3T Exploro Racemax: Joseph's Ride Review
Recently I had the opportunity to test out 3T’s performance gravel bike, the 3T Exploro Racemax. I set out to see how the bike could perform as a gravel bike, all-road bike, and strictly road bike. To put the bike through the paces, I set up two wheelsets for it; a Fulcrum Rapid Red 900 wheelset with Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M tires in 700 x 40, and a Reynolds AR46 Expert wheelset with Pirelli P-Zero Race TLR tires in 700 x 30. These two setups allowed me to take the bike pretty much anywhere I wanted, from single track trails to wide open roads, while preserving the bike's nimble handling and agile characteristics. The Bike
As mentioned, I wanted to set this bike up to be an excellent allrounder, and the drivetrain on it exceeded my expectations for providing a well-rounded feeling on all terrain. I am using the Sram Rival AXS 2x system, which utilizes a 46-33t chainring pair and a 10-36 cassette, although I used a 10-33 cassette with the road wheelset. Prior to using this system, I had always been opposed to front derailleurs on gravel bikes, but this groupset proved me wrong.
For the first ride, I did a dirt single track climb that gained about 700ft in 2 miles, and I never reached the easiest gear on the cassette. The drivetrain, paired with the stiff Italian frame allows the bike to climb like a dream and get away with having a slightly narrower range than that of a mullet 1x setup. On the road, with the slightly narrower cassette, the bike was never struggling to keep up with friends on true road bikes. One thing that really stood out to me on this drivetrain is how well the chain adheres to the cassette. It feels very solid, and you can tell the chain will not move unless it is shifted. This 2x drivetrain is a perfect match for this racy gravel frame, allowing it to perform on the road and on the dirt. 3T uses some interesting design choices to truly make this bike ride like the great frame it is. First off, they use a road-standard length fork, instead of a ‘true’ gravel fork on the bike. They used this fork to give the bike maneuverability in tight corners and to allow the bike to be as responsive as possible. Additionally, they use an oversized down tube to give the bike better aerodynamics to optimize the airflow coming off the front wheel and decrease turbulence. This increases stability at higher speeds, allowing the bike to descend fast on the road, even backing some aero road bikes off its wheel. The last thing that sets this frame apart from its competitors is its compatibility with tire widths up to 61mm or 2.4 inches. This frame really was designed with capability and speed in mind, and doesn't compromise much on either front.
To dial in the fit of the bike I was able to “slam” the 90mm stem right onto the head tube (stacking the headset spacers above the stem), because the 3T has a slightly higher stack than some of its competitors. So even in the slammed position it is still very comfortable. The bike is equipped 3T Superergo bars, which are standard drop bars, but with a slightly asymmetrical design to provide maximum comfort when riding in the drops. Overall, 3T put a bike together that is setup to provide maximum performance in a wide array of applications. The Ride
While all of these factors look really good on paper, they beg the question “Will it perform on the road?” The answer is a resounding yes. This bike is excellent, not just on road or dirt, but on both, proving that it should be considered as one of the great gravel race bikes.
The first thing I did on this bike was take it for a ride that would show me how it performs on road, double-track and single track (all with 40c knobby tires). To achieve this I took it for a big ride along the Bonneville Shoreline Trail in Salt Lake City, where I could see how it handles in various situations. The first thing that stood out to me was how maneuverable on dirt it was. The short fork on the bike allows it to eat into switchbacks, handling the corner with ease without having any pedal overlap. The next thing I noticed was the amount of power transfer to the rear wheel. Usually standing on the pedals of bikes this light causes the rear wheel to slip out in loose terrain, but on this bike it felt ready to attack the climb and allow me to put down as much power as needed without any issues.
On the road, this bike doesn’t handle quite like a true road bike, but it’s no slouch either. The bike pedals up long-extended road climbs with comfort and ease (as easy as a long climb can be). Having the fit of a gravel bike as opposed to a road bike, long days in the saddle are comfortable and smooth because of the high stack height, more upright position and the compliant carbon frame. On the downhill, the bike comes alive and you can feel the aerodynamic benefits from the oversized downtube adding speed and stability to the ride. This is a bike that feels at home at high speed, because instead of losing its handling it becomes more planted and stable. This bike proves that you can get one bike for many different riding styles and still have it do well in them all.
Racing wise, this bike is fast and fun. I did a gravel race called the Dirty Dino on the bike, which features 6300 ft of vertical over a 60-mile loop. Using 38c Schwalbe All-Arounds, as most of the ride was on smoother gravel, the bike felt like it was burning to go faster than I could. The day began with a 3500 ft climb between milepost 5 and 16 which tested both my legs and the climbing ability of the bike, the former being what was more noticeably lacking. Once over the top of the big climb, the route started to flatten out, becoming more rolling. This is where the bike truly felt comfortable and fast. It started to eat up the mileage, having no problem holding a high pace over dirt roads and even some rutted, washboard terrain. As the day progressed, the bike was holding up a lot better than I was. With my sights set on the finish when I got to the top of the last 4000 ft descent, I did not want to have to think about descending whatsoever. The bike held me stable on the downhill, without the usual loss of blood flow to my hands which I typically experience on rough, gravel descents. The bike held me up and took over control without my fatigue overwhelming me. Conclusion
On any terrain I took the bike on, I was not disappointed with the capability of the bike. Obviously it doesn’t feel like a Pinarello Dogma on road or a Scott Spark on singletrack, but it does a great job of finding the perfect sweet spot for everything. This is one of the true, ‘one bike for every job’ bikes, and I would love to keep pushing its limits and finding exactly where they may be. I would recommend this bike for the people who want one bike that they will always be able to drop their friends on. The stiff carbon frame ensures a fast ride, while still being compliant enough to be comfortable. For people who like this bike, but may not necessarily want to ride a true race bike, check out the 3T Exploro or even the 3T Exploro Ultra to find the perfect model for you.