I’ll just go out there and say it: the OPEN U.P. has had more of an impact on the cycling world than just about any bike released in the past twenty years. Don’t burn the roof of your mouth from how hot this take is.
I get it, the bike doesn’t look revolutionary. It doesn’t have the profile of an aero road bike, it lacks the advanced suspension technology of the latest mountain bikes, and it doesn’t have all the bolting points and mounts for all kinds of accessories that other gravel bikes might have. Logoing overall is muted, and if you have the frame custom painted, the logos don’t even need to be there. In short, paint it a flat color and the U.P. can be totally anonymous. Hop on the bike, however, and the U.P. is anything but unremarkable.
The OPEN U.P. was first announced in mid-2015. If there was fanfare, it came from being from a relatively small company whose founders were in charge of BMC (Andy Kessler) and a founder of Cervelo (Gerard Vroomen). But the details at the time were unique. It could fit both 700c road wheels riding anything between a 700 x 28c road tire and a 700 x 42c narrow MTB tire. Further, you could put in a 27.5 x 2.1″ XC mountain bike tire as well as a 650 x 47and it could fit both mountain bike cranks as well as road cranks without issue. At the time there wasn’t much that could match those numbers in a gravel bike. A few boutique brands came awfully close, and Cannondale had the novel Slate gravel bike, but there was always a compromise in one form or another, and little more than a niche bike for a niche demographic. Not the U.P.
See, the U.P. managed to fit those massive tires in a bike whose fit and geometry wasn’t far from an endurance road bike like the Cannondale Synapse or SCOTT Addict. And wouldn’t you know it, there was an untapped contingency of cyclists who wanted to ride on the dirt, but didn’t want to give up the familiarity of a road bike, its controls, or fit. Not the OPEN. Here in Salt Lake City, one could ride the local MTB trails in the morning, head to work, and join the Monday Night road ride on a different set of tires or even wheels. It isn’t like anything has changed (outside of a lack of a group ride due to social distancing); you can absolutely still do those things, and years later, the U.P. fills the jack-of-all-trades role better than just about anything.
What made the bike all the more impressive was the brand’s approach. The brand’s founders, Gerard Vroomen and Andy Kessler, came from backgrounds that placed engineering before everything else. With Cervelo and BMC, this was manifested in super-light bikes, aero bikes, and bikes that were aimed at going fast. OPEN Cycle was a vastly different approach with little to no marketing, and definitely no marketing-driven products. Further, the U.P. frameset was initially available in very limited quantities, making it a relative unknown among gravel bikes.
A number of bikes that were revolutionary at the time had questionable design choices, particularly in hindsight. Not the U.P., and while there are minor quibbles one can make here or there about the bike, there is no disputing the imprint this bike has made on the gravel bike scene, much less road bikes. Many brands have mirrored the stripped-down aesthetic of OPEN, though features like the top tube bottle mount, dropped chainstay, and combined thru-axle and derailleur hanger mount highlight just how forward-thinking the bike was.
The OPEN U.P. is about substance over style, though the frameset is offered in two unique blue and green color schemes, with a ready to paint option to create a bike that is truly an extension of your style and taste. Few bikes offer the versatility and the clean slate approach that allows the rider to make the bike exactly what they want it to be. For that reason, as well as the myriad reasons detailed above, the OPEN U.P. is the bike that started and is continuing, a revolution.