Thursday, April 26, 2001

klite

OPEN U.P.

This will be a pretty wide ranging post, because it covers a lot of firsts for me. My first 1x groupset. My first full through-axle bike, and only my second Press-fit BB. Hopefully it's my first decent SRAM hydraulic system.The OPEN U.P. might be regarded as the first high-profile, modern "All-road" bike, if we disregard the bikes of old, that allowed the use of wider tires than normal, and may have even been called touring or rando bikes. The OPEN U.P. (Unbeaten Path) was styled so differently to anything else out there at the time, with its fat frame lines and minimalist branding and subtle colour-ways. Its the complete opposite of the cycle-tourist with seemed to have hit a winner first up and their timing seemed to be perfect with the resurgence in supple tand fat tires, 650b wheel-sets, and a move away from the dangers of road cycling where you have to share with an ever increasing numberof cell-phone distracted car users.

The frame
The frame alone costs more than 3 times the cost of the previous whole bike I bought, so it's pretty much a "Superbike" by my definition. I'm not really your typical Superbike kind of a person, normally I'd go for a more fiscally conservative option, but the stars lined up and a demo bike became available. My favourite and most adaptable bike, up until now has been my Surly Karate Monkey. The OPEN U.P. is no Karate Monkey, at 1040 grams the frame weighs less than the Karate Monkey's fork, but is still 160 grams heavier than the OPEN U.P.P.E.R model, which also is significantly more expensive. Given the riding I am doing on it, I am happy to have the beefier frame. The guys at OPEN, Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen get credit for the dropped chain-stay design that gives them clearance for fat tires and yet still obtain road-bike levels of Q-factor. Q-factor is very trendy in marketing circles these days, although Shimano seem to be bucking this trend a bit recently with their wider GRX groupset and their "nerd cranks" going down to a smaller chain-rings than I believe the OPEN can handle anyway.

Maxxis Ramblers with Carbon saddle
Some people call me a luddite, but I'm not sure.... I am interested in tech, but not tech for techs sake. I was a pretty early Power meter user and I got a dynamo hub with USB converter quite early on too, so I am not afraid of tech. On the other hand I can look at electronic shifting and think, oh cool, but I am not seeing a major advantage other than geekery, although someone did point out an advantage to me the other day, no jammed cables in the mud. So the OPEN U.P. is a massive change for me in terms of the technology that passes for normal on many bikes today.

The OPEN U.P. is supposed to be a "quiver killer". You could in theory get rid of your CX bike, your road bike, your touring bike and your bikepacking bike with this machine. This is assuming a lot of things. One of the things it assumes is that you have a spare set of wheels and enough gearing to cover all the different scenarios. I did manage to get rid of all of the above bikes, except the road bike. It's just not worth trying to sell. The OPEN frame has 3 separate bottle cage mount points, which is a must for bikepacking, and a "not-very" sloping top-tube, which is also great for a frame bag, or even better, a half-frame bag, if you want to use those water bottles. It also has a mounts on the top-tube which make mounting of a "gas-tank" very easy. You can either bore holes in you current one for mounting, or use "magnetic" mounts. The "frame fit" is interesting. I am 5" 10" and I have short legs, and a long torso, and yet I have a decent amount of seat-post sticking out on my "medium" frame. Traditionally, I would end up with not much seat-post showing on a medium sized frame. I know several people who have accidently ended up with the wrong sized frame for their bodies, so a bit a research needs to be done to make sure you get it right. I think I have more work to do in nailing my position still. There is plenty more to read about the internally routed frame cabling of the bike below, but one thing that I found disappointing was that the rear deraileur cable exit point from the chain stay is only compatible with road styled derailers, not a brilliant move for a bike that you might like to throw an MTB derailer on. I know of one guy who has managed to by-pass this by routing his cable out the bottom of his bottom bracket and running it on the underside of his chain-stay so he can use a clutched XO 10 speed MTB derailer. A lot of fuss just so he can get clutched 2x  shifting.

Stealth bike bag mounted on the provided location.
The running gear
Out of the box, the OPEN U.P. came with the Easton/SRAM Force 1x kit. A pretty solid build. Easton EA70ax wheels and bars, Maxxis Rambler tires, a Thomson seat-post and stem, and a very pretty, but painfully narrow Brooks Cambium saddle. The 130mm perch was a good 40mm too narrow for my butt, so I threw a  place-holder carbon saddle on. It was so much more comfortable than the narrow Brooks.

Gearing
All of my experiences so far relate to the SRAM Force 1x groupset that it came with, so bear this in mind. I am sure another group-set would get a completely different result. At this point the gearing is still a bit of an issue for me. Much time has been spent poring over gearing calculators, weighing up the pros and cons of 1x vs 2x. There is plenty of info on the OPEN website about the options, but unfortunately they start with the statement  "So start with the gearing you had on your existing road bike". Road bike gearing is the last thing I am thinking about. CX gearing, bikepacking gearing and MTB gearing are all things that I am interested in, but I still want at least the equivalent of a 44 front and an 11 rear, to nail the long tarseal descents on my commute to work, AND the ability to climb a hill with at least 21.8 gear inches down low, thats a 36/46 front rear climbing pair.

SRAM long-cage Rival derailer on left, Force short-cage on the right. Rival shifts to a 46, the Force only to a 36.

Currently for me, the jury is still out on the 1x. When delivered, the OPEN came with a 42 tooth chain-ring on the front and a 36 on the back. That is not going to get you very far in Wellington. That's not even 1 to 1. Actually, I found one scenario where it was acceptable, the Tour de Gravel in Marlborough was quite doable with a 42 on the front, for my fitness at the time anyway. Commuting on the flat is alright as long as there is not a lot of extended downhill. The steepest climb I am likely to do is called the "Tip-track" and it is mostly made up from two 15% sections on loose 4wd. With a 650B wheelset on with a 36 on the front and a 46 on the back, it was doable. But then if a couple of days later I wanted to do a local bunch ride, I would have to take the 36 off and replace it with the 42, and swap the wheels. Unfortunately the standard mid-length cage Force 1 rear deraileur was pretty hopeless, it only allowed me to shift to a 36 on the back, probably because of the little stop that it has, which inhibits its ability to rotate back further. It was replaced with a long cage Rival version, which incidentally weighed the same, a portly 271 grams. That's quite heavy for a deraileur that is supposed to work in 1x mode only. A SRAM Red derailer weighs in at 145 grams, almost half. Not that I am ever going to buy a new SRAM red derailer, but there are plently of dentists who will. There is also the issue of just how big a gear you can shift into with a road derailer before putting on a "Road-link".

Is Force 1x or mostly 1x?
I have managed to use a bunch of different front sprockets on this bike, a 36, a 38, a 42 and a 44, with 2 different rear cassettes, an 11-42 and an 11-46, all running the same length of chain, so I started to wonder if it was truly a  1x deraileur. According to the "internet" and the little diagram SRAM did, it's 1x only. I started to experiment a bit with running two different chain-rings on the front in "shift-with-a-stick" mode. On the front I had a 44 and a 36, and on the back I tried an 11-42, and an 11-46. The drive train seemed to deal with it very well. The 44-46 combo was pretty ugly, but everything else was acceptable. So that's an 8 tooth gap on the front. Is that enough to warrant keeping the existing porky derailer, or would you rather go for a more typical wider range front combo, 46/34 up front, with less of a dinner plate on the back, and a road based deraileur? If you are a weight weener you will know that that the monstrous 1x rear clusters can weigh more than a front double ring and front derailer combined. This is still largely 1x talk, but relevant in the choices that the OPEN gives you to deal with the different options as you will see below.

Maxxis Ardents front and rear. Not enough room for the 2.2 on the back. Swapped to a 2.0 Specialized


Tires and wheels
I can safely say, I don't have another bike that handles as well as this one. On the road with my 38 mm Compass Barlow Pass tires it inspires a ton of confidence. These really are the default tires on the OPEN for me, as they are still a very capable compromise off road on the typical trails around Polhill or Belmont where I do a lot of riding.

The 700 x 43 mm Panaracer Gravel Kings are a very robust tire I used for the recent Akatarawa Gravel Fondo. They obviously lack the suppleness of the Compass tire, but there is no place for suppleness when riding on parts of the Karapoti Classic course anyway. I probably should have had the 650b wheels on for teh Aka Fondo, but I was hoping for an easier ride on the faster stuff. The Gravel Kings still track really well on the road when heeled over at speed, but they obviously feel a lot slower than the Barlow Passes with their substantial tread.

In 650b mode I am running a Specialized Fastrack Control on the back at 2.0 inches, and a 2.2 Maxxis Ardent on the front. This is a ridiculous tire for a weener bike like the OPEN, and at 730 grams the tire weighs 3/4s the weight of the bike's actual frame. The fat front tire had quite an impact on the handling compared to the 700 wheels. Not bad, just different. You get used to it, but it is just obviously more "MTB-like". There is something about the accurate steering of a narrow tire that I enjoy when on the trails on a gravel or cross bike. Despite the weight of the front tire, in 650b mode, the whole bike still weighs less than my carbon road bike. I enjoy the 650b wheels in the weekends on the trails but the default wheelset is the 700c Easton EAX  with the Barlow Passes for commuting and "unplanned excursions".

I have a dynamo wheel built up in 650b and used the 47mm WTB Horizons for a short time. They seemed to feel a bit slow to me and felt like they fitted in somewhere between the Barlow Pass and the Specialized/Maxxis combo. The Horizons do look very robust, so it would be a hard decision to pick between them and the Gravel Kings for bikepacking. Having the dynamo in 650b mode would likely swing it. I guess there are plenty of other fast rolling 650b tires to look at as well.

K-Lite dynamo lighting kit on the 650b SP hub with Raceface rim. I cant wait til its dark again

Tinkering with bikes
I've always been a tinkerer, its part of the enjoyment I get out of personalising my bike, for aesthetics or performance. It's not unlike the satisfaction that my wife gets out of planting and maintaining her garden. I kind of expect most people to be like this, but I know they are not. This is why I have rejected running tubeless tires for so long. It's not uncommon for me to swap my tires 3 times in 2 weeks, depending on what I am doing, commuting, a Hill Climb, a Gravel fondo. I just cant be bothered with the mess of tubeless. But now I've bitten the bullet and got a "tank" and tubelessed my 650b wheels. The 700's had gizz in them when running the Gravel Kings for the Akatarawa Gravel fondo, but a few days later I de-gizzed them and went back to the Barlow Passes with tubes for commuting.

The OPEN is a very pretty bike, and to date, I have never read a bad thing about it, apart from the price. But the aesthetic comes at a cost. After swapping out my rear derailier to get a better range, my cable was now deformed, it would not thread back into my new long-cage derailer. No problem, I will just replace the derailler cable. Not so fast....

There is a good reason why dentist bikes all use electronic shifting.... the cables are all on the inside of the bike. Any time you want to change a derailler cable on the OPEN, you will need to remove the crank, and bash out the press-fit BB. I could not believe it. I emailed OPEN, and Andy Kessler, one of the owners of OPEN, to his credit, replied in minutes, (they really are a 2-man company) but I was gob-smacked. To make matters worse, at my local bike shop, the proper extraction tool was not working on the stubborn plastic BB. Eventually we got it out by bashing out one of the bearings independently, as it was causing a very tight fit. Once that was trashed, we were able to whack out the plastic BB shell. This was a very traumatizing experience for someone with a $5,500 dollar light-weight frame, and repeating the procedure every time I need to replace my derailer cable, or change from a 1x to a 2x set-up does not encourage me to want to tinker with this bike's shifting mechanisms. So yeah, maybe there is a use-case for electronic gears after all. Probably SRAM AXS. It's just a shame I am not a dentist.

Enter here if you want to change your deraileur cable. But first remove the bottom bracket.

Brakes
I was initially very apprehensive about the brakes, having had only bad experiences with Avid hydraulic brakes. The "Easter Island" styled brakes have on the whole been a pretty good experience so far. Occasionally the front one rubs/squeaks, and the rear brake has developed a bias towards one side, which I need to deal with properly. But they are powerful, which means I tend to ride more on the hoods than I normally would. They also have a high profile which gives me confidence that my hands wont bump off in the rough stuff. The discs are 160mm at both ends, and it is very easy to accidently lock up the rear. In fact, on my first ride off a very steep and wet street, I accidently locked up and slid into a major road-way. Lesson learned.

The brave new world of direct mount chain-rings. Kill all your spiders and save a few grams !

The OPEN is an amazing bike. It's crazy light, it handles like a dream, on and off road, and I love the colour. For me I feel that it works best in most situations with the 700 wheels, but that is with limited time on anything other than my beefy 650b Ardents up front. I suspect that something a bit less aggressive will bring back something closer to the nimbleness of the 700s.

So I think that covers most things. A lot of what I have mentioned relates to 1x and SRAM's groupset more than it does to the OPEN itself. Initially I was a bit peeved at the SRAM Force crank with its hidden chain-ring bolt nonsense but once I realised how easy it was to remove the whole spider from the crank and access the chain-ring bolts that way, I got over it. This crank has probably been on and off more than all the cranks on my other 10 bikes over the last 2 years. The direct drive system for mounting sprockets without spiders was all new to me as well, but rather than getting out an allen key, and a torx driver to change gears, I'm more likely to opt for one of those old fashioned front deraileur things. I guess I am a luddite eh?


Appendix
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deraielr exit points 

Some recent events 'Ive done in the last few months and the tires I have used.

Original tires - Maxxis Ramblers 40mm, (435 grams)
The Tour de gravel - Compass Barlow pass, 38 mm, (360 grams)
The Boganduro - Panaracer Gravel Kings 43mm, (490 grams)
Short test rides - Panaracer Pasela 38mm, (420 grams)
Short test rides - WTB Horizons, 47mm, in 650b (505 grams)
Vets Hill climb - Specialized Roubaix 32/30 (390 grams)
Akatarawa Gravel Fondo - Panaracer Gravel Kings, 43 mm, (490 grams).
Vets Hill climb - Compass Barlow pass, 38 mm, (360 grams)
Casual weekend trail riding, in 650b  - Maxxis Ardent 2.2 (730 grams) + Specialized Fasttrack 2.0 (530 grams)






Tuesday, April 03, 2001

The Heaphy Track and Richard the programmer

A few years back the announcement was made that the Heaphy track was going to be closed to bicycles. I had heard a lot about the ride so a buddy and I decided to that we would ride it before it became off limits for ever.

We had a pretty busy long weekend planned that involved catching the Cook Strait ferry to Picton and a couple of hours driving to Takaka in Golden bay, where we would stay with my brother in law for the night and hit the track the next morning. The aim was to complete a there and back crossing in 2 days. I had a workmate who had run it in a day so figured it would be easily achievable on our mountainbikes.

The weather going over on the ferry was pretty atrocious and it rained late into the night. Miraculously the next morning the weather had cleared and an early start had us on the trail at about 8am .

Pretty soon we came across a couple who had been on the track the previous day during the bad weather. The track had turned into a river on them, and yet there was nothing to show for it. Obviously they were drenched, but there was no pooled water or degradation of the track to be seen. The conditions on the track were great and we only ocasionally came across people none of whom seemed to be to upset at sharing the track with a couple of cyclists. Sometime mid afternoon we came across some personal effects in the middle of the track. I cant recall what it was, a bank book or something, maybe a hut pass. Then low and behold, some more stuff. Maybe it was a wallet. its a while ago now so I cant remember exactly.

Some time later we actually came across this guy, pushing a "10 - speed" style road bike on the track. Immediately my buddy Gary sized up the situation. The guy's saddle bags were open and he was spilling his vaulables along the length of the Heaphy track. Armed with the knowledge we had gleaned from his personal belongings my buddy Gary launched into life!
"Hey Richard !"
The guy turned around stunned that someone might recognise him in such a remote place.
"Hey its me Gary! Remember I went to school with you!!"
More blank looks from "Richard".
"How are ya goin?"
Gary was having a great old time winding up Richard and eventually he let him in on the gag. It turned out that he was an american computer programmer who took his holidays in 2 month blocks and went travelling the world.

We asked him what the hell he was doing riding a road bike on what is generally regarded as a 3 to 5 day walking tramp. Richard replied that when he asked some local what the trail was like they said...
"Its a highway mate"
You had to laugh.

Anyway. We were treated with some amazing views and a good supply of the west coasts most voracious predator, the ravenous sandfly.

The next day we made the return trip and as we hit the car at the trails end, the heavens opened up. By the time we got to the Ferry the next morning, the township of Motueka had flooded behind us.

We had exactly 2 days worth of brilliant weather to ride one of the great rides, before it was made out of bounds.


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