The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed our lives. But every cloud has a silver lining. And for many of us that meant a significant change in our daily habits. With potential months-long lockdowns and the inability to work, travel or staying active, one had to adapt. In my case, it meant spending little or no time in test cars, forgoing the weekly soccer or tennis matches, and certainly looking at new ways to stay healthy and active. This is why I’ve developed a renewed passion for cycling. It has been more than a decade since I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on a bicycle, and many things have changed since.

Mountain Bikes and road bikes are still around, but new categories like city, gravel or e-bikes have popped up. So living in a major city, I was keen on finding a bicycle that can be my Swiss Army Knife. Around the same time, a BMW press released popped-up on my phone announcing the launch of a pro bike in collaboration with Italian bikemaker 3T. In the cycling world, the 3T name carries a lot of weight, but while I was familiar with their Strada road bikes, I wasn’t up to speed with their new line of gravel bikes – Exploro.

The 3T for BMW Exploro is touted as one of the fastest and most aerodynamic gravel bikes on the market, and built with the world’s lightest aero carbon crank – the 300g 3T Torno. The new bike is made after the already popular Exploro all-road bike which has been in production over at 3T for quite some time now. Needless to say, I was sold on trying this new gravel bike.

But a quick call to 3T CEO René Wiertz and to BMW brought change in my plans. It will be weeks or even months before the 3T for BMW will reach U.S. soil, so a ride test in the foreseeable future was out of the question. But 3T came up with a solution: how about I ride the 3T Exploro PRO GRX, a cousin of the higher-end 3T for BMW bike?

There are plenty of similarities between the two bikes. Both use an aerodynamic carbon frame, a Shimano GRX 1×11 drivetrain with an 11-42T cassette, hydraulic disc brakes, racing wheels, and much more. So while I loved the paint job and few other bits on the 3T BMW bike, I was satisfied with my choice. In the end, all I wanted was a versatile and high-quality bike that will be by my side for many years to come. And I simply just wanted to get out of the house for a bit and just ride.

Meet the Exploro PRO GRX

Fast forward to a few days later and 3T was able to deliver the PRO GRX model from their U.S. fulfillment center. The moment I opened the box, I instantly fell in love with its frame design and the eye-catchy blue-grey paint job. That dual-tone color gives the bike different appearances under different lighting conditions. It’s that type of bike that will get you compliments even from your local bike shop.

Of course, that’s just the vanity in me speaking since I was certainly more mesmerized by the aero frame and carbon fiber construction. 3T calls the Exploro lineup their world’s first aero gravel bikes and that philosophy can be seen in the frame design. The geometry is geared towards fast riding with a fairly short reach, so that makes leaning on the dropbars a bit easier.

Speaking of bars, the gorgeous 3T Superergo PRO handlebar comes standard with a 110mm stem which can also be swapped out in case you want to shorten or extend the reach. I’m quite tall at 1.89 meters (6″3), but I found the ride to be fairly comfortable when riding in a drop position. If I were to ride a century, then I might consider a shorter stem so that my back and shoulders will love me.

I also get quite excited when I read about aero efficiency, something that I often talk about in reference to cars. But 3T is also about aero, so they spend a lot of time in aero tunnels to improve their frames and bikes. From the frame to the fork and aero seatpost, everything was optimized to help you ride faster and effortless. Even the down tube is wide enough to properly manage the airflow coming from the front tire.

Granted, the Exploro PRO GRX is not the lightest gravel bike in the world, but a size XL weighs around 21 lbs, which is still lighter than some of my previous road bikes. And definitely lighter than most bikes today. If you’re nuts about weight savings, there are plenty of parts that can be replaced to save a few ounces here and there.

The Reliable Shimano Bike Tech

Most of the gravel bike world is moving towards a 1x gear setup, and 3T has played a big role in the adoption of those. The 1x gearing is paired with the Shimano GRX 40T chainring and the Shimano 11-42T cassette. If you’re not a pro cyclist, let me simplify this for you. There is enough range in this setup that will allow you to conquer most riding situations, from steep hills to fast roads and small gravel, you will rarely feel that you need more from your bike. Unless you’re a pro cyclist looking to set some new records.

I’ve had the chance to ride the Exploro on different surfaces and in different scenarios. From a commute and recreational setting, to gravel road, trails and smooth tarmac, the Exploro GRX PRO has managed all of them. Even inside the city, the 3T bike is quite easy to handle and the shifting is extremely smooth. The Exploro Pro GRX has the GRX RX600s with the right-hand lever handling both braking and shifting.

The ride quality can be adjusted from within the tires PSI, so if you’re looking for more comfort, just drop the air pressure a bit. Wanna go faster and keep up with your cycling buddies? Raise that PSI in the 700x37mm tires.

One thing that I love about this gravel bike is the ability to go lower on the tire size, for faster rides (with some aero carbon wheels if you’d like), or increase the width to 40 mm for some heavy gravel roads. It’s certainly cheaper to own two set of tires, than two bikes. You can also add 650b wheels with MTB tires if you’re ready for more adventures.

The gear and the brake cables are routed internally which give the 3T bike a clean and sleek look. Either being the lower end Exploros or the top 3T BMW bike, they all have internal cables.

But the engineering doesn’t stop here. The rear derailleur comes with a clutch mechanism which will keep the tension in the chain to prevent chain drops. There is also a hang loose hanger which screws into the rear axle after installing the wheel. It can be a little challenging to put it back after you remove the wheel, but 3T seem to have fixed this with their new Exploro RACE and MAX lineups which feature a standard bike hanger. Luckily, I only had to remove the wheel twice, but the whole process wasn’t too difficult once you get the hang of it. Pun intended.

A Bike It’s More Than Just Tech

I certainly get excited about geeky and techy things, and I could sit here forever and list some of the cool stuff on this Exploro. But in the end, it’s not the tech that helps me navigate these difficult times. Instead, the bike has opened up new neighborhoods for me to explore, and certainly, bike paths that I never knew existed in Chicago. At the same time, the cycling community is extraordinary, in the sense of comradery among its members.  And this is where you can draw a parallel to cars: we still love to hang out with others and show off our things.

The health benefit is obvious, but compared to running or workout regimens, biking is far more enjoyable. At least in my case. Soon after I got back on the saddle, I started to have this weekly schedule where I would take my Exploro out, even if it was for a short ride. And that short ride soon turned into 20, 30 or even 50 miles at a time. It wasn’t the miles that got me excited about riding, but rather the idea of having fun while staying active and healthy.

Naturally, the Exploro PRO GRX is a looker and I soon found myself being stopped by people to ask me about the bike. I can only imagine the reaction drawn by the 3T BMW bike and its beautiful paintjob.

Chicago is not necessarily a bike-friendly city, but it’s getting there. So it’s quite normal for most people to ride their bikes on the Lakefront – which is absolutely gorgeous in the summer – or on the many long bike paths around the city. And it’s the bike and gravel paths that made me appreciate the Exploro PRO GRX even more. The tire and wheel combination is perfect for most gravel situations, even when it’s muddy. There is plenty of grip coming from those 37 mm tires (you can always add more millimeters if needed), while the hydraulic disc brakes are something I won’t be able to live without.

It’s fair to say that the Exploro gravel bike will open up a lot more cycling roads for you compared to a normal road bike. But don’t be fooled by its larger tires, this GRX can still get you in the 30 mph range in no time.

I haven’t done any hardcore gravel or light mountain biking, but a quick glance on the Instagram will reveal some serious cyclists who are not afraid to take their Exploros everywhere. So I was not surprised when 3T recently announced a new line of bikes – RACE and MAX – which offers even more tire clearance and opens up new possibilities for riding.

As a friend of mine said, next are triathlon races. It’s a far fetched idea, but the Exploro PRO GRX could certainly handle that with a few modifications.

The Perfect Companion To My BMW Car

A bike won’t fully replace my car (not that it should). At least for now. But it is certainly the best companion for my BMW i3. I can just throw in the bike in the back of my electric car (with the seats folded), drive to a trail and lose myself in the scenery around me. During these last few months, the 3T Exploro PRO GRX was not only fun to ride during long stretches of time, but it was also the perfect commuter to the nearest store. Hop on the bike, helmet on, and effortlessly off you go. While it’s great as a bike, the Exploro is much more for me now: it’s a new way to explore the world around me while embracing and accepting this “new normal” around me.

In the end, the 3T Exploro is a thrilling bike, with great engineering and fantastic looks. And the best part is that any of the Exploro models should do the job for you, but if you have the budget, splurge a bit more for that beautiful 3T for BMW bike.