3T Strada Due long-term test review
From riding Belgian classic sportives to racing a dirt Koppenberg in Colorado, I spent a year on the 3T Strada Due with SRAM eTap AXS Red. Here is my take.
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Road racing and gravel are colliding, and the 3T Strada Due suits the racer with a broad definition of ‘road’. I enjoyed piloting this bike in Colorado, and Belgium, and Italy over the past year, from riding the actual cobbled Koppenberg in the Flanders sportive, to racing Colorado’s dirt Koppenberg, a favorite local event. I raced it in criteriums and brought it with me for a memorable week in the Dolomites that ended in the hospital. (Doh!) It’s a special bike that I’d recommend with only a few caveats.
First off, is it novel for a road bike to have two chainrings? Of course not, unless it’s a 3T Strada, which gained notoriety for being the first — and only — single-ringed road bike to be raced by an entire pro team in Europe, under Aqua Blue Sport. Many roadies, myself included, were nonplussed by the one-ring idea, but 3T does deserve credit for simultaneously pushing the aero and wide-tire envelopes. And that philosophy and much of the design carried over to the 3T Strada Due.
3T isn’t alone with the ‘aero bike with wide tires’ position; consider brands like Scott, with its 28mm-stock-tire Foil. But this Strada doesn’t just have clearance for wide tires; both the frame and the wheels are designed specifically for aerodynamics based on wide tires.
I tested the high-zoot model with the relatively new SRAM Red eTap AXS. It also comes in SRAM Force eTap for $4,999 and Shimano Ultegra Di2 for $5,799, or as a frameset for $2,699.
Aero meets wide
Aero plus wide is a convergence of trends. The emphasis on aerodynamics may be fading from its zenith for many riders, but the fundamental physics are still legitimate: Less drag means more speed for the same effort. And speed is fun, right? The trend towards wide — wide tires, wide wheels, even wide bars for some — is still accelerating, especially as we venture onto rougher surfaces.
Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen is one of the industry’s foremost experts on aerodynamic design. He is now at 3T, and he and the 3T team designed the bike to ensure smooth air flow from the wide tires over the rims and past the frame. (Having wide tires and skinny rims is poor aerodynamics.) Doing development in the wind tunnel, Vroomen and company tested at both 20mph and 30mph, and with bottles on the bike, for real-world conditions.
Can I feel lower drag? Um, no — unless we are talking big changes like coasting down a steep hill in an upright position versus in a tuck. A frame’s drag is well beyond my sensory abilities. Yet, I have been to a few wind tunnels and looked at the data enough to believe in the fundamentals, just as I believe in the basic equation of watts-per-kilo being a critical thing in cycling.
What I can feel is how a bike rides, and this one, especially with plump tires set in the 50-75psi range, feels wonderful on rough roads.
Ride feel in context: Dolomite gravel, Belgian cobbles, Colorado dirt — and a lot of pavement
The 3T Strada Due has nimble road geometry: short, 405mm chainstays paired with a steep front end. It’s a race bike, and it handles like one.
But with a flattish 3T handlebar that spreads the load at the palms and big, fat tires that soak up road chatter, the Strada Due floats. I requested this bike to test ahead of two weeks in Belgium, and enjoyed the heck out of riding it in the Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders sportives, as well as just doing daily riding on the bergs and cobbles of Flanders.
I’ve done cobbled sportives perhaps a dozen times, on bikes ranging from 25mm racers to a monstercross rig with 50mm tires. While the latter felt great on the chunkiest sectors of Paris-Roubaix, the heavy tires were a drag on the many miles of smooth pavement. And normal road race bikes with 23 or 25mm tires, while certainly rideable on cobbles, make for a rough ride.
The Strada Due is the Goldilocks option. Its Discus carbon wheels with a massive 25mm internal rim width plump up 25mm tires to over 30mm. I put on 28mm Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tires, and they measured in excess of 33mm. Set up as such, the bike glided over the smooth cobbles in Belgium — whether lumbering up the Koppenberg or coasting at speed down the Haaghoek — and yet didn’t feel at all sluggish on smooth tarmac.
Granted, cobblestones are not everyday riding fare for the great majority of us, but they are a great test-bed. Beyond shining a bright light on the comfort (and durability!) of tires, wheels, seatposts, and handlebars, they also stress test small but critical things like chain slap or seatpost-collar bolts.
On the first point, chain slap, the SRAM Red derailleur with its Orbit fluid damper worked exceedingly well, keeping noise to a minimum and shifting unaffected.
On the second point, the seatpost bolts, I did have to wrestle with the internal binder quite a bit in the first few days. Despite generous amounts of carbon paste and a textured seatpost surface, the seatpost kept slipping on the cobbles with the bolts tightened to spec. I checked in with Gerard, who told me to tighten it further. I did, the post made a couple of cringe-inducing sounds, but the post held from there on out.
Back home in Colorado, I raced the bike on another Koppenberg — a half-paved, half-dirt road race circuit east of Boulder that has a short but quite steep rutted hill at its halfway point. Like a lot of ‘faux Roubaix’ American road races, the dirt surface can vary quite a bit based on recent weather or grading. Stringing the field out, the Koppenberg hill often serves as a springboard for attacks on the long, gentle, dirt downhill that follows it, as crosswinds often gutter the 30mph-field, and rocks end many a race with a puncture. Here, the 3T felt pretty much ideal: fat, tubeless tires for float and puncture protection, deep wheels and frame for aerodynamics, and SRAM’s wide-ranging gearing for chugging up the 16-percent hill and still motoring on the paved downhills.
I raced this bike in a handful of local criteriums, including Pearl Izumi’s excellent weeknight series where U.S. national champions Ruth Winder and Alex Howes jump in alongside young racers and random masters riders like myself. Here, the big tires were overkill, but it’s not like they felt like treaded cyclocross tires or even file-tread gravel tires. They just felt like soft-but-quick road tires.
Lastly, after enjoying this bike so much in Belgium, I brought it on vacation for a week in the Dolomites. The plan was to do a number of days riding the famed climbs, with the ‘queen stage’ being the Yolomites 5000, a nutso event dreamed up by the photographer power couple Ashley and Jered Gruber along with Igor Tavella, the proprietor of the wonderful cycling hotel where we were staying for the week. Named for its 5,000 meters of elevation gain in about 128 kilometers, the Yolomites 5000 takes those of questionable judgment across all manner of surfaces that aren’t exactly out of a road bike catalog. For instance, there is a bog. Also a lot of gravelly fire roads and some ‘is this even a trail?’ singletrack.
While a gravel bike would have been better for much of the day, the Strada Due handled itself just fine, and I very much appreciated the 35/28 low gear.
To be clear, this is absolutely not a gravel bike. There is zero clearance for mud, and the geometry as mentioned above is 100 percent road race, not gravel slack. But so long as the dirt roads are dry, the Strada Due is just as at home there as on pristine pavement.
SRAM Red eTap AXS long-term test on road, cobbles, and dirt
Fat tires at low pressure feel great on rough roads, and the Strada Due is aerodynamically optimized for them. Photo: Ben Delaney | VeloNews
I like the new Red eTap AXS group. It’s easy to shift in hard conditions, such as in snow with lobster mitts on or rattling over cobbles. As with earlier eTap groups, there is just a single button per lever. The right lever shifts the rear derailleur into a harder gear. The left shifts the rear into an easier gear. And pressing both simultaneously shifts the front derailleur.
Compared to the previous 11-speed Red eTap, the 12-speed AXS group shifts faster, and the brakes engage sooner in the lever throw. Both of these things are improvements, in my book.
Whether Shimano or SRAM, electronic groupsets are great in that you can put remote shifters wherever you like. I didn’t put the SRAM Blips on this bike, but I have a Tarmac with Blips on the tops near the stem, and use them constantly when riding solo. SRAM now has MultiClic remote shifters, too.
A downside to electronic groups is that they stop shifting if you don’t charge the battery (or batteries), and seemingly everyone I know with an electronic group has had this happen. I’ve had SRAM, Shimano, and Campagnolo systems give out on me more times than I care to remember, and I’m here to tell you that SRAM has the least-crappy experience in that you can swap the front and rear derailleur batteries around to limp home. With Campagnolo and Shimano, which use a single, internal battery, you lose the ability to shift the front derailleur, as it requires the most juice.
Riding in Belgium, I became aware of an unusual SRAM battery issue. My friend Dries had an older Red eTap bike, and it wouldn’t shift well in the rear when on the cobbles; turns out the little plastic tab that helps hold it in place was slightly worn. A new battery fixed this. SRAM technical whiz Nate Newton said this can happen, but it is very rare. It hasn’t happened to me.
SRAM touts eTap as being easy to build up. Because there are no shift- or battery cables, this is largely true, but not really a selling point in my mind. Also, the front derailleur is super fussy to set up; once it’s dialed you’re good, but it has to be set precisely.
However, eTap bikes are easy to travel with. Just be sure to pack the charger — and bring a few extra coin-cell batteries for the shift levers. My right shift lever went out in Italy. Here, SRAM’s back-up options came through nicely, in that I could press the button on each derailleur to actuate a shift. (I could do this riding for the front derailleur at the bottom or top of a climb. For the rear, I just left it in the middle or climbed off to adjust for steep sections. Not ideal, but way better than just being stuck in a single gear, especially with thousands of vertical feet between me and home.) I had brought a CR2032 battery for my Stages meter, just in case, and was glad to have it for the shifter.
The new SRAM AXS 12-speed comes with a whole new range of gearing at the front and the back. The standard chainring options are 46/33, 48/35, and 50/37. When paired with the cassette options of 10-26,10- 28, and 10-33, these three chainring options roughly match that of compact, sub-compact, and standard crank options, but with a little more range on the top and bottom.
I used the stock 48/35 with a 10-28, and found that to be ideal across the board, whether crawling up steep dirt climbs during the Yolomites 5000, or racing the faux Koppenberg in Colorado. World champion Mads Pedersen may need the pro-only 54-tooth AXS ring, but I sure didn’t.
Modifications I did from the original build
I changed a few things on the bike. I replaced the way-too-narrow-for-me Sella San Marco Aspide 2 saddle with my trusty Specialized Power, with a GoPro mount and a multi-tool bolted on underneath. (The lack of a lever on many thru-axle wheels is something I am still getting used to.)
I put on a longer stem to get my fit right, and used a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt for most of the year.
I changed the stock 25mm Pirelli P-Zero tires out for 28mm Schwalbe Pro Ones, which ballooned up to nearly 33mm on the Discus rims. Boy, these felt so good on dirt, cobbles and pavement. Although they may have taken a nick or two here and there — and self-sealed — they never flatted. They also rubbed a bit on the chainstays. Sorry about that, 3T folks.
Lastly, I also, um, modified the right shifter and rear derailleur a bit by crashing myself in spectacular fashion on a Dolomite descent. I was filming my friends with a GoPro in hand, and when coming around a tight bend, I went to grab both brakes, and the GoPro jammed behind the lever. This meant that when I squeezed both levers hard, only the rear engaged, locking up the rear wheels, causing me to promptly wash out, and slide across the road into a guard rail, cracking my pelvis. Some true Darwin Awards material. Do as I say, not as I do, kids. (Also, sorry about that, too, 3T folks…)
All in, the 3T Strada Due is an excellent, best-of-both-worlds road race bike. It’s comfortable on a wide variety of surfaces, it handles nimbly, and, if 3T’s aero calculation are to be believed (which I do), it’s pretty darn fast, too.
No bike can do all things perfectly, but the Strada Due expands what a race bike can be, with a plush ride and a wide gear range.
I did not love the saddle or the seatpost (or my poor choices), but otherwise I heartily enjoyed the 3T Strada Due.