Summer PressCamp 2016, Part V

Summer PressCamp 2016, Part V

When I found out that 3T would be at PressCamp, I was pretty excited and I emailed Dave Koesel, the head of 3T USA to let him know I wanted a chance to ride their new aero gravel bike, the Xploro. I’ve known Super Dave, as he’s called, for close to 10 years. Last winter, when I wrote a feature on the hardest job in the bike industry—being a product manager—he was one of the guys I interviewed. His insight into bikes, going fast, how much more important aerodynamics is than weight, his knowledge of what makes a bike handle well, what can hinder shifting, why disc brakes are a real improvement, in short, his deep understanding of all things bike make him one of my favorite people to talk to in the industry. He’s a nerd in a Cat. 1’s body.

While the Xploro was already in the works when Koesel joined the company, the bike and its internal logic appealed to him enough to spur his interest in working for 3T. I’ve seen plenty of comments on social media to suggest people out there think that this bike has jumped a shark. I’m here to say that’s simply not the case.

IMG_1753

Aerodynamics are the big untapped frontier in cycling. If we knew as much about aerodynamics as we do about carbon fiber layup, bikes like the Cervelo S5 would be the slowest thing on the market.

According to Gerard Vroomen, the brains behind the Xploro, any time you’re going faster than 15 mph, you’re going fast enough to enjoy an aerodynamic benefit. Sure, it’s not as great as if you were doing 28 mph, but there’s still room to improve. Vroomen, knowning that the Xploro wasn’t going to be ridden for four hours at 29 mph didn’t test it at 30 mph when he and Koesel went to the San Diego Low Speed Wind Tunnel to test it. They blew it at 20 mph, a speed more in keeping with the speeds most riders will be going when they ride that bike. And yes, they saw wattage numbers low enough to put it well ahead of all standard road bikes and even some aero road bikes.

IMG_1754The big down tube benefits from the big tires and helps hide the water bottle.

I rode the bike on road and off, with two different sets of wheels—both 650B—and two different sets of tires, one for the road and the other with knobs for the trails.

With a contact patch the shape of an eggplant, the grip on road was like a cat on curtains. I did try to push a bit in a couple of corners and simply didn’t have the stones to push that far. And because the traction was an order of magnitude higher than what I typically ride, I could wait until I was nervous before braking for a switchback.

Riding the 27.5 x 2.1-inch WTB Nanos on the trails was utterly strange. It was the position of a road bike with the traction of a mountain bike. Imagine your mom speaking with your dad’s voice.

IMG_1750Up the mountain.

Two details to consider on the Xploro: It is the first gravel bike to break the 1000 gram barrier in frame weight. It is also the first aero road bike to break the 1000g barrier in frame weight. And it does both. Other tech details include through-axle front and rear. I’ll admit that while I could see the utility of through-axle in a fork for more precise handling, in the rear it made no sense from a structural/stiffness standpoint. The rear triangle isn’t flexing up and down, or twisting enough to send the rear wheel out of plane with the bike. I’m not sure I’d notice a difference between a through-axle version of that fork and one with a quick release in anything but the most difficult circumstances, but what I have realized is that when you have a through-axle in the rear, getting the rear wheel into position is actually easier; just catch the chain and slot the rotor into the brake. That’s easier than dealing with the quick release at the same time.

IMG_1755Went down it. 

We’re looking forward to getting one of these for a full review.

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17 comments

  1. Tom in Albany

    Padraig, I tried to imagine my mom speaking in my dad’s voice and now I’ve got the creeps!

    Intersting sounding bicycle. I’m potentially in the market for a new bike. Now I just have to figure if I want it full-time road vs. multi-strade. Do you think this is really capable of being as pleasing in both situations?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Shortly after joining 3T Super Dave broke his aero road bike. Recently he raced a crit in SoCal, the Pro/1/2 field and podiumed on the the Xploro while running 25mm tires. Was this the perfect bike for the job? Probably not. Could there be a more comfortable bike for long days? Probably. But, I don’t think this is a bike that will hold a rider back.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s possible that if they were in the U.K. (or Tennessee), they would have been more concerned with mud clearance and would have routed the cable outside the fork, but they went with the aero consideration and looped it under. If you send it through the blade itself, the fork ends up picking up weight and cost due to increased complexity. No perfect answers, huh?

  2. winky

    My first mountain bike had tyres as wide as that. Since then, mountain bikes have become comically oversized, so this bike looks reasonable in comparison.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s interesting how tire selection in all conditions has increased in size. The tires used for road, ‘cross and mountain are all bigger than they once were. And in every instance it’s because those bigger tires have increased control and speed. Amazing what the designers have accomplished.

  3. Timbo

    Love it. Nice crank choice too.

    But… What are Super Dave’s and Vroomen’s takes on optimizing the aero characteristics of a frame and then slapping a 1-by drive train on it with massive jumps between gears? The advantage of saving a handful of watts seems like it’d be offset by not being able to find the right cog. Then again though, if you’re running 1-by, the faster bits of a ride where aero matters more will be spent in the higher end of the cassette where the jumps are less abrupt. #NeverEndingTradeOffs


    1. Author
      Padraig

      I didn’t ask Super Dave about the choice of going 1x. It’s hard to make a case that a 1x drivetrain will hurt a bike’s aerodynamics in any significant way, though if someone wanted to make that case, I’d be apt to listen to him or Vroomen on the topic. But those big jumps between cogs? I agree that they are really annoying on the road.

    2. Winky

      I have issue with both the 1X choice (big gaps, lower range), and with the SRAM hydro brake lever hoods that are so ugly they hurt my eyes. These are personal issues, and are just my opinion. Don’t hate me for it.

  4. Shawn

    So is this the aero cousin of Vroomen’s Open Unbeaten Path bike? I would be interested to know what he thought the trade-offs were btwn. the two. Which is better on tarmac for example?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      In looking at the geo for the two bikes, if I was planning to purchase a bike for truly mixed use, picking the most all-purpose bike I could, I’d go with the 3T. If I lived somewhere that afforded me the opportunity to ride nothing but unpaved roads, I’d look more closely at the Open.

  5. Winky

    I’ll be honest. I can’t really see a single aero-looking feature on that bike. Form where do the gains come, I wonder.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      It’s important to remember that a lot of what looks aero isn’t really. Our eyes have been trained to recognize stuff as aero that isn’t the fastest design possible. And we’re still learning.

  6. Andrew

    Fork blade cross-section; elliptical.
    Head tube cross-section; tear-drop.
    Seat tube and seat post; not clear but look to be not-round – might be elliptical.
    Filled/smoothed junction in top tube/seat tube/seat stay area.

    What I want to know about is the dropped, drive-side chain-stay.
    Aerodynamic feature, or visually-distinctive product differentiation feature?

    (FYI – if anyone else is searching for info from 3T they’re spelling Exploro with an “e” in their online media.)
    On facebook 3T claim the dropped chain stay is about navigating the chain stay to maintain tyre clearance on the inside and clearance on the outside for narrow road cranks with a 415mm (short) chainstay measurement.
    Oh, and down tube and seat tube shapes are rounded at the front, squared at the back.

  7. Kimball

    Open Bikes (opencycle.com) is another mfr to use the dropped drive side chain stay to squeeze a beefier profile between rear tire and chain-rings while keeping the chain stays short. It may be the start of a trend.

  8. SuperDave

    Good stuff Padraig. If you are seeking a road-only bike this is not it. Same with a 22mm tubular tire. It’s a tool for a job. If you have even an inkling of testing those ribbons of fire roads that are often in sight, and in reach but outside your comfort zone on 28mm road slicks, this is the bike to explore those options. You’ll be no worse off from a performance standpoint than one of the latest endurance bikes; you’ll get an added aero benefit and the ability to ride any surface. It’s a tool for every job [road].

    -SD

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