My friend Francesco turned 50 this year so he organized a little trip to the Eroica this past October. This would be my first event since the start of Covid so I was a little apprehensive, but I couldn’t say no to this occasion.
For those who don’t know, Eroica is a gravel ride with bikes from before 1987. People often dress up period-appropriate as well and the whole event is just a celebration of cycling, food and Italy. So that pretty much ticks all the boxes for me. If you ever find yourself in Italy at the end of September/early October one year, I would definitely recommend trying to get in.
Clearly no Exploro for me at the Eroica, but my fateful Gargiulo (coincidentally a gift from Francesco many years ago for my first Eroica). To sweeten the deal deal, we were going on some “modern gravel rides” the days before Eroica in a different part of Tuscany, with a certain Paolo as a guide. I’ve known Francesco for a long time, since our Cervelo days when I hired him for sports marketing, and he knows everybody.
Anyway, it was pretty clear to me from the start that this Paolo wouldn’t be just any Paolo, and thus we ended up riding with Paolo Bettini – double road world champion in 2006 and 2007. Luckily the pace was below world championship level and Paolo turned out to be a super nice and generous guy.
For our rides, I borrowed a few Exploro bikes from our demo fleet. Turns out mine was an Exploro Rival XPLR AXS in sand honey. Of course I have seen and ridden my share of Exploro bikes, but we have a lot of different colors so I had never seen this particular one. And the name “sand honey” doesn’t really give away much.
I probably would have called it bronze, maybe copper, Sahara dusk, Tuscan cork or even salted caramel, but ignoring the 3T naming conventions, I fell in love with this bike from the moment I saw it.
It was also the first time I got to ride the new Rival XPLR AXS group, having previously only ridden de Force version. The first thing I look for nowadays in a groupset are the shift/brake levers. And not the functionality – all modern groups shift and brake well – but the ergonomics of the lever – in particular on the hoods. And SRAM nailed it with these, I think they are their most comfortable levers to date. That applies not just to me but from the demo feedback I have heard, most customers find them very comfortable.
My second point of focus was the cassette (it actually trumps the levers but I already knew from the specs that it would be good). A gear range of 440% with 12 cogs is almost my favorite and provides a good experience for most riders on most terrains (and there is still the option to go to a 500% range with a different cassette – at least on our frames that works.
With everything else also checked off, I have to conclude that – together with the Ekar 1×13 models like the Exploro Team Ekar, Exploro Race Ekar and Exploro Max Ekar) – this new Exploro Team Rival AXS XPLR bike probably represents the best value in gravel nowadays. Which in today’s bike industry also means it represents the biggest headache, trying to secure all the parts necessary to make them available to you. We just got a small batch in – Happy Holidays – and certainly our goals and wishes for 2022 will involve getting more, but for those looking for a nice present to support their “Ride More” New Year’s Resolution, you can order it now.