3T dials the original Exploro aero gravel bike up a notch with a new Ultra evolution. The iterative new Exploro Ultra is likely 3T’s most versatile gravel bike yet, thanks to aerodynamics re-optimized for the wider tires of adventure racing. Plus, a simple move to a classic 27.2 seatpost means more comfort and limitless options for everything from fast gravel road riding to multi-day bikepacking trips…
3T Exploro Ultra adventure gravel bike first rides
It looks almost like the RaceMax that I reviewed two years ago, but two key differences really set the new 3T Exploro Ultra apart. Tweaked gravel aerodynamics that are now optimized for mountain bike width tires AND a good old-fashioned round 27.2mm seatpost.
Check out our in-depth bike launch story for all the key Tech Details, Pricing & more!
Why does wide tire aerodynamics matter?
The first Exploro sold us on the idea of aero gravel. My personal interpretation of it was “going slow, faster” the idea that reduced aero drag mattered even at slower gravel speeds, then maybe even more on super long rides solo in the wind. Then, the Exploro RaceMax took it to another level with an even more giant aero downtube and aerodynamics optimized for a smaller range of gravel tires 35-42mm wide. The new Exploro Ultra reshapes that aerodynamic optimization for 55-61mm tires.
Mostly focused around the giant downtube, the Ultra frame gets even wider. When I measure, it now expands a further sixteen millimeters up top to a whopping 62mm wide in the upper section of the downtube, where air transitions off the spinning front wheel and joins airflow over the fork crown (vs. 46mm for this ‘upper neck’ on the already wide RaceMax). The lower section is still 75mm wide to smooth airflow over water bottles.
The result of the wider ‘upper neck’ of the down tube is improved aerodynamics with bigger tires, but it also results in the huge downtube shape looking less dramatic – an added plus in my book. Whether it is the smaller step from top to bottom, or simply the giant tires that make it all feel more in proportion, it’s hard to tell.
The Ultra still has a narrow headtube with a 1.5″ tapered steerer inside, although it adds more of a 60mm wide bulge at its base to transition to the wider downtube. That narrowed headtube is still one of the reasons 3T hasn’t moved to full internal routing yet, as they don’t think it is worth sacrificing the narrow frame to make the cables fit inside an even bigger headtube. But… based on my discussion with them, 3T aren’t inherently opposed to hiding cables inside.
While the front is huge, one element that the big tires make look small is the super narrow seattube at the rear wheel cutout. There to provide a bit of flex before bumps make their way up to the saddle, the thinnest section at just 22mm deep seems tinier than before, too.
Now, I don’t often ride gravel on 2.1″ mountain bike tires, but I am known to do a lot of trail riding on my gravel adventures & bikepacking explorations. I would generally prefer to ride something in the middle, say between 45-50mm. And now with the Ultra it seems I wouldn’t really pay an aero penalty for those bigger tires, just the bit of extra rotational weight.
What about that 27.2mm seatpost?
This is actually the biggest deal for me. It seems trivial to think that swapping out a decent proprietary aero seatpost for a standard 27.2mm post would change the character or usability of a bike. But it means you could put a vibration-damping or suspension post in if I want extra comfort for ultra-endurance rides.
It seems almost like a minor detail, but that 27.2mm seatpost of the new 3T Exploro RaceMax Ultra is actually a huge deal for its adventure capability.
In order to transition from a fast gravel racer to a proper ultra-distance bikepacking bike, the standard round post means you can easily add a dropper like the RockShox Reverb AXS (even a cable-actuated, internal routed one), a vibration-eating post like the Ergon VCLS, a full-on suspension seatpost like the Redshift or eeSilk, or even just a more secure fit with any saddle pack bikepacking bag out there.
And it means you could put a dropper post in for riding more steep technical terrain – either a stealth internally routed post or a wireless Reverb AXS dropper that also brings a bit of suspension squish. Sure, the latest version of 3T’s proprietary narrow aero seatpost with its Ritchey head isn’t bad, but being able to replace it with almost any other seatpost in existence is better – #aerogainz be damned.
In fact, 3T offers a complete build with a CrankBrothers Highline dropper post.
Much of what redefined the Exploro RaceMax over the original and more versatile Exploro was a tightening of usable tire range. The RaceMax didn’t reduce tire clearance per se, rather it put a lot of focus on optimizing the bike for REAL gravel tire sizes, even defining a couple of useful new terms – RAM & WAM.
3T says that narrowing of applicable tire range was about getting the most out of wider gravel tire aerodynamics, as well as giving buyers a better idea of what tires were the best fit for their new bike.
The Exploro Race’s tire sweetspot was around 700x35mm, while the Max targeted 27.5 x 2.1″ (~55mm) tires, but the aerodynamics of their shared frame were optimized for 35-42mm tires. Those riders on the Max setups were losing out a bit on the aero benefits.
Anytime there is a proprietary part on my bike, I’m a bit wary of how long it will last, and what would happen if it failed. On an adventurous gravel bike that I’m going to load down and take bikepacking away from home, I feel much more comfortable with a 27.2 post, that can literally be replaced in any bike shop, anywhere.
Out of the box, my 6100€ Exploro Ultra Eagle Review bike was already upgraded with the 2000€ extra DiscusPlus i28 LTD wheels that only come standard with the Crankbrothers edition bike.
Once I put my 320g set of Crankbrothers Candy 7 pedals and two 3T-branded 28g low-cost Decathlon Triban water bottle cages, the 54cm (S) bike was ready to ride at 9.14kg complete (20.15lb). Subtract my added bits and the bike-only weight was 8.76kg (notably, just 400g more than the 700c RaceMax I tested last).
Again, not ultralight (especially considering the pricetag), but it is comfy and wide-tire aero.
Outside of the bigger downtube and 27.2 post, the new wide-aero Exploro Ultra shares pretty much all other tech details with the 2020 Exploro RaceMax. The new bike is also a mid-tier hi-mod mix carbon spec made-in-Taiwan like the RaceMax, not the ultra-premium made-in-Italy carbon of the RaceMax Italia. 3T hasn’t shared a frame weight claim yet, but it’s likely in the same 1050g range of the RaceMax.
Downtube depth (not width) changes with each frame size for consistent front-end stiffness throughout, and three different fork offsets are there to give consistent handling even as head angles vary by a full 4° from XXS-XL. The frame sticks with the double dropped chainstay design
The new Ultra also gets its own full carbon Fango Ultra fork, again with a low-profile profile crown and special low-stack, extra-narrow tapered 1.5″ headset.
The bike is 1x or 2x compatible with a removeable front derailleur tab & modular internal cable routing that enters the toptube behind the stem. It features a drop-in wedge-style expander to secure the 27.2m seatpost, a standard Syntace 12mm thru-axles, replaceable alloy derailleur hanger, 160mm flat mount disc brakes – direct mount up front without adapters, a thread-in pressfit BB386EVO bottom bracket, and neatly hidden full-coverage fender mounts.
The Ultra has four pairs of cage mounts (but no fork mounts) – one under the downtube, direct mounts on the toptube, two inside the main triangle with a 2-position option/3-pack Anything mount on the downtube to optimize aerodynamics with a single bottle.
The 4mm longer chainstays 419mm chainstays are still quite short, and don’t seem to correspond to overall wheelbase growth which generally stays the same across most frame sizes.
The Ultra comes in the same six size range as the RaceMax (XXS-XL) with the same frame Stack figures, but generally 4-5mm less Reach to balance the longer rear center. There are a few minor head angle tweaks at the large & small ends of the spectrum, but overall fit and geometry is effectively unchanged.
First Rides Impressions
I’ve been riding the new 3T Exploro Ultra for just a few weeks at this point, but I’ve got a good sense of the Exploro family. Since 2016, I’ve probably spent more time riding them than any other gravel family (from the OG that I also raced cross on one winter, to the RaceMax back to an Ekar Review sled to the e-Boost to an Italia edition).
And I think this new Exploro Ultra is the best yet.
Now, I’ not really a racy gravel type. I’m more likely to be underbiking some all-mountain tracks than fighting for gravel KOMs or ultra-racing podium spots. But I like the idea of aero gains on all the time I spend out solo fighting against the wind, and I love a gravel bike that feels quick.
This new bike ticks all of those boxes AND it is genuinely more comfortable. A lot of that is probably just the high volume tires (although the knobby Peyotes don’t really feel fast.) I also feel like the round post IS actually soaking up some more bumps too. And I haven’t even resorted to popping a suspension post on there yet.
You may remember from my RaceMax review that I’m not a huge fan of that cable routing behind the stem. I’m still mostly not, although I have hope 3T might still sort it out in the next generation. (Maybe they’ll move to a D-shaped steerer tube like Ridley does in their latest Kanzo Adventure?) In any case, with just a rear brake thanks to wireless SRAM AXS, it’s much less of a bother.
And as I’ve since bolted on my all-time fav Apidura Racing toptube bag with a 76Projects ASS slider, I can tweak the bag’s horizontal position and still easily snap it on & off the bike.
So that’s it, probably the best Exploro yet in my book.
Next up, I’ve just this past week slapped on a faster-rolling 700x45mm wheels & tire combo, and it does make the bike feel quicker. That will be well-suited to more big distance rides.
I’ve already loaded it down with a full set of Ortlieb bikepacking bags to head out on a mini sub 24 hour overnighter style adventure.
But next up, I’ll probably pack it a bit more and head out on a proper adventure over an upcoming longer weekend, especially since spring should hopefully be coming back soon.
3T Exploro Ultra – Pricing, options & availability
Starting today, 3T says the new Exploro Ultra will be available as both a frameset, or as complete bike builds.
3T Exploro Ultra framesets including headset & 0-offset carbon post sell for $3099 / 3099€ in either muted Copper (available now), Black Glossy (available in May), Steel Blue & Racing Green (both available from June). A primered RTP ready-to-paint Ultra frameset will sell for $2899€ and will be in stock in the next week or two.
3T Exploro Ultra Campy Ekar: 650b (left) & 700c (right)
Complete bikes start at $5599 / 5599€ with a Campagnolo Ekar groupset & Fulcrum Rapid Red 900 wheels, available in May with 650b wheels & 2.25” Vittoria Barzo tires, or in June with 700c wheels & 40mm Pirelli Cinturato M tires.
3T Exploro Ultra SRAM AXS Eagle Mullet
A $6099 / 6099€ Eagle build will be available in May with SRAM Force AXS controls, an XX1 AXS Eagle rear derailleur & cassette, and Fulcrum 650b wheels.
3T Exploro Ultra CrankBrothers edition
Lastly, a more off-road-ready CrankBrothers Edition will combine the wide range SRAM AXS Mullet groupset with a Highline dropper post, a carbon 3T Torno crankset, and 3T’s wide carbon Discus Plus i28 LTD 650b wheels, for $8199 / 8199€ available from September.
photo by Alessandro Ponti