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Review: The new 3T Exploro RaceMax is a highly capable gravel racer, now even faster

Ayer, 3T presentó una bicicleta de gravilla Exploro RaceMax totalmente nueva

Yesterday, 3T unveiled a brand-new gravel bike, the Exploro RaceMax, designed for you to “go slow, but a little faster” or, if you prefer, to “go faster, but slow” because you’re off-road. You choose whether to look at it from the perspective of a gravel racer or from the eyes of someone just trying to squeeze in a few extra miles before camping for the night. In any case, we’ve been riding this latest iteration of 3T’s aero gravel bike for a few weeks now. And I can confidently say that it’s the same competitive Exploro we know, but more capable and faster than ever… 3T Exploro RaceMax, new carbon aerodynamic gravel bike.

Going slow, but faster: the wisdom behind aero gravel

“Go slow, but faster” is the general wisdom behind aero gravel – many gravel road cyclists spend large stretches of time riding alone, solo and in the wind, or at most in small groups. That could describe almost all of my rides since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re in the early phase here in the Czech Republic, where riding in pairs works well. But as we’re confined within national borders, it has also meant doing more testing closer to home. One advantage is that there are plenty of opportunities for short bike trips in Bohemia. Pedal as far as the weather allows, then hop on a train to ride back home at the end of the weekend. So I loaded up the Exploro RaceMax with a full set of gear: tent, food, water, plenty of clothes for cold nights in the hills, and everything nice and waterproof, as heavy rains have been added to the cool spring. It has been a good opportunity to see how the bike performs on and off the road, loaded with gear. Plus, it has been good to see how it handles in the mud with those narrow cuts of the aerodynamic wheels. It goes slow, but faster than usual. But then, just as the rains came, the blue skies returned (and the clear nights). That means I took off the bags and switched into gravel racer mode. To be fair, these days there are no real races, and not even #dirtykanzelled was going to motivate me to push all day at race pace. But I still had the chance to push the RaceMax hard in its lighter, standard configuration and spent a lot of time riding alone in the wind. Going fast, but slower than usual.

Exploro RaceMax – Geometry, fit, and sizing updates

Probably the most notable update in the fit of the new bike is a much higher stack (37.5mm higher on the new RaceMax 56 compared to the Exploro M). So, interestingly, to maintain the same fit I had on the original Exploro on this new Exploro RaceMax, I went from a size M to a size S (54). (The OG medium had a S/R of 546.5/378mm. The new RM 54cm has a S/R of 564/377mm). Now, I’ve been riding in a not exactly #slamthatstem position with just a single 10mm spacer under the 110mm stem for my “going slow, but faster” testing. But if I were to race seriously on this bike, that 10mm spacer would be quickly removed. And taller, more flexible riders or those with even more aggressive positions on the bike will be looking for stems with a drastically negative rise to achieve the most aerodynamic fit. Beyond that Stack:Reach: the head angle and chainstays didn’t change, the seat angle was tilted 1°, the bottom bracket was lowered 7mm, and the fork offset was shortened 25mm to create a longer head tube. Lastly, I gained 4mm more fork offset for 64mm of trail, 4mm less if I were to run the same tires on the older Exploro. (Actually, I spent most of the time with a 650×47 setup on that older bike, which only meant a 1mm difference in trail). As you can see, there are minor tweaks here.

2020 3T Exploro Race GRX 2x full bike build

Let’s talk about how the bike was actually built, as 3T’s naming scheme is a bit confusing. This frame is the new 3T Exploro RaceMax. This build is the 2020 3T Exploro Race GRX 2x. This means it’s a RaceMax frame, built in Race mode with 700c wheels and a Shimano GRX 2×11 mechanical groupset. Interestingly, 3T specifies an 11-speed SRAM cassette to achieve the desired 11-36 gearing for the GRX 46/30T chainrings. Officially, the GRX RX-810 derailleur has a maximum gear of 34T, but we all know Shimano derailleurs can handle a couple more teeth. (It also seems there is plenty of clearance for compact road chainrings 50/34). My Review bike was equipped with a pair of 700c 3T Discus 45|32 LTD carbon wheels with a 25mm inner width, fitted with 37c WTB Riddler tires (which I set up tubeless with a Muc-Off kit). This is a setup recommended by 3T with a 39mm WAM and a 352mm RAM, but it’s not what comes stock on the bike. In addition to the stock setup, I added an Ass Savers Mudder Mini mudguard, mainly to prevent my glasses from getting splashed in the corners (normally, the huge down tube is sufficient as a mudguard), an Apidura Racing Direct Mount top tube bag for carrying snacks, three lightweight nylon bottle cages for water, and a couple of handlebar mounts for GPS and mobile phone/camera. To ride the Exploro Race GRX 2x as a backpack, I added an Apidura Expedition saddlebag and handlebar accessory bag, plus a Racing frame bag. The new Apidura Packable backpack proved useful for carrying beer in the rain while sitting under a tree with a Gore-Tex jacket fixing a broken chain due to a mechanical mishap (not mine, this time).

Exploro Race GRX 2x – Real weight

In its current state, the retail price of the Exploro Race GRX 2x with 3T carbon wheels would be $5800 / €5800. The actual weight of the complete bike is 9.32kg (20.5lb) ready to ride: Essentially, all those accessories have accompanied me on every ride with this bike, but to make an apples-to-apples comparison, that means the weight of the GRX 2x alone as a bike is actually 8.72kg (19.2lb) with carbon wheels and tubeless Riddlers. It’s not a crazy light weight, but the GRX 2x is going to be the heaviest model overall (with many more options available). And if we trust the aerodynamic improvements, it will make you faster.

Exploro RaceMax Race GRX 2x in detail…

I’ve talked about the details of the bikes, but how do those details work in practice? The new Exploro RaceMax promises increased tire clearance. These Riddler 700x37c tires measure 40mm actual width (WAM) and 352mm radius (RAM). That’s essentially the upper limit in height that 3T recommends for the bike. And if you want to go wider, you’ll have to go down to 650b, where you’ll find plenty of 27.5 x 2.1-2.25″ tires that are not taller. I’ve ridden this bike on very wet gravel roads, active dirt paths, and a decent amount of mud up to the rim while loaded with bags (see how clean the rear wheel is?). Surprisingly to me, mud clearance was never a problem at all, both in the front and rear. Mud built up a bit on that small monostay (scroll to…

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