Open U.P.P.E.R.

The sec­ond it­er­a­tion of the road bike that isn’t quite a road bike

Cyclist - - Open | Bikes -

We live in a con­fused era for the road bike. Cat­e­gories now over­lap so much that an aero bike can be a climber’s bike, an en­durance bike can be sprinter’s bike and al­most any bike can be a gravel bike. But there are some bikes that re­ally push the bound­aries of what it means to be a road bike – and none more so than the Open Up­per.

The Up­per is the lat­est creation of former Cervélo co-founder Ger­ard Vroomen. A year ago we re­viewed its older sib­ling, the Up, a bike that in­tro­duced the con­cept of muli­ple wheel size op­tions. It came specced with smaller-than-nor­mal 650b wheels and chunky moun­tain bike tyres for rid­ing off-road, but they could be switched for stan­dard 700c wheels for road rid­ing.

That ver­sa­til­ity is still present on the lat­est model, but where the Open Up was the rough and tough first­born, the Up­per is the over­achiev­ing younger sib­ling. It’s lighter and more re­fined, com­ing in at only 850g for the frame. That’s an im­pres­sive weight for a disc brake bike, es­pe­cially one in­tended for the rough and tum­ble of trail rid­ing.

‘Test, test, test and then test,’ says Open owner Vroomen when I ask how he made the Up­per ca­pa­ble of han­dling harsh ter­rain be­yond the tar­mac. ‘It’s all in the lay-up. It comes down to a com­bi­na­tion of ma­te­ri­als, di­rec­tion of the fi­bre and the num­ber of plies,’ he adds, care­ful not to give his pro­pri­etary se­crets away.

Vroomen knows a thing or two about car­bon com­pos­ites. When he founded Cervélo in Canada with Phil White back in 1995, the two had al­ready hand-built their own con­cept car­bon su­per­bike. ‘We use slightly more ex­otic ma­te­ri­als [types of car­bon fi­bre] in some crit­i­cal parts of the Up­per, and the num­ber of pieces is higher and the shapes are more com­plex,‘ he says. ‘It’s not all about high mod­u­lus, though – in the tube joins in gen­eral you have more lower mod­u­lus fi­bres but higher strength ma­te­ri­als, es­pe­cially around the head tube

where you have those big im­pacts. I mean, it’s more com­plex than that, but that’s the basics.’

Open road

The Up­per looks like an ag­gres­sive road bike, both in sil­hou­ette and on its geom­e­try sheet, so much so that I be­gan to ques­tion its off-road cre­den­tials. That’s very much part of Vroomen’s de­sign in­ten­tion, though.

‘I could go on about this topic for hours,’ he says. ‘A lot of peo­ple will equate a slack head tube with sta­bil­ity off road, which isn’t nec­es­sar­ily true. The steeper your head tube is, and the shorter your trail is, the less of a lever all these rocks have to push your wheel to the side.’

Put­ting Vroomen’s the­ory to the test, I took the Up­per onto some of the more tech­ni­cal trails near my home in Sur­rey. Many would have been made easier with the al­ter­na­tive 650b spec wheels, but with the 29er Enve M50s and 40mm gravel tyres I felt con­fi­dent rid­ing steep, ob­sta­cle-filled for­est tracks. The larger wheels ac­tu­ally helped to iron out smaller lumps in the trails, and kept it feel­ing and look­ing a lit­tle more like a road bike.

One up­grade I might con­sider would be a drop­per seat­post to make for more con­trol on harder de­scents (some­thing Spe­cial­ized has done with its new S-works Di­verge), but then the ques­tion arises over whether I should just go the whole hog and get a moun­tain bike.

Vroomen an­swers that by say­ing, ‘You know, I’ve sold peo­ple road bikes, TT bikes, gravel bikes and moun­tain bikes. More peo­ple come back to me say­ing, “I’m hav­ing so much fun on this bike,” with the Grav­elplus bikes [such as the Up­per] than any other. Peo­ple live in real towns and ci­ties and so the first 10 miles of your ride is on as­phalt, then you get to some­thing more fun. But those first 10 miles would suck on a moun­tain bike.’

Sure enough, that was my ex­act ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing this bike.

Off the grid

While test­ing the Up­per, my rou­tine would be to ride out of town on sub­ur­ban roads, where the bike would

‘Peo­ple come back to me say­ing, “I’m hav­ing so much fun on this bike”’

hap­pily chip along at 35kmh. Once in the coun­try­side, I’d search for trails and the fun would be­gin.

I found tracks I never knew ex­isted – I wasn’t aware there’s an 11% gravel bri­dle­way that climbs Box Hill from the start to fin­ish of the nor­mal road climb. As the ter­rain be­came tougher I would grad­u­ally drop the pres­sure in my tyres un­til I was rid­ing with a psi in the low 20s.

After­wards I’d pump them back up to around 60psi so I could hap­pily join the sign­post sprints on the re­turn leg. The Up­per proved it­self to be as good as any disc brake en­durance road bike in terms of han­dling, stiff­ness and weight with 28mm tyres. It’s slightly more geared to the road than the Up in this sense, aided by the lower weight and more rigid feel.

At a £1,500 price in­crease over the Up, the Up­per rep­re­sents quite a pre­mium for 250g of dif­fer­ence. It does also have some mi­nor foibles as a pure road bike, largely in terms of com­fort, as sur­pris­ing as that may seem given its off-road ca­pa­bil­ity.

This is a much stiffer bike than most peo­ple would ex­pect, and I wouldn’t want to take it on a long road ride on less than 28mm tyres at a mid­dling 80psi. This seems to be a well cal­cu­lated trade-off for Vroomen, though, de­liv­er­ing a more ro­bust and re­spon­sive feel when the tyres are bulkier, and ul­ti­mately no one is sug­gest­ing it should be run on 23mm tyres.

Open bikes rep­re­sent a niche within a niche – what Vroomen terms Grav­elplus. Where the Up is at the of­froad end of that niche, the Up­per is more at the road end. It re­mains to be seen whether this is the fu­ture of road bikes or a fad that will be seen as an odd­ity in years to come, but hav­ing rid­den the Up­per for a few months, I find my­self cham­pi­oning this new di­rec­tion. It’s just so much fun. We can now not only en­joy great speed, low weight, stiff­ness and han­dling, but our rides don’t have to stop where the tar­mac does.

My last­ing im­pres­sion is that, quite sim­ply, I haven’t en­joyed a bike this much in ages.

GROUPSET Sram’s Force 1 groupset (right) is a good fit for the bike, as it’s easy to clean and there’s very lit­tle chance of drop­ping the chain over rough ter­rain thanks to the X-sync chain­ring and the Force de­railleur’s clutch mech­a­nism.

BRAKE CAL­LIPERS The Up­per uses flat-mount disc brake cal­lipers, which of­fers a neater so­lu­tion than the Up’s post-mount set-up. The allen key fit­ting for the thru-axles also helps to main­tain a clean aes­thetic com­pared to quick re­lease levers.

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