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3T Strada – first ride review

Designed for 28mm tyres and a 1x drivetrain, the 3T Strada is an aero road bike unlike any other

With the launch of the Strada, Italian brand 3T claims to have achieved nothing less than the reinvention of the aero road bike. It’s designed for wider 28mm tyres in order to deliver both comfort and speed, it’s only available with disc brakes and – most controversially – the front mech has been ditched for a single-ring drivetrain more commonly seen off-road.

3T may be best known for its components and wheels but the Italian firm has developed a reputation for trend-setting bikes since the launch of the Exploro gravel bike last year. The aero Strada looks the ideal foil to the Exploro’s adventurous DNA, then, but how does it ride? We hot-footed it to Italy to take a closer look at the 3T Strada and for a first ride in the mountains surrounding Piedmont.

We also spoke with 3T’s Gerard Vroomen, the founder of Cervelo, about the Strada. He told us: “The bike is meant for everything. I know that sounds stupid but the combination of aero and comfort means it is as good for the Tour as it is for a sportive. And that agile and stable handling is also appreciated on any course, in my opinion. The perfect Strada rider is one who wants to push the envelope but that doesn’t really distinguish in performance level. Several people in the pro peloton contacted us after the launch but I also still consider it a great bike for myself, and I am decidedly not pro. But even if I am slow, I want to go as fast as I can go within my abilities.”

The Strada is Italian firm 3T’s second bike and it’s a forward-thinking aero machine with wide tyres and a 1x drivetrain

Forward-thinking

Unburdened by the need to supply a pro team, going disc-only makes sense and 3T says it enables the Strada to be optimised in key areas such as the fork crown. The tyre width is also an easy choice to understand. Bigger tyres can reduce rolling resistance and significantly increase comfort, far more so than is easily achievable with the carbon fibre layup. The downsides are weight and aero drag, the latter of which 3T says it has addressed by shaping the Strada to suit; the curved seattube, for instance, perfectly matches the width of the rear tyre and hugs it closely.

The 3T Discus C60 LTD wheels are not designed for such big tyres, though, at 25mm wide, so the 28mm Continental GP 4000 S IIs inflate into an un-aero ‘light bulb’ shape. So far, the Enve 4.5ARs are the only wheelset shaped to integrate aerodynamically with such big tyres. Nor are the 3T C60s tubeless. The Strada would appear to be a perfect application of tubeless technology, with the purported speed and comfort-boosting benefits, but 3T wheels are not yet compatible (and you’d also need to choose a tubeless tyre, given Continental don’t yet make one for the road). “We think tubeless will eventually take over,” said Vroomen. “It will just take a bit more time to get the kinks worked out.”

The Strada is designed for 28mm tyres but clearance is extremely tight

The single-ring setup is much more challenging to traditional roadies. 3T calls it a ‘paradigm shift’ and says, first of all, it makes the bike more aero because a front mech and inner ring sit directly in the wind, while there is also a weight saving and simplicity benefit. As an interesting sidetrack, Tony Martin rode a single-ring setup during the opening time trial of this year’s Tour de France.

3T says the single-ring setup makes the bike more aero because a front mech and inner ring sit directly in the wind

3T says a 2×11 drivetrain gives you 14 effective gears (removing overlaps), so even with that best-case spin there’s a loss of three gears when you remove one of the chainrings. A broad range is preserved thanks to the Shimano XTR mountain bike 11-40t cassette and our medium test bike also had a 44-tooth chainring fitted (SRAM offer single rings in two-tooth steps from 38t to 54t, so you have further options). The 44t ring gives you a ratio range from 1.1:1 (even lower than 34×30) to 4:1 (equivalent to 52×13). Move up to a 50t chainring and you have a range of 1.25:1 (slightly lower than 36×28) to the same 4.54:1 you’d get in top gear with a double-chainring compact, while a 52t chainring would give a spread exactly equal to a 52-36t, 11-28t drivetrain.

There’s a risk of the quirky drivetrain overshadowing what is a very interesting and feature-packed frame. The first thing you notice is the incredibly tight clearances around the tyres in pursuit of optimal airflow between the wheels and frame. The curved seattube allows the rear wheel to be pulled in tight while retaining an effective seattube angle of 72.5 degrees. The bike is also very short – I measured the wheelbase at 970mm on a size M – but the difference comes from the very compact 573mm front-centre (some 20mm shorter than most race bikes this size). The 170mm cranks are short for the frame size yet we still experienced shoe-scuffing toe overlap in hairpin turns. We asked 3T for more explanation on the geometry and crank choice on our test bike but haven’t yet had a response. We will update this story when we do.

Two designs of airfoil shape are used in the frame. 3T says the new ‘Arcfoil’ profile of the downtube is designed in 3D to address the specific airflow it meets at each point, explaining that the air is flung upwards off the front wheel and becomes more horizontal towards the bottom bracket. More familiar is the ‘Sqaero’ shaping of the seatpost and seattube; a concept first seen on 3T’s Exploro frame and a Kammtail truncated airfoil by any other name. To reduce their frontal area the skinny seatstays are dropped to the lowest point allowed by the UCI regulations (just in case the bike might ever be raced). The downtube also offers two bottle positions; the lower one directs air around the bottle and is the fastest option or you can place it higher to make room for a second bottle behind.

The Strada will be sold as a frameset only and will be available in the UK from mid-August for a likely price of £3,600 for the frame, fork, headset and seatpost. Our test bike was built with SRAM Force 1, a 3T Aeronova LTD bar and ARX II Team stem, and a Fizik Antares VSX saddle.

A 1x drivetrain can still offer a wider spread of gears but is an aero bike the correct application for a technology born off-road?

Heading into the hills

We rode the Strada in the area around Cuneo, in Piedmont, north-west Italy. Our ride took in steep climbs, writhing descents, fast flats and surfaces smooth, broken and even unsealed.

In terms of geometry, the Strada is a very short bike and such is the toe overlap I nearly fell off when turning onto the road from my hotel. With size 45 feet and a preference for 175mm cranks I often encounter a small overlap at low speed but the cranks on our test bike, in my preferred size, were only 170mm and the issue was repeated in hairpin turns while climbing. My beloved Giro Empire SLX shoes will forever bare the scars. The payoff is exceptional agility, with initial steering responses heightened by the tight 43mm fork rake. Impressively, while the Strada felt a bit flighty at speed it always remained stable on the descents and confidently banked over into turns.

Lots of Italian roads have broken surfaces from subsidence, so we were not short of opportunity to assess the Strada’s ride. With the 28mm Contis inflated to 90/95psi – a pressure for fast riding rather than maximum comfort – it certainly dampens out lots of vibration but rather less than expected, especially having spent the previous day riding on 23s. You could reduce the pressures further, of course, but the sensations at each of the contact points suggest to me that this is a typically firm aero road bike benefiting greatly from 28mm tyres.

Clearance is so tight that the frame and fork are prone to picking up significant scratches

You can fit 28s into lots of race bikes these days but none are optimised for fatter rubber, whereas one of the Strada’s key features is how it’s designed for use with bigger tyres. Or is it? The clearances are beyond tight; they’re insufficient. When climbing you often hear a bit of grit get picked up by the tyre and dragged against the frame or fork. That’s painful enough even when it’s a test bike, never mind if you had just paid thousands of pounds for it. Removing the wheels revealed the underside of the fork crown, the back of the seattube and even the underside of the downtube were all very badly scratched. The GP 4000 S II is a particularly tall tyre that requires more clearance than others at any given width but this is 3T’s test build and the same tyre is shown fitted to the bike on the website. We have to wonder how much the Strada was tested on the open road, where the lack of adequate clearance becomes quickly apparent.

The spec sheet states clearance of “effective 28mm”, the width to which many 25s will inflate on wider rims. We put this to Vroomen. “Effective 28mm means true measurement as opposed to whatever it says on the label,” he told us. “So that depends on the model, the rim width, the pressure, etc. The Conti’s are 29mm and, to be honest, that is still within spec, we just list the spec a bit conservatively because we know people will go a bit beyond it anyway. The Conti is also 1mm beyond the recommended radius.” He didn’t comment on the scratches to our test bike.

Climbing, especially at sustained double-digit gradients in the Italian Alpes-Maritimes, isn’t really what an aero road bike is about. The Strada makes a decent fist of it, with high stiffness when out of the saddle and a veritable winch of a ratio in the 44×40. It’s needed because it isn’t an especially light bike by top-end standards. I wasn’t able to weigh it but it felt approximately one kilogram heavier than my own 6.6kg bike I also had with me in Italy. The extra weight means sprint efforts aren’t met with the immediate electric response of a lighter bike, while the climbs were harder work than they’d been on my own bike the previous day.

Hitting its stride

Of course, it’s on flat and rolling roads that an aero bike should come into its own and, once out of the hills and onto the plains around Cuneo, the Strada hit its stride and settled into a fast cruise, covering the next 20 miles at an average of 24mph (five miles with a tailwind, nine with a crosswind and six back into the wind), like it had been waiting for this chance the whole ride. Undoubtedly, then, this is a fast bike, even if it’s impossible to outright judge its speed versus other aero road bikes.

Once out of the hills and onto the plains around Cuneo, the Strada hit its stride and settled into a fast cruise

The Aeronova bar was particularly appreciated on this section of the ride. It’s a good shape, with a slight flare and far more wrist clearance for sprinting than its sister model, the Aerotundo. The unusual dip before the corners actually works really well to rest your forearms against when riding with ‘virtual aerobars’. Vroomen told us this is deliberately designed in for pros but that 3T doesn’t encourage customers to ride that way.

As well as being a disc-only aero bike designed for wider tyres, the Strada’s single chainring is another of its key talking points. While gearing is always a personal question of fitness and terrain, going 1x increases the importance of making the right decision and on reflection I’d have been better off with a bigger chainring on this ride.

The Strada comes into its own on flat and rolling roads

The issue wasn’t necessarily when climbing on some serious hills around Cuneo, when the big gaps between cassette sprockets didn’t feel awkward, but on the long steady descents where 44×11 is completely spun out by 35mph (unless you’re a BMX pro with a 200rpm cadence). Going fast on the flat magnifies this further – even at the business end of the cassette, the gaps between sprockets are two teeth – and that results in some awkward changes in cadence at the high speeds aero bikes are intended to be ridden at.

Verdict

At launch, the Strada arrived as a niche machine wrapping four trends – aerodynamics, wider tyres, disc brakes and a single-ring drivetrain – into one bike. Riding it has revealed some deeper flaws, namely with the lack of tyre clearance, which ultimately limits the wheel/tyre choice at your disposal. Our test bike really needed 25mm Conti tyres to save destroying the paint and while that’s a straightforward swap, you then lose some comfort and one of the key reasons the Strada exists as it does. Wider wheels and slightly narrower tyres might just find a sweet spot at which it all works.

A one-by drivetrain on the road will always split opinion and while it may have some applications, be it for commuting, adventure riding or training, on the Strada the gearing feels compromised at the high speeds at which aero savings will be felt the most. Ultimately, the Strada feels as though it chasing too many trends, which is a shame as the handling, frame aerodynamics and stiffness are all in the right ballpark. Hopefully 3T can keep developing its ideas for a future version.

Pros

  • Fast frame
  • Decent comfort
  • Looks great
  • Good handling

Cons

  • Zero tyre clearance
  • Awkward geometry
  • Compromised gearing

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