The Exploro is the first bicycle frame and fork designed and marketed by Italy’s 3T in its 55 years of existence. Gerard Vroomen, who you might know from all of his work with Cervelo, recently became a major stakeholder in 3T (along with Rene Wietz), and the first fruits of that union are now hitting. In a big way.
Vroomen started out his presentation explaining that 3T is refocusing its model line by eliminating a lot of overlapping products. The company is essentially simplifying things. However, Vroomen was clear when he said that 3T is instead going to focus on making, “smarter products that can do more.” He went on to state that he wants the decision to bring any product to market to have at least one or two critera: the product must have a patent and/or have the ability to win an award.
An Aero Gravel Bike?
While there might not be a patent for an aero gravel bike, the possibility now exists that such a machine could possibly win some awards.
The Exploro was born from a question that Vroomen had been pondering for a while: “Could ‘aero’ really work at low gravel speeds?” Would a more aerodynamic bicycle frame that’s ridden mostly off-road offer any tangible benefit to the rider.
During the launch presentation, Vroomen explained how box shaped tubing on bicycle frames deliver lots of strength and stiffness, while airfoil shapes obviously slice through the wind quite efficiently. In an effort to find the sweet spot of these two shapes for bicycle frame applications, 3T assigned the awesome name of “Sqaero” to the design of the fully carbon fiber Exploro.
As you might surmise from the name, part of the frame shape is square, while part of it is aero. This is most obvious on the large downtube. The leading edge is rounded to help cut through the wind, while the trailing edge is squared, allowing for the aforementioned stiffness and strength. The seat tube also features this design. Overall, the frame and fork do look quite aero, yet enough girth and spacing exists to ensure this bike can fit big tires to survive the surfaces that demand those bigger tires.
Vroomen and company spent a lot of time in the wind tunnel testing tube shapes and different scenarios that would have an impact on the aerodynamics of the bike. He went as far to have some “mud” printed in 3D form, and applied…in a consistent manner…to various frames being tested. After all…the true aerodynamics of any clean bicycle go immediately in the bin once mud is splashed and/or crusted on the leading surfaces of the bike.
The control model for all of these experiments was a bicycle frame with traditional rounded tubes the same size found on the Exploro, the same geometry, same seatstay design and the same components. The only difference was the 28mm slick tires mounted to traditional-depth rims on the control bike. The result of this testing is now known as 3T’s RealFast conncept. The company explains it best:
RealFast™ aero design saves you energy. To make sure of that, we wind tunnel test at a realistic 20mph, not the usual 30mph. We even test frames covered in 3D-printed mud. The difference? Exploro is faster when muddy & fit with 40mm knobby tires than a clean standard road bike with 28mm slicks!
As you can imagine, Vroomen backed up his findings with plenty of graphs. This one shows the advantage of the Exploro over the control bike. You’ll notice the gains are small here, but it translates to 7 watts saved at the 20mph testing conditions. And that turns to 24 watts at the more traditional 30mph testing conditions. It may not seem like a lot, but over a sixteen-hour ride, those watts add up. Especially in competition.
Also unveiled along with the Exploro yesterday was 3T’s new 650b version of its successful 3T Discus Pro C35 wheels. We’ll go more in-depth about these wheels when we post our first ride impressions and more detailed report on the bike later this week. However, 3T explains:
Exploro fits road, cross and MTB tires, so you can tune your ride to the conditions. And because we use 650b mountain bike tires and 700c road/cross tires (which all three have very similar wheel diameters), you get the same brilliant handling on or off road.