Why do some inventions change our behaviours while others strike us as unnecessary? What’s the hidden ingredient that can transform a pioneering idea into a true innovation? And what connects a gravel bike with an electric SUV?

Pioneers are those who believe in the power of possibility. Those that don’t just think the unthinkable but also aim to achieve it. There’s an inherent risk in what they do. Or, as Elon Musk puts it: ‘Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.’ So if Tesla fall short of their production goals, or if Open are seen as churning money into new developments, so be it. But what’s the alternative? To have no ambitious goals?

Ikea furniture, H&M highstreet fashion, Starbucks for coffee: our world is flooded with homogeneity, especially for consumers. We’re simultaneously bombarded with loosely cloaked claims of authenticity, craftsmanship and handmade that clearly prove otherwise. In order to rouse your product out of this swamp of sameness, it takes courage and, yes, that has an inherent risk of failure.

‘Innovate or die’ is how Specialized dub this approach. But a mere plea to keep developing and not stagnate is probably not that useful – at least, not all of the time. Imagine if the bike industry hadn’t had such an incessant desire to develop products in the past few years; it would have been far wiser to invest time into looking ahead: how are we going to be spending our leisure time in the future, and what sort of cycling will we be doing? Is there anything we could do in order to change current conditions? And even if the technical innovation makes sense, how do we get the message across to the consumers? Are there target markets that could be brought into the cycling-fold – and if so, how? Answering a lot of these questions requires that visionary mindset of those who comprehend human needs and can deliver thought-provoking impulses to alter our world for the better tomorrow.

Often there’s one brand who provides the impetus for the breakthrough, ushering in a new generation or a new lifestyle. They’re the same brand who can haul ass so that the whole industry get on board. Much like Tesla’s influence on the car industry, Open have done the same for today’s gravel generation. The Open U.P., created by Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen, embodies a new type of model. Known as the U.P, or Unbeaten Path, this bike doesn’t just take a new route, it has also signposted and paved it for the rest.

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The pioneers we’ve listed didn’t reinvent the wheel, although they have succeeded in puzzling together bits of the jigsaw in a new way. Electric cars were already around in the past century, but it took Elon Musk to convince the masses that this concept could represent the future of mobility.

If an idea appears technically logical, then it already has staying power. But it’s the innate ability to fascinate and inspire that reveals just how much true power is held within that idea. This applies to both Tesla and Open, whose U.P. model was awarded the coveted Design & Innovation Award back in 2016. In terms of its bike build, there’s nothing drastically new on the Open U.P., but it’d be sacrilege to classify it simply as a road bike with mountain bike tires. It pulled back the veil on a whole new sort of road riding. What emerges when innovation and fascination can be united is a product that can change how humans behave and interact with each other and the environment – this is when the vision can step up to become our reality.

What does all this mean for us? Individually we won’t alter the fate of humanity just by buying a certain product. But in an ideal case it can change our lifestyle and habits. Gravel bikes and electric SUVs permit you the freedom to take new routes – not just geographically but also mentally. They become not only a catalyst for our dreams, but also true innovations.

Hot off the heels of a good time with both Tesla and Open, our editor Ben contributed the following wisdom:
On certain occasions perhaps you could head out for a gravel grind rather than descending on the local pub. When it comes to skipping a ride, there are ample reasons to choose, but let’s be honest: nothing makes us feel more at ease and as a free as the feeling of escaping the city after a productive day at work. Let the car silently rev up and swoop you into the countryside, from where you can let your soul ride free on your new carbon whip for a while. All it takes is two ingredients to bring about balance and inner peace. Now, before you ask yourself if this luxury is reserved exclusively for the Tesla Model-X, let me assure you that the Model-S can bring about exactly the same results.

This article belongs to the GRAN FONDO Issue #006. For the full interactive experience we recommend reading it in our magazine app for iPhone & iPad – it’s awesome – and free!

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Words: Robin Schmitt, Benjamin Topf Photos: Alex de Cortada