One frame, two concepts: the 3T Exploro Race EKAR 1×13 is based on the Exploro RaceMax frame, which can be built up either as an ultimate adventure bike or a full-on gravel racing machine. Is this the recipe for the best all-round bike on test?
A quick overview of this group test: The best gravel bike 2021
3T have long made a name for themselves among competitive gravel racers with their aerodynamically optimised gravel frame. With the new RaceMax, they now promise even more versatility – and how versatile it is! With clearances of 650 x 61B, the Exploro has room for some really big tires. Looking at the aggressive shape of the carbon frame with its slender head tube, the cut out seat tube closely hugging the rear wheel and the down tube widening towards the centre to create a slipstream for the water bottle, it’s clear that the design is all about maximum all-road and gravel race performance. However, even in its second evolutionary stage, we haven’t warmed to the cable routing at the front of the Exploro. With bosses for up to four bottle cages, the frame is ready for any adventure. 3T also plan to present an in-house solution for fenders and specially developed bags in the near future. The Campagnolo Ekar 1×13 groupset fitted on our test bike (read review) is a great fit for the sporty concept with its small steps in the higher gears. However, with its limited range, you’ll need very strong legs in alpine terrain, despite the 38 t chainring.
3T Exploro Race EKAR 1X13
Seatpost 3T Charlie Sqaero Team 0 mm
Brakes Campagnolo Ekar 160/160 mm
Drivetrain Campagnolo Ekar 38 (9–42)
Stem 3T Apto Stealth 100 mm
Handlebar 3T Aeroflux LTD* 420 mm
Wheelset 3T Discus C45 LTD*
Tires Schwalbe G-One Allround 35C
Size XXS 51 54 56 58 61
Weight 8.38 kg
As MAX-version with 650B-tires and tireclearance up to 650 x 61B
Tubes with areodynamic shape
Bolting points on topside of the top- and downside of the downtube
Bolting mounts for mudguards
|Seat tube||436 mm||463 mm||490 mm||518 mm||545 mm||572 mm|
|Top tube||506 mm||526 mm||546 mm||566 mm||586 mm||606 mm|
|Head tube||125 mm||147 mm||161 mm||180 mm||201 mm||232 mm|
|Chainstays||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm||415 mm|
|BB Drop||79 mm||79 mm||77 mm||77 mm||75 mm||75 mm|
|Wheelbase||998 mm||1,008 mm||1,008 mm||1,014 mm||1,024 mm||1,044 mm|
|Reach||355 mm||366 mm||377 mm||385 mm||393 mm||404 mm|
|Stack||520 mm||542 mm||564 mm||584 mm||604 mm||632 mm|
Built up this way, the 3T is a super-fast bike that demands really fit legs when going uphill! The Max version is a great alternative for explorers and connoisseurs.
The 3T Discus C45 LTD wheelset isn’t specced on the production build, but with the rims’ generous internal width, they provide excellent support for the 700 x 35C Schwalbe G-One Allround rubber. The tires might look a little lost in the frameset, but their performance suits the overall concept of the € 5,399 bike. The size 56 gravel bike weighs 8.38 kg in this configuration, which is a whole 300 g below the average weight of the test field.
“High speed? Bring it on!” The Exploro motivates you to keep pushing, rewarding you with maximum efficiency. While some bikes on test, like the Specialized, OPEN or Trek, are more light-footed when pulling away and climbing, the acceleration of the Exploro is nice and responsive. The gravel bike offers good all-round handling characteristics that are as intuitive for beginners as they are for those with racing ambitions.
The handling responds directly and accurately to steering input. We never felt the need to correct at any speed and we enjoyed the bike’s predictable cornering. Overall, the character of the Exploro is clearly more on the composed, less playful side of the spectrum. Thanks to the centred and comparatively compact riding position, the rider’s weight is evenly distributed between the front and rear wheel. Despite the relatively narrow 37 mm tires, the 3T feels extremely planted, even when things get rough. This is primarily thanks to the excellent vibration dampening of the frameset. Nevertheless, this is not to say the bike feels vague – its compliance generates a lot of comfort from minimal travel, resulting in pleasantly muted yet defined feedback from the ground that instils you with confidence no matter how fast you ride. The Campagnolo brakes offer tons of stopping power while being easy to modulate, serving to underline that feeling.
Tuning tip: the concept is consistent with its racing intentions. For better all-round capabilities, we recommend a groupset with a wider range and an easier climbing gear.
The concept of the 3T Exploro Race EKAR 1×13 is consistent and coherent. While the handling is suitable for all skill levels, the Ekar groupset is primarily aimed at ambitious gravel racers on routes with minimal climbing due to the small gear steps in the higher gears and the lack of overall range. Connoisseurs and adventurers will be better served with the Max models and its more off-road oriented spec. In this configuration, the 3T Exploro is specced a bit too aggressively to take the overall victory in this group test.
- maximum efficiency
- very predictable handling
- frameset offers excellent vibration damping
- coherent overall package
- vague downshifts
- the looks of the front cable routing are questionable
- gear range not wide enough for steep climbs
Not sure which gravel bike you should buy? This guide will help you for sure: gravel bike buyers guide.
You wonder what tires to put on your gravel machine? We recently tested the best gravel tires against each other in our gravel tire group test.
Get more information here: 3t.bike
A quick overview of this group test: The best gravel bike 2021
All bikes on review: 3T Exploro Race EKAR 1X13 | ARC8 Eero (Click for review) | BMC URS 01 ONE (Click for review) | Cannondale Topstone Carbon Lefty 3 (Click for review) | Canyon Grail CF SLX 8 eTap (Click for review) | Fustle Causeway GRX600 (Click for review) | OPEN WI.DE. (Click for review) | Ridley Kanzo Fast (Click for review) | Ritte Satyr (Click for review) | ROSE BACKROAD FORCE ETAP AXS LIMITED (Click for review) | ROSE BACKROAD AL GRX RX600 1X11 (Click for review) | Specialized S-Works Diverge (Click for review) | Trek Checkpoint (Click for review)
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50↩
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70↩
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Words: Photos: Valentin Rühl