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by James Huang
June 2, 2020
Photography by James Huang
3T’s Exploro family of “aero gravel” bikes grows by one today with the introduction of the new Exploro RaceMax model, which boasts even more generous tire clearances than the original RaceMax, while still maintaining an impressively compact geometry and similarly sleek lines. If the original Exploro was considered forward-looking back in the day, the new Exploro RaceMax should help keep 3T at the front of the curve.
Four years ago, 3T ventured out into unknown territory with its original Exploro. Borrowing the dropped chainstay concept of the Open UP that was introduced just a year earlier (3T co-owner and frame designer Gerard Vroomen wears the same hats at Open), the ultra-progressive Exploro was able to mate an usually short 415 mm rear end for more nimble handling together with room for tires up to 700×40 mm or 650×54 mm. And yet despite all that capability, the curious tube shaping supposedly made the Exploro more efficient aerodynamically than it otherwise would have been, to the benefit of riders still interested in going faster, regardless of surface type.
As you’d expect, then, the new Exploro RaceMax further expands on that initial philosophy with a more refined frame shape that not only accepts even-bigger rubber, but is also said to be more aero as well — just as you’d expect for a new top-end model.
Is it a gravel bike? An all-road bike? A road racing bike? Yes, according to 3T.
The new Exploro RaceMax should now easily accommodate 700×42 mm-wide tires, while 650b users should be able to cram in tires with a total measured width of 61 mm — both with the same 415 mm chainstay length as before. That said, both of those figures are estimates and, as always, will vary depending on variety of factors, including tire make and model, rim internal width and tire bed shape, tread pattern, and even inflation pressure – more on this in a bit.
On the aero front, 3T hasn’t provided much in the way of specifics, but Vroomen says the Exploro RaceMax’s bulbous frame has been upsized to make for a smoother transition between the bigger front tire and the rest of the frame. The down tube, for example measures a healthy 46 mm across behind the head tube, but steps up to a gargantuan 75 mm about a third of the way down. Not at all coincidentally, that width is also specifically designed to help direct air around the water bottles that will invariably be mounted to the down tube (and, likely, the seat tube as well).
The down tube balloons to a maximum width of 75 mm to shield the water bottles from oncoming air, and to help smooth airflow coming off of the front wheel, both in the name of reducing aerodynamic drag. Does it work? That’s hard to say. 3T hasn’t supplied any data, but it at least looks neat.
The new fork also features a road bike-like 370 mm axle-to-crown length and a very low-profile crown in general. As a result, the front wheel sits rather close to the down tube — again, something that supposedly helps in terms of drag — and there’s also a pronounced cutout in the backside of the seat tube to shield the rear wheel. Otherwise, the frame clearly embraces the truncated airfoil concept, with the head tube, down tube, seat tube, and seatstays all sporting some variant of the idea.
Other features include dual dropped chainstays — only the driveside chainstay is dropped on the current Exploro — a BB386EVO press-fit bottom bracket shell (with thread-together cups), compatibility with 1x or 2x drivetrains, mounts for three water bottles and a top tube feed bag, hidden front and rear fender mounts, adapter-free flat-mount disc-brake mounts for 160 mm-diameter rotors, and adaptable internal cable routing that can accommodate a wide variety of mechanical and electronic drivetrains.
3T even plans to unveil a suite of custom accessories for the Exploro RaceMax, such as a dedicated front and rear fender set, special bottle cages and bags, and even a pump.
Open pioneered the dropped chainstay concept when it introduced the original UP a few years ago. And so it should come as no surprise that the new 3T Exploro continues with that theme (now with dropped chainstays on both sides), seeing as how the same person – Gerard Vroomen – is behind the design of both frames. Even with such impressive tire clearance, the effective chainstay length is still remarkably short at just 415 mm.
A few annoyances on the first-generation Exploro have been addressed, too.
First and foremost, the cumbersome splined seatpost head has been ditched in favor of Ritchey’s one-bolt head design, which is far, far easier to adjust and install (and yes, it’s backward-compatible if you’re a current Exploro owner looking for some relief). And whereas the rear derailleur hanger on the current Exploro basically just falls off the bike when the thru-axle is removed, the new Exploro RaceMax uses a more conventional design.
Where the current Exploro is only offered in four sizes, the Exploro RaceMax will be available in six. One of the additional sizes basically allows for finer gradations in between the current largest and smallest Exploro frames, so prospective buyers should be less likely to find themselves in between sizes. However, the other new size slots in at the very small end of the spectrum, meaning the Exploro RaceMax can supposedly now fit riders as short as 1.42 m (4’ 8″).
Reach is largely unchanged for the most part, but stack has gone up a bit for a less aggressive position than the regular Exploro. For example, a medium Exploro sports a reach of 378 mm and a 546 mm stack. On a 54 cm Exploro RaceMax, though, the reach is virtually identical at 377 mm, but the stack goes up to 564 mm.
Bottom bracket drop has also increased by several millimeters for more stability, ranging from 75 to 79 mm, depending on size. However, steering geometry has actually gotten a bit quicker. On that same medium Exploro, the trail figure is a middle-of-the-road 67 mm when used with a 700×35 mm tire. But on the 54 cm Exploro RaceMax, the trail is a nimbler 63 mm.
Weight-wise, it’s mostly a wash.
According to Vroomen, painted frame weights on the new Exploro RaceMax range from 1,050 to 1,150 grams, depending on size — virtually identical to the current Exploro Team. The higher-end Exploro LTD shaves another 100 g off of that, but it also costs significantly more, which suggests that 3T is leaving the door open for a higher-end Exploro RaceMax model later.
When you dig into the press materials 3T provides with the Exploro RaceMax debut, one key piece of information is conspicuously absent: explicit call-outs for how big a 700c or 650b tire will fit in the new frameset (which is why the figures I supplied earlier are only estimates).
“Which brand? Which model? Which rim?” replied Vroomen when I inquired about this. “That’s the whole point. This question is unanswerable. Always has been.”
As a result, 3T is proposing a new method for measuring tires that includes two metrics, WAM (Width as Measured) and RAM (Radius as Measured), both of which have the associated rim internal width as a suffix. As the names suggest, they refer to actual measurements of the tire on a specified internal rim width in order to provide more reliable tire size information.
For example, a Schwalbe G-One Allround with a printed width of 35 mm only actually measures 35 mm when mounted to a rim with a 19 mm internal width — hence, the WAM19 dimension would be 35 mm. However, that same tire mounted on a rim with a 29 mm internal width has a substantially broader footprint, and a WAM29 dimension of 39 mm.
Wouldn’t you like to know precisely how big a tire will be when mounted to a rim of known internal width? 3T’s new WAM metric would provide that information. Image: 3T.
Likewise, a tire’s actual radius will vary with rim width, too. That same Schwalbe tire on a 19 mm-wide rim has a measured radius of 351 mm (hence, RAM19 = 351 mm). But on a 29 mm-wide rim? The RAM29 decreases to 348 mm.
WAM and RAM provide consumers with far more reliable tire sizing information than anything currently available, and combined, they have the potential to transform the way tire sizes are described, much in the way stack and reach are now used to define how a frame fits. Coincidentally, Cervelo (back when Vroomen and Phil White were running that show) was the first major brand to embrace stack and reach, so it’ll be interesting to see where WAM and RAM go from here.
As tire width increases with increasing internal rim width, total tire radius tends to go down. How much does it change? RAM would let you know. Image: 3T.
Either way, I have a lot of thoughts on this subject that I’ll discuss in more detail in the near future, but let’s just say I’m absolutely a big proponent of the concept. More accurate and informative tire size information is something I’ve been actively pushing the industry to adopt since at least 2013, and I hope the WAM and RAM concept is embraced more widely moving forward.
To suit the new Exploro RaceMax’s do-everything attitude, 3T is also debuting a new set of ultra-wide 700c carbon wheels.
The new Discus 45 | 40 LTD tubeless carbon clinchers boast an exceptionally generous 29 mm internal width to better support the wider tires that are increasingly popular with gravel riders. In keeping with the Exploro RaceMax’s aero mission, the external width is a similarly spacious 40 mm while the depth is a mid-deep 45 mm, all of which should make for a nicely cohesive total package relative to narrower rims that would result in more of a “light bulb” profile.
The new 3T Discus 45|40 LTD wheels are shockingly wide, and seemingly the first to be designed to be an aerodynamic match with high-volume gravel tires. Photo: 3T.
3T is lacing those new rims to your choice of Chris King, Industry Nine, or Carbon-Ti hubs, and claimed weight for the set is 1,665 grams (with the Carbon-Ti hubs). Retail price is US$2,400 / €2,400 with the Industry Nine or Carbon-Ti hubs, or US$2,700 / €2,700 with the Chris King ones. 3T expects to have these available some time in June.
Also in the mix are four new carbon fiber drop handlebars.
The Superergo LTD sports flattened tops and a multi-shape ergonomic drop shape that prioritizes comfort, while the Superghiaia LTD features the same tops, but with 3T’s distinctively flared drops to provide more control in off-road situations.
The Aeroflux LTD is a more traditional aero-minded road bar with a more aggressively flattened top section and non-flared ergonomic-bend drops. Finally, for aero-minded gravel riders — heads up, prospective Exploro RaceMax buyers — there’s the new Aeroghiaia LTD, which combines the Aeroflux LTD’s aero tops with the Superghiaia LTD’s funky flared drops.
All of the new bars have a retail price of US$350 / €350. UK and Australian pricing is to be confirmed.
Want a comfortably shaped drop bar on your gravel bike, but aren’t interested in flare? Maybe the 3T Superergo LTD is your answer. Photo: 3T.
The 3T Superghiaia LTD is designed for gravel riders that are mostly concerned about comfort and control – and weight, of course. Note how the flare happens below the hoods. Photo: 3T.
Given the huge range of compatible wheel and tire sizes that works with the new Exploro RaceMax, 3T is also offering a rather diverge range of build kits to suit, including 1x and 2x drivetrains as well as 650b and 700c wheel-and-tire configurations with both aluminum and carbon fiber wheel options.
3T is continuing with fairly simple paint schemes, but the colors are getting increasingly bold. Photo: 3T.
This one is arguably the most striking. Photo: 3T.
This one somehow seems the most appropriate if you’re going to be heading off-road regularly given the more subdued earth tones. Photo: 3T.
Complete builds with 700c setups that are aimed more at higher speeds on more traditional road surfaces are tagged with a “Race” designation, while complete bikes with 650b rolling stock designed for more off-road routes will wear the “Max” moniker.
Retail price for the frameset is set at US$3,200 / €3,200, and complete builds start at US$4,200 / €4,200. Frames and complete builds should be at some dealers now, with more widespread availability in the coming weeks. Australian and UK prices are still to be confirmed.
The existing Exploro frameset will remain in the lineup unchanged, aside from updated build kits and new color options, and will essentially comprise 3T’s “entry-level” and mid-range models.
I’ve got one of the first medium-size production Exploro RaceMax models in for test now, outfitted for one-bike duty with two wheelsets. In 700c mode, it’s equipped with a SRAM Force eTap AXS 1×12 drivetrain and deep-section 3T Discus 45 carbon clincher wheels wrapped with 35 mm-wide Pirelli Cinturato tires; in 650b mode, it’s equipped with a SRAM Force/XO1 AXS “mullet” 1×12 drivetrain with a mountain bike cassette and rear derailleur, 3T Discus Plus carbon wheels, and 54 mm-wide Vittoria Barzo knobbies.
Actual weight in the burlier 650b trim is 8.82 kg (19.44 lb) without pedals or accessories, while the 700c setup is nearly a full kilo lighter at 8.1 kg (17.86 lb) — and I can’t wait to ride it. Stay tuned.
3T’s new Exploro RaceMax frame takes the formula of the original Exploro and turns it up another notch in terms of tire clearance, versatility, and speed.
The tube shaping on the new 3T Exploro RaceMax is quite extreme to say the least.
Few drop-bar bikes have attempted to span such a broad range of usage scenarios as the new 3T Exploro RaceMax. Along with bikes of similar design philosophies, such as the Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey, we seem to be quickly approaching a scenario where one bike (albeit with two wheelsets) really can capably handle the function of two.
These 27.5×2.1″ Vittoria Barzo tires definitely push the limits in terms of the 3T Exploro RaceMax’s clearance, but they do fit. Just stay away from mud.
Flat-backed tube profiles feature prominently on the down tube, seat tube, seatpost, and seatstays.
The very shallow fork crown tucks the front wheel up quite close to the down tube.
The fork features a “variable aero cross-section” from top to bottom that supposedly accounts for the different types of interaction at various areas of the fork. That may very well be, but it’s a nicely designed piece regardless.
The flat-backed seatpost shape is shared with other members of the Exploro family.
Although the fork sports a 1 1/8-to-1 1/2″ tapered steerer tube, the custom Cane Creek lower bearing has an outer diameter that’s more often found on a 1 1/4″ steerer for a sleeker profile. Although the size is smaller than usual, 3T claims durability is unchanged from a standard bearing. “The balls are small,” said company co-owner Gerard Vroomen, “but there are a ton of them.”
The dropped chainstays create a rather massive box-section down at the bottom bracket area.
3T is using a BB386EVO press-fit bottom bracket shell on the new Exploro RaceMax, but with thread-together cups to keep creaking at bay. The format’s additional width relative to a conventional 68 mm-wide threaded shell is one of the keys to the frame’s excellent tire clearance.
While the down tube is extremely wide, the seat tube is very narrow.
There’s an awful lot of surface area on the 3T Exploro RaceMax frame, but claimed weight (for a painted frame) is still quite respectable at 1,050-1,150 grams, depending on size.
Why the dropped chainstays, you wonder? With tires steadily growing in size, this is increasingly precious real estate.
Despite the impressive tire clearance, the fork’s 370 mm axle-to-crown length is inline with conventional road bike forks.
Does it fit? Yes. But would you say there is enough room? That’ll depend on your riding conditions. Mud would clearly be a problem.
The wedge-type binder is tucked into a small pocket in the top tube. The bolt is thankfully angled such that it’s actually quite easy to access the bolt head with a torque wrench.
The 3T Exploro RaceMax will technically accept a front derailleur, but whether or not it’ll actually work will depend on how wide a rear tire you intend to use.
Flat-mount disc brakes are used front and rear. The Syntace X-12 thru-axle system is notably neat and tidy.
3T says the Exploro RaceMax is compatible with front and rear fenders. However, while there are mounts visible at the fork crown, bottom bracket shell, and at the top of the seatstays, there aren’t any at the dropouts, which suggests a custom setup is in the works.
Needless to say, riders interested in running fenders won’t be able to also run the widest-possible tires at the same time.
Cables and hoses enter the frame at a port just behind the head tube. Unfortunately, they’re not internally guided, so there will be some fishing involved.
3T mounts the front brake caliper directly to the fork leg with bolts that pass through from the front, thus doing away with the additional aluminum plate that’s normally used.
Woo hoo! 3T has done away with the overly complicated splined seatpost head used on the original Exploro, switching to the far easier-to-use Ritchey one-bolt system. Take note, frustrated current Exploro owners: this seatpost fits older Exploro frames, too.
A small stainless steel plate protects the chainstay against chainsuck.
3T is offering the Exploro RaceMax in a wide range of build kits, include SRAM “mullet” drivetrains with 12-speed mountain bike cassettes and rear derailleurs for ultra-wide gearing range.
It’s a bit of a tight squeeze here. Riders who prefer Stages or 4iiii power meters are likely out of luck.
3T is offering both standard and Direct Mount rear derailleur hangers for the new Exploro RaceMax.
3T handlebars and stems are obviously heavily featured on complete builds. Sorry, 3T, the reverse bolts on the stem faceplate look nice, but they’re a major pain.
Multiple plate configurations are available depending on your drivetrain setup.
The 3T Exploro RaceMax can accommodate just about any 1x or 2x drivetrain setup, depending on how big a rear tire you want to run.
If you’re running tires this big and knobby, should you just ride a mountain bike instead? The answer to that question is getting increasingly complicated, but these sorts of bikes make more sense if you consider that someone might outfit them with two sets of wheels: one for riding off-road, and another for riding on roads.
In 700c form, the 3T Exploro RaceMax looks like a legitimately high-performance road bike.
Switching from 650b to 700c mode takes all of about 5-10 minutes, including swapping the rear derailleur, fitting the second (shorter) chain, and pairing the SRAM wireless components.
The 35 mm-wide Pirelli Cinturato clinchers are positively huge.
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