Above Category. Dirt. Above Category. Dirt. Things that mix like oil and water. Or, so it may seem. Enter Open Cycle, brainchild of Cervélo founder Gerard Vroomen and BMC lever-puller Andy Kessler. Open is a brand founded on principals we’re fond of – and one of the biggest is minimalism. Achieving a result with as little links in the chain as possible, or as Vroomen dubs it, “Relentless Simplicity”. It’s the mentality behind their second bike – the UP, or Unbeaten Path. It’s a bike Vroomen designed for himself, after riding (like so many of us) across a variety of surfaces on his road bike. What if he had a bike that was purposely designed for riding just like that? At the same time, Vroomen talking a lot with another of the industry’s renowned engineers – the late, great Steve Hed. Hed’s ideas around utilizing 650B and 700C wheels in the same frame took hold with Gerard, and the UP was born.
The UP is, for lack of a better word, a beast. A renaissance man of bikes, it can run two wheel sizes for a variety of applications. 700c wheels with road tires for pavement, or with bigger, chunkier tires for “mixed” terrain, while allowing one to totally break the mold with 27.5″ mountain bike wheels wrapped in up to a 2.1″-max tire for true off-road versatility. This setup affords approximately the same wheel diameter as a traditional 700c setup, keeping geometry identical across the board (as Open calls it – GravelPlus). While the UP is not a true road bike, it metes out utility in spades, compromising across the board while giving up little in any circumstance. With a unique, dropped chainstay thanks to its carbon construction, it proffers a relatively short 420mm stay length, giving the bike a nimble road racer-esque feel while amplifying stability on high-speed dirt descents thanks to a long front-center, the same mentality that pervades modern mountain bike geometry in 2016. The bike has fairly aggressive geometry, more of a nod towards the road racing bikes that populate our dreams than the upright “Fondo” bikes that seem to be the template for most entrants into the space.
While we haven’t spent enough time on the UP to offer a true long-term review, our several rides on our pair of demo bikes have yielded nothing short of wide grins. We’ve setup both with SRAM’s 1×11 wide-range drivetrain with a 10-42t cassette and 42t chainring, giving the bike a gearing spread nearly as wide a traditional 50-34t crank/11-32 cassette setup, with a bit more grunt on the low-end. While the gaps between cogs is larger, the security, simplicity, durability, and weight savings with the 1x setup for a mixed-surface application is superb. From a weight perspective, our Open UPs built up between 17-18lbs without any concessions for weight on our end, and with some effort made towards shaving grams a low-16lb weight isn’t out of the question. We’ve become fond of the Maxxis Refuse tires as the weapon of choice on the UP, a file-tread tire derived from a narrow road training rubber with tubeless compatibility. While they absolutely fly on pavement, the 40mm x 700c size and 2.00in x 27.5in have such enormous amounts of volume that when aired to a cushy 30-45psi, they hook up in conditions we didn’t think possible.
The Open UP is a bike that we didn’t think we’d fall this hard for. This is Above Category, where absolute performance is the norm, and the UP isn’t. Instead, it’s absolute fun, and the high level of performance that follows is seemingly just a result, not an ends. Ripping downhills on loose dirt over huge balloon tires on our backroads in Marin is distinctly reminiscent of the birth of the mountain bike on cruiser bikes in the same place 40 years prior. We’re finding new routes we didn’t think possible after a decade of riding in our backyard thanks to the UP’s versatility on road and dirt, and it’s opening our eyes to a new mentality when it comes to the ride.
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