not going to be familiar with the gear ratios on the cassette, I now have an 11-44 cassette. Sounds weird but it works. The next obstacle you will need to face is 650b with 47mm tires. Is this thing going to be slow and heavy? This was my biggest fear and had to take some advice from Greenstreet and bought different tires than the factory Gravel King's it comes with. I chose the Teravail Rampart Light and Supple tire in a 47mm. Made for on and off road this was designed for racing gravel. I’m sold on any tire made for racing that is durable and has good wet condition characteristics. Now that the two biggest obstacles to a road bike guy are taken care of let’s talk about how it handles.
So I got a bike and had not bought a power meter yet. My Power2Max meter on the Tarmac looked like it may bolt up, so we waited until it arrived to try. It did not fit and had to order a different meter, so my first rides were off feeling only with no power or cadence metrics and just GPS data on Strava after the ride. It was 6 weeks from the order to the actual first ride and I had not been riding the Tarmac in the meantime on any commutes. I was doing more swimming and trainer time inside. I was ready for some outdoor fun, but the weather had turned so my maiden rides were in the mid ’20s and lower 30-degree weather. My first ride went well, and I have to say my first impression was this bike is amazing. It felt like a fast road bike that could float over everything. I had 55 psi in the tires and it literally smoothed every bump and crack. It was slower than the Tarmac but not much. Maybe a half a mile per hour over the 12-mile commute but it was also colder out so can't really say if it was the bike or cold weather as I didn’t have a power meter to compare. What I did know was it was just as agile and cornered well. It was smooth and felt like a road bike with air suspension. It made me feel unstoppable and I was instantly happy with the new bike. The next morning on the way to work I got to really put it thru its paces. I was traveling the normal route and had a string of cars come behind me. On this stretch of road, it has no shoulder or sidewalk and is very rough for a few blocks. As I rolled like normally on the side of the road I jumped off and into the grass and rolled along while the cars passed. Yes, I would have never done this with my Tarmac unless I was going to go down or get hit. The Exploro took it like a champ and ate the rough broken shoulder and rolled right thru the grass. I was in love! It could make changes in terrain and roll right thru with confidence. First impressions: Best bike I have owned yet.
So next big test: Gravel road ride. This was something I never did and felt obligated to do since that was what it was designed to do. My first ride was a 22-mile route that had around 1600 feet of ascent. Now I did not know this when I chose the route. I was simply doing the closest gravel ride I could near my house. In case I did not like it or needed to pull the plug I wanted to be close to home at least. Again, I had no power or cadence data and just rode it blind by feel. Gravel was definitely different than road riding but not as bad as I thought. It was smoother than I thought and really not as soft as I thought. I expected it to be like you feel in a car where it is more of a washy / sinking feeling. I was making sure to keep my lines in the tire areas that cars make so it was smoother for the bike. It was cold that day again and just under 30 degrees. The only part I did not like was in some areas it was choppy like rumble strips and really caught me off guard. Rattled me pretty good but I was not ready for it and the seat was a little higher than it should be. Made it a little rougher than it needed to be. When it was all said and done, I traveled the route just under 16 mph and was amazed how fast it was for the terrain and hills involved. For never doing gravel I was sold on gravel ridin!
The next test would be on the following day. How would this bike do keeping up with a road bike on 25’s with a faster pace? My friend Joe asked to go out and ride a 26-mile loop we normally do. I told him that he may drop me as I never tested the bike yet and 47’s was a lot of tires to move. We met up and pushed out on a normal route we would take. Kept a conversational pace and then started to push a little. I stayed riding the wheel for a few miles but then came around and rode side by side. We kept the conversation and never really pushed a threshold pace but rode the ride with an 18 mph average which considering that this is December in 30-degree weather. We kept a conversational riding side by side at 18 mph average. I will take that any day. Is it crazy fast, No. But I was not on a time trial pace and was expecting to get dropped.
I have talked a lot about the tires and feel of the bike. I want to talk a little about the drivetrain. It needs to be said that the 1x SRAM was definitely a question when I bought the bike. Now after riding 500 miles, I can say I love it. Why #1 selling point is its simplicity. If it’s tough then shift, if it is easy then shift. It's just that simple, you shift up and down to the feel. Did I ever see big cog jumps? No, I really never felt like I missed a gear or needed an in-between gear. Also, it is almost silent! Yes, its quiet and no chain rattle sounds so good. You don’t hear the drive train at all. The only issue will be that I have topped out a few times. At 29 mph or so you will be in the 11 cogs and can’t go anymore. I did buy a second set of wheels and have not ridden them yet. I have a set of Enve 5.6 wheels that I am putting a 10-42 cog cassette on it to get more top end. It will also have 28mm tubeless tires on them so it will be for riding fast and still have the comfort of riding with less tire pressure. I will update this review when I get more miles in and the weather turns. Getting a bike in December is a little harder to enjoy. I hope this review helps you and please comment to get more information.