The 3T Exploro Ultra Gravel Bike Brings More of Everything
The 3T Exploro is no longer the odd-duck aero gravel bike it once was. Sure, it still doubles down on aero efficiency in a way that few other gravel bikes even try to do. But the Exploro is no longer alone; rather it is an entire range of bikes, including the fast Exploro Racemax, the assisted Exploro Boost, and now, the ever-flexible 3T Exploro Ultra. We think this might just become the most popular Exploro yet.
HOW MUCH DOES AERO REALLY MATTER?
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details, we ought to touch quickly on aerodynamics. We go more in depth with how 3T values aerodynamics in our Exploro Racemax review and our 3T Exploro video review. After all, people only just started to accept the value of aerodynamics for a road bike, but it is still a foreign idea for gravel. Aerodynamics is an effective way to add speed without sacrificing a bike’s usability or comfort. The Exploro line has been aero-optimized not for the 28-30mph speeds road bike manufacturers tout, but much more realistic 15-20 mph speeds of a gravel bike rider. Better yet, 3T saw fit to even test their bikes with 3D-printed mud to optimize for the inevitable dirt and grime on will see.
Optimizing a bike, even a bit, for aerodynamics is only of benefit to a rider. Gravel is intensely demanding on a rider, and anywhere one can save energy can be used elsewhere. Less energy to maintain speed means arriving at that neutral fuel station mid-race just a bit more refreshed. Less energy spent climbing up the trail means more focus on the descents.
With all these benefits, 3T saw fit to introduce the Exploro Ultra, which is for those on the rowdier, rockier, and more adventurous side of gravel.
CHANGES AND DETAILS
Gravel is different for everyone. Much of our local gravel ride in Northern Utah consists of riding road to local singletrack or shorter bits of farm roads. However, there are many for whom gravel consists of smoother, straighter, and faster dirt roads. If the Exploro Racemax is the faster bike at the pointier, smoother end of gravel, the Exploro Ultra is for those who might find themselves on more singletrack.
The most obvious change to the Exploro Ultra is use of a standard, round 27.2mm seatpost. To do so, 3T has redesigned the seattube for an aero profile on the outside while adding dropper cable compatibility. Of course, you don’t need to run a dropper (like you might to win Milan-San Remo), but it is nonetheless nice to have that option.
There is also room for greater tire clearance. 3T subscribes to two measurements for tire clearance: RAM (Radius As Measured) and WAM (Width As Measured). The Exploro Ultra fits a WAM of 61mm with a 650b rim, the same as the Racemax. Exploro Ultra, however, allows riders to run a 700c tire with up to a 46mm WAM, wider than the 42mm seen previously. This is found both up front and in the back, accommodated by longer chainstays and a new fork. Of course, those tire clearances stand to be affected if you use a front derailleur.
As one might expect, the Exploro Ultra is aero-optimized with that 55mm to 61mm tire in mind. This is done with an even wider downtube than Racemax to smooth airflow from a wide tire to the downtube. The downtube now starts at 75mm wide at the water bottle and tapers to 60mm wide. Matching that is a slightly wider headtube than the Racemax, utilizing a conventional headset.
The rest of the Exploro Ultra is fairly similar to the Racemax, as not much needed to be changed. Starting at the front is 3T’s unique cable routing just behind the stem, and a downtube that is wider around the water bottle for improved aero. Downtube depth is different for each size to ensure consistent front-end stiffness, and three different fork offsets keep trail figures, and thus handing ability, consistent across sizes.
The Ultra is 1x or 2x drivetrain compatible and uses the same Syntace X12 thru axles, derailleur hanger, 160mm flat mount disc brake mounts, three water bottle cages, and one top tube cage like the Racemax.
Ultra uses the same carbon as Racemax, but is a little heavier as a result of the aforementioned changes. A painted 54cm frame weighs 1130g with hardware, an uncut fork weighs 450g, and the 3T round seatpost weighs in at 190g. In short, an Exploro Ultra frameset should weigh about 80 to 100g more than an equivalent Racemax.
The Exploro Racemax has 415mm chainstays, which is on the extremely sporty side of the gravel bike spectrum. The Ultra extends it's chainstays 4mm to 419mm, or about in line with bikes like the OPEN UP or Orbea Terra. Front center lengths are also very slightly longer on the Exploro Ultra, and reach measurements are slightly shorter too. Fit overall is pretty similar between the two bikes, providing the rider more of a road bike-like position.
Like the Racemax, the Exploro Ultra is available in a surprising six frame sizes to make sure riders find exactly the size they need.
There are also a few other things here that point toward wider tire optimization. Ultra features slightly higher trail figures to add just a little bit more straight-line stability, and a slightly lower bottom bracket to counter the higher center of gravity that comes with a wider tire. These changes are more to maintain the ride that 3T wants rather than wholesale changes to handling characteristics. We’re not complaining; we quite like the zippier, more responsive feel that the Exploro family is best known for.
If you’re familiar with the family of bikes that engineer Gerard Vroomen has made between 3T and OPEN, one might think of the 3T Exploro Ultra gravel bike as a sportier version of the OPEN WIDE. The Exploro family focuses on speed, frame stiffness, and aero efficiency over an array of terrains, and the new Exploro Ultra expands that definition further. We think it is the most well-rounded Exploro yet; more tire clearance, a standard round seatpost, and an array of colors that we love are just the start.
Words by Alvin Holbrook. Images provided courtesy of 3T Bike