One of the things I like most about our team is that it sure as heck ain’t boring. You’d think that our Exploros would be nearly identical, with the same groupsets, same wheels, same grey Natalie Merchant t-shirts. That’s just not the case. Our squad is home to a beautiful cornucopia of diverse, individualized bikes that suit our style. When I weasled my way into the team, I couldn’t wait to be just as unique as everybody else.
Just how different the our bikes are took a while to appreciate. When we were riding in Georgia, the lower level of the cabin became the de facto service course for the ten days we were there. It served that purpose mostly because we are all weak and too lazy to bring stuff upstairs. But it also was spacious enough to lean bikes against pool tables, walls, TVs and fireplaces, which made it the perfect spot to really appreciate what we had. Looking around, each and every bike had its own build and its own look, tailored to how each of us ride and the stuff we get excited about. And without further ado, let me tell you about my bike.
The whole one-bike-to-do-it-all has been a dream of mine for years. I’ve tried running one frame with two wheelsets on and off for a few years, ultimately deciding that the set-up didn’t do anything well enough and some things rather terribly. And those were really great bikes, too. They simply lacked the adaptability to truly tackle pavement, gravel, and trails. Last summer, I’d all but given up on running a single bike; I’d just grabbed a dedicated road bike and put 27.5+ wheels on my fat bike to cover more needs that a cyclocross bike just couldn’t. Then, 3T Q+M sent me a bike, some red and white pajamas, and hope.
One of my life-long goals has been to race the same bike at two local events, our weekly Tuesday Night Ride and Iceman Cometh Challenge. TNR is an all-out road race that consistently averages 24-26 miles per hour with as many as ninety riders during the height of summer. It’s all pavement, with two decents but high-speed climbs and a number of sprints, including one that’s usually a good 30-35mph. It’s one of the hardest things you can do all year, and we do it almost every week. The Iceman, you’ve probably heard of. It’s the biggest mountain bike race in North America. Depending on the year, it is 28 miles of mud, sand, two-track, and some singletrack. For one bike to do both, and do both well, is the ultimate challenge, and the Exploro is the only bike that I know of to have done it.
Because I’m asking a lot of my bike, I’ve stuck with as wide a gear ratio as I can and, admittedly, because I’m a bit of a traditionalist. Well, as much of a traditionalist as you can be on a ROCKET SHIP 3T that plugs in, blinks, and looks like stormtrooper armor. It’s set-up with a compact 50/34 crankset and 11-30 Shimano Dura Ace Di2 groupset. A lot of the guys have moved over to a single ring for their Exploros and Stradas, but I’ve noticed all of them are a bit stronger than me, and I love having very tight gear ratios for road riding. If I could push as much POWER as Al, Scotty or Sean, I’d give a single ring a shot! I do take a lot of precaution to make sure I don’t drop chains, including a K-Edge chain keeper and setting up the front derailleur as tight as I can to keep the chain from flopping off the outside.
With the drivetrain settled, the key to this bike’s versatility is the wheels. I’ve got three sets for three applications. We’re lucky to have access to 3T’s Discus 35 Team wheels, which I have set up with 28c Panaracer Gravel Kings and another with 35c Panaracer Gravel Kings SKs for muddy, loose grave races. I’ve also got a set of Discus Team 650s mounted with Schwalbe Thunder Burts in a 2.0” for all the mountain bike and trails races like Iceman Cometh. The three options cover pavement and mixed surface, gnarly gravel, and sandy, fast trails. That’s really everything we have in Michigan, and so far it’s really impressed me with how simple it is to change wheels and completely change what the bike is capable of.
With over 4,500 miles on the bike since last August, the biggest thing I can say about this bike is how seamlessly it rides regardless of the wheel size. When I first got it, I honestly thought it would ride like a bag of yams with the 650 wheels on it. I was almost afraid to put them on. When I finally did, I felt like an idiot for not just trying it immediately. The bike doesn’t suffer at all in handling or ride quality, and if I’m ever in doubt about how wide of a tire I need, I’m always quick to err on the side of wide because it really doesn’t do any harm to how the bike feels.
The rest of the bike is built out with 3T Aeronova bars, stem, post, and a Specialized Toupe because that’s what it came with and I’m not very picky. In the bike’s road dress, it weighs in at 18 pounds dead on, pedals included. That’s not too shabby for a bike that can turn into your gravel bike and mountain bike in about five minutes!