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Dream Build: The fastest gravel bike

By Bruce Lin

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3T Exploro Team fastest gravel bike dream build This year, I got smoked at all the gravel races I started. Was it because I gained weight, skipped training, or stayed up late drinking beer? No, it’s obviously because my old bike is just too slow. (Pro tip: Always blame your equipment.)

To be more competitive, I need a newer, better race weapon. That’s why this month’s Dream Build is all about creating the fastest gravel race bike possible. I might not get on the podium, but astride the right bike, hopefully I can at least avoid getting dropped! Here’s what I came up with.

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Gravel frame 

3T Exploro Team frame fastest gravel bike dream build3T Velocio // Exploro TEAM - $2,499.99

You know a gravel frame is good when Spencer Powlison, our Senior Editor, tells you he wants it for himself. Well, too bad! I had to pick the 3T Exploro for this build because aero is everything and there aren’t many (or possibly any) gravel frames that can match its aerodynamics. It was the world’s first aero gravel bike, and 3T claims it was tested in the wind tunnel with mud-covered knobby tires to ensure the slippery tube shapes work in real-world conditions. It’s also a proven winner at my target gravel race, Unbound Gravel 200. This special edition Velocio frame comes in a nice matte green finish that will definitely look good covered in dirt. 

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Wheels & tires 

ENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc and Panaracer Gravelking sKENVE SES 4.5 AR Disc - $2,549.99
Panaracer Gravelking SK 700x43 - $49.99

Currently, I love riding the budget-friendly ENVE Foundation 45 wheels. But for this Dream Build, I want to take things to the next level by upgrading to the top-of-the-line ENVE SES 4.5 AR wheels. Costing more than the frame, they combine ENVE’s aerodynamic SES rim shape with a wide 25mm internal width designed for high-volume tires. I’ll set them up tubeless with the classic, fast-rolling Panaracer Gravelking SK tires. Of course, they have the tan/brown sidewall, which will look great next to the matte green frame.

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Drivetrain

Fastest gravel bike dream build drivetrainShimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9170 right shifter / brake - $549.99
Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 R9170 left shifter / brake - $549.99
Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 crankset w/ Stages power meter - $349.99
Shimano XTR M9000 Di2 rear derailleur - $630.99
SRAM XX1 XG-1199 10-42t cassette - $269.99
CeramicSpeed UFO Shimano 11-speed chain - $159.99
Wheels Manufacturing BB386EVO bottom bracket - $103.95

Everyone knows I’m a 1x zealot, so of course I’ve gone for a single chainring. I chose Di2 because I know from an earlier Di2 vs. AXS comparison that it’s lighter. But also, supply chains are strained and I’ll take what I can get. That’s why there’s a mix of Dura-Ace generations. The crank comes with a Stages power meter and the XTR mountain bike rear derailleur lets me run a wide-range cassette. I’ve chosen a SRAM XX1 11-speed cassette because it’s lighter than any Shimano cassette, and I won't need to change the XDR freehub this way. The CeramicSpeed UFO chain is absurdly expensive, but it’s perfectly prepped and waxed to save precious watts. 

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Cockpit

Fastest gravel bike dream build ENVE cockpitENVE SES AR carbon handlebar - $374.99
ENVE Aero Road carbon stem - $299.99
Fizik Vento Argo R3 saddle - $149.99
Lizard Skins DSP Chocolate Brown bar tape - $39.99

Since I already have pricey ENVE wheels, I might as well go all in with the new ENVE SES AR handlebar and Aero road stem. They match the Exploro's aero shape but have flared drops for more control. I ride Fizik’s short-nosed Vento Argo saddle on all my bikes so that’s an easy choice. Finally, I’ll cap off the build with my favorite tacky bar tape: Lizard Skins. I’m hoping the chocolate brown color will look good with the Panaracer tires and green frame. If it’s a muddy disaster, I’ll swap it for black. 

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Total cost: $8,629.81

This 3T Exploro Dream Build costs over twice as much as my current gravel bike. So will it make me two times faster? Uh… 

Anyway, the Exploro is sleek, and it has the technology to back me up on days when I have good legs. What’s missing? I’d love to swap in some light and blingy carbon crankarms like the Easton EC90 SL or THM Clavicula SE but I’ll have to wait until they come back in stock. 

You may notice that I omitted the Di2 battery, wires, and junction boxes from the build. Honestly, I’ll probably hand the frame off to TPC's professional mechanics to get it all sorted. Whatever payment or tips they expect will be worth it if I won’t have to deal with routing cables through a frame! Installation is the one place SRAM AXS clearly wins out over Shimano. 

Did I make good choices? What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments!

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8 comments


  • Anytime tires are wider than the rims, 100% of the aerodynamic advantage is lost. There is no way to gain aero advantages with 43 tires. Best to spend that money elsewhere and/or save more weight on wheels. BTW, I own that exact set of wheels for road with 28c tubeless tires.

    Mike Potter on

  • I would have put on a 60 mm front shock. Roads are getting rough this fall.

    john on

  • Is the listed price of the crankset and powermeter right at $350? It seems incredibly cheap.

    Joe on

  • The 9170 will work with the XTR 9000? I thought Shimano road and mtb groups were not compatible??

    Al on

  • Exactly what I want to know!
    I built a gravel bike in spring of 2021 and it weighs 7.8kg with pedals.

    Michael Amato on

  • What was your main reason for not going with the Ekar groupset ?

    Ovi on

  • If no one wants this bike, I’ll take it!*
    (*gratis…alas no dinero) I love the choices, by the by — this setup will make some lucky rider really happy.

    David Kimmett on

  • Just curious: what does it weigh?

    Mark Zimbelman on


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