Automakers around the world are looking for a way into the burgeoning electric bike market. Porsche bought up European bike builder Greyp to further its two-wheeled ambitions, Jeep partnered with American outfit QuietKat, and now BMW has a range of e-bikes built in partnership with carbon-fiber specialists 3T. BMW and the Italian company came together to create the Exploro Gravel, an all-singing, all-dancing electric bike that lets you ride faster and farther than you could have hoped.
BMW 3T Electric Gravel Bike | Jalopnik Reviews
Full Disclosure: 3T shipped an electric BMW Exploro Gravel bike from its factory in Italy to New York City for me to test on the streets and trails around the Big Apple. Here’s what happened.
What Is The BMW x 3T Exploro Gravel Bike?
I call this color “excellent.” Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood
Based on the outskirts of Bergamo in Italy, 3T has been building bikes since the 1960s. Its models have been raced on roads and gravel tracks all around the world and, in the past, it even collaborated with fellow Italians at Lamborghini to create some pretty swanky models. Now, it’s working with BMW for the pair’s second lineup of bikes, which includes electric and regular human-powered models.
The electric BMW x 3T Exploro Gravel bike that I’ve been riding is one of six models produced by the two companies, and it’s quite the machine. The bike is built around a sleek carbon fiber frame designed by 3T, which houses a 350-Wh battery. It uses the same frame as the regular people-powered model, without any extra girth being added to fit that battery, so the bike looks pretty slick.
As well as the battery, there’s a Mahle hub motor on the rear wheel and a small control panel in the bike’s top tube that gives away its hidden power. Across the Exploro Gravel you’ll also find the kind of specs you’d expect from a bike that costs more than a 2002 BMW Z3. For $7,999 you get 12-speed electronic shifting from Sram, hydraulic disc brakes, carbon-fiber handlebars, a carbon-fiber seatpost, and a set of aluminum 650b wheels wrapped in a pair of Vittoria Barzo gravel tires. The Exploro Gravel doesn’t come with pedals, so I had to go out and pick up a set of very Jalopnik orange flats from Raceface.
The meeting of minds. Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood
Out of the box, the Exploro Gravel needs very little assembly before you can head outside and hit the trails. The handlebars attaches to the aluminum stem with four screws, the front wheel threads onto the axel and the seatpost has to be installed. You don’t get any assembly tools in the box, but other than a couple of allen keys and a torque wrench, it’s all basic bits. With those tools in hand it takes about half an hour to build it up, then you just have to wait for the bike and its shifter to charge. When you’ve endured the four-hour wait to full power, the result is pretty great.
How Does The BMW x 3T Exploro Gravel Bike Ride?
Once you’re charged up the electricity can only be unleashed when you pedal, and the bike has three settings that change its maximum power and the motor’s response. The assistance ranges from “a nice little boost” to “wow, this is fast,” but the boost remains apparent even at its lowest setting. With the control panel set to green – purple is highest and orange is medium – the power is there as soon as you set off and gets up to speed quickly. There’s not any of the lurching sensation you get with some e-bikes; instead it just feels like you’re getting a bit more momentum out of the pedal strokes you’re making.
If you do want to lurch away from the line like Tadej Pogačar, you can connect the bike to the Mahle app on your smartphone, which gives you free reign to edit the motor map and control its maximum power and responsiveness. There are presets including Eco and City, as well as a freestyle setting that lets you set the bike up to your liking. In the app you can also record your rides, check your battery level and see the bike’s range, which I found to be about 70 miles per charge.
Green is too slow, purple is too fast, orange is just right. Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood
With power and response turned up to the max, the Exploro Gravel is really quick. On the smooth paths of Central Park, it breezes past serious cyclists with their lycra, energy gels and training regimes. A bike like this is about beyond just claiming the Central Park Local Legend status on Strava, however. Instead it finds itself more at home on the rough and rocky trails that you’ll hit when you head out of New York City.
Thanks to the 650b wheels up front, the bike has clearance to support a much chunkier tire like the pair of Vittoria Barzo 27.5” x 2.1” cross-country mountain bike tires on my review unit. With those installed there’s a bit more rolling resistance on the streets and pavements of the Big Apple, but when you hit rougher terrain they’re much appreciated. The greater volume means they do a good job at softening some of the bumps, and because they’re festooned with sticky, knobbly rubber they give you confidence when you’re zooming across looser ground, which is what a bike like this is all about.
Srem electric shifting is wonderful. Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood
To further aid control when you head to the rough stuff, the Exploro Gravel has a flared carbon-fiber handlebar at the front that, on the drops, stretches out to 58 centimeters wide and is just 42 cm on the tops. Those bars are wrapped in 3T’s own bar tape, which is super grippy and even comes with a neat little motivational quote to encourage you to go out for a ride.
At either end of those bars you’ll find the controls to the Sram groupset. It’s a full Rival Axs system, which includes hydraulic disc brakes with 160-millimeter rotors front and rear and wireless shifting that skips across a 10-to-44 cassette at the back. With a flick of the switches mounted behind each brake lever, the rear derailleur gives a little electric buzz and clunks up or down a gear. It’s smooth, seamless and makes shifting gears a joy.
The brakes are also great, at least once you’ve let them bed in a bit. The stopping power is sharp when you need to slam on the anchors, say if a pickup cuts into the bike lane, but they also come with plenty of control for those moments when you just need to kill your speed while descending down a sharp turn. They’re great, but at this price point anything less would be worrying.
Look here, no wires! Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood
And that’s the thing. When you’re dropping eight grand on a bike, should you be entitled to perfection? And, if you are, does the BMW x 3T Exploro Gravel come close?
So, Does BMW Know How To Make A Bike?
BMW and 3T have done a great job on this bike, and it really is lovely to ride. The way the power gets delivered is great, and it ensures that almost every ride still feels like an achievement when you roll into an overpriced coffee shop at journey’s end. On top of that, the shifting is a delight and its lightweight construction means that lugging it in and out of your apartment is easy. It also looks great and comes with a few upgrades that make the BMW-badged model stand out over 3T’s other electric offerings.
For a start, it comes with those 650b wheels versus the 700c wheels that you’ll get on 3T’s regular model, which gives you space for chunkier, more rugged tires to keep you stable and comfortable on the rough stuff. There’s also a battery bump on the BMW bike, giving it 350-Wh of power over the standard bike’s 236-Wh power pack. For a bike like this that’ll probably be put to use on long days in the saddle, that’s a big advantage for the BMW, but it comes with a $300 premium.
So while I’m still not really sure who a bike like this is for, I am sure that anyone lucky enough to find themselves riding one will be doing so with a very big, very speedy smile on their face.
Chunky tires and a chunky frame is a winning combination. Photo: Jalopnik / Owen Bellwood