Review: The T-Lab R3 Omni is not quite road, not quite gravel, but fun all around

The T-Lab R3 Omni is somewhat perplexing with its room for 35-mm-wide tires, longish wheelbase and relaxed angles. It doesn’t quite qualify as a full-blown gravel bike, but it’s not quite a classic road racer either. Intrigued, I took the R3 Omni out on familiar local loops.

The R3 Omni was stable at speed with predictable, forgiving manners in corners. The beefy chainstays offer good stiffness when stomping on the pedals. By forgoing a gavel-bike level of tire clearance and by using a heavily flattened seat tube, T-Lab is able to build the R3 Omni with chainstays only a touch longer than usual for a road bike, retaining much of the responsiveness of the genre. The oversize down tube and the top tube are dramatically flattened to counter lateral forces, but don’t diminish that signature titanium ride feel. The bike’s slightly tall front end makes it ideal for straight-line cruising all day, very much in the mould of an endurance road bike. The trade-off of that high-speed, all-day stability is that the front end tends to wander slightly when climbing out of the saddle at low speed. The R3 Omni favours seated climbing and grinding it out.

But those plump 35-mm tires give the Omni R3 an added versatility that extends beyond typical endurance bikes. With group rides off the table, I took to solo rambles, exploring all the trails leading into ravines and woods that I would pass by on my regular routes. I got a bit lost on the weekends, checking out roads – both paved and dirt. I wasn’t always sure where the routes led. The R3 Omni could handle almost whatever I found. It will quickly traverse anything you might loosely call a road, whether gravel or dirt, or even jeep tracks. Each Mavic Yksion Elite AllRoad tire that the R3 Omni is shod with has a tight shallow centre tread that rolls quickly on pavement, with enough volume to handle light off-road duty. I even took the R3 Omni on some local mountain bike trails. It is fun on twisty, flowy routes, but quickly overmatched on any kind of rooty, rocky technical terrain, where the lack of suspension and bite from the tires would limit any bike of this kind.

When I met Roberto Rossi, one of T-Lab’s co-founders in Montreal in the fall of 2019, he spoke of the influence of the local riding available on their design choices. He referred to it as the terroir’s effect on their bikes. That influence is apparent in the R3 Omni; it lands firmly in the road category, even if it’s more versatile than a traditional roadie. Living in a large metropolis like Toronto, I seldom have the opportunity for big, pure, unpaved adventures of the kind that drove the rise of gravel riding’s popularity. Riding from home, for many of us, means picking a traditional road bike that will be fast rolling on pavement, but too exciting on dirt, or a fully featured gravel bike that will be a blast on back roads at the expense of feeling sluggish on tarmac. The R3 Omni perfectly straddles the divide, and is an ideal companion when you have nothing but time, pockets full of snacks and a fully charged Garmin.

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Credits : cyclingmagazine.ca

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