Monday, May 18, 2020

Bike Review: Litespeed C1R

Sam gave me this frameset maybe 2 years ago when my Focus Cayo frameset became suspect.  It took me 18 months to build and then the bike spent another 6 months waiting to get into the rotation.  After a ride yesterday on the Beach Drive out-and-back, I have nothing but positive things to say.

Litespeed C1R, Shimano Ultegra Di2 with home 1x11 conversion

Same bike, other side.

The Frameset

Litespeed is a storied titanium frame maker out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and is now one of three brands held by the American Bicycle Group.  I'd like to know more about that corporate history!

Litespeed went all in on carbon frames a decade or more ago, selling the C-line of aero framesets and the L-line of ultralight climbing framesets.  There was a time when you could go to the Litespeed website and not find a single titanium frame.  Why is anybody's guess, but I'll give one possibility:  the '00 and early '10s were not good years for metal bikes.  Carbon became cheap and titanium never did get easy to work with.  Somewhere along the way the word "aero" became part of the cyclist's lexicon and metal frames never could make that claim.

(Litespeed is now back to titanium nearly exclusively.  I think the recent resurgence in interest in long days in the saddle and varying road surfaces makes metal, and particularly titanium, a newly desirable medium. There is still a C1R on the website for sale, though its place on the website seems to suggest that a container arrived from China and has yet to be sold out. Too bad, I say, as this bike is fast.)

From  Looks great in murdered-out black.

Although I contend Litespeed lost its way for a few years years, it did make and sell credible aero bikes in the C-line, and it did this before every tour brand and knock off wanna-be started selling teardrop tubing.  Maybe Cervelo was first, but Litespeed was there long before the Trek Madone became something other than a light-weight collection of round carbon tubes.

At this point I am working from memory, but Litespeed seemed to have three frames in the C-line:  the C1 (sometimes C1R), its top end racing frameset; the C2 or Ci2, made for internal cable routing for Di2 groups; and the C3, its everyman's aero frameset.

The bike above is the C1R.  Sam brought home two of them from a fire sale at the Racery, which no longer exists.  (Maybe this is why:  Sam actually bankrupted an internet discounter.)

The Build

I reported above that this frameset was meant to replace my Focus Cayo Evo, the race bike from 2013 to 2016 that carried me on some of my best rides in those years.  That means, of course, that I had a good collection of parts to build with.

Focus Cayo Evo.  Remember the finishing kit - you will see it again.

Bits and Parts

In fact, before I did any shopping at all, I pulled together:
  • Ultegra 6770 Di2 2x10 groupset;
  • 3T Ergonova Pro bars and matching stem;
  • Profile Design aero bars with those double-bend carbon extensions that came out 6 or so  years ago;
  • WTB Rocket V saddle in white;
  • Planet X tubular wheels, 60mm and 90mm;
  • Challenge Triathlon 24mm tubular tires;
  • Force 1x 52-tooth chainring;
  • Look Keo 2 Max pedals (the self-recentering kind);
  • Elite WB cages;
  • Zipp titanium aero skewers.
 I did do some shopping for this, though, including:
  • 6870 11-speed Di2 RD;
  • BB30 adapter (manufacturer unknown, but these are easy to find);
  • Tririg aero centerpull brakes. 
Finally, Sam sent me his FLO disc wheel instead of selling it.  I suppose I owe him for that, though if we ever bring our Litespeeds together for a week of speed we can share it.

That Tririg brake reminds me of a Campy offering from the '80s.
The 6870 Di2 parts are not expensive on eBay and are cross-compatible with the old 6770 so long as you do not update the firmware on the group.  Reports are the moment I plug this into a computer, I will lose the ability to shift.


Bike building isn't a hard project when all you do is add grease, loctite, or carbon compound, tighten things to torque spec., and run cables through the stops.  Carbon frames kill this with internal routing that is not always easy to manage - memories of four hours lying on my back running a single internal cable on the old Cervelo P2 still give me shivers.

The Litespeed thankfully routes the rear brake cable externally.
External brake cable runs at 8:00 along the top tube, where it should be.
Shifters are internal and, in my case, I was running Di2 wires.  Note above how I said this build took 18 months.  This is why.

Unlike cables, Di2 wires are floppy and cannot be pushed from the entry point through to the exit.  They also have plugs at the ends, which get caught on any lip or other protrusion inside the frame or at the exit point.  This is bad enough, but then there are tight bends, like at the far back end of the rear triangle and around the bottom bracket cluster.

The solution is a magnetic end that attaches to the plug.  You then use a strong magnet on the outside of the frame to draw the inner magnet (pulling the plug) to the exit hole.  Elegant, right?

And it worked for the main run from the entry point in the top tube to the bottom bracket.  I capped that top tube with a Shimano 6mm round plug - and capped the unused second hole with a 1/4" round plug from Amazon.  (Funny story:  that is an "Ultegra Di2 Grommet." I suppose it weighs more than the Dura Ace offering?)

Shimano plug has a slit allowing me to wrap it around the wire at the end of the build, which is nice.
The run from the rear derailler into the bottom bracket was all kinds of awful.  The tight bends in the chain stay and the large lip where the stay intersects the bottom bracket cluster prevented a smooth draw with the magnet unit.  Memory fails me, and I tried about a dozen fixes, but I think what finally worked was to insert a cable, work it through the chain stay to the bottom bracket, tape the Di2 cable, and pull it through.  Another Shimano plug caps the RD entry point and another generic 1/4" plug fills the FD frame hole.

Happy with how hidden this is.
That was the final real challenge - other parts are pretty simple.  (There was one glitch where I crushed a cable installing the BB conversion unit, necessitating a new battery cable.)  In fact, my wiring diagram is incredibly uncomplicated.  It includes:
  • A junction box at bottom of downtube accessible from the BB; 
  • A line from the rear derailler to the junction box;
  • A line from the battery to the junction box;
  • A line from the right front control unit to the junction box; and
  • The right shifter plugged into the front control unit.  The blip shifter is plugged into the right shifter.
The 6770 front control unit.  Simple if not terribly flexible.

Going 1x

Sam and I agree that an aero bike has no reason for 2x gearing.  If you want to climb a hill, ride a different bike.  Better yet, don't climb a hill.  While I have hacked 1x10 on several occasions, 11 speed rear makes much more sense to me for this build, so I bought a 6870 rear derailler on eBay and tossed the 6770 FD into the parts bin.  (Any bets on how much I can sell a 6770 rear/6770 front combination for?  Well less than $100 is my bet.)

I was happy to find that I could just plug the wiring into the new derailler and shift up and down through all 11 gears with the right-hand shifter.  It worked just as well with the aerobar blip shifters.  The left shifters become superfluous, but of course they are built in and will stay.

Only that right-side shifter and blip shifter get used with this build.
There is some discussion that a firmware update can turn this into a left-easier-right-harder configuration - so long as I am using 6870 throughout.  If I try to update the firmware with the current mixed configuration I will lose compatibility, forcing me to return to a 6770 10-speed rear derailler OR to move to the still expensive 6870 shifters.

Just found these for $160 NIB on eBay.  These will be in my shop within the month, I am certain.

(That price has come way down!  $160 on eBay.  Phooey - I thought I was done. but I will likely make this upgrade.)

Of course I installed my SRAM Force crank, all 175mm and 52 teeth of it.

I got a good deal buying 52 teeth.  Apparently all the demand is for small chainrings - who knew?
That's a man's crank, I am proud to say.  I did find myself with the chain on the left side of the cluster for a fair chunk of yesterday's inaugural ride.

The Ride

So this is embarrassing, but after building this I left it sitting in the basement for a solid 6 months while riding and even replacing other bikes.  The planned use model - setting PRs at the century and longer distance - sort of fell out of favor in my riding.  I keep meaning to try for that 4:30 century, and 10:00 double - but maybe next summer.  I was inches from listing for sale when, after a consult with Sam, I decided to ride it instead.

(Sam points out that selling would necessitate a day-long prep job including removing anything not part of the original build.  My problem is that my entire conception of this bike is as a long-distance time trial machine, which means aerobars and the like are part of the thing.  Pulling those off, only to add them back into my parts bin, would almost literally break my heart.)

After a long weekend urban hiking with P__ I took this out for a cool-down ride on the Beach Drive out-and-back, with a couple of added loops on the fun hills at either end.

  • Riding on the flats this was just lovely.  It has been some time since I rode with aerobars and I found these *comfortable.*  Not "I can handle this for an Ironman" comfy, but "I'd rather be laying on my forearms than otherwise" comfortable.  If I ride this bike long I will be in the aero position more than the alternative.  That is a good result!
  • In the hills this was snappy!  The power transfer in the BB is not just linear - it feels quick being worked out of the saddle as well.  It climbs like a road bike, not like a TT bike, which is a high high compliment for a bike like this.
  • Downhill it felt stable.  I was comfortable letting roll fast, which is not always the case with a brand new build.
  • It handled well.   My test for great handling is the descent from the Rock Creek stables down to Broad Branch Road, a quarter-mile 10% grade with swooping turns and good pavement.  If I feel like I am on good GS skis on that descent, the bike handles well.  The old Cervelo felt more like Sam's Red Sleds (a downhill racing ski sold by Atomic) - fast, sure, but never quite sure you whether would make the turn or shoot off on a tangent.  This held the turns like a champ.

The Frameset

This Litespeed C1R is a serious racing frameset.  That massive BB cluster produces awesome power transfer.
Wait for Sam's post on advertising on Craigslist - he would NOT approve of this picture.
I am a skeptic that you can feel a bike "slicing through the wind," but I think I felt this bike slicing through the wind.  This frame is *narrow.*
Is that a bicycle - or a sabre?
There's a feel that an aero carbon frameset has, which I remember from my Cervelo P2 and triathlon days, that you don't get on regular road frames.  It's kind of pleasantly harsh, letting you know you are riding something fast.  Perhaps in the same way that driving an Indy Car is not fun in the way a Miata is, but you still want to do it.  That's this bike - an Indy Car.

The seatpost slipped a little while riding.  I added carbon paste and a touch more torque when I got back - I hope it holds next time.

The dimensions are about right for me.  I love the feel of my Focus Izalco Max (2016) with 584 stack and 405 reach, 2 cm of spacers under the stem.  I got as close as I could to that fit with the 3T (605 stack/405 reach, slammed stem).  This bike lists at 616 and 402, so the bars are 1 cm up from my other bikes and I am using a 120 stem (rather than my normal 110).

The Build

The Groupset is an unapologetic hack, turning a 2x10 Di2 into a 1x11 Di2 by adding in the new RD, tossing the FD, adding in the SRAM 1x crank.  That's it, and it works like a charm.  All the upside of S-Di2 shifting, which has been well detailed; all of the upside of 1x; and none of the fuss or expense of the newest parts.

See, no errors photographing in the small ring with a 1x.  Now, that chain should be on the outside of the cassette!
The superfluity of the left shifters is annoying and should be fixed.  This is particularly so now that I am accustomed to the SRAM left-easier-right-harder shifting from the 3T, which is *awesome.*  The answer is clearly to replace the shifters and do something with the firmware.  I suppose that will happen this summer.

The wheels and tires work.  I am no big fan of tubular wheels only because I don't want to spend a day switching tires and constantly vaguely worrying about whether the glue is still good.  That said, I have never switched tires on these wheels and they don't seem to need it.  So maybe I should rethink my distaste.

I have these wheels because they cost $500 for the pair and I needed racing wheels.  Sure enough, they turn fast.  (Except that one time I tried to sell them I dropped the would-be customer on the test ride.  He naturally blamed the wheels.  There is a lesson here somewhere for best practices in selling.)

These 24mm Challenge tubular tires roll nicely and fit perfectly in the seat-tube cut.  I have ridden Challenge tires in clinchers for years and really like them.  These are not an exception.

And the bike needs aero wheels.  Unless I land a cheap pair somewhere else, I expect these stay the way they are until I break a spoke and throw them out.

I like the Tririg brakes!  I had no idea what to expect, but these look good and they brake hard, with no problems coming uncentered.  Despite carbon wheels I was able to skid, and I did skid a few times during amateur hour on Rock Creek Parkway (COVID quarantine has been hell on roads that used to be de facto reserved for the cyclists.)

Finishing kit is not special with the alloy 3T cockpit, the proprietary seatpost, and the WTB saddle.  That said:
  • I like 3T alloy stem and bars and have been riding them for some years now by choice, so happy enough with them here;
  • The WTB Rocket V (now just the Rocket) is my go-to saddle on every bike, and it works here too.  The white matches the frame.  Just need to level it out a touch before the next ride.
Need to find a better way to carry that tire charger.
  • The Profile Design bars with the carbon T3 extensions are the best thing in aftermarket aerobars.  I have ridden them exclusively for >5 years and see no reason ever to change.  
  • That X-lab velcro-on aero bottle is an elegant add-on.  Wish there were a way to have it without the velcro straps.
Anybody who grew up on the old Profile Design cups/arm pads knows what a massive improvement these are.
The cockpit is a little busy like this.  Just hidden to the right of the risers is an Exposure Trace light, which makes me visible though does not serve to light the road so well.  Sam recommends I move that junction box, though frankly it is out of the wind there and I like being able to access it.  That's a tall - 5cm - riser under the bars, but it makes for a *really comfortable* forward position.

The Exposure Trace is more visible here, as is the Exposure mount for the larger Strada headlamp, a great product for all night riding.  Opinions may differ about my tape job, but I kind of like it.

As I said, I was going to sell this without riding it.  I've now ridden it, and I am not going to sell it.  With the plethora of cheap fast bikes available today, there is no way I can get my money's worth out of a 5-year-old frameset built with used parts - because to replace this will cost me $5000 easily.

C'est Tout Les Jambes

I was riding the 180km loop around Lac Leman from Geneva in Summer 2019 and fell in with a local.  After I complimented his bike, he replied, "mais c'est tout les jambes."  It's all in the legs.

The question now is whether I give the bike its due!  A final assessment is that this bike can carry somebody to the 240-mile 12-hour, 4.5 hour century, or any number of long solo goals.  It may be time to turn some attention to that kind of riding.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Minor updates to P's Ritchey

In something of a dirt road/trail craze and I decided P's Ritchey needed some refreshing for us to ride together.
Simba is inspecting the build.

Three things to change:
  • Move to single ring.
  • Replace the brakes.
  • Add "cross levers."

Single Ring

I have gone to single rings on nearly everything new and everything rebuilt for a while now, after first going 1x on the commuting rig in Indy.  In three cases I hacked it - I:
  • pulled the front derailler and clipped (literally or figurately) the cable from the left lever, 
  • replaced the crankset or chainring, and 
  • ran the 1x10 (Neuvation) or 1x11 (Salsa, Litespeed) with little fanfare.
And, it works well.

In one other case I bought a 1x bicycle, the new 3T gravel bike at 1x12.

For the 75% use, 1x is clearly superior.  For half of that 75% a hacked 1x10 or x11 is perfectly fine.  I love that with the tall teeth on a single chainring the dropped chain on a stoplight sprint is a thing of the past.  I have rarely found a need for taller gearing than mid-40s front and 11 back (unlike Sam, I spin at closer to 90 for long rides and 100 for races - when I used to race).

So I thought it might work for P.  It does save weight, saves the hassle of a front shift, reduces wear on the chain.  This is a 40-tooth Wolf Tooth ring on an old SRAM Rival crank.
Wolf Tooth does a good job matching the design of a number of cranks.
This permitted me to pull the FD and cabling.  Double bonus - on a break-apart bike, which P's Ritchey Cross is, that is one less cable that needs splitting and that much less chainring to fit into the case.

Avid V-Brakes

Back in 2014, P and I had our Ritcheys built with cantilever brakes - though it turned out the pull on the Shimano levers did not match the pull on the cantilever brakes.  They worked, but braking wasn't sharp.  I replaced mine with V brakes when I rebuilt the Ritchey prior to ultimately selling it.

I liked the cantilever brakes and wanted to keep them for P, so I found this offering from Avid that was supposedly optimized for Shimano shifters.  Suffice to say I could not figure out the mounting process - I think because the Ritchey frameset did not match well to the design of the brakes.  Though it could be because I am a terrible mechanic.

Shorty Ultimate, photo from
My loss.  This is a sharp-looking design.  Anybody in the market for an unused - and nearly unmarred - set of Shorty Ultimate brakes?

Instead I went with V brakes for P.  These are also from Avid.  After fiddling with them on my Ritchey for a while before the sale, I feel pretty good about my ability to mount and tune them.  And, in fact, this went well.

Pretty much a plug-and-play install job.

"Cross Levers"

Somebody started calling these middle-mount levers "cross levers", although I've never actually met a real cross cyclist who has them installed.  P likes them because they make the semi-upright sit easier to accomplish.  We had them on her old Trek 800, long since gathering dust in the basement.  Now they are here.

* * *
So, here is the bike as refreshed:
38mm Panaracer Gravelking SK tires go well with steel tubing!

That's a 12-27 cassette.  Probably need to take that to 34 teeth with this 40-tooth ring.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

3T Exploro Road, Part I

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that the easiest way to convince me to buy a $6000 bikes is to throw in a free wheelset that I don't really need. There, I admitted it. The bike in question is, of course, the 3T Exploro. And the wheelset? 3T's Discus 45|32 LTD.

Looks about the same as with the 650B wheels TBH
Herein I'll discuss briefly the process of setting up that wheelset, the initial results, and I'll also reach a somewhat uncomfortable conclusion. But first, the final product

The Discus 45|32 LTD And Tires

So what is this wheelset? It's a 700c carbon aero wheel, 45mm deep and 32mm wide. Moderately but not extremely lightweight at 1640g (sans rotors of course). I didn't take any pictures before I put on a tire, but it's really quite wide. 3T says it's optimized for 28-32mm tires, but of course I put on a Compass/Rene Herse Barlow Pass 700x38.

I'm only slightly bothered that the logos face opposite directions
The fork has plenty of space for additional tire

But things are a little tighter on the rear wheel. A 700x44 would be a real squeeze here

Going Tubeless

Only once have I tried tubeless. It was on a road bike back in 2008 or so. I was using a Ksyrium rim (no spoke holes, but definitely not tubeless compatible) and a Schwalbe Ultremo tire, also not tubeless compatible. Regardless, it actually worked until I split the tire open on a rock. Patching and putting a tube into a tire full of sealant turned me off tubeless.

Well, here we are a dozen years and at least that many bikes later. Mountain bikes are all tubeless these days, and I'd guess 25% of enthusiast road bikes have gone tubeless as well. Since it's the thing to do, I may as well try it. I threw a couple ounces of sealant in each tire, pumped them up (didn't even need a compressor, and gave them a spin, A few little holes on the tires sealed up, and they held air.

Next morning they were empty. I pumped them up again. That night they were empty. Hopefully now that I've done a quick ride on them the sealant will be well enough distributed that they'll hold air. Otherwise I'll try some additional sealant.

Road Cassette and Shifting

As mentioned in our earlier reviews the 3T came with a SRAM Eagle PG-1230 11-50T 12s cassette. As Max points out, it weighs more than a pound. I found it too compromised for road-use, particularly with the 44T chainring. For this wheelset I put on a Sram Force XG-1270 10-33T. I've never installed a cassette on an XD driver before, it took a leap of faith but went on.

With the wheels on I tried shifting. Yuck, horrible. A few twists of the outer limit screw (which is on the inside of the two limit screws) and some microshift adjustments and eTap was indexing the cassette properly.

Red eTap on my Litespeed shifts very well. Shifts are quick and crisp. That bike has a medium cage derailleur and I believe an 11-25 cassette. Or something close. The Eagle long-cage derailleur does not give crisp shifts on this cassette. Shifts feel ponderous and, though they're clean they feel imprecise.

It turns out that 3T has a blog post about this! That page states:
Note that SRAM’s 10-33T cassette is too small to work with the Eagle rear derailleur, the gap will be too big
That same page also says:
One small note, the 10-33T cassette doesn’t work particularly well in combination with the Eagle rear derailleur. So should you want to have two different setups – one for speed using the 10-33 and one for tough routes using a bigger cassette – you will have to swap out the rear derailleur and chain every time (and potentially even the chainring). It might be worthwhile to use the 11-39T Rotor cassette for the fast setup instead, so you can do everything with the Eagle rear derailleur.
So there you go. In reality it does work, but it's not going to work well. Argh. But to add a little insult to injury:
If you have a medium cage SRAM rear derailleur on your gravel bike, you most likely have an Exploro Speed with a Force 1 rear derailleur and an 11-36 cassette. ... But there is a second group of cassettes you can use to increase your range. And all you need to do is ignore what SRAM tells you about the 36T maximum cog spec for the medium cage Force 1 rear derailleur.
They go on to say that the medium cage derailleur will shift the SRAM 10-42 cassette perfectly well. Well heck!

About The Weight...

I made a big deal about the weight of the Exploro in gravel livery, at 21 pounds 6 ounces. Max astutely pointed out that swapping out a couple items would make a big difference. So let's look at what I changed and the expected impact to weight.
ComponentOld WeightNew Weight
Tires1200g (est)760g

Let's just say 1000 grams, or 2.2 pounds. That's pretty great! I weighed to verify:

19 pounds 7 ounces. I didn't get quite the entire hoped for savings, but nearly 2 pounds is fantastic!

Riding Impressions

To be filled in after I ride it!

The Uncomfortable Conclusion

I've decided that I bought the wrong bike. I really like the 3T Exploro. I'm glad I bought it. But I wish I'd bought the $2000 less expensive Exploro Team Speed Force1. I'd lose the electric shifting, but would have gained a rear derailleur that's a bit more appropriate for both road and gravel. I'd have still gotten the free wheelset, so I could have a good road wheel and a pretty good gravel wheel. And a 10-42 is plenty of range for most gravel riding.

It's OK, I mean this is a fantastic bike. I don't regret it. But it's still an uncomfortable conclusion.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Exploro 3T - A Second Take

Among reviews worth reading at the Huffman Bicycle Club, Max' take on the 3T Exploro is surely near the top. As usual I'm a day (or ten) late and a dollar (or a bunch of dollars) short. Regardless I'm here now.

Max and I have long been in search of the perfect bicycle. Ride fast, do everything, go everywhere, carry anything. Oh, and cost, well, not too much. That particular white whale has seen both of us spend too much money on bikes that don't quite achieve the desired aims.

Is the 3T Exploro the culmination of this quest? Or just another rung on the ladder?

In this review I'll be talking largely about the bike as delivered, understanding that the owner can (and should!) tailor it to their needs.

First Impressions

My first couple rides on the Exploro have been a mix of pavement, chip-seal, and gravel/dirt.

The WTB Venture tires are quiet and roll on their center tread very nicely. 2" of rubber smooth out the rough roads quite well. On a sharp corner you can feel the side knobs a bit. Not the end of the world, but definitely not as confidence inspiring as a road oriented tire. But then it's not a road oriented tire.

Hit the gravel and the bike is great. The tires track well and traction is plentiful. I have no complaints. If the Focus Paralane was a 95% road bike and 50% gravel bike, I'd say the 3T matches it on the road but comes darn close to a great gravel bike. I say that having never ridden a great gravel bike, so...

Is it perfect? No. On gravel the bike suffers for lack of a dropper post on steeper gravel descents. Lowering the center of gravity a bit and allowing the rider to get behind the saddle can make a big difference in descending confidence. On pavement the cornering issue on stock tires detracts from perfection, as does gearing that has the rider spinning out way too early.

In short? Bike good. Not perfect.


3T markets the Exploro as:

Exploro: The world's only full-aero gravel bike
I'm far from an expert here, but I have been watching this space for years. I'm inclined to believe that the 3T Exploro has taken the idea of aero gravel a bit further than other gravel bikes. It has also taken wins at a number of prominent gravel races, so that alone speaks highly of its abilities.

In my rides thus far, comparing it to my other bikes, I feel like I'm giving up very little in terms of speed. This contrasts with, for example, my Pinnacle Arkose which rides nicely but subjectively feels sluggish. Whether that's down to the "Sqaero" tubing, the tires, or a sense of obligation to make the investment a good one is unknown at this time.

Fat Tires?

For years we were limited to 700x25 due to traditional road bike restrictions. 700x28 only if you were lucky and could find tires that ran a little small. To go bigger than that required compromises like cantilever brakes and tires more suitable to a mountain bike than a road bike.

No longer. Disc brakes, 650B wheels, and an emphasis on tire sidewalls have allowed us to have big, fast tires. Thankfully the Exploro's geometry has been designed with this in mind. Mine arrived with 700x2.0 WTB Venture front and rear. 3T claim that they can fit 54mm. I see no need to go larger than what came on the bike.

I do think that a set of Rene Herse 650x48 Switchback Hills are in my future.

Single Ring?

In the old days of 2 chainrings and 9 cogs, realistically you might have 12 or 13 gears considering the overlap. We've now got 12-speed drivetrains with a single chainring. Amazing.

The 3T Exploro is available with a front derailleur but it's also available without. Max' and my bikes are of the latter variety, with a 44T chainring and a comical 11-50 tooth cog.
44T chainring and 11-50T cassette
This is an interesting combination. For "gravel grinding" it's probably great. For road riding, not so much. The cogs are spaced at 11,13,15,17,19,22,25,28,32,36,42,50. Bikecalc did the math:

My preferred cadence is closer to 70RPM, which puts me around 22.5MPH for a maximum comfortable speed. I'm not going to claim that I ride at that speed everywhere I go, but it is a bit limiting to feel like you've spun out in the low 20s. Not to mention at this end of the cassette it's a big jump from 11T to 13T. A reasonable cruising speed of 21MPH requires an uncomfortable cadence whether I'm on the 11T or the 13T. In rides thus far I've found myself hunting quite a bit for the 12T, but no matter how hard I try I can't find it.

For road use a 48T chainring in conjunction with a tighter range cassette is likely in order. To that end I've acquired an XG-1270 cassette with a 10-33 range to put on a 700c with a 40mm tire. I'll try that first, and then if necessary bump up to a 48T chainring. The bikecalc results are shown below.

So single ring? Yes. Perfect gearing? Definitely no, not out of the box. But I think this can be remedied.

Electric Shift?

I'm a fan of electric shifting. To be more specific, I really like the eTap system. I'm not a huge fan of Di2 just because the installation is a pain.

The advantages of eTap are myriad, not least of which is the quickly swappable batteries. Anyway, this bike has electric shifting, which is awesome, and that's all I'm going to say about that.

What's Missing?

Dropper Post

For what 3T charges for this bike, it should be a no-compromises perfect bike. As a recreational mountain biker, I think the Exploro should include a dropper post. A well implemented dropper post on this bike would blow the segment wide open.

Here in the Pacific Northwest our "gravel rides" are logging roads that go up and over mountain passes, and then down. Very, very quickly. I've ridden gravel roads on the Focus Paralane that exceeded 25%. On a road bike geometry there is a very real risk of going over the bars. Braking goes hand-in-hand with praying to your deity of choice.

A dropper post would go a long way toward resolving this. Decades ago hard core mountain bikers derided dropper posts, but now all but the cheapest mountain bikes come with one standard. I probably adjust my dropper more than I shift gears. It's not as critical on a gravel bike, but it would really set the Exploro aside from the competition.


This is undoubtedly subjective, but to my eyes the 3T Exploro is garish. I have a peculiar sense of what the perfect bike looks like, and it looks an awful lot like my original Titanium Habanero "Century Special".

Small-diameter tubing, level top-tube. 32- or 36-spoke Open Pro rims. Treadless avocet Fasgrip tires. Double crank, ideally in 53/42 and a corn-cob cassette. To my eyes that styling is the Datsun 240z of bikes.
If the Century Special is a 240z, the 3T Exploro is a Civic Type R. Lots of go-fast bits. A gauche paint job. Some ... bulbous ... design cues. But without question the superior machine.
It's no Habanero
It's no Datsun 240z
Interestingly the 3T Exploro reminds me of another of my obnoxious bikes, the Litespeed Ci2.
Separated at birth?
I like both. But beautiful they are not.


It's hardly fair to compare the 3T Exploro with it's massive tires to my more svelte bikes. But configured as shown below the Exploro weighs in at a rather portly 21 pounds, 6 oz.

This makes it a fair sight heavier than the 19 pound Focus Paralane, the 18 pound 12 oz. Litespeed or the 18 pound 15 oz. TiCycles. All in "ready to ride" livery. That said, there's weight savings all over the place on this bike.


So this happened.

For once this wasn't my fault. Tightening the seatpost clamp as required chipped the paint. I'll have to get some fingernail polish to keep this from chipping further. It's disappointing on a $6000 bicycle.

Also disappointing is that this was necessary at all; the seatpost mechanism is unnecessarily fiddly; somehow every other manufacturer makes do with one or two bolts on the seat-tube, but 3T found it necessary to add a complicated four-piece fastener. Why?

Fiddly too is the rear derailleur. It's held on by the rear axle, which means when you change wheels the rear derailleur falls off. Easy to put back on, not a huge problem, but I've never seen it before and it strikes me as an odd choice.

The Exploro has two mounting spots for bottles or other, and mounting atop the top tube for a bag. That's pretty great, but there's not a particularly good way to mount any frame bags or fenders. For touring purposes one will have to turn to Revelate Designs.

It's not shown in the pictures, but for an aero bike the bars don't have great mounting options for aero-bars. I suspect there's a solution here, but it may require some creativity.


This has been a meandering review. For that I apologize, but there's a lot to cover.

In my opinion the 3T Exploro is an outstanding bike with a few flaws. For fast riding on all surfaces, it excels. For touring it leaves a bit to be desired. It will take a few changes to the gearing to make it a great road bike, but that's a reasonable compromise given the differing needs of gravel and road.

I can see this bike as a long-term member of my fleet. I'll keep the Litespeed as my "poor man's Venge Lunch Race". The Pinnacle Arkose stays for rainy day duty. If I ever ride another brevet, the Habanero touring bike is the likely choice for that. But for long weekend adventure rides, the 3T Exploro should be just right.

The 3T Exploro is not, for me, a one-bike quiver. But it does fill out the four-bike road quiver quite nicely.