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?

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GRAN FONDO: What’s the difference for you between the Open and the new 3T?

Gerard: Both are Gravel Plus 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 Gravel Plus bikes because those are more or less the only gravel plus bikes right now. 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 little bit closer to the mountain bike-side and the Exploro is a little bit closer to the road bike-side. They overlap at that 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. In the end the geometry of the 3T is a little bit more aggressive. 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 a 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: (Confirmed)

Gerard: Some people prefer that and some people prefer the slightly more laid back Open style. The Open is a very comparative kind of bike. A lot of people say: ”alright this rides nicer than my road bike”, even though we never wanted it to perform like a road bike. But if you then try the 3T – that road bike feeling is even a bit more obvious and more aggressive.

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GRAN FONDO: Yes, that’s actually my impressions. 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 turn out the buzzing of the nobby 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. Because we´ve been thinking about 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.

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 less with the 2.1″ mountain bike tires mounted. So that’s what I mean when I say bigger tires. A Specialized lot of people say they work bigger tires and then they bring out the bike and it has 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 stupid standard. There’s no technical purpose. Maybe it will become the standard anyways so eventually you will not have a choice in some time. I think one of the things, that the post mount allows you, is to a built your bike with Shimano and use XTR, for instance. So it gives you a couple of more options right now. But in two years from now they will probably give you fewer options.

GRAN FONDO: What’s the main reason for the cable in the top tube? Does it technically bring any benefits?

Gerard: It just looked better than messing up the head tube. 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 somebody 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.

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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. I think now they have 15 or 20 bikes that have clearance for the road plus, which seems like plenty of choices for the customers, so now it starts and we’ll see. All I can say is, I like the tires.

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For my understanding it just opens up the spectrum of opportunities you have on you 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 nobbies and off road I feel 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 Specialized is working on some road “+” bikes as well, but if they then they launch the bike and it has 33 mm tires…

GRAN FONDO: (laughs)

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Words: Benjamin Topf Photos: Christoph Bayer