Test of the 3T Exploro RaceMax: the SUV of the bike
In 2020, gravel bikes were one of the fastest growing categories in the personal mobility segment. This was in part due to the pandemic and people’s desire to explore the world of the outdoors. And also because traditional bike makers aimed to design one bike to rule them all. Among them we have the Italian 3T Bike bicycle market. The name may sound familiar to BMW fans since in 2020 they unveiled their first collaboration with the Bavarian brand. The 3T for BMW Exploro has been touted as one of the fastest and most aerodynamic gravel bikes on the market. We had the chance to test its sister bike – L’Exploro PRO – in 2020 and came back impressed.
Meet the 3T RaceMax
Fast forward to 2021 and a new bike has joined my team – the 3T Exploro RaceMax. The Italian bicycle market describes the RaceMax as a bicycle that “looks like a road bike, rolls like a road bike and rips through gravel”. If you’ve been cycling for long enough, you may have heard the term “n + 1” before. The principle describes the correct number of bikes one should own, which is usually one more than what you have. So the 3T RaceMax aims to change that, and not only to simplify your wallet life, but also to offer a versatile bike without any compromise.
Some of you might be wondering why a bike review on an automotive website. And that would be a good question. But as we learned last year, biking is often your last mile transportation. The pandemic has brought many restrictions inside and, in particular, severe restrictions in the world of transport. So some of us started to consider transportation alternatives and different ways to be entertained. And nothing beats owning and riding a bike. It’s not only extremely fun – and sometimes quick – but it’s also a great way to hit those daily or weekly cardio goals.
A lot of my recent road trips have married a BMW car and the 3T RaceMax. The idea was that at the end of a long road trip, I could get on the gravel bike and explore this destination behind a handlebar. And on an occasion or two, even take part in amateur competitions over difficult terrain and landscapes. Of course, most of the time the 3T RaceMax was also our daily tank.
Built for aero
From grocery shopping to visiting friends across town, the RaceMax can easily fill the role of a comfortable cruiser with bursts of speed when needed. And that’s easily achievable, thanks to a new aerodynamic frame. The bike is an evolution of the original 3T Exploro, but it can now accommodate larger tires. Of course, the carbon fiber frame improves the handling and speed of the Exploro PRO, and it’s even more aerodynamic.
The downtube is wider than on the Exploro PRO, but its narrower section intelligently manages the airflow. The head tube has a slim profile which further enhances the aerodynamic qualities of the RaceMax. For the bike connoisseur, there is also a multi-shape fork and aero details ranging from the seatstays to the seat post and the armored water bottle to the direct mount brake mounts. In short, this bike was built for speed, but without sacrificing versatility.
The weight of the RaceMax varies depending on the drivetrain used and, of course, the configuration of the wheels and tires. In my case, the 3T RaceMax comes with the Campagnolo EKAR 1×13 drivetrain and standard Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 700c wheels wrapped in Panaracer Graveling SK + 38 tires. This setup brings the weight of the bike to around 19.5 pounds ( 8.8 kilograms). It’s definitely not as light as some road bikes but in the usual range of fast gravel bikes.
Campagnolo transmission 1 × 13
Speaking of drivetrain, this 3T RaceMax comes with a 1 × 13 gear configuration, a first in the Campagnolo drivetrain family. Most of the riders in my group are still fascinated by 2X setups which in many cases allow for wider gear ratios. But in my case the 1 × 13 EKAR covers most driving situations. The dedicated 1x mechanical shift transmission is mated to a 13-speed 9-42T cassette. My previous Exploro PRO used a Shimano 1 × 11 GRX setup with an 11-42 cassette, so a total range of 382%. In comparison, the 1 × 13 EKAR has a range of 467%.
Now, if I were to compare it to a Shimano 2 × 11 GRX, the total range is pretty similar: 467 versus 479 percent. Therefore, you get a similar speed range but without the complexity of a 2x setup. If you don’t like repairing or maintaining your own bikes, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of the EKAR drivetrain. Of course, if most of your rides take you to high altitudes, the extra gear range of a SRAM Force Wide 3x will come in handy.
For such a fast bike, braking is just as important, which is why a Campagnolo EKAR hydraulic disc set with a Campagnolo 160mm rotor has been fitted to the RaceMax. The brakes are superb, in both dry and wet conditions, and they’ve come in handy on several occasions.
On the paved trails surrounding Chicago, the 3T RaceMax is blazingly fast and can easily keep pace with dedicated road bikes. Of course, the surfaces are mostly flat which also level the playing field between a super fit runner and a laid back runner. The riding position is quite aggressive, but of course, the drop handlebars allow you to adjust your position. The ride can be firm on the pavement and the frame is stiff, so I highly recommend having a separate wheel / tire setup. Not only will the ride become more comfortable, but you’ll be even faster and lighter. I tried light wheels with 28c tires and the difference in speed and comfort was obvious. If you want a beefier riding feel, you can put on some 650 studs and you’ll get a different bike.
In the end, it all comes down to this: If you want to go fast on smoother surfaces, go for a 700c wheel. If you’re on rough terrain, the 650b will do the job better.
The EKAR’s gear casts are short and fairly smooth, but of course, being a mechanical setup, they’re solid and sounding loud. If you’re looking for quiet shifting, an electronic transmission might make more sense. On flat roads the gear ratio was enough not to skid, but on high speed descents the drivetrain limit only came into effect at around 30-35 mph. I also had a lot of gear on some of the gravel trails with steeper climbs, but if you, say, want to tackle the Alps, the limitations of the 1 × 13 setup will likely come into play.
“Off-road” is where the 3T RaceMax absolutely shines. Proper configuration of the gravel tires will allow you to go at high speeds while maintaining good grip, even in tight turns on gravel and mud surfaces. The lower PSI in the tires will help smooth out any bumps in the road, making the ride more comfortable. EKAR brakes offer excellent modulation, they are exceptional and they are also extremely smooth on dirt roads.
I also recommend trying different saddles, especially if you ride a variety of surfaces. The ones I found the most comfortable for me were the Specialized Power Pro Elaston with MIMIC and the Bontrager Aeolus Elite. They are shorter than other saddles, but wide enough to accommodate riders with a wider frame. I keep going back and forth between them, and they both do a good job on the road and on the gravel trails.
From a design standpoint, the 3T RaceMax is a beauty. In a sea of Giant, Canyon, Cannondale or Specialized bikes, the 3T offerings certainly stand out. It’s not only their unique aerodynamic design, but also the color choices. I was initially torn between an orange / gray or red / white color scheme, but ended up going with the latter which pays homage to the iconic 3T Strada road bike. If you’re looking to stand out, this color combination will put you on the map.
There are a lot more technical details to share about the bike, but I usually leave them out for professional cycling magazines. The 3T RaceMax is still a leisure bike for me, which perfectly matches my level of fitness and the different types of riding activities. It has also become a great addition to my road trips with BMW cars where I can now have fun on both two and four wheels.
There aren’t many similarities between cars and bikes, but it’s fair to say that the 3T RaceMax looks like the SUV of bikes. It’s a complete set that can get the job done all year round without too much compromise. It’s a great all-terrain machine for the trails, but also a fast, hassle-free road bike. Ultimately the 3T RaceMax is a super capable adventure bike and in my case it solves the “n + 1” conundrum.