Gravel Culture: The custom-built dream gravel bike – Part 2

Posted By Gravel Union On 7 July 2021

Back in 2020, Sander Kuik, the product director at Shimano Europe, decided to have a custom-built dream gravel bike put together. All the thinking, planning and waiting was now finally over and he had a huge pile of cardboard boxes full of bits cluttering up his house. How would the finished build turn out? Read on to find out….

The waiting game was over. A big box had arrived which contained the frameset that so far only existed on paper and in my imagination. The creation of the frame took 8 weeks, but unboxing and discovering a stunningly beautiful T-Lab X3 frameset soon made up for that.

The frame was a true work of art. It had flattened tube shapes, incredibly well-crafted welds and bead-blasted logos, based on the Lux finishing scheme offered by T-Lab. When you looked at the frame, the details were a delight. Together with the team in Canada, I had decided to go for a brushed frame finish, with all the logos bead-blasted onto the frame to create a timeless and long-lasting look.

Some of the finer details showcased the special collaboration - CDN (Canada) x NLD (The Netherlands) were added on the top tube. On one side of the carbon fork was a maple leaf, whilst on the other side you’ll find a ‘go Dutch’ tulip.

For the build itself, the main parts came from the gravel specific GRX range from Shimano. Because I typically ride long, flat, hardpacked gravel trails, I went for a two-by set up. At the front I fitted a Shimano Dura Ace R9100 crankset (with 50-36 chainrings) which did a perfect job. When used in combination with an 11-34 cassette at the back, you got all you could wish for - speed when you needed it, but also a nice small gear for the steeper sections. Brakes were also from the Shimano GRX groupset and used 160 mm centrelock rotors back and front.

One of the reasons I went with the T-Lab X3, besides the beautiful tube shapes, was the internal Di2 cable routing. In my view, electrified was the way to go and so the cables needed to be routed internally. The battery was tucked inside a PRO Vibe seatpost. I went with a slightly flared PRO Discover carbon handlebar, connected to the fork steerer with the all new PRO Vibe carbon stem and fitted with Shimano GRX Di2 levers.

The ride

I’m a novice when it comes to riding titanium gravel frames. I read several reviews on the web, which described the T-Lab X3 as stiff yet compliant and although this might sound like an oxymoron, it seemed to be pretty accurate. The power you put into the bike was solidly transferred to the back wheel. During several rides I have used different 700c wheelsets to see what difference it made to the ride feel - alloy Shimano GRX 700s, carbon ENVE SES AR Discs and carbon Bontrager’s Aeolus PRO 3Vs. With the alloy wheels, you got a very comfortable ride - perfect for longer rides or for use when bike packing. When a carbon wheelset was selected, the T-Lab turned into a true racing machine. Thanks to the team at Vittoria I had the opportunity to try the Vittoria AirLiner inserts, which I ran with Vittoria Terreno DRY tires. This made for an amazingly fast ride - perfectly suited for the current trail conditions. With the inserts fitted I could run a much lower tyre pressure. The inserts prevented the rims from being damaged and added an extra piece of security, but did not restrict the ride.

Compared to a carbon gravel frame, the differences in ride feel were subtle. Acceleration was on the same level, but the compliance in the rear triangle was different. There was a plush feel to the frame, but it felt direct rather than disconnected. Cornering was good, so singletrack trails were accessible. One little point I had to get used to was a bit of toe overlap, resulting in a bit of toe-rubbing against the front tyre. This was tied into the gometry and related parameters and I’ve had the same experience with some other gravel bikes too. Soon, I will also try the bike with road hoops for a tarmac spin.

Conclusion

This was my first full custom frame build. Going Canadian was maybe not the easiest route, but it worked out perfectly. A dream bike was born with the help of Rob Rossi and his team at T-Lab in Montreal. They have made a dream come true and delivered a true piece of art. I have a highly capable gravel bike that is all around - from gravel race monster to comfortable bike-packing companion.

Build details
Frame: T-Lab X3 CDN-NLD Edition
Fork: T-Lab Carbon (without rackmounts)
Bottom bracket: Wheeltech BB-386 EVO with Enduro angular bearings
Crankset: Shimano Dura Ace R9100, 50-36 chainrings
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura Ace R9100 Di2
Rear Derailleur: Shimano GRD-815 Di2
Cassette: Shimano 11-34
Shifters: Shimano GRX Di2
Brake callipers (front & Rear): Shimano GRX-800
Brake disc rotors: Shimano RT800, 160 mm
Seatpost: PRO Vibe carbon, 27.2 mm / 400 mm
Stem: PRO Vibe carbon, 110 mm
Handlebar: PRO Discover carbon, 420 mm / 20 deg. Flare
Saddle: PRO Stealth
Wheels (all 700c): Shimano GRX / ENVE SES AR Disc / Bontrager Aolus PRO 3V
Tyres: Vittoria Terreno DRY with AirLiner inserts / Panaracer Gravel King SK

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