Cody’s One Year Exploro-versary

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3T Exploro Sovis Q+M
I’m coming up on exactly one full year on my 3T Exploro, so we’re taking a look at the numbers of 365 days of fun…and blown-out drive trains. 

What a long, strange road (and trail) it’s been. On August 14, 2017, Jay Bartholemew Ellis III wheeled up in his Honda Odyssey, pulled out two grocery bags full of kit and water bottles, and tossed a 3T Exploro into my driveway. After chasing his two punk kids back into the van, he left, ’cause he had stuff to do, most of which revolved around getting said punk kids to the Norte Bike Mas camp for the day.

Left to my own devices, the 3T quickly was shaped into a reflection of myself, sort of like how Lionel Richie’s girlfriend makes his giant Jerry-curled head out of clay in that one music video. Seat height raised, stem swapped out, road pedals installed, and the Exploro was really matching my season, Pedro.

Since then, it’s been one heckuva ride. The Exploro has been my main bike for training and racing, and with that, the miles have really racked up. It’s too nice a bike to put on the trainer, so its picked up 8,579 miles exclusively out-of-doors since last summer. Over the weeks and months, I’ve decided that my favorite set-up for the bikes is with 700c Discus wheels mounted with 28c Panaracer Gravel Kings, and the 2x Shimano Dura-Ace drivetrain that came with it. I’ve been able to put in some big road and gravel rides and this is the variation of a very adaptable bike that has been the most fun.

Having such a well-rounded bike means it’s gotten its fair share of miles. As cool as that is, it also meant plenty of replaced parts, especially on the drive train. Since then, I’ve gone through:

  • Six Shimano Ultegra chains
  • Four Shimano Ultegra 11-28 cassettes
  • Two Shimano Dura-Ace 11-30 cassettes
  • Two Schwalbe Pro One tires
  • Two Panaracer Gravel King SK 35s
  • Two Panaracer Gravel King 28s
  • Eight sets of brake pads
  • Two bells
  • Four Shimano brake rotors

I’m somewhat meticulous in tracking what parts I use and how many miles I get out of things like chains and cassettes. There were a few really brutal, wet days that totally rocked my stuff, including this year’s Arcadia Grit & Gravel, which saw us plowing through peanut butter mud for mile after mile. The sound of rubbing brakes pads and sand-coated chains was so loud we could hardly hear each other curse.

Mixed into those miles are some highlights and some lowlights. The highlight, for me, was Iceman last fall. With rain on and off all week leading into the race and showers forecasted for the afternoon Pro race, I was almost talked into leaving the drop bars at home and going with a mountain bike. I’d spend so much time on the Exploro and no time on the mountain bike, however, and I stuck with what I knew best and I was glad I did. Having 650b wheels with mountain bike tires was more than enough traction, even in the slickest, sloppiest mud sections, while being able to wind up a 50t chainring for the wide-open gravel roads and two-tracks was the perfect set-up, even if no one else was on drop bars.

The low point of the year was probably my race at Bear Claw Epic. The course was really rough in certain sections, enough that I was honestly cursing other riders with their fancy forks and shocks. The ride was bone-jarring, but that was tolerable; what really burned my beans was dropping my chain four times. Everyone told me to go to a one-by drivetrain, but I’ve liked my Di2 so much that I never seriously considered doing it until about halfway through the first lap on that day. I lost my chain twice on the first lap. The second time, it was caught in the ring and frame so tight that I had to put my whole body weight into getting it free, slicing my forearm in the process. I got rolling again but spent the next five minutes balancing a chase of the leader with my concern that I was going to bleed out.

After about forty-five minutes, I figured out that if I held front derailleur button down, it’d move just enough to pull the derailleur cage over and keep the chain on the ring during the fast, rough descents. This worked brilliantly until my battery died with about ten minutes to go.  Duh. If you push the button non-stop, that battery is going to go quick! Luckily, it was late enough in the race that I held onto second, but as I finished dusty, dehydrated, bloodied and frustrated, I was questioning my set-up in a big way.

The next day, I figured out what had happened. Because I’d waited too long to replace the chain, that baby was stretched to the max! I almost always replace at .5 on the chain checker, but this guy was well over .7. I also noticed that my derailleur cage must have been bumped, because it was a good two millimeters wider than how it was normally set-up. The lesson? Take care of your stuff, and when mechanicals happen, it’s almost always on you, not the bike.

That’s definitely a big part of what I’ve learned over the past 8,000 miles. The 3T Exploro can do it all, but that also means taking more care in replacing chains before they’re blown out, and making sure all of your cassettes wear somewhat evenly so there aren’t skipping or shifting issues. The workload others put into two or three other bikes is getting put onto one, so staying on top of it makes all the difference.

The next big number for the Exploro is going to be 10,000 miles, and the goal is to hit it by Labor Day. Now if I can just make this drivetrain last until then, I’ll be golden.