The 3T Exploro & How It Compares to the OPEN UP

The 3T Exploro & How It Compares to the OPEN UP

Written by Alison Littlefield, on March 24, 2023

The 3T Exploro and OPEN U.P. have both established themselves as top-level players in the gravel world. Both bikes are extremely versatile, forward thinking and capable. They take a slightly different approach to reaching the same goal however. so it’s worth discussing the differences between the two and how they stack up. We’ve been fortunate enough to have spent a good amount of time on both bikes on all sorts of terrain, and we’re big fans of both bikes. The Exploro and U.P. are outstanding examples of a bike that can comfortably cover just about any terrain, and do it quickly. Whether you’re a full-fledged gravel racer, simply looking for road/gravel do-it-all, or something in between, the Exploro and U.P. are both outstanding options. So which of these two gravel rigs is right for you? Let’s dive in!

Even after a number of years on the market, there’s a lot to be said about the 3T Exploro. The Exploro we’ve come to know, love and respect was sparked long before gravel riding became the popular discipline it is now. The folks at 3T wanted to ride further and faster on whatever terrain they encountered (much like the all road-minded people at OPEN, but we’ll get to that). 3T’s approach was to combine on-road speed with mountain durability and toughness. The resulting Exploro lets you fly on the smooth sections, and seriously crush the rough stuff. But there’s more to the Exploro and it’s noticeable at first glance.

3T pioneered aerodynamics for gravel bikes, and their efforts are immediately apparent in the Exploro’s oversized downtube. The aero optimization extends past the downtube of course (with 3T having even tested mud-covered bikes in the wind tunnel), and the resulting shape not only gives you the speed you’re used to on the road, but also on crosswind pummeled gravel tracks.

Beyond aerodynamics and speed optimization, the 3T Exploro models can of course handle a wide range of large tires. While this attribute is key to any successful gravel bike design, 3T has done a remarkable job of creating bikes that go amazingly fast on really big tires. Whether you’re on the pavement, or pounding out a gravel race course, the Exploros go and feel really fast. To achieve the goal of a go-fast gravel design that accommodates the widest range of rubber, 3T offers three sub-models of the Exploro, each one optimized around intended purpose and the best tire size for the job. The original Exploro (Pro/Team) is 3T’s Jack of all trades, the Exploro Racemax is their all-out speed machine and the Exploro Ultra is designed and “tweaked” to cover the toughest terrain faster than any other gravel bike.

Each Exploro can accommodate tires up to a massive 61mm, and the Exploro Ultra combines its aero seat tube with a round seatpost so you can use any 27.2 round, dropper or suspension post.

Always innovating, thinking ahead and pushing boundaries, 3T has also made the move to start bringing their carbon production to their home base in Italy. The Exploro lineup now features two models that hail from their Presezzo, Italy factory and feature their own proprietary filament wound carbon and resin transfer molding technology, rather than traditional carbon weave and pre-pregnated molding. Both the Exploro Racemax Italia and Exploro Extrema Italia pave the way in the world of unpaved riding.

With all of the out-of-the-box thinking and design going on at 3T, it’s not surprising to find bike industry innovator and design wizard Gerard Vroomen involved. Also not surprising is that he’s directly responsible, along with co-gravel conspirator Andy Kessler, for the increasingly legendary OPEN U.P.

The OPEN U.P., much like the Exploro, was born from the desire for a bike that could go anywhere, do it quickly and comfortably, and come back in one piece. More to the point, OPEN has always been about making the bikes that Gerard and Andy want to ride themselves. The U.P. was the first product of this mission, and pretty much initiated the “fast gravel” category by combining road bike speed with go-anywhere tires and geometry. In the years since its inception, the OPEN U.P. has continued to establish itself as a “one bike for just about everything” type of setup, with some owners using it for literally everything outside of a four-corner criterium. The U.P. is all about versatility, capability and comfort, but does it with a more traditional aesthetic and without the aero flair of the 3T Exploro.

Much like the Exploro however, the U.P. can accommodate a wide range of tire sizes, while maintaining the feel of riding a road bike. No matter where you’re riding and what tire setup you employ, the U.P. will deliver agile, responsive and confident handling. The U.P.’s geometry also means you’ll experience a reliably predictable ride as well. The confidence you feel pushing the U.P. on the pavement will seamlessly translate over when you head off the road.

Much of the additional beauty of the U.P. lies in what you don’t see, or what you might not see right away. Given the industry and design pedigrees of OPEN’s founders, it’s no surprise that the U.P. is graced with details like using a combination of high and low-modulus carbon fiber (rather than all of one or the other), depending on what is most important in each area of the frame. In areas like the main tubes, the U.P.’s layup has more high modulus (and even ultra-high modulus) carbon. Other areas like the head tube use more of the lower modulus (tougher) carbon. The result is that the U.P. is both light and durable. Other out of sight details including adapter-free front brake caliper mounting for 160mm rotors, OPEN’s “Flat Out” downtube design and “Thru-thread” rear dropout that secures the derailleur hanger in the frame using the same threads that secure the thru axle on the other side of the frame.

Attention to detail while keeping things simple has resulted in the OPEN U.P. and its larger tire-capacity sibling the U.P.P.E.R maintaining their status as bikes that have not compromised performance or comfort in the quest for versatility and capability. Several years back, Open managed to almost see into the future, realizing the potential of contemporary tire, wheel and frame geometry and technology. In an ever expanding world of gravel, all-road and do-it-all bikes, the OPEN U.P. is still very exceptional and will always be known as a groundbreaker.

So which to choose? While it sounds cliche, you can’t go wrong with either the Exploro or the U.P.. If you’re looking to spend most of your time pounding out solo gravel racing breakaways, the stiff, aero-optimized Exploro will give you a leg up. If you’re more about extreme mileage epic getaways, or making the most of every point A to point B excursion, the U.P. will provide a little more overall comfort, while maintaining a nimble feel. The bottom line is that both bikes excel at what they do, making every mixed terrain and off road experience feel fast and exhilarating. You really can’t go wrong either way!


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