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  • Chris

    A very even handed review. It’s the sort of review I’d love to read if I was in the market for something like this.

    • A thousand thanks, Chris, that’s my goal for every one of my reviews.

      • Romain Mousset

        Some really shitty details on this frame set
        The idea is great tough
        You resume the idea very well
        Keep up the good work !

  • 555

    Good review – thanks. Do you have plans to review the Open U.P in the near future?
    I think this style of bike makes a great Number 2, gives you options to go gravel or singletrack or ride road in wet when you don’t want to take the Number One out etc Am contemplating a purchase soon and this bike was on the list to research – so far the open U.P is winning for me……

    • I never had any luck getting a hold of the U.P. from the Aus distributor. Another one to add to your list is Mason’s Bokeh.

  • Simon Wile

    It’s a lot of money to drop on a “fun” bike and as you say you’d want 2 sets of wheels to get the most from it and then really becomes enormously expensive. I love the UP as a bike however spending $8000 (realistically factoring in all the notsh!t parts, build time, labour if you’re not a DIY person) on an occasional toy is unimaginable.

    • Gerard Vroomen

      Is there any bike you’re not buying for “fun”? Isn’t “fun” the most important characteristic of riding?

      • Simon Wile

        Fun is important. Arguably the whole point of gravel bikes where there isnt a dedicated race scene (yet!) is to have fun. Cost is probably the single biggest factor for most consumers though. Do I want an Exploro or an UP. Hell yeh! But I’ll probably buy a Sequoia or a Hook for 1/4 the cost because that’s actually realistic for me. It’s a niche market already and a $4500 frame in a segment most people want a cheap, cheerful, “not too fussed if I drop/scratch it” is going to be a hard sell. Not expecting to see many out and about, seen 2 UPs ever actually out on the gravel.

        • Ben

          Agree with this. The bike looks amazing but for the kind of bike it is I couldn’t justify dropping that kind of cash on it. Could just as reasonably buy a very nice road bike and XC or CX bike for the same coin.

        • ebbe

          So basically, you’re saying the pricing aligns nicely with Open’s “working hard to stay small” motto? Which seems to be precisely what they want for the Exploro and the U.P. / U.P.P.E.R ;-)

  • singlespeedscott

    If I was going down this route I think I would refurbish an old MTB with road gearing and fit some drop bars.

    • marc

      Bombtrack Hook EXT is another ‘more price friendly’ option too, although it’s mtb heavy at 11kg

    • Wily_Quixote

      Yep – good point. i have a carbon hardtail that I use as primarily as a gravel bike but I never have got on with a flat bar on a bike as they are not particularly ergonomic.

      A rigid fork and drop bars would make it a commensurate bike (in weight and performance) to the 3T but the geometry is very different.

      The 3T is a road bike that can do gravel/light singletrack well. A converted MTB is not a road bike which would deter those seeking the same geometry.

  • Andy B

    I like the idea of this bike, just find it a bit expensive given its purpose

    Great concept though, I find 33c tyres aren’t great on gravel as we seem to encounter deep sand or ruts quite a bit around my area and 33c in sand isn’t great fun so having 2.1 tyres would give a lot more confidence, great to throw in some road wheels as a commuter too

    $4500 as a built up bike would sit better with me for its purpose

  • Stan Cox

    Thanks for the review. I keep seeing the frame on certain websites & couldnt quite grasp some aspects of it, particularly the price. Now it makes more sense even if I am less interested. One note, I had a 3T seatpin with that adjustment system & I found it almost impossible to set up correctly. When I did get it right it creaked terribly & nothing I did would make it shut up. Eventually I bought a Fizik to replace it.

  • jon

    Glad to see 3T’s DiffLock saddle clamp being called-out. Worked on several Felt AR’s with the same saddle clamp, very difficult to get the saddle level. Not sure if this is a manufacturing issue or just bad design. Interesting concept, but very poorly executed.

    • planning_nerd

      absolutely ridiculous to have a bike with a notchy saddle adjustment like this.

    • Andy B

      I’ve got the same setup on a Felt AR & another prior and have found it great.. so maybe they aren’t all bad?

  • Superpilot

    Nice review Matt.

    A bit of a shame they didn’t contemplate rack/mudguard mounts?? As an adventure/gravel bike, there is a market for gravel touring as well as all weather training and commuting, for which these mounts are a given.

    I’m not a fast dude, my bike is 9kg, so trading it for one of these could have worked as an all round road bike as well, but no mudguards kills the winter training buzz for me.

    Putting a training, cx and commuting bike into one purchase justifies the price better, but no guards then kills the commuting aspect, so I’m out since don’t need a ‘good’ bike just for gravel and cx.

    I think it is a really cool looking bike though.

    • I figure it’s a matter of time until the tyre clearance on Cannondale’s CAADX increases and if that happens it’s hands down one of the best multi-purpose bikes on the market for a killer price.

  • Catflap Jones

    I have a Mason Bokeh and am delighted with it. I ride UK bridleways and trails on it with 650B / 2inch tyres and ride on the road with my club on 700c. I rarely jump on my XC bike anymore and I don’t miss my road bike. The Bokeh does it all 95% as good as either of those machines could. Seems to have fewer disadvantages compared to the 3T as well…
    – Price is lower (although it is not cheap for aluminium, it is made in Italy though and the construction and finish are top notch)
    – Hardware that doesn’t fall off when you take the axles out
    – Takes a proper double chainset with 53/39 rings
    – Has discrete mounts for rack, mudguards, 3 bottle cages, dyno
    – Standard round 27.2 seat tube with traditional collar
    – Frame / fork ports and routing that do everything neatly (hydro, cable, Di2)
    …Absolutely love it. If I win the lottery I’ll get myself the titanium version.

  • Jared Wilkie

    Gerard be vroomin’

  • planning_nerd

    Cannondale Synapse Disc gives you the ability to run 33mm tires for mixed terrain fun but retains superlative performance and light weight on-road. Put 25s on and you have a no-compromise road bike.

    I have Schwalbe S-One 30mm tires on mine. 7.7kgs all up for my carbon model.

    You can get a complete alloy synapse for half the cost of this frameset and will still weigh less than this as a complete bike.

  • Il_falcone

    I don’t get the geometry of that frame and that it’s only offered in four frame sizes despite its hefty price tag. The geometry seems to be conceived by someone who doesn’t have much experience with gravel bike riders of different sizes although at first glance it seems to be a straightforward approach with its evenly spread and huge 29 mm steps in stack and 12 (!!!) mm steps in reach. According to my experiences with a lot of customers and their gravel bikes that geometry won’t fit many riders especially those that are taller than those fitting on a size M frame.

    Just have a look at what 3T calls size XL: A 402 mm reach combined with just 604 mm of stack and compare it to the geometry of a Cervelo C-Series frame size XL with 400 mm of reach and 641 mm of stack.

    • Patrick

      I’m with you 100% here. The head tubes are way too short for a bike this reviewer describes as an off-road bike. The stacks are shorter than many road bikes with equivalant reach.

      • Superpilot

        Probably influenced by the tyre sizes being larger, as well as the greater clearances above that. So compare clearance for a generous 28mm with say 5mm open gap to all parts of the frame on a road bike, with a 40mm tyre and 10mm or more clearance for mud on this bike. Add to that a BB that may be raised for clearance (not sure), and that could account for a great deal of reduced headtube. Plus it is supposed to be a more aggressive/aero form of off road bike, if that makes any sense..

        • Patrick

          Look up “stack” and “reach.”

          • Superpilot

            Classic. I know what they are. But stack and reach aren’t the same across riding styles. Rather than concentrating on the frame stack and reach, you want to concentrate on the handlebar stack and reach and saddle setback.

            You are correct, the heatube is shorter. But my point about the taller fork needed is valid. The designer can afford a shorter headtube as the fork and tyre size brings the front of the bike up relative to the ground. The front of the bike has additional height below the headtube. So they can reduce the size of the headtube to achieve a desired stack.

            I agree the stack takes into account the BB height, so then shouldn’t the stack be higher? But again this is an off road frame so the BB is probably raised for clearance, therefore reducing the stack further.

            Compare stack and reach on road frames all you like, but this is apples and oranges, with the tyre size, fork height and clearances required there is much more going on than simply the frame measurements.

            • Patrick

              What? Stack and reach absolutely translate between road and gravel/cx. Just generally you see the stack a little higher on the latter….not lower. 1-2cm shorter stem for pure cx racing is common too. Of course a longer fork could have the headtube slightly shorter to compensate, but it doesn’t change the fact that the front end is too low for the intended use of this bike. It’s lower than many road bikes. Of the UP and Exploros I have seen out in the wild, I think 2cm of spacers is the LEAST amount I have seen. A low stack relative to reach is a little weird for something meant to be ridden off-road or for many hours at a time by non-professional riders. Look at the better cyclocross racers and look at their saddle to bar drop (nothing to do with stack and reach, I know) and it’s nowhere near as extreme as the glamour shot at the top of this article. That’s a road position, not an off-road position. This bike absolutely nails it everywhere else and (along with the UP) will influence the next few years of bike design.

              • Superpilot

                Haha, I should have said stack and reach are measured the same but the dimensions used aren’t the same across riding styles, which is what you said anyway that Cx is different etc. Anyway, enjoy mate, I dunno why I discussed at length on a bike I’m never gonna buy. Guess that’s the internets for you…

                • Patrick

                  Ok. I’m with you now. That’s the internets for you indeed.

      • Gerard Vroomen

        They are pretty much the same as road bikes, which is exactly the point. If you want to sit up high and go slow, there are plenty of options out there already. Nothing wrong with that, but this is not that bike. We see our customers usually set up their Exploros (and U.P.s) the same as their road bikes or 1cm higher, that’s it. It works great, it’s fast and makes the regular on/off road transitions fast and fun.

    • Superpilot

      Yes, but you are comparing an endurance road bike with a bike with much more clearance so a taller fork. When you add in the (probable) additional fork height on this bike needed to clear the larger tyres with even more clearance than on the C series, that may account for some of the difference.

      Agree, sizing is strange in terms of steps though.

      • Gerard Vroomen

        Fork length does not affect fit if the stack is the same. It will mean you need a shorter head tube atop that taller fork to get to that same stack, but for the fit stack remains stack.

        As for the steps being strange, when you look at effective total reach (which I define as the reach compensated for stack influence plus the average stem length for that frame size) and the effective total stack (which I define as stack plus the average crank length and stem height), together being more complete dimensions to match to rider dimensions, the effective total reach/stack ratio remains constant throughout the sizing. So the frame grows proportionately, as it should.

    • Gerard Vroomen

      The stack/reach is right in line with the taller end of road bikes. It’s not a Salsa Fargo or even a Cervelo C3/5, but it’s fairly in line with for example a Cervelo R3/5 (the newer versions where we lengthened the head tubes compared to the first generation which was much racier). And in this comparison, the Exploro XL is much more like a 58cm R3/5, we don’t make an Exploro in line with a 61cm.

      BTW, also the Cervelo C3/5 in 61cm is quite a bit longer than the Exploro XL. This is the one weak spot that Phil and I were already worried about back when we invented this horizontal/vertical frame coordinate measurement approach back in 2001 and unfortunately we’ve never been able to explain it properly to people. But that hasn’t stopped me from trying these past 15 years: Yes the reaches are similar, but because the stacks are not, they don’t have similar cockpit lengths. The Exploro XL is around a centimeter shorter than the C3/5 in size 61, despite the reach showing it to be 2mm longer. In a formula, the effective frame length is reach + stack + sin(head tube angle) so for every extra cm of stack, the frame effectively becomes 3mm longer than the reach would indicate. Huge head tube (by any standard) on the C3/5 means the frame fits much longer than the 400mm reach communicates.

      • Il_falcone

        I’m fully aware of that “weakness” of the stack / reach system, Gerard. You can only compare the reach dimensions on frames that have (close to) the same stack value. Or you have to do the math.
        With regards to the geometry I was sure you have got your reasons for it but while I think it’s proven that riding with straight arms is not the fastest (most aero) position on an on-road bike this is certainly even more true for an off-road bike. As long as a frame allows you to set up the handlebar in a position that lets you bring down your upper body as low as tolerable you have covered the aero aspect. Being able to do it with your arms bent while still providing the necessary support for your upper body is even more aero than riding with straight arms and also provides some valuable suspension especially on an off-road bike without suspension fork. And better suspension means more speed.
        Bringing up the Salsa Fargo as a comparison doesn’t really show your interest in taking this discussion serious. The Fargo is of course a very different bike. Whereas the C3/5 besides not offering the same tire clearance as your frames is intended for the same type of riding. That’s at least what I think.
        But if your geometry works for you and more than enough people like it than it only adds to the huge variety we as cyclists can choose from. My comment was only meant to utter that I can’t comprehend the reasoning behind it when looking at the considerable number of gravel bike riders I have fitted. Where I ride my gravel bike I’m almost in the drops whenever I’m descending just because any other position isn’t safe enough because of the roughness of the “roads” and the speeds I’m travelling at. My back is close to flat in that position and my arms are bent at an angle of somewhere between 30 and 60°. I for one could certainly not go any faster with a lower handlebar position.
        Different rider in different conditions to yours I think.

        • Gerard Vroomen

          I’m only bringing up the Fargo for the enormous range of what people consider “gravel bikes”. It goes all the way from something as upright as a mountain bike, via something like a C3/5 to an UP or Exploro. Not to mention the biggest group of gravel bikes, those being bikes that aren’t gravel bikes to begin with but mountain, cross or road bikes, stock or with some adjustments.

          Nothing wrong with any of that, there is also an enormous range of people riding gravel, and the Exploro is for one end of the spectrum while the Fargo is for the other. And in none of those cases would I like the rider to ride with stretched arms. I fully agree thanks to our wonderful elbows, the riders back will be where it wants to be, you cannot will yourself lower or higher just by placing your bars there, at least not in a sustainable way.

          Anyway, it’s refreshing to catch some flak for my head tubes being short, in my life I’ve mostly had to deal with complaints they were too long (when the R3/5 went taller, when the P2 went taller, etc).

  • Gerard Vroomen

    Just a small correction. You state BB30 cranks don’t fit, but the most popular crank for this bike, the SRAM Force 1 crank, does fit in the BB30 version (just remove the spacers from the axle and replace with a few smaller spacers). In fact, quite a few other, newer BB30 cranks fit as well since crank makers more and more make them with wide axles and a bunch of spacers expressly to accommodate BB386EVO. Which then leads to the twisted situation that the cranks are lighter & stiffer when installed in BB386EVO frames than in the BB30 frames they are named after.

    • Thanks, Gerard. Variable crank axle lengths really makes a mockery of the whole idea behind bottom bracket “standards”. At least you’ve identified BB30 crank that will work but buyers still need to be wary of this issue, especially in the new era of online shopping where they don’t to try before they buy.

      • Gerard Vroomen

        Wary they should be. In fact, we struggle ourselves from time to time. The Force 1 BB30 crank works, the Rival 1 BB30 doesn’t. Go figure. Rotor works as far as I have seen, THM definitely works as I have that on my bike, I think the Easton stuff fits too. But hey, a good reason to engage your local bike shop!

      • Patrick

        No kidding. SRAM calling everything with a 30mm diameter axle “BB30” really makes this more of a problem. The Red crank is a true BB30 with a 68mm axle length, except for the Quarq version with the removable spider. All of their other road “BB30” cranks are actually an ~86mm spindle length making them a true BB386. SRAM road/cx with removable spider = BB386 is about the most simple way to state it and those suckers fit about every bottom bracket except the Trek BB90. Force and Rival “BB30” fit the Exploro. Same with Rotor 3D+/3D30/3DF. I think nearly every local shop is just as confused with the labels as well.

  • Dave Koesel

    Matt Wikstrom, please let me know how I can reach you and explain the near-infinite saddle tilt adjustment. I don’t think you understand how to make these adjustments using the two splined mechanisms.

    • George Darroch

      Dave, respect to the bike you’ve created, and the support that you/3T provide which is top notch.

      But if the editor of a cycling publication (and another user upthread) can’t understand how to adjust your seatpost and saddle system properly, then it might need a bit more explanation. Perhaps you could create a YouTube video that you then supply as documentation for purchasers?

      • Dave Koesel

        Thanks for the reply and suggestion. I didn’t create the bike nor seatpost, guys far brighter than I am get the credit. The clamping mechanism for the saddle is unique so it isn’t the first time a consumer, or editor or bike shop mechanic has been stumped. It isn’t obvious, yet once understood it is simple and replicable and easy to level and near-infinitely adjustment, never slips, allows independent adjustment of rotation and fore-aft, allows the addition of our VR vibration reducing module bringing a comfort element to an aero frame that are often characterized as “harsh” riding. Manuals for the seatpost as well as videos are indeed posted.

        We’ve designed the DiffLock system used on the VR module in the EXPLORO seatposts to offer a wide range of saddle tilt
        adjustment, occasionally owners miss a step in the process that includes a 9.5 degree adjustment and a 10 degree adjustment. It is likely this editor and the dealer complaining about the Felt which uses the same mechanism has only been using ONE of the adjustments available so the large gaps in saddle tilt position are the result or they just fumble about with educated guesses on the placement of the splined saddle mount. The DiffLock mechanism can make 0.5 degree adjustments which are imperceptible to the human eye. The movement can be so small you need an angle finding device to detect it which most smart phones have in their Compass ap but even then the increments are just 1 degree, not 0.5 degree.

        This mechanism is slip free so it allows for a more robust interface perfect for the impact seen in Gravel, CX, & MTB and in track and triathlon where riders spend a great deal of time on the nose of the saddle which can often cause lesser designs to slip nose-down. The DiffLock cannot slip, it is “locked” in place.

        This mechanism allows independent rotation and fore-aft movement.

        This mechanism allows the addition of our patented VR module which reduces vibration
        and fatigue

        It may be easier to explain the process on the phone while you have the bike in front of you but I’ll try to provide the instruction here as well.

        We created a quick video when the technology was introduced, you can find that here:


        And another here:


        There are two splined surfaces on the DiffLock. The inner spline cylinder
        provides the 10 degree adjustment between each grooved interface. There is also an outer ring:
        By rotating this 9.5 degree outer ring one groove or spline in one direction and
        the 10 degree cylinder in the other direction you’ll get 0.5 degree adjustments
        which are imperceptible to the human eye so you can use your smart phone or
        digital level to set the saddle to the desired pitch. If you want 5
        degrees of movement, you can rotate the inner cylinder, 10 grooves or splines,
        which will add 100 degrees of rotation one way, then move the outer ring 10 grooves
        or splines IN THE OPPOSITE rotational direction to get 95 degrees of rotation
        the other way leaving a net 5 degree change. If you want just 1
        degree change, you need to move 2 x 10 degree cylinder one way, then 2 x 9.5
        degree ring the other way. 2 x 10deg = 20deg, 2 x -9.5deg = -19deg; 20
        deg – 19 deg = 1 deg change.

        Please let me know if you’d like further instruction, I’m happy to guide you through
        this process on the phone in real time as you make these changes on your bike.
        The 3T America office phone number is (949) 200-6327 if you’re in the US.

      • Dave Koesel

        I was nearly certain I’d posted a reply with 3 YouTube links and the verbiage in our documentation included with the seatposts. Perhaps it was deleted?

    • Thanks for all of the extra info, Dave. I wasn’t stumped by the mechanism, but it is counter-intuitive, so I’m not surprised that you’re seeing the man in the street struggling with it.

      As explained in the review, I fall into the category of rider that is sensitive to minor adjustments (yes, I’m a “millimeter man”). I use the same saddle model for every review and rely on a spirit level to set my preferred saddle tilt. I couldn’t hit my sweet spot. One setting had me close, the next 0.5 degree increment had me tilting too far forwards. So I had to settle with sub-optimal tilt for my saddle.

      I was able to ride the bike and it didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but after 3+ hours, I really wanted to adjust the tilt of the saddle. I don’t expect that all riders will suffer the same issue, and indeed, the post will work perfectly for some. But compared to a standard one- or two-bolt clamp that is analogue rather digital, it restricts the adjustability of the post.

      Since the post is a proprietary design, this issue deserves major consideration by any buyer. The buyer should be free to adapt the bike to their needs rather than being forced to adapt to the bike.

      • Patrick

        This ‘level’ of exactness is one of the many reasons I trust a Matt Wikstrom review over nearly anybody else. Excellent work.

      • Dave Koesel

        Matt, wow! That’s a first. My math suggests that 0.5 degrees is about 1.2mm if you measure the movement of the saddle at the nose (or tail) given a ~270mm long saddle. If a ~1mm change is too much for the movement of the saddle you are indeed in an exclusive category of rider. Do you also adjust your saddle tilt for long climbs or for tire wear or after changing bar tape? Surely the changes in road gradient must wreak havoc on your saddle comfort. How do you account for seatpost deflection under rider weight as this is a huge variable based on seatpost shaft shape, layup, etc. Please pardon my defense of the DiffLock system that has tens of thousands of users; yours is a first from a rider who understands how to make the precise adjustment moving BOTH spline cylinders (instead of guessing at the spline orientation or trying to level a saddle using just one) AND sees a limitation to achieving their saddle position. Does the fact that most stems come in 10mm length increments “force buyers” to adapt as well? Do sensitive riders also select their crank length to the millimeter or is 2.5mm enough. It’s fascinating to be able to tap into someone able to detect such small variables and can help consideration in future product development. I very much appreciate your replies and perspective.

        • With respect, Dave, your math is off. I calculated 2.4mm and confirmed this with a measurement on the Exploro.

          In my experience, precise position of the saddle is the one thing that can’t be compromised. After all, it serves as the “anchor” for the cyclist. Everything else follows from there. A suboptimal saddle position affects the legs AND arms.

          I have long been a proponent for the value of custom-built frame because the length of the top tube can be cut to the millimeter to provide the EXACT reach required by the rider when couple with a pre-determined stem length. Stock frame sizing combined with stems that can only offer 10mm increments definitely forces riders to adapt to the bike. I have reviewed dozens of bikes and felt the impact of this compromise when I know my position so well.

          Perhaps I’m exceptional in my body awareness, but I think it serves my job as a reviewer very well. I’d definitely welcome the opportunity to put it to more use if you ever need feedback on the products that you have under development.

          • Il_falcone

            Same here, I adjust my saddle angle with a calibrated digital angle finder lying on a really flat board which lies stable on top of the saddle. And a change of 0.2 degrees makes a discernible difference to me in terms of comfort. 0.5 degrees is a big change for me that causes discomfort. A seat post with a different compliance necessitates a compensation for the saddle angle. Any seat post with a not infitely adjustable saddle tilt is a no-go these days.

            But it doesn’t matter evidently whether you ride up a climb or on the flat since the whole bike and the rider are then inclined with the angle of the rise so the relative position of your body to the saddle doesn’t change and that’s what’s important.

          • Landon

            Matt, tan(0.5)*270/2=1.18mm.

            Custom frames for everyone??? Most people are not nearly sensitive enough to frame size/position to justify a custom built frame.

            • Ah, I see, thanks Landon. I stand corrected, Dave. Nevertheless, the adjustment of DiffLock remains too coarse for my needs, and judging from the comments here, a least a couple other people. That’s obviously not large enough for a major manufacturer to overhaul the design of a product, but I believe the issue deserves to be acknowledged rather than dismissed, especially when the product at hand is a frameset that is as expensive as the Exploro.


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