During 3T´s product launch of the Exploro we sat down with Gerard Vroomen. The Dutch-born engineer and Cervélo co-founder is not only one hell of a nice guy, he is also the mastermind behind both the Open U.P. and the 3T Exploro. What separates these bikes and what do they have in common?
GRAN FONDO: What’s the difference for you between the Open and the new 3T?
Gerard: Both are GravelPlus compatible bikes. So people think they are probably pretty close, but that’s like saying a Ferrari and a Porsche are close. People only see two GravelPlus bikes because those are more or less the only GravelPlus bikes in the world right now. Anyway, as for the difference, if you see the whole spectrum from rigid mountain bike to gravel to cyclocross to road, then both cover that spectrum but the Open is a bit more towards the mountain bike-side and the Exploro is a bit more to the road bike-side.
They overlap in the sense that both can take you on epic gravel rides on either a 700x40C gravel tire or a 27,5” x 2.1” mountain bike tire, both can take you on paved roads or on single-track. In the end the geometry of the 3T is a little bit more aggressive, while the Open has some more stuff-carrying-capabilities and is a bit more laid out for that. So if I’d go out for two weeks, I’d probably go on the Open. If I go for a one-day ride where I would delude myself into thinking that maybe I could win something, I’d go for the 3T. In that middle sector it really wouldn’t matter to me if I ride an orange, a brown, a black or a white bike. You’ve ridden both, Robin. The 3T is a little more aggressive than the Open is, right?
GRAN FONDO: Yeah, I thought so.
Gerard: Some people prefer that and some people prefer the slightly more laid back Open style. With the Open, a lot of people say: ”alright this rides nicer than my road bike”, even though we never set out to compare it to a road bike on the road, we wanted it to feel like a road bike while off-road. But if you then try the 3T – that road bike feeling is even a bit more obvious and more aggressive.
GRAN FONDO: Yes, that’s actually my impression. If you’re coming from a road/-race bike, you would prefer the 3T, because it’s more agile than the Open. At the same time you need a bit more experience on a downhill. If you are coming from the endurance road bike side – higher stack and so on – you should probably go for the Open.
Gerard: Yeah, I agree. You go from a pure race bike to the Exploro and you go from a more endurance, gran fondo bike to the Open. But still, the Exploro is of course more comfortable than any gran fondo road bike is. If you talk to Magnus, he said: ”If I´d close my eyes and tune out the buzzing of the knobby tires, I think I’m on a road bike – how it feels, handles and accelerates. So from the behavior of the 3T it is definitely very close to a gran fondo road bike. That was definitely a goal. We also get that comment on the Open, so that’s why it’s a relative kind of thing. It’s not like there are completely separate absolute usages for the two bikes. I’m happy to have both of them in my garage, but I know, that’s not an option for everyone. (laughs)
GRAN FONDO: You’re not planning it, but a road bike is probably the next step. Would you be allowed to make one?
Gerard: It was never really about allowing. It was just about what I wanted to do, right? And when you do time trail bikes and road bikes for 15 years. It’s kind of – I don’t know – it was a lot. What is so fun about the U.P. and the Exploro for me is that those bikes really represent the way of riding I want to do. So it’s easy to be passionate about them. They are so far away from what we did with Cervelo, they are not what Cervelo is, so it’s nice to do something completely different with 3T and Open. Needless to say that Cervelo is doing these great road and triathlon bikes – the best bikes in the world, in my opinion…
Open took just a different approach, it wasn’t about: “Oh, there is this market for this or this is not…”. I like this kind of riding and so this is what we wanted to build.
And then with 3T, because we´ve been working on aero wheels with 3T, we started wondering what knobby tires could mean if you really look at the aerodynamics, which of course we didn´t do with Open. And then it went from wheels to the frame.
GRAN FONDO: Considering the tire size and the comfort you have, how important is the compliance of the frame?
Gerard: Not so important. The bigger the tire gets, the less important the frame compliance. Of course it matters a bit, as you feel a difference between the Open and the 3T, but not on a crazy high level and even less with the 2.1” mountain bike tires mounted. So that’s what I mean when I say bigger tires. A lot of people say they work on bigger tires but then they bring out the bike and it fits maybe 33 mm tires.
GRAN FONDO: Why did you use post mount and not flat mount – is there a specific reason?
Gerard: To me flat mount is kind of a silly standard. There’s no technical purpose, it just looks cleaner.. But it will become the standard over time. That said, post mount is not going away, so we’ll see bikes with both for a long, long time. One of the things that the post mount allows you is to a built your road/gravel bike with Shimano and use XTR brakes, for instance. So it gives you a couple of more options right now. But in the future there will probably be more flat mount and fewer post mount options. That said, with the right mounting brackets they are interchangeable so people won’t be caught out with the “wrong” technology.
GRAN FONDO: What’s the main reason for the cable in the top tube? Does it technically bring any benefits?
Gerard: It just worked better than messing up the head tube on an aero frame. That’s sort of the main reason. Technically it doesn’t make that much of a difference. It’s a little bit tricky. You just have to make sure that the cable is the right length.
GRAN FONDO: How strong is WTB pushing the road “+”?
Gerard: I think it is a little bit similar to what we’re doing with gravel “+”. We really believe in it, but what can you push? When people try it, they like it or they don’t like it. Road “+” is still really new, so I don’t know what people’s feedback is. Definitely I know on the gravel “+”, when people try it they like it! So, for us it’s just the matter of more people trying it. You guys are sort of a perfect example for it. You got the Open U.P. last year and then you had 10 jury members riding it and I don’t think there was anybody who said: ”Oh, this is…I don’t like this!”. Everybody is like: “Okay, let’s see…”. People get this bike and they have no idea, they don’t know if they’re going to like it or not. Some actually think: “This is going to be stupid…”. But then they ride it, and they convert. That’s what we see everywhere.
Gerard: I think with road “+”, it could be fairly similar. As the tire is a supporting part of the whole concept and if there aren’t frames where those tires fit into, then there’s nothing WTB can really do. So it´s hard to push things for them. I think now there are 15 or 20 bike models that have clearance for the road plus, which seems like plenty of choice for the customers, so now it starts and we’ll see. All I can say is, I like the tires
For me, it just opens up the spectrum of opportunities you have on your ride. Things that you wouldn’t do before, you can do now. People who put those wide tires on will think, “Ok, now as I have that tire width, I don’t have to worry when the roads get bad and it’s still fast enough on the asphalt.” I think that has a big potential. People say: “Well it feels about the same as a 40 mm gravel tire with knobbies off-road and on-road it feels a bit better than that”. Then maybe people will gravitate towards that. I don’t know how big that market will be. I heard that some of the big companies are working on some road “+” bikes as well, but if they then launch the bike and it has 33 mm tires…
GRAN FONDO: (laughs)
Words: Benjamin Topf Photos: Christoph Bayer