In the summer of 2016, I swung a leg over the first version of the 3T Exploro. I was blown away by how versatile it was while still remaining true to its road bike heritage. Fast-forward to 2020 and I’m again riding a 3T Exploro and it’s once again showing me just how fun a gravel bike can be on any type of road or trail.
3T Exploro Team SRAM AXS 1×12 Build Features:
- Utilizes Squaero tube shapes for real-world aerodynamics
- Clears up to 54mm tires
- Go 700c or 650b
- Accommodates a front derailleur for 2x, if desired
- 3T zero-setback seatpost with unique splined mechanism
- FlipTop cable guide for internal routing of all drivetrain types
- Flexible water bottle mounting points and top tube bag mount
- 142×12 rear (w/HangLoose Hanger) and 100×12 front axles
- Flat mount brakes
- Team carbon high-modulus/strength performance blend layup
- SRAM Red eTap AXS and XX1 mullet groupset
- Integrated Quarq DZero power meter
- Zipp 303 Firecrest 650b wheelset
- Zipp Service Course SL-70 XPLR bars
- Weight: 18.1 lbs (as spec’d without cages and pedals)
- MSRP: $3200 (team frame)
Mullets are cool again
While the 3T Exploro has a front derailleur mount, this time around I’m going full mullet. We’re talking shaved lines above the ears and a curly perm in the back. Outfitted with a SRAM Red and XX1 eTap AXS 1×12 “mullet” drivetrain, Zipp 303 Firecrest 650b wheels and a whole lotta chutzpah, this Exploro is ready to party. The shiny black and red frame is quite the looker as well.
As an aero gravel bike, the Exploro is built to be on the racy side. But, don’t think you need to be riding 30mph to take advantage of it’s aerodynamic prowess. No, it’s been completely designed around gravel speeds ridden by normal riders, not professionals. Max aerodynamics are achieved on this beauty with 40c knobby tires (yup, gravel speed indeed).
Looking over the geometry and comparing it to the ultra-capable Open UPPER, it’s a touch more aggressive on paper and in the wild. It’s got 415mm chainstays and a little more aggressive stack/reach figures to maximize overall efficiency. The downside of all that is you need to be a little more on top of it and you’ll experience a bit of toe overlap (more on both of those below).
Exploro it all
Some may disagree, but the 3T Exploro is the bike that ushered in the aggressive side of gravel bikes. This beauty isn’t meant for a casual RAGBRAI ride, no, it’s meant to be pushed hard at threshold on the most grueling gravel courses imaginable. And, after that, the Exploro can line up at any group ride and deliver a smashing blow to anyone riding a Specialized Venge Pro. So, the Exploro can hang — no doubt about it. But, like any gravel plus bike, I say you just outfit it for adventure and go wherever the wind takes you.
When introduced, the 3T Exploro broke new ground because it was aero-optimized at 20 mph (more representative of the speeds we all ride) and with a mud-caked downtube. The combination of slow speed aerodynamics and muddy tubes hadn’t really been tested before. To achieve it, the Exploro does have sleek lines, but the magic sauce lies in that huge, truncated Squaero downtube. That thing is massive and serves as the primary leading-edge, directing the wind around the water bottles. Squaero shapes are also used on the head tube, seat tube seat stays and seatpost.
Charts aside, I truly appreciated the Exploro’s aerodynamics while riding the windswept plains of central Oklahoma. Out there, the wind blows strong and the gravel can be demanding. It’s hard to put a thumb on aero gains here, but the Exploro remained zippy under all conditions. And, back on the road, it simply rides like a fine road bike should.
When on the road, the Exploro does feel racier than other gravel bikes. You can’t sit back be passive, instead, the Exploro does require a steady, confident handler. No way would I call it twitchy, but it does have faster handling than the Open UPPER or Niner RLT 9, that’s for sure. Where that shines is on pitchy road climbs where the Exploro simply dances uphill. I have no doubt, that huge downtube plays a part in all that efficient power transfer. But, with those short chainstays, when the terrain gets particularly-steep and technical, you’ll notice that the front wheel has a tendency to wheelie and wander. This is only on the steepest terrain at slow speeds.
With the Exploro’s geometry, it can comfortably tackle even the most technical cyclocross courses, if you really want a bike that can ride road, cyclocross and gravel. On technical singletrack, the Exploro is a blast. Some of that was aided by the WTB Sendero 47 tires running at 35 psi, but the overall capability of this bike can’t be overstated — it’s tons of fun.
With 415mm chainstays and a touch more aggressive reach/stack, the Exploro is built for speed. And, the various bottle mounts allow for optimal 1 or 2-bottle mounts. Honestly, the FlipTop cable guide system is a little odd and makes for awkward cable placement. But, on the good side, cables are never in the way on steep climbs. The dual concentric-circle seatpost design allows for was fine tuning, but my saddle wiggled up/down just a touch — even when tightened properly. That little wiggle wasn’t noticeable in the saddle, however.
- The original go-fast gravel, road, dirt racer is still tops
- Squaero tube shapes for real-world speed
- Massive tire clearance
- Unique frame that stands out in the crowd
- Follows all the current standards
- Includes accommodations for all drivetrains
- Includes sleek covers for unused mounts
- FlipTop routing is a little awkward-looking
- A little movement in the seatpost head (not noticeable in the saddle)
- Watch that toe overlap
- Tends to wheelie on ultra-steep climbs
The Bottom Line: 3T Exploro Team Mullet Build
Without question, the Exploro is one fine do-it-all machine. Those aerodynamic shapes all add up for real-world speed. And, with massive tire clearance, you can go as wide as possible for the utmost utility. As tested, the Exploro was capable and functional as an all-road bike. From the plains of Oklahoma to the mountains of Utah, this one is wicked-fun.
Buy Now: Available at 3T.bike
As one of the first gravel bikes I loved, the 3T Exploro continues as a refined and racy gravel bike for those looking to go fast on the most technical terrain. With monster tire clearance and aerodynamic tube shapes, you can crush the longest rides while remaining as fresh as possible. And, as a road racer, the Exploro holds its own with panache.
If you had to choose between the two Upper vs Exploro? Which one would you keep?
UPPER… pretty easy. It’s a little more friendly overall. The Exploro is way fun, but the UP/UPPER has my vote.
Looks fast and like it will handle well on & off road.
I’m looking to add a power meter to my exploro. Did you have to change bottom bracket? Thanks
I have an Exploro with 700 x 43c Gravel King SK that I really enjoy on gravel and road. Did you ever put 700 wheels on it and if so, how does it compare to 650b?
Joshua: No BB change to install a power meter for this setup. Of course, this Quarq DZero was installed from the get-go, so no change needed.
What power meter are you looking to install?
I was looking at the same but didn’t know if they had a bb386 specific?
Gotcha… this was a SRAM DUB bottom bracket. I’m not 100% sure the exact spec though.
I see that you would take the up/upper over the Exploro, what about Exploro Race max? Do you still feel the same way?
The RaceMax is an absolute baller bike. It is fast, fun and super-versatile. Being able to roll 2.25″ tires is just amazing — turning that bike into a one-bike quiver. If I didn’t already have an UPPER, I would gladly love riding the RaceMax everywhere. But, I do have an UPPER and it is a touch more adept at pure road riding, which is what I’m currently using it for. And, tire clearance is still sufficient enough for all the gravel riding I can throw its way.
So, yes, I do still prefer the UPPER over the RaceMax, but only by a hair. This is due to its lower weight and adeptness at pure road duty. A standard seatpost is icing on the cake. If all-out gravel speed is your goal, the RaceMax beats the UPPER.
Have you had a chance to ride the Wi.DE yet? It seems to be very similar to the UP but just a little….more. I am curious how it is on th road, lots of gravel/off road reviews but not much for the road. I am wanting to go to one drop bar bike and looking at these 3 gems.
Not yet, but I’d imagine it’s pretty similar to the RaceMax in Max mode, but not as slippery — more of a brute. 1x only isn’t a huge deal breaker, but for all-around duty, I still prefer 2x.
Thank you so much for getting back to me! I have been tore on the group set and I appreciate your comment about 2x. It appears that you don’t lose a lot in tire clearance on the race max by going 2x. Thanks again!
When you say wheelies going up a steep climb. How steep we talking?
I’d say 12% or greater, you’ll notice just how short those chainstays are.