Thursday, April 9, 2020

New gravel bike - that was quick

Meet the 3T Exploro in Sram Force/Eagle eTap Build - with special edition paint

See, if I hadn't bought this, I never would have found this trail, a mere 7 miles from home.
I picked this up straight from 3T, ordering more or less the same day as the most recent post about gravel bike shopping.  Actually, I think I waited for the credit card cycle to turn over, but that's about it.
From-the-shop build.  I love that it came with wheel reflectors.

3T charges $5890 for this fully built with:
  • Sram Force AXS eTap 1x gearing, with 44-tooth chainring and
  • Sram Eagle XXI mountain RD, and
  • 11-50 12-spd. cassette,
  • Fulcrum 700DB 650b wheelset,
  • WTB Venture 650b x 2" (51mm) tires, mounted tubeless,
  • Carbon 3T finishing kit (stem, bars, post), 
  • a Fizik Antares saddle that I removed immediately for the WTB Rocket with titanium rails you see mounted in the first photo.
Or you can check it out for yourself here:  Exploro Team Force/Eagle eTap. 

Nice of them to offer this special edition color scheme, which I like better than the brown/white shown on the website.  If you want the Team layup in this coloration, contact Dan Losier at 3T directly.

(If I sound casual about the price, I'm not.  This is almost exactly twice what I have paid at the tippy-top end before.  I will gush about the bike below, but I am a million miles from saying *any bike* is worth what I can get a serviceable used Honda for on Craigslist.)


3T also offered an incentive

After getting this home I found on the 3T website an incentive for the purchase - a free additional 3T wheelset with *any* new bike, plus a $500 donation to a hospital in Bergamo, Italy.  Thought I was too early for the incentive, but I asked Dan (who sold me the bike) to make the donation in any event.

Dan went one better, and promised to send these my way.  (Pretty sure the offer is now concluded, but do check for yourself.)  These are 700c, so will make a good road riding alternative to the more aggressive 650b with WTB Venture that came pre-built.


How will I use this?  What about my life will be different?

I've been gravel bike shopping sort of continuously since maybe 2015.  In addition to the recent post linked above, there are several posts on gravel bike drooling here at HBC blog - including how I ended up with the Salsa Colossal and then the Focus Paralane.  There's even one post about how I sold a perfectly credible gravel bike that I kind of miss (the Ritchey Breakaway Cross).
The problem is that this market has changed so much so fast, any early idea of what one "needed" was quickly replaced by a series of wants.

The Exploro really checks a lot of boxes

I found an old e-mail from Sam, dating to January 2017.
I think we can fairly say this purchase was Sam's fault.

My response was "they keep doing this to me.  Every time I think I have found it they change what it is."

OK, three years later, and I still think this is it.  That's as close to constancy as it gets in my riding.

If you have found us here at HBC you know about gravel riding, and if you don't, Duck-Duck-Go it. 

The industry has made huge investments in the kind of riding that used to be a regrettable necessity when the roads on one side of the mountain pass, and the roads on the other, were linked by some beat up old fire road/logging road/single-track.  I guess somebody decided getting between those roads was actually the fun part.  Personally, I blame the guys at Bicycle Quarterly.

I don't call myself a gravel cyclist, but I grew up in Alaska, and I ride with Sam in Oregon, and I live part of the time in Indiana, which is near Kentucky - all three are meccas, and I left out Colorado and Utah, where Sam and I meet nearly yearly, and that trip I took to Kyrgyzstan, when I regretted not having a bike, and the road-cum-mudslide route from Chengdu to Lhasa that I want to ride.  There's the trip to Iceland I've been wanting to make and the roads north of Montreal run well into the Arctic Circle and will not accommodate a unicycle.

In short, the list of reasons for a gravel bike is long.


Two rides so far.  (Why so few?  Maybe a post later about how quarantining, even though it allows for solo exercise, seems to squelch any adventuresome nature.)

The first ride was short and sweet, from home into Rock Creek Park, around some trails, and back.  Maybe 12 miles.  Enough ups to get the heart in the throat but not so much to constitute a real workout.  Observations:  the Sram AXS eTap is *awesome.*  Trivially easy to transition from a lifetime of Shimano shifting into the "right is harder left is easier" mindset.  Completely smooth shifting even with the big jumps on the 10-50 cassette.  Shifts under strain.  Can jump several cogs at a time though I didn't actually count how many.

Big freaking cassette.  Remember when cool meant large chainring small cog?
The bike is light and it hops like a champ.  That said, the forward position is *committing.*  You can roll in fast to hop a rock, or a log, but you can't plan to do it from the backseat like you can on a mountain bike.  So it was hugely fun on a generally smooth trail with an occasional obstacle.  Not sure how I will fare with more mixed terrain!

Ride number two was longer and generally tamer, out and back on the ordinary from-home ride along Beach Drive for maybe 30 miles in total.  Except that wherever the side of the road looked fun, or the lawn beyond it, or the wood just past the lawn, I took those turns and found some really nice terrain.

If a bicycle sits in the forest with noone around . . .
Four notable observations from this ride:
  • I'm able to hold with, or pass, the normal roadie.  That's not unexpected, and let's be clear that "holding with or passing" is as much reflective of her/his decision not to work harder as it is of my ability to put out watts, but it is worth noting that the bike rolls competitively even with the semi-knobbies mounted.
  • The bike handles like a road bike.  It carves.  It is not quite what the Focus Izalco is on a winding descent, but it is close.  Quick turns in the crit.-style are sharp and fun.
  • The riding position, which is as close as I could set it to the sit on my Focus Izalco Max, lets me get in the drops and hold a brisk pace over uneven ground, such as the unkempt lawns along Rock Creek Parkway in DC.  (Until unkempt became unexpectedly and invisibly pot-holed, at which point I dove and rolled.)
  • 50 teeth in the back lets me spin up hills I have only ever climbed while standing.  Not quickly, mind you, which is another mindset entirely.
Ride Number 3:  this was the best yet, and I think I am getting the feel of handling this bike in variable terrain.  Same basic outline as 2, with a little more large roads at the start (loving that with COVID-tining I can ride the major arteries without taking my life in my hands) - and a lot more dirt at the out-and-back end of Beach Drive.  I relocated my old trail through the woods but took it a few more miles north, winding through quiet forest just dozens of yards from the road and not knowing it.  I found some hill with steep ups and technical descents.  I found a construction zone that used to be the Capital Crescent trail, with the gates blown open in the heavy wind, and rode a few miles of tracked dirt and gravel.  And I finished with the same in-the-drops roadside rough that makes this bike stand out relative to any alternative.  If the first 40 miles or so was fun, this most recent 30 may have clinched it.
Construction zone.  I swear the "do not enter" sign was not visible.

Probably this bike needs to be carried over logs!

Fun riding on the rocky shores of this creek too, though the creek looked pretty dirty.
Summary:   if you want a full-on road bike that is super fun off the road, this pretty much does it.  In fact, I am comfortable saying this rides 8.5/10ths as well as my epically perfect Focus Izalco Max and rides off-road (firm ground, at least) as well as does the fat bike.

This is the perfect one-bike quiver.  Am I in sell-off phase for good now?


But why not?  Several reasons why I will not be offloading the rest of the collection and riding 3T full time.
  • I simply do not believe the "wide is as fast as average" claims.  It needs to be tested, I suppose, but for now the Focus Izalco Max Disc with 28mm tires is presumed to be the fastest pure road bike in the collection.  If I find out otherwise I'll lie about it and stand by my original claim.  (Or else I will argue I knew it all along.)
  • I like the variety and some days I want to ride x-wise and otherdays y-wise.  
  • Location.  Not carrying bikes back and forth, so if I'm going to ride at both ends of my commute I need one in Indy and one in DC.  And I haven't mentioned Sam's place, though not like Sam doesn't have one I can ride.
  • Visitors.  I keep Dad's Specialized Sequoia around for Sam to ride.  Once it happened, though we didn't finish that ride, which was my fault.
  • I sweat on trainers.  Like, a lot.  And I'm not dumping all that sweat on a near-$6000 rig.  So the trainer bike(s) will stay.
  • Travel.  I suppose for a serious event one travels with the nice bike, but in general I think traveling makes more sense with something you can repair, replace, or lose.  Frankly, a nice metal framed bike with S-105 components might be just the thing. The Titanium Colossal may end up in this role.
  • Nostalgia.  Each old bike means something.  The Gunnar has reasonably outlived its usefulness in a stable of fully kitted rigs, but the Gunnar will probably be the last bike I own.
That said, the bike I default to does change with time and collection.  The Focus Izalco Max has been my hands down choice for approaching four years now.  My strong guess is the Exploro will hold price of place for a long while.

See you on the trail!

No comments: