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 outdoor world. And also because traditional bike makers were aiming to design the one bike to rule them all. Among them, we have the Italian bike market 3T Bike. The name might sound familiar to BMW fans since in 2020, they unveiled their first collaboration with the Bavarian brand. The 3T for BMW Exploro was touted as one of the fastest and most aerodynamic gravel bikes on the market. We had the chance to test its sister-bike – The Exploro PRO – back in 2020 and came back impressed.
Meet The 3T RaceMax
Fast forward to 2021 and a new bike joined my stable – the 3T Exploro RaceMax. The Italian bike market describes the RaceMax as a bike that “looks like a road bike, rides like a road bike and rips through gravel.” If you’ve been around bikes long enough, you might have heard the term “n+1”. 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 make it easier on your wallet, but also to offer a versatile bike without any compromises.
Some of you might be wondering why a bicycle review on an automotive website. And that would be fair question. But as we learned last year, the bike is often your last mile transportation. The pandemic brought a lot of indoor restrictions and, especially, severe restrictions in the transportation world. So some of us have started to look at transportation alternatives and at different ways to entertain ourselves. And nothing beats owning and riding a bike. It is not only extremely fun – and fast at times – but it’s also a great way to achieve that daily or weekly cardio goals.
Many of my recent road trips married up a BMW car and the 3T RaceMax. The idea was that the end of a long car road trip, I could hop on the gravel bike and explore that destination from behind a handlebar. And on an occasion or two, even race in some amateur competitions through some challenging terrains and landscapes. Of course, most of the time, the 3T RaceMax was our daily chariot as well.
Built For Aero
From grocery runs to visiting friends on the other side of the city, and even for longer commutes, the RaceMax can also easily fill the role of a comfortable, yet fast cruiser with bursts of speed when needed. Think of it as a daily driver sportscar. It can effortlessly handle the track, yet we use them more in our daily routine. Naturally, this might not be the best use case for the RaceMax, but it proves its versatility.
The bike is an evolution of 3T’s original Exploro, but it can now fit 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 smartly handles the airflow. The headtube has a slim profile which furthers improves the aero’s qualities of the RaceMax. For bike connoisseur, there is also a multi-shape fork and aero details from seatstay to seatpost and from the shielded water bottle to the direct-attachment brake mounts. In a nutshell, this bike was built for speed, but without sacrificing on versatility.
The weight of the RaceMax varies based on the drivetrain used and, of course, the wheels and tire setup. In my case, the 3T RaceMax comes with the 1×13 Campagnolo EKAR drivetrain and the standard Fulcrum Rapid Red 900, 700c wheels wrapped in the Panaracer Graveling SK+ 38 tires. That setup brings the bike’s weight to around 19.5 lbs (8.8 kilograms). It is certainly not as light as some road bikes but within the usual range of fast gravel bikes.
1×13 Campagnolo Drivetrain
Speaking of the drivetrain, this 3T RaceMax comes with a 1×13 gear setup, a first in the Campagnolo family of drivetrains. Most riders in my group are still mesmerized by the 2X setups which in many cases allow for wider gear ratios. But in my case, the 1×13 EKAR covers most of ride situations. The dedicated 1x mechanical-shift drivetrain is paired with a 9-42T 13-speed cassette. My previous Exploro PRO was using a Shimano 1×11 GRX setup with 11-42 cassette, so a total range of 382 percent. In comparison, the EKAR 1×13 has a range of 467 percent.
Now if I were to compare it to a Shimano 2×11 GRX, the total range is quite similar: 467 vs. 479 percent. Therefore, you’re getting a similar gear range but without the complexity of a 2x setup. If you’re not into fixing or maintaining your own bikes, then you will appreciate the simplicity of the EKAR drivetrain. Of course, if most of your rides take you through high elevations, then the additional gear range of an SRAM Force Wide 3x will come in handy.
For a bike this fast, braking is equally important, so a set of Campagnolo EKAR hydraulic disc with a 160mm Campagnolo rotor was fitted to the RaceMax. The brakes are superb, in both dry and wet situations, and they came in handy quite a few times.
On the paved trails surrounding Chicago, the 3T RaceMax is extremely fast, and can easily keep up with dedicated road bikes. Of course, the surfaces are mostly flat which also even out the playfield between a super fit rider and a casual one. The riding position is quite aggressive, but of course, the drop handlebars allow you to adjust your position. The ride can be firm on pavement and the frame feels stiff, so I highly recommend having a separate wheel/tire setup. Not only the ride gets more comfortable, but you’ll be even faster and lighter. I’ve tried some light wheels with 28c tires and the difference in speed and comfort was obvious. If you want a beefier ride feel, you can throw on some 650 knobbies and you’ll get a different bike.
It really comes down to this in the end: If you want to go fast on smoother surfaces, opt for a 700c wheel. If you’re on challenging terrain, the 650b will do the job better.
The EKAR’s gear throws are short and fairly smooth, but of course, being a mechanical setup, they feel solid and sound loud. If you’re looking for quiet gear shifting, then an electronic drivetrain might make more sense. On flat roads, the gear ration was sufficient to not spin out, but on high-speed descents, the drivetrain’s limit didn’t kick in until around 30-35 mph. I also had plenty of gears on some of the gravel trails with steeper climbs, but if you, let’s say, would like the attack the Alps, the limits of the 1×13 setup will likely come into play.
“Off-road” is where the 3T RaceMax absolutely shines. A proper gravel tire setup will allow you to travel at high speeds while maintaining a good grip, even under heavy cornering on gravel and muddy surfaces. The lower PSI in the tires will help smoothen out the bumps in the road, making for a more comfortable ride. The EKAR brakes offer great modulation is exceptional and they are extremely smooth on dirt roads as well.
I also recommend trying out different saddles, especially if you ride on a variety of surfaces. The ones I found to be most comfortable for me were the Specialized Power Pro Elaston with MIMIC and the Bontrager Aeolus Elite. They are shorter in length than other saddles, but wide enough to accommodate larger frame riders. I keep going back and forth between them, and they both do the job well on the road and on gravel trails.
Design wise, 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 just their unique aero design, but also the color choices. Initially I was torn between an orange/grey or red/white color scheme, but I ended up going for the latter which pays tribute to the iconic 3T Strada road bike. If you’re looking to stand out, that color combo will put you on the map.
There are a lot more technical details to share about the bike, but I usually leave those off for pro bike magazines. The 3T RaceMax is still more of a hobby bike for me, one that perfectly matches my fitness level and the different type of riding activities. It has also become a great addition to my road trips with BMW cars where now I can 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 feels like the SUV of bikes. It’s a total package that can do the job all-year round without many compromises. It’s a great off-road machine for the trails, but also a no-fuss, fast road bike. In the end, the 3T RaceMax is a super capable adventure bicycle and in my case, it solves the “n+1” riddle.