With both the 3T Exploro and the OPEN U.P. now in stock at the shop, we felt the need to clearly understand the differences between the two. Of course, this is only possible with some serious time on both bikes. After a summer on the OPEN U.P., Peter spent the last few weeks on the 3T Exploro. Check out his take on the 3T Exploro and how it compares to the OPEN U.P.
The 3T Exploro Gravel Plus aero road bike has a lot of descriptors for one bike which begs the question “well, what is it for?” According to 3T – the venerable Italian parts manufacturer – the Exploro frameset is built so you can “Go Slow Faster,” and it does just that. The concept of gravel road bikes has been well covered in the last few years, with nearly every bike brand launching some new do-everything bike. While most of these are fully capable of mixed road riding, few maintain the feel of a performance road bike. We’ve come to learn that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better, but done right, a large volume road tire can be a blast to ride.
3T takes a different approach than most. By using Gerard Vroomen’s Gravel Plus technology, the Exploro accepts a range of tire options, up to a 40mm wide cyclocross tire on 700c rims. Because of the frame’s geometry the Exploro maintains a “normal” road bike feel, meaning it’s not sluggish on pavement like some all-road bikes. Actually, it is the opposite. Outfitted with 35mm tires, our Exploro feels fast…race bike fast. Adding to the race bike feel is the frames incredible stiffness. Power transfer is seamless, and cornering is crisp. It really feels like a race bike, that happens to be able to run bigger tires.
Back to the original question – “what is it for?” The whole point behind this bike is that it isn’t for any one type of riding. It’s meant to ride like a road bike on the road. With bigger tires, it can make singletrack and drop bars into good times. And dirt or gravel roads? Heck yeah it does that too. The whole speed component doesn’t necessarily mean much for some rides, but there are a growing number of competitive gravel rides across the US and the Exploro is perfect for them. We’d expect to see a handful of these out at races like the Dirty Kanza and Crusher in the Tushar.
When someone brings up the 3T Exploro, the conversation always includes another bike designed for this “mixed-use” called the OPEN U.P. They have a lot of similarities. Both companies are co-owned and heavily influenced by Cervelo founder Gerard Vroomen. Both fit a wide range of tires and run the 3T fork up front. Having built both of these bikes up with almost exactly the same kit, we have had opportunity to ride both in a variety of conditions. With subtle tweaks in design and in intended use, we were curious to see just how these two Gravel Plus bikes compare.
On pavement, the Exploro is fast and responsive. Handling and power transfer feels a lot like the Cervelo S-series aero bikes that Vroomen developed years ago. Shorter chainstays than the OPEN result in a slightly stiffer rear-end and more nimble road feel. The aero tube shaping is great for speed (and let’s face it, it looks really cool) but often aero tube profiles can translate into a harsh ride. Compared to the OPEN, the 3T did transmit a bit more road buzz through the frame, but it didn’t feel overly harsh. We’d expect the majority of the compliance (or lack of harshness) to come from the larger volume tires and lower tire pressure, which might make it the perfect platform to use aero tubing. Regardless of the aero benefits, the Exploro is a blast to ride at high speed on road and dirt. On the other hand, the OPEN offers a longer wheelbase, a damper ride and more stability. These characteristics make this bike ideal for rougher surfaces and rides where the dirt might outlast the pavement.
Both the 3T Exploro and the OPEN U.P. have variations of road geometry, which places the bottom-bracket slightly lower than what is typically found on cyclocross bikes. Doing so creates a nice, stable ride both off and on road. The OPEN seems to have more of a stable mountain-bike feel when riding off road, especially on more technical sections of trail. Enough so that we were left wanting even more time on the dirt. Given OPEN’s lightweight cross country mountain bike pedigree, this is no surprise. While it is a blast to ride off road, it is at home with some of the best road bikes out there. We have seen several riders ditch their road bikes in favor of the U.P. as their everyday road bike. While the Exploro is a bit newer to us, we definitely feel this bike combines versatility with performance characteristics of the top-level of road racing bikes.
Choosing between the Open U.P. and the 3T Exploro is tough. There’s a lot of overlap and either will take you farther than most bikes out there. We heard someone describe the difference as “the OPEN is a mountain bike for the road, and the 3T is a road bike for the dirt.” Given the handling differences, this is a great way to put it. The 3T fits a huge range of tires to provide traction and compliance when needed. It handles race-bike fast and offers a sense of power-transfer that makes you want to go fast wherever you’re riding. The OPEN fits the same range of tires and has an even smoother ride. It handles more like an endurance bike featuring a taller cockpit and extra stability. These go-all-day traits are noticeable on road and shine off road. If you’re a roadie and want a road bike, take the 3T. If you don’t mind losing a bit of the Formula-One-esque handling in favor of better off-road characteristics, choose the OPEN. Both are awesome and have the versatility to take you from road to dirt and back to road on the same bike.
While I haven’t pedaled either the 3T or the OPEN with the widest possible tire (2 inch knobbies) to see how they handle straight-up mountain riding, I can say that the 3T Exploro will easily change how and where you ride on the road. It is your road bike, your workhorse trainer for winter and a hard-charging gravel grinder.
Take a 3T Exploro or OPEN UP out on a test ride and experience the road and trail in a whole new light. Email Peter at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss which frame is right for you and how to custom spec out your bike. Additionally, we created a Contender Bicycles stock build for both the 3T Exploro and OPEN UP to give you a starting point to customize your ride.