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.
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.