There are certain standout products that redefine our thinking and carve out their own niche. Such as an iPad. And the all-new OPEN U.P. But aren’t they worlds apart from each other? What could they have in common? It might sound like a far out question, so let’s take a closer look.
Rewind a few years and the OPEN U.P. would have been met with equally confused looks from both road riders and mountain bikers: knobbly tyres, disc brakes, a 1×11 drivetrain and drop bars. Given the almost sacrilegious mix of parts and technologies, it’s likely that it would have been met with grunts of indignation and mutterings of how ‘things were better before.’ ‘What’s that supposed to do on the roads then?’ ‘Who needs such wide tyres?’ Grumble, grumble.
But times are changing. As a community of cyclists we’re more open and it’s met with a different attitude – there’s potential spotted, opportunities grabbed and excitement building – isn’t that what happened with the launch of the iPad back in 2011?
Just like Apple’s iPad, OPEN have utilized current technologies, but placed them in a whole new context to generate an entirely new product. No one knew they wanted it, or even considered it necessary, but iPads (and this OPEN too) have made us look up and open our eyes.
On the prowl!
Gravel roads, the wilderness, or tarmac? The natural habitat of the OPEN is partly betrayed by its name: the acronym U.P., standing for ‘Unbeaten Path,’ although this is somewhat vague, not entirely revealing the bike’s prowling ground. And rightly so; it depends on the build of the bike.
Compatible with 700c road, gravel, and cyclocross wheels (up to 40 mm), the OPEN can also house 27.5″ mountain bike wheels with tyres up to 2.1″ in width. The short and rigid 420 mm chainstays result in ultra-direct power transfer, while the super-thin seatstays offer significant gains in comfort and the X12 thru-axle guarantees rigidity and stability at the rear end. A wonderfully clean-looking bike, the carbon frame’s profile is narrow and stylish with internally routed cables and a pretty, distinctive paint job. Our test bike tipped the scales at 8.26 kg.
With picture-perfect mountain passes, water-carved alpine trails, flowing singletrack, and patchy, pothole-littered asphalt roads in virtual solitude, the region around Northern Italy’s Fanes served as our testing ground with the Dolomites encircling us. Just south of the Brenner motorway in Südtirol/South Tyrol you’ll find the mountain village of San Vigilio/St. Vigil on the southern side of the Kronplatz/Plan de Corones. From here we leave the hotel behind us, a mix of cobbles and tarmac at first as we head towards Pederü where the national park Fannes-Sennes-Prags starts.
On the road, the bike just doesn’t look at home, but it does somehow feel as though it belongs, bringing its roadie genes to the fore: the typical drop handlebars, stretched-out riding position with a 120mm stem, and minimalistic spec.
Despite the tractor-like tyres, this bright orange whip is a lithe gazelle on the tarmac, and – unlike a regular road bike – unfazed by the nastiest of Italian pothole-strewn roads. We could ride all day without stressing over the road surface (which makes a nice change from the UK!). Once we get further away from the village, the OPEN starts to feel right at home and the gravel beneath us is well within its capabilities. We’re inspired, and its off-the-cuff attitude spurs us from the asphalt and the gravel and onto the trails. It’s got grip, buttery smoothness and an incredibly comfy riding position. Gravel tracks are its indulgence and getting off-road opens up a new playground for us. We lose interest in finishing a race or reaching the top of a col – the OPEN just makes us want to ride for hours in every direction. Off the tarmac is a whole other ball game – it’s been a while since we mountain biked so we’re stiffer, less attuned to the nature and it’s harder to judge the height of roots in the trail. It all adds a new dimension to the ride.
Potholes try in vain to usurp the OPEN but they’ve got nothing on this whip. At 1.9″ wide, the Schwalbe Racing Ralph tyres defy punctures and add stability – particularly on wet tarmac. On roads in bad weather, it’s rapidly becoming the bike we are always going to turn to.
But if there’s one thing the OPEN lacks, then it’s the drive for pure speed; it’s not a race bike (nor does it claim to be one), but it would hold its own in amateur road racing and definitely cyclocross although you’d be a fool to expect the explosive power of a 6kg purebred road-racing machine. With basically bombproof 650B wheels and up to 2.1″ tyres, the OPEN U.P. has set its own physical limits with its wealth of rotating mass. Go with the flow rather than step on the gas, as uncompromising acceleration will have to be sought elsewhere. However, we’ll bet that you’ll be willing to compromise in return for its off-road competence.
The U.P. feels like a jump back to the origins of mountain biking, reawakening memories of early hardtails. Direct, pure, and pretty damn genuine – this is how the OPEN feels.
There’s constant feedback from every lump and bump on the ground, so small rocks and roots keep you on your toes. Your arms and legs become the suspension, so be prepared. It takes a certain level of bike-handling skills and clean line choices, but once you’ve nailed those then it’s damn fun. Cliché alert: less can be more!
The U.P. is going to tempt you to venture onto new terrain, to play around and push both your limits and those of the bike. With a high-quality carbon fiber frame, this Swiss company have created a bike that’s primed for virtually anything – but the rider needs to step up and take control.
Wanting to be much more than just a stable road bike, the OPEN U.P. deliberately blurs the lines between road and mountain biking, opening new horizons for its owner. By diving into this melting pot of rival concepts, OPEN have created something entirely new – it might look like an old friend, but don’t be fooled: it’s going to mark a new era, and herald a new category for bikes.
The OPEN U.P. is the embodiment of the evolution of cyclo-cross bikes, and testament to the benefits of unsettling the status quo by daring to create something unorthodox. You have the impression of just how much thought went into the R&D of the U.P., of how much consideration the Swiss team put into creating a bike that can cross boundaries and gain admiration from both roadies and mountain bikers. It’s a move that’s being reflected in events and races too: just look at the host of new road – or rather gravel – races that are springing up, like California’s Grinduro, and Italy’s Superenduro B-Road, which has enduro-style timed and transfer stages, leaving the asphalt for dusty gravel, and putting discovery and adventure firmly in the foreground.
If you’re ambitious and a proclaimed all-rounder, an advocate of minimalism and purism, content on and off the road, but mainly just want to expand your playground and push previous limits, then this is the perfect bike for you. The OPEN U.P. is for those who pave their own paths, not content with confining themselves to one discipline. And this brings us back to the iPad – neither smartphone nor laptop, it’s in that hazy middle ground, not crammed with gimmicks but offering everything necessary. Consequently, it’s easy to use, and capable of virtually everything. Like a Swiss penknife you could say, a civilized tool capable of surviving in our daily lives or the wilderness – whatever the situation.
The OPEN U.P. in detail
Equally as diverse as the OPEN U.P. South Tyrol is a melting pot of languages (German, Italian and Ladin) and cultures. There are cypress trees, apple orchards, ski pistes and palm trees. The regions of Kronplatz and Alta Badia are veritable paradises if you’re looking for a riding base, and the tranquility of San Vigilio serves this purpose well. You can head to Pederü in the nature park of Fanes-Sennes-Prags, taking in the gravel tracks and roads to enjoy the sense of freedom, loop around the Kronplatz, or head south on Alta Badia’s breathtaking Dolomite passes towards Cortina or Gröden.
Seeing as the OPEN U.P. is the velo-embodiment of adventure, it’d be a crime to type out any concrete route suggestions here. Trust your instincts, scan your eyes over a map, or ask the hotel receptionist. There are no limits.
Where to stay
You can find an overview of all bike-friendly hotels on the Bikehotel Website.
- Pedevilla, an award-winning architectural gem of a chalet in San Vigilio: lapedevilla.it
- Mölgg Dolomites Residence, stylish and sustainable; these are apartments built and managed by the World Cup ski siblings Mölgg in San Vigilo: moelgg-dolomites.com
- B&B Dolomit with a sporty owner: dolomit.it
- Excelsior ****s – Dolomiten Life Resort, great management, expansive bike garage, guided tours and wellness area: myexcelsior.com
- MountainLodge Tamersc, belongs to the Sport Hotel exclusive, the owner is a keen road cyclists and knows all the best routes: mountainlodge-tamersc.com
Words: Steffen Gronegger Photos: Christoph Bayer