Thru-Axle Disc Forks from 3T and ENVE

I am really excited to see this fork on 3T’s website. I first spotted this fork on Open Cycle’s new Unbeaten Path at Sea Otter this past spring. Open Cycle is the new bike company started by Gerard Vroomen, once co-founder of Cervelo. The Unbeaten Path, or U.P., is Open’s first non-MTB design: a dropbar bicycle with the ability to run 700C with cyclocross tyres or 650B with MTB treads. To do that, the frame and fork need to have 1) disc brakes and 2) shitloads of tyre clearance. The way Vroomen accomplished this with the frame was really interesting, but I was far more interested in the potential of that fork.

3T Luteus II fork, with 15mm thru-axle

Vroomen and 3T have long had ties in development and production. Cervelo bikes have comes OEM with 3T bars and stems: 3T and Cervelo forks share many features and come with the same packaging etc. Vroomen must have kept those ties when he moved on to the new company since he had that fork on the U.P. pre-production samples 7 to 12 months before 3T even bothered to admit it existed. I mean, at Interbike three monhs ago I made a beeline for the booth of 3T’s distributor, Vittoria North America, and the first thing I did was ask them about the Luteus II. No one there had any idea what I was talking about. There was a picture in one of their catalogs but not the other, and there was absolutely no trace of pricing, delivery dates, or even a sku#. And there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years in the dealing with distributors, and it’s that you could stab them to death with their own product but if it doesn’t have a sku# then they would insist that they’re not bleeding because the thing doesn’t exist. Even weirder, I saw an Open Cycle U.P. on display at the Hed Cycling booth and it had an unlabelled ENVE thru-axle fork (also very new). What gives? I thought. But last week I just happened to browse 3T’s website, and whoooop there it is.

ENVE Thru-Axle Disc Brake Cyclocross Fork

Now that I’ve mentioned the ENVE Thru-Axle Disc Brake Cyclocross fork (note to ENVE: your fork moniker is too long; you need an acronym or trite marketing name), it also has the ability to run 650B MTB treads and 700C cross tyres. I’m really curious to compare the Luteus II and ENVE’s TADBC fork side-by-side fork tyre clearance. At a more or less industry standard axle-crown height of 395mm, it’s no great feat to leave enough room for 700C x 40mm tyres. The real trick is how big of a 650B tyre can fit. Since the 650B mtb tyres typically come no skinnier than 2.0-2.1” for most brands/styles, that would be the minimum acceptable. ENVE states 2.0”; 3T says 2.1”. Comparing the head-on view of both of the forks would seem to confirm that the 3T has more clearance, but I would actually like to compare the forks directly by placing the same wheel/tyre in both and measuring the clearance around. But that might not actually be feasible, which brings me to an important difference between the two products: thru-axle standards.

ENVE has decided to make their fork 12mm T-A, falling in step with what the majority of the industry is adopting for disc brake road bikes, while 3T uses 15mm T-A, a standard common in MTB bikes and also among the first wave of T-A cyclocross fork designs. ENVE clearly is looking to the future when loads of new 12mm T-A wheelsets will soon be available; whereas bike makers who have already released CX bikes with 15mm thru-axles were banking on the already existing selection of lightweight 29er wheels with 15mm T-A. But in the context of this article, the key issue is that no one is making 650B wheels with 12mmm T-A, so if you got the ENVE fork with the idea of using 650B wheels on it, you either need to build wheels specific to that bike or hope that your existing 650B wheelset has an easily convertible front hub. Personally I think 12mm T-A is stupid and that the arguments supporting its introduction are classic marketing sophistry. But I understand why ENVE would choose 12mm so as to follow the industry; it’s easier to flow with the tide than to swim against it. Meanwhile Gerard Vroomen wrote at length on why he chose 15mm, echoing my thoughts exactly. From my perspective, I wouldn’t use the same wheels on both my CX and my road bike (even if I felt compelled to acquire a disc road bike), so I would much prefer to have a CX bike with standards compatible with my MTB.

Both forks use tapered 1.5-1.125” steerers and are provided with a thru-axle. ENVE uses their very clean thru-bolt design, installed with a 6mm Allen. 3T uses a lever-type axle. The cable routing on ENVE’s fork is the same carbon clip they’ve used on previous disc brake designs. It makes for the cleanest, most elegant external routing on any fork you’ll see, but I’m usually terrified when I have to install or remove the carbon fibre clip that it will break in my hand as I stretch it open. I never heard of that happening though. 3T just uses zip ties to hold the hydro hose into a groove down the inside of the left blade. The 3T fork is 50mm rake while ENVE is 47mm. For a number of reasons I think that industry-wide bike designers should probably use a skosh more rake than they have for about 25 years, and I’ve been glad to see that some manufacturers like Specialized have started to use more rake on their designs. However, most makers have not readily followed that philosophy, and only a few years ago 43mm was considered enough for CX forks. So again, I’m not surprised that ENVE chose 47mm as their rake, since that number is neither short nor long in the current perspective. But I like more rake, especially in smaller frame designs that have slacker head angles (IE alllllllll of my bikes), or in applications that use bigger or heavier tyres. Glancing through Cervelo and Open Cycle geometry charts, I can see that Gerard Vroomen has had similar thoughts, and I’ll wager that his influence probably pushed the rake out to 50mm. I hypothesize that he wanted more rake than that but had to comprise so that 3T could market the fork as OEM to manufacturers who had less fringy beliefs about bike geometry. It would be so awesome if 3T made this fork in 50 and 55mm rakes, but the probability of that happening is approximately zero.

I still have no idea when the Luteus II fork will become available, though it should ring in at $585. As for the ENVE Tadback (oh, you think you could come up with a better name?…well, please do then!), it is shipping right now. I just installed one for the first time on a 333fab titanium last week. Retail price is $549.

Painted ENVE fork on an Open Cycle U.P., as seen at Hed Cycling’s 2015 Interbike booth