The Takeaway: The 3T Exploro RaceMax blurs lines and defies categorization.

  • An aero road race bike with huge tire clearance
  • Fits up to 700x40 or 650x61 tires
  • Three bottle mounts, fender mounts, and bento-box mount

Price: $5,799 (as tested)
Weight: 19.3 lb. (size 54)

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Five Cool Details
3t exploro racemax
Aero and Clearance

The RaceMax has a seat tube cutout like a aero-road bike, but fits tires up to 61mm.

Matt Phillips
3t exploro racemax
Direct Mount 160

The RaceMax fits 160mm rotors without an adapter.

Matt Phillips
3t exploro racemax
In They Go

Hoses, housing, and wires enter the frame behind the headtube.

Matt Phillips
3t exploro racemax
Throwing Shapes

The Aeroghiaia bar has flared drops but still puts the hoods in a normal, not canted, position.

Matt Phillips
3t exploro racemax
Wide Range

Thanks to the SRAM cassette with a 36t large cog.

Matt Phillips

With few exceptions, trying to make a product that does two different things well often results in a product that’s “meh” at both. 3T’s new Exploro RaceMax is as close to an exception to that rule as we’ve ridden.

The bike is an evolution of 3T’s original Exploro. That was (and is—it remains in 3T’s line as a lower-cost option) touted as the first aero gravel bike—essentially an aero road bike with gravel tire clearance.

The RaceMax is everything the original Exploro is, but more. While the Exploro fit up to 700x40 or 650x54 tires, the RaceMax fits up to 700x42 or 650x61. It maintains the road bike-like handling and rider position, yet it’s more aerodynamic than the original Exploro even though it fits bigger tires.

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Like the OG Exploro, the company’s Strada aero road bike, and Open’s U.P.P.E.R. and WI.DE., Gerard Vroomen, one of the founders of Cervelo, designed the RaceMax. That’s an impressive resume, and makes Vroomen one of the most creative and influential bike designers working today.


No, it’s not some forgotten 80s band. WAM and RAM are methods of measuring inflated tires. WAM stands for Width As Measured, and RAM stands for Radius As Measured.

wam and ram measurement
How RAM and WAM are measured.

“As Measured” is necessary because you can’t count on a tire’s marked width to be its actual width when inflated on a rim. And even if the marked width is accurate when measured on one rim, the tire will be a different width on a wider or narrower rim. So too can a tire’s radius change depending on the width of the rim it’s mounted on.

So 3T rounded up a bunch of tires, mounted them on a bunch of rims of different widths, and did a lot of measuring to determine the tires’ actual width and radius when mounted and inflated.

Knowing the actual widths and radii of tires he wanted the RaceMax to be compatible with, Vroomen could shape the rear-wheel cutout and make the gap between the tire and downtube as small as possible—which improves aerodynamics—and still be confident there was adequate clearance for the largest, as measured, options.

how ram and wam change with rim width
How RAM and WAM change with rim width.

That leads to an important note about the RaceMax’s tire clearance. It’s up to 42mm WAM in 700 and 61mm WAM in 650b. Remember those are WAMs, not a tire’s marked size. There’s also a suggested RAM range—347 to 353mm—for optimal aerodynamics. 3T keeps a page on its website with recommended tires based on the tires’ WAM and RAM on different rim widths, as well as the tires’ performance and durability.


Keeping the rear tire tucked in a cutout, and the front tire as close to downtube as possible are two of the RaceMax’s aero optimizations. But there are others.

The most notable is the bike’s downtube. It’s a truncated airfoil shape that stretches from 46mm wide up at the headtube to 75mm wide in the waterbottle zone. The narrower section “takes up the airflow,” from the front tire, says Vroomen, while the wider section shields the water bottles. The depth of the downtube is reduced on smaller sizes to prevent an overly harsh ride, he says.

When it comes to headtubes, narrower is almost always faster. Even though the RaceMax’s fork has a 1.125- to 1.5-inch tapered steerer, the frame’s headtube has a slimmer profile—as though the fork’s steerer had a 1.25-inch, not 1.5 inch, lower diameter. This is possible due to the custom lower headtube bearing provided by Cane Creek.

3t exploro racemax
The massive downtube shields water bottles from the wind.
Matt Phillips

Other aero details include the fork legs, seatpost, dropped seat stays, and the hose/housing/wire port tucked behind the stem. There’s further aero optimization to be had by running a 1x drivetrain and removing the front derailleur mount.

Vroomen claims the RaceMax is more aerodynamic than the original Exploro, but he’s not saying how much, at least not yet. “Unfortunately our wind tunnel testing in San Diego in March got canceled due to COVID,” he said. “Bottom line, we know enough to know there is a significant improvement, but the numbers will have to wait another month or two.”

Wide Wheels

Accompanying the rollout of the RaceMax frame is 3T’s new Discus 45-40 wheelset. Quick aero wheelset primer: the best aerodynamics happen when the rim is as wide—or slightly wider—as the tire. As most aero wheelsets are designed around 23-25mm road racing tires, their aerodynamic properties are largely lost when they’re wrapped with a fat gravel tire.

3T’s new wheelset is 45mm deep and a whopping 40mm (external width, 29mm internal) wide, so the aerodynamics “work” when wrapped in 35mm+ tires. That 40mm is wider than many mountain bike rims and at least 10mm wider than a road rim.

Due to COVID-related issues, 3T couldn’t send those wheels with my review bike. However, as soon as they’re available, 3T will ship them over, and I’ll provide weights and ride impressions in the future. The claimed weight is 1,665 grams, and they’re priced at $2,400 a set.


The RaceMax’s geometry numbers don’t look much different from those of a road bike. That’s intentional—even though it can fit wide knobby tires, Vroomen wanted this bike to fit and handle like a road bike.

the racemax's geometry numbers
The RaceMax’s geometry numbers.

And it has tidy 415mm chainstays and fairly aggressive steering geometry. My 54cm RaceMax has about 63mm trail (the 56cm has 57mm trail). Now, 63mm isn’t crit-quick, but it isn’t slow either. For comparison, a similarly sized Canyon Grail CF has 75mm trail with a 700x35mm tire, and a 53cm Pinarello Dogma F12 has 62mm trail (with a 25mm tire).

Trail changes with tire diameter. However, when run with tires in 3T’s recommended 347 to 353mm RAM, there’s only a 2mm swing in trail, says Vroomen. As long as you stick to tires that keep you in the recommended RAM range, the RaceMax’s steering feel should be consistent whether you’re running narrower 700c slicks or wider 650b knobbies.

No doubt the slam-your-stem crowd will scream, but the RaceMax’s stack is taller than the original Exploro—the 54 is up to 564mm from 546mm. And the 56 is now 584mm up from 575mm. This change is based on an analysis of over 5,000 bike fits, said Vroomen. Standover height is unaffected. Reach is a bit on the short side relative to a road-racing bike; the 54 RaceMax’s is 377mm, while a 54 Specialized Tarmac’s reach is 384mm. A 56 RaceMax has 385mm reach, and the 56 Tarmac comes in at 395mm.

3t exploro racemax
The RaceMax is tuned for long gravel races.
Matt Phillips

Taken together, this 3T’s reach and stack numbers read more like an endurance bike than a road race bike. Considering the RaceMax is built, in part, for use in epic race events like the Dirty Kanza 200 and the 300-kilometer Jeroboam (and riding on loose surfaces and trails), a slightly shorter and more upright position is appropriate.

The RaceMax’s seatpost is zero offset (there’s no setback option). However, according to Vroomen, when measured in a frame’s typical saddle height range, the effective seat tube angle works out to about that of a traditional frame design with set-back post.

The RaceMax comes in six size options —the original Exploro, four—which covers a bigger rider height range and also makes the steps between sizes smaller.

Other Details

Big stuff aside, the RaceMax has a few other notable specs.

A painted size 54cm frame has a claimed frame weight of 1,100 grams, the fork comes in at 470 grams, and the seatpost 162 grams.

3t exploro racemax
A very low profile crown.
Matt Phillips

The RaceMax’s fork has a 370mm axle-to-crown length, same as most road forks—gravel forks are typically much longer (Enve’s has a 395mm axle-to-crown dimension). This fork packages gravel tire clearance in road fork dimensions because of its very thin crown, and the shorter length results in a lighter, stiffer fork.

The bike has well-hidden mounts for RaceMax-specific mud guards. They should be available from 3T in about 10 weeks, says Vroomen. There’s also a mount under the downtube to carry another water bottle or cargo, and a bento box mount on the top tube.

The RaceMax shares its seatpost shape with the original Exploro, but the new bike has a Ritchey saddle clamp. This is a major upgrade as the Ritchey clamp is both easier to adjust and has more adjustment range than the original Exploro’s post. This post is backwards compatible to the original Exploro if owners want to upgrade.

3t exploro racemax
The Ritchey saddle clamp is simple and has a wide adjustment range.
Matt Phillips

Gone is the original Exploro’s “Hang Loose” rear derailleur hanger, which is held in place only by the rear axle. The claim is this design makes it easier to reinstall the rear wheel (“Forget the derailleur, focus on the disc, put the wheel in, slide thru the axle and hang the derailleur back with the wheel already securely in place,” it says on the original Exploro’s webpage) but it never seemed easier in the real world. The RaceMax has a traditional secured hanger offered in the standard dimensions, and an extended version for direct-mounting Shimano’s Shadow rear derailleurs.

RaceMax uses flat-mount brake calipers, and they’re positioned for 160mm rotors—no adapters necessary. That means cleaner lines and fewer parts, but it also means the frame isn’t compatible with lighter 140mm rotors: Considering this bikes intended use, I don’t think that’s a problem.

Down at the BB, the RaceMax employs BB386EVO. All complete bikes use thread-together bottom-bracket units.


The Exploro RaceMax’s complete options are divided by wheel and tire size. Exploro Race models roll on 700c wheels and narrower tires. Exploro Max models roll on 650b wheels and wider tires. This aligns with how Vroomen breaks down the RaceMax’s potential rider groups. The Race group cares mostly about speed, while the Max group wants the extra traction and floatation of a wider knobbier tire and the capability those tires provide.

There are three Max builds: Shimano GRX 1x ($4,199, GRX 2x ($4,399), and SRAM Eagle AXS 1x ($5,899).

the exploro max force eagle with carbon wheels
The Exploro Max Force Eagle with carbon wheels.

Race builds come in four options Shimano GRX 1x ($4,199), GRX 2x ($4,399), SRAM Force AXS 2x ($5,899), and SRAM Force AXS 1x with 3T’s Torno carbon crank ($6,399).

All Race and Max builds come with aluminum wheels, which can be upgraded to a 3T carbon wheelset for an additional $1,400. You’ll notice a SRAM 11-36 cassette on the Shimano GRX 2x builds. Shimano’s 2x cassettes top out at 11-34, so the 11-36 SRAM cassette provides a bit more range. Vroomen also prefers the cog progresssion of the SRAM cassette to Shimano’s.

The RaceMax frameset sells for $3,199.

Ride Impressions

I received my Exploro test bike a bit more than a week ago. So far, I’ve had the opportunity to venture out on a couple of gravel rides, and one road ride where with a set of 32mm road slicks on Enve AR3.4 wheels (349mm RAM, so they’re in the suggested range). These are first impressions, which I will expand on when I get more time—and more wheelsets and tires—on the bike.

There are many interpretations of the gravel bike. The RaceMax is a gravel bike, but so too is Salsa’s Warbird, Open’s WI.DE., the Salsa Cutthroat, and Niner’s MCR.

I bring this up because the RaceMax will not be everyone’s vision of a gravel bike. It’s quicker handling and does not supply a placid feel on steep and loose singletrack, it doesn’t have a zillion cargo mounts, or rack mounts, or dynamo routing. The geometry isn’t suspension fork adjusted, and it’s not dropper post compatible. It’s pretty stiff and rides firmly, relying on its tires for much of its comfort (instead of bendy-frame magic).

3t exploro racemax
The RaceMax is just plain fast.
Matt Phillips

But that’s okay, because there are other options for riders who want a cargo-haulin’, dropper-post-compatible, super-compliant gravel bike. The RaceMax succeeds by being true to itself—fast, sharp, and lively on pretty much any surface. It’s essentially an aero road bike that can fit huge knobby tires.

Is it as good of a road bike as a Specialized Tarmac and as good of a gravel bike as a Salsa Warbird? In most ways, no. But it’s a far better gravel bike than the Tarmac, and a far better road bike than the Warbird. If you ride on pavement and also like riding off pavement, if you like fast bikes, and if you only have room for one drop bar bike—or just want to keep things simple—the 3T is that one bike. It’s just plain fast everywhere, plus lively and enjoyable to ride no matter what surface it’s on.

As I tested it, the 700c Race build was like a rocket. Even at a bit over 19 pounds—GRX 2x build with 3T’s Discus C45 LTD carbon wheels and Pirelli Cinturato Gravel H 35 tires—it sailed up gravel road climbs. The frame is very stiff and reactive: It feels much quicker than its weight would suggest, and on flatter roads it glides along at speed with ease. Its handling is sharp and precise, the bike reacting to little shifts and flicks like a road model. It’s not as stable-feeling as the new Specialized Diverge, but the RaceMax is livelier and more rewarding to ride on the road.

3t exploro racemax
No room for a Stages power meter here.
Matt Phillips

On the dirt, it essentially feels like a modern high performance road bike but with a lot more grip and float. My suspicion is the RaceMax becomes more planted and subdued with heavier and knobbier tires, but I’ll need to confirm that through testing.

On the pavement with the Enve wheels and Conti slicks, the 3T is just as crisp, lively, and quick-feeling as it is on dirt. Or maybe it’s as crisp, lively, and quick-feeling on dirt as it is on pavement. Either way, on the road it doesn’t feel or ride like a bike that can fit 61mm knobbies. I almost forgot I was riding a gravel bike. But not completely.

The 3T doesn’t have the same quickness and fire as a great road race bike. It’s a touch heavy, the wheelbase is longer (3T 1,007mm, my road bike 983mm) than my road bike, and, even with the stem slammed, the RaceMax’s position is more upright my road bike’s. On the road, the RaceMax handles very well (especially at higher speeds), and the steering is light and precise, but it doesn’t have the same quickness or fluidity as a pavement-optimized race bike.

Still, on the road, the RaceMax’s performance is impressively close to that of a road-race bike. Close enough that I wouldn’t have any qualms using the 3T for Wednesday Night Worlds, century rides, or gran fondos. I also think it’s fast and lively enough that it’s more than adequate for road-only use, especially if the rider is coming off an older bike.

3t exploro racemax
Dropped chainstays improve clearance.
Matt Phillips

The Exploro RaceMax’s ride is firm—I didn’t find it to be a floaty or compliant bike. That said, it’s much more compliant than the original Exploro—a bike on my “Ass Hatchet” list—and it’s far from punishing. But its comfort over bumps is about what you’d expect from an aero race bike.

A couple more notes from my time so far:

  • There’s no room for a Stages or other pod-style power meter—if you want power, you’ll need to use power pedals, crank axle, or spider power meter.
  • Compared to most bikes with a bento box mount, the 3T’s sits further back. This is due to the hose/housing/wire input port, and it does shift an attached bag partially into the main standover zone.
  • 3T’s Aeroghaia bar is shaped to put the hoods in a traditional upright position—not canted inward like they are on many gravel bars—but still provides a 79mm wider position in the drops. Drop is only 110mm, 10mm, or more, less than many bars. This means a smaller change in position from the hoods to the drops.

In the wrong hands, trying to create an aero bike with road-bike-like quickness and handling that also fits massive tires would result in a disaster. The Exploro RaceMax, however, is further proof that Gerard Vroomen is the most gifted bike designer working today.

The RaceMax won't be every roadie’s favorite road bike, or every gravel rider’s perfect gravel bike. But it is a great road bike and a great gravel bike in one. It’s quick, it’s lively, and it’s entertaining no matter the surface under its wheels.

Exploro RACE GRX 2X, $4,399

Exploro RACE GRX 2X, $4,399

Exploro RACE GRX 2X, $4,399

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  • Fast on the road, fast on gravel
    Headshot of Matt Phillips
    Matt Phillips
    Senior Test Editor, Bicycling

    A gear editor for his entire career, Matt’s journey to becoming a leading cycling tech journalist started in 1995, and he’s been at it ever since; likely riding more cycling equipment than anyone on the planet along the way. Previous to his time with Bicycling, Matt worked in bike shops as a service manager, mechanic, and sales person. Based in Durango, Colorado, he enjoys riding and testing any and all kinds of bikes, so you’re just as likely to see him on a road bike dressed in Lycra at a Tuesday night worlds ride as you are to find him dressed in a full face helmet and pads riding a bike park on an enduro bike. He doesn’t race often, but he’s game for anything; having entered road races, criteriums, trials competitions, dual slalom, downhill races, enduros, stage races, short track, time trials, and gran fondos. Next up on his to-do list: a multi day bikepacking trip, and an e-bike race.