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.
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.
The 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.
Up 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.
Went down it.
We’re looking forward to getting one of these for a full review.