The New 3T & Cyclocross

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by Mark V on Mar 02, 2011 at 1:09 AM

Luteus1.png There was a time when Cinelli dominated the quality road bar and stem market, and the only company to compete against the venerable Italian marque was another Italian company, Tecnologia del Tubo Torinese….otherwise known as 3T. Strangely enough, both companies ended up being purchased by the Gruppo SpA, run by Antonio Columbo of Columbus tubing. But frankly by around Y2K, Cinelli had completely fallen behind newer upstarts like Deda Elementi and a host of Asian manufacturers in terms of technological innovation. As for 3T, it had wasted away into irrelevance, and in 2006 Gruppo sold the 3T brand to a Dutch entrepreneur. When 3T was relaunched, they made an immediate impact by introducing totally new, well-conceived product with smart graphics and sponsoring Pro Tour teams such as Cervelo and Garmin.

I’ve talked to 3T before and the company has always planned to make a thoughtful expansion of their product line beyond road. The new Luteus cyclocross fork is in some ways their boldest move yet. For while their dropbars and stems are light and elegantly simple, and their aerobars some of the technically best available, the Luteus fork shows 3T aggressively seizing the industry lead in developing and marketing a pro-level, disc brake-specific CX fork.

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The new 3T’s marketing strategy has been “Go for the pros, then trickle down to OEM”, and it seems to work. Now that the top Euro racers will have the option to run disc brakes (and that amateur racers have demonstrated willingness to spend mad cash on race grade bikes), 3T saw the angle to break into a new, lucrative niche.

The 470gr disc-specific fork looks nasty hot yet shows some thoughtful design. There is a recessed groove to run the brake housing flush against the left fork blade. There are two bracket points to allow you to discretely zip tie the housing down. A nice way to take advantage of carbon’s form factor potential.

The other detail I really like is the forward facing dropouts. Why is this important? Because the counter force from a strong fork-mounted disc brake wants to rip the wheel axle in a rearward direction, and locating the dropout opening to the front largely prevents that.

Of course, a designer can also put stout tabs on the bottom of the dropout a la mountainbikes; after all consumer safety regulations already require the tabs for road forks to prevent an improperly used quick release skewer from allowing the front wheel to fall off a rider’s bike. Many people refer to these additions to the fork dropouts as “lawyer tabs”, an allusion to the rash of personal injury lawsuits that prompted the tabs’ industry wide adoption.

But the forward facing dropouts are a better solution than tabs. Why? Because a lot of riders and mechanics are probably going to file the tabs off.

Cyclocross, like road racing, is a wheelsport where frequent equipment exchanges are common or expected, and speed is crucial. Adjusting a quick release would be too slow. I guarantee that every single Trek, Specialized, and Giant on the Pro Tour road circuit has the fork tabs filed off. For mtn bike competition it doesn’t matter as much because riders are required to be self-sufficient. In other words, if you flat on the front wheel, you still need to fix the flat before you can ride again, but for road and cyclocross racing riders have support crews to replace wheels on demand. In the high intensity environment of cyclocross, the need to adjust a quick release to remove and replace a front wheel would be unacceptable to many, and the temptation to file the dropouts will prompt them to ignore the threat of voiding the warrantee.

In that light, 3T’s design makes a lot of sense; it wouldn’t be good PR to have a top pro eject his front wheel out of your fork on the cover of Velonews. I’m sure that filing the tabs off a Luteus will still void the warrantee though.

One last detail about the Luteus is that it will initially only be available in a 1-1/8” to 1-1/2” tapered steerer. This tells me 2 things. First, 3T already has a OEM deal with some company or maybe several. A safe bet would be German bikemaker Focus because they have a strong cx line and already use 3T forks on several road models. Secondly, I am even more convinced that the bicycle industry is nowhere close to standardizing on headsets.

One additional item is that 3T is also introducing a new CX-specific handlebar known as the Ergoterra that flares 5cm from the hoods to the drops and has a wider 31.8mm section to allow more flexibility in mounting interrupter levers on the bar tops. The flare in the drops is to allow clearance for the forearms while riding from the drops on rough terrain. Compared to other manufacturers’ compact-style bars (variable radius on the drop and shorter drop), 3T’s bars have more reach, so the flare will likely help. Personally, I’m not a fan of the 3T Ergosum and Ergonova road bars, so I doubt I’m going to like the Ergoterra.

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Comments: 7

“In the high intensity environment of cyclocross, the need to adjust a quick release to remove and replace a front wheel would be unacceptable to many”

Maybe at the amateur level but at the elite amateur and pro level you don’t change wheels, you simply bikes. A mechanic would have plenty of time between laps to undo a QR and swap out the wheel.

Changing wheels is one area where disc brakes are less than ideal given you have to carefully line up the rotor and caliper. I think if discs are going to catch on for pro level road racing they’ll need to develop some sort of quick release on the caliper similar to what you have on side pulls. I have to think that Shimano is thinking about discs for the road and wonder if they’ve taken this into account (I’m guessing yes).

I do agree that this is one well thought out fork.

I love the idea of disks on CX bikes, it just makes sense. But… There is still one giant flaw in the plan. As of today, there is no hydraulic brake option available as the integration of a road-style shifter and hydraulics has not happened. The fact that the above photo is featuring a, avid Juicy 5 caliper means one thing - This isn’t actually a cross bike but more likely a flat bar commuter.

I completely agree that Cyclocross and disk brakes are a great step forward (The UCI has realized this too). But, so far the carriage has been leading the horse. Until Sram or Shimano steps up, disk brakes will stay off the course.

Here’s my million dollar idea to make road levers work better with linear pull brakes or hydraulics: have a virtual jackshaft integrated into cross levers.

Rather, instead of normal cross levers where the cable goes straight through the lever, make the brake cable from the road lever directly pull the cross lever (instead of having the cross lever virtually lengthening the cable housing). Than either add a hydraulic unit to the cross lever or add another brake cable to the cross lever that goes to the brake caliper (or linear pull brake).

The point being that the cross brake lever acts as either a travel adaptor or cable-to-hyddraulic adaptor.

Admittedly, this kind of adaptor could be added in anywhere inline with the cable, it’s just that if cross levers are commonly used, then it’s a place to kill two birds with one stone.

@wixmymordsup

i wouldn’t say that the Luteus fork is a commuter bike fork, since 3T doesn’t make commuter equipment.  i don’t say this as a “3T doesn’t stoop to such levels”-snobbery, just that the company is pretty focused on their marketing and as of yet they haven’t diversified into that market segment.  maybe if they can penetrate the OEM market into lower price points they might choose to do so.  as it is, i bet that fork will be too pricey for the commuter market.

if i had to guess how the Luteus fork will factor in the next year, it’s that it will be hot amongst the racers below pro and elite amateur levels…that segment has some money and are willing to spend.  sure, hydraulics or at least race-grade cable disc aren’t here yet, but most people are assuming that they’re on the way.  if i was going to buy a CX bike this year, I’d want disc-compatibility in my frame/fork/wheels…maybe i’d run cable discs in the short term.

@Mark

actually, i’ve thought about a similar idea in which the STI brake cables ran to a box at the stem with a couple of master cylinders.  i got the idea when thinking about a prototype V-brake adapter from the 1990’s (made by Paul’s Components, i think). called something like “love box” i think; it attached on the bar in front of the stem. my idea would have the master cylinders instead of pulleys.  i guess i wasn’t unique with the idea as someone else was showing working prototypes of that exact idea at nahbs last weekend.

I’m not to keen about pulleys. Because of the stiffness of the cables, there’s that extra bit of friction and even a bit of hysteresis- there’s got to be sufficient spring tension on the cable or it doesn’t completely straighten out.

I was thinking more of levers where the cable attaches with a round end like the with mtn bike brake levers- tough possibly with a self-lubricating brass lsleeve. There’s less friction, but you still have the same mechanical advantage- unless you want a cam with variable mechanical advantage, then you might need a sliding mechanism like the old Shimano Servowave brake levers.

But there was the cable to hydraulic back to cable adaptor made back in the 1990’s- all you need is half of it for hydraulic discs.

Oh, I see this has been reinvented already.

Why don’t for manufacturers just put the caliper mount on the front of the right blade?  Then the rotational forces around the point of contact between the brake pads and disc would force the hub into the dropouts.

Something else they might want to check into are this new style of bicycle quick release - since they don’t require any adjustment, just opening the lever and pushing in (sort of hard to describe) it’s actually way faster than the standard QR - could be great for cross, too.

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