I really shouldn’t start my review with this, but I’m going to. The Open UPPER has become my all-time favorite bike. Period. End of story. If you buy one, you’ll love it. Gerard Vroomen and crew have outdone themselves with this one. There, my review is complete. Still not convinced? Go ahead and read on to find out just what makes the Open UPPER so darn special.

Open UPPER Features:

  • Strategically-placed carbon for best durability, light weight and performance (TRCinTRS)
  • Internal cable routing for mechanical or electronic
  • Dropped chainstay to accommodate wide tires and chainrings
  • RoadPlus tire clearance (Up to 2.1″ x 27.5 MTB or 700x40c)
  • U-Turn fork is optimized for flat mount brakes and 160mm rotors without adapters
  • Thin “wire stays” for comfort and lateral stiffness
  • Seat Tube optimized for zero-setback seatpost
  • Thruthread rear dropout
  • Frame Weight: 880 grams (stated, didn’t get a chance to weigh it)
  • Complete Build: 17.7 lbs — Large frame, Zipp 303 650b/WTB Byway
  • MSRP: $4500 – UPPER // $2900 – UP (frame only)
Open UPPER Review / Lake Herman, South Dakota

The UPPER at Lake Herman, South Dakota.

The “Go Ride Anywhere” Bike

As the test mule for SRAM Red eTap AXS, the Open UPPER was set up for success from the start. Dressed in stealth black with eTap AXS, Zipp cockpit and Zipp 303 650b wheels, the UPPER had me at hello. Wireless drivetrains simplify every custom build. No more hiding batteries in seatposts or routing flimsy wires through frames — just route the brake lines and you’re golden.

The UPPER frame is identical to the UP in geometry, features, spec and tire clearance. The only difference is in the carbon layup. With that, the UPPER does shave off 180 grams and is the only one available in stealth black. Both frames can be ordered as Ready to Paint (RTP), so you can work with local frame painters to get it just right.

Having spent some time with Open Co-founder, Gerard Vroomen, discussing the Open UPPER, it’s no surprise that the UP/UPPER was built from the start to perform like a capable, fast and responsive road bike (but with RoadPlus capability). Having ridden other gravel bikes (which honestly, leave something to be desired on the road), the UPPER has none of that. In fact, most gravel bikes claim all-road supremacy, but the UPPER actually delivers it.

Top of the Alpine Loop with an Open UPPER

Atop the Utah’s Alpine Loop with the UPPER.

Ride Quality and Manners

In recent years, I’ve had to pay extra attention to the little things that make one bike stand out over another because it’s like splitting hairs these days. With gravel bikes, the comfort of the frame is masked by the large-volume tires they sport. But, is the bike comfortable without the squishy tires? That’s a fair question. And, after riding the UPPER with Roval CL 50 Disc wheels, this bike is comfortable even with 26mm tires. No, it doesn’t feature shocks or doodads to achieve this level of comfort — it’s just built with an added measure of compliance. Is it a magic carpet ride like the GT Grade Carbon Pro? Well, no. But, it feels much more responsive, in my opinion.

A hallmark of the UPPER is its ability to morph into whatever type of bike you want it to be. My favorite configuration was in 650b mode with Roval CLX 32 650b wheels and Specialized Pathfinder Pro 650b 47c tires rolling between 35-38 psi. In that guise, I could still hit the local road climbs and tackle even the roughest gravel and singletrack in-between. It was with that configuration that I tackled the 100-mile SBT GRVL Blue course in August.

SBT GRVL 2019 and the Open UPPER

At the SBT GRVL finish — this setup was flawless!

Even though SBT GRVL organizers said a 35c tire would suffice for the course, I knew that the above combo was wicked-fast and would provide added traction and comfort over that long of a distance. I rolled out with confidence and loved everything about the course and the Open UPPER on it. Throughout the day, I chatted with other UP/UPPER owners and they were equally stoked on their bikes.

With a similar configuration (Zipp 303 650b and WTB Byway 47), I brought the UPPER along for a trip through Colorado and the Upper Midwest. I could not have been happier as I confidently pedaled through the endless gravel roads of Colorado, Minnesota and South Dakota. It just feels like a monster truck that can plow through anything, but still rolls smooth and fast on the paved roads back to town.

Riding gravel in Minnesota aboard the Open UPPER

Oh, Minnesota gravel, how I love you!

Back home here in Utah, I further extended the capability of the UPPER by installing the new Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V wheelset with R3 32c Hard-Case Lite tires. That particular combination might just be the sweet spot for all-around use. I summited Utah’s Alpine Loop (3000 ft. climb) with one of my fastest times, descended mountain roads with confidence, rolled around the local haunts and dabbled in some light gravel.  With that setup, the UPPER just feels fun. It responds quickly, handles adeptly and feels like a good road bike should.

On top of it all, the geometry is such that getting a proper fit (for a non-racer, like myself) doesn’t require a ton of spacers under the stem. Should you want a more aggressive position, it’s as easy as going with a more aggressive stem. The generous stack/reach on the UPPER is hidden well and looks proportional. There’s no overly-tall head tube or tons of exposed seatpost — just a classic-looking frame. I guess, the exception is the dropped drive-side chainstay, but without that, there is no UPPER. That’s how both tire and drivetrain clearance is achieved without funky chainlines, wide Q-factors, long wheelbase and such. In fact, that 420mm rear chaninstay length is only 10mm longer than even the raciest disc road bikes, which adds to the UPPER’s ride characteristics.

Open UPPER with Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V

Rolling some “light gravel” with Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V and R3 32c tires.

When standing and climbing, the UPPER feels natural and smooth. There’s no front wheel flopping or wandering at all. Again, the balance and geometry of the UPPER is spot-on for all types of road and gravel riding. So, if you haven’t figured this out by now, you won’t find yourself missing your current road bike one bit.

On sinuous mountain descents, overall handling is excellent. It likes to swoop in/out of turns like a great road bike should. It descends any road at any speed with confidence. While it is a good overall handler at speed, it isn’t quite as sharp as a Pinarello Dogma F10 or Specialized Venge Pro (but nobody expects it to be). It does feel and handle like a top-tier endurance road bike (which is just what most riders enjoy).

Open UPPER with Roval CL 50 Wheels

Dialed in with the fast Roval CL 50 wheels and 26c tires.

Build Kit and Setup

To match the UPPER, I installed SRAM’s latest Red eTap AXS groupset with their lowest 2x range (10-33t cassette and 46/33t chainrings). Not only does this allow for a 1:1 low gear, but it also pedals out at higher speeds than 1x. In addition, the small chainring gaps allows for the proper cadence on any terrain. Long climbs really highlighted this as I feathered the gears with every undulation in the terrain.

The clean lines of a wireless groupset really allow the UPPER to shine. And, the U-Turn fork makes for natural 160mm rotors using a no-brainer mount without any adapters at all. At this point, why don’t all road disc frames come with natural 160mm mounts?

Open UPPER Front Cable Stop

That little bolt wiggled free at some point, so I rigged up a zip tie and electrical tape.

Some Quibbles

No bike is perfect, but I’ve got to get pretty nit-picky when calling out the UPPER. I didn’t oversee the build, but somehow I ended up with a little bit of rear brake hose rattle. Open includes a few rubber bumpers to thread onto the brake line, but I don’t know for sure if they were placed correctly. Work with your local shop to ensure everything is installed correctly to prevent any cable rattle. Later on, I installed a lightweight sleeve around the brake hose and that has pretty much eliminated any rattling.

Related to that, the cable stops are well-built and are offered in flavors to suit electronic or mechanical shifting. But, the hex bolts on them are so teeny that I don’t even have a proper wrench for it (and I have some pretty small wrenches). The bolt started wiggling loose and tried to tighten it, but ended up losing that bolt. I have a spare and will need to head to the hardware store to get a small enough allen key and Loctite to ensure it stays put this time.

I’m getting picky here, but I’ve got another thing related to the frame hardware. I hate, hate, hate alloy bottle cage bolts. They strip out and are generally not worth the hassle. I’m told that those bolts are “finishing” bolts and aren’t intended to be used for cages. Hmmm… okay. I installed titanium bolts to hold the Silca Sicuro bottle cages and will be sourcing titanium or stainless bolts to replace all the others. Oh, and because of the geometry, most riders require a zero setback post (and that’s what Open recommends). That does place the lower water bottle in a position that requires some contorting to reach, so be aware.

SIZING: I’m 5’11” and comfortably rode the size large frame.

The Good

  • Hands-down the most “fun” bike I’ve owned
  • Lightweight and nimble
  • Accepts a wide range of rubber
  • In 650b mode, this bike is like a monster truck (that still pedals well on roads)
  • Feels so balanced and natural on standing climbs
  • Excellent geometry allows for an easy fit for non-racers
  • U-Turn fork with 160mm natural caliper mounts is so clean
  • The sweet spot of comfort and responsiveness

The Bad

  • Toss those bottle cage bolts that came with the frame
  • Tiny hex screws for cable stop inserts — really tiny
  • Brake hose rattle (if not installed carefully)
  • Chain keeper would be a nice touch

The Bottom Line: Open UPPER

Every time I swing a leg over the UPPER, I feel at home. This bike speaks to my soul in a way no other bike has done before. Yeah, there are faster road bikes out there, but nothing matches the overall capabilities and performance that the Open UPPER delivers. It rides confidently on any road, like a good road bike should, then begs to be taken off road (and nails that too). This one is staying in the stable for a long time.

Buy Now: Available at ContenderBicycles.com

In Summary

9.4 Boom! Mic Drop.

Few gravel bikes deliver the all-around prowess they promise. Most are great on gravel, but uninspiring on the road. The Open UPPER changes the game by delivering excellent on-road performance combined with inspired and capable off-road prowess. That "one bike quiver" is a reality with the UPPER.

  • Ride Quality/Comfort 10
  • Handling 9
  • Climbing (Road) 9
  • Climbing (Gravel/Dirt) 10
  • Descending (Road) 9
  • Descending (Gravel/Dirt) 10
  • Pedaling Efficiency 10
  • Value 8
  • Aesthetics 10

About Author

A native of the Pacific Northwest, Jason quickly developed a love for the outdoors and a thing for mountains. That infatuation continues as he founded this site in 1999 -- sharing his love of road biking, mountain biking, trail running and skiing. That passion is channeled into every article or gear review he writes. Utah's Wasatch Mountains are his playground.

22 Comments

  1. Hi Jason! I was looking at some of your reviews and saw that you have ridden the Open UPPER with both Roval CL 50’s as well as the Bontrager Aeolus PRO 3V. I was deciding between these two as a wheelset for my Up. I know they have slightly different purposes (one geared towards gravel and the other an aero wheel for the road), but thoughts between the two?

  2. Matt… thanks for the comment. I’m stoked you’re building an UP — you’ll love it.

    I did just post my review of the Aeolus PRO 3V this morning:

    https://www.feedthehabit.com/gear-reviews/bontrager-aeolus-pro-3v-gravel-wheelset-review/

    No doubt, they are great, gravel-focused wheels. Setting them up tubeless is a cinch too. They don’t roll quite as well as the CL 50’s and weigh a little more, but I would be worried rolling the CL 50’s on aggressive terrain since rocks and such tend to flip sideways and hit the sidewalls. With the CL 50’s you get more sidewall and more exposure to that type of damage.

    If you’re only tackling smooth gravel, the CL 50’s with a 32c tire would be great, but again, you’ll be reducing the aero gains that 50mm wheels provide when you put a large tire on them.

    So, if you’re mostly road with a little bit of gravel, maybe a 30c tire on the CL 50’s would be great. But, if you’re planning to roll meatier rubber, I’d just go with the 3V’s and save some coin in the process.

  3. Great review and spot on! As I mentioned in a previous post, I own the OPEN UP, and absolutely believe that is the best bike that I have ever owned!!! Yes, I have owned a lot of great bikes over the years, but this one just makes you smile with confidence every time you throw a leg over it.

    Due to the recommendation here and my local shop, I switched from 700c to 650b, and could not believe the increase in the fun factor, comfort, and overall performance. I am running a nice set of carbon wheels with Donnely MSO Xplor 50’s, and holy moly these tires rock!!!

    Thanks again for all of the great content and I look forward to reading more great reviews in 2020!!!

  4. That’s funny. I have a Open U.P. and the only one thing that I hated about the bike was the bottle cage bolts. Overall I’m also really impressed with the bike, specially how resposive it is on climbs. Nice article.

  5. Nice review Jason. I agree that the UPPER is just about the best bike I’ve ever owned, and certainly the most versatile. Being able to swap from a set of Scwalbe Pro 1 700×30 to 650b x 2.1 knobbies just extends the range so well. The bike is comfortable without being sluggish, and light without feeling twitchy on road and dirt. I’ve not encountered the issues you mention with a brake hose rattle or stipping or loose bolts. My bike was set up by Crow’s Feet Commons in Bend, and they had already built up numerous UP/UPPER bikes before, so maybe they were prepared for this. My hat is off to the guys at OPEN for implementing their great design. Now, I don’t think about other bikes, I just think about different tire and wheel combos to take with me on road trips.

  6. It’s hard to find a reasonable estimate of what a full build on this bike would be online. Realizing that there’s a lot of personal choice, what sort of range would you estimate full builds will run, i.e., assuming the components Open offers as suggestions on their site?

  7. Philip… that complete build as shown with Zipp 303 Firecrest 650b wheels, Red eTap AXS, Quarq DZero, Zipp cockpit, Open UPPER frame, etc. will cost between $10,500 and $11,000 at full retail. When buying a complete build from a local dealer, they may have a little better costs, but you’d be looking at that type of range at full retail.

    It is an incredible bike and a build that will last a long time, but it’s not cheap. To cut costs, going with Force eTap AXS, ditching the power meter and opting for lower-cost wheels would save several thousand dollars. Of course, going with the UP instead of the UPPER on top of that would drop it closer to the $5000 to $6000 range. Hope that helps!

  8. Jason – I really enjoy your well grounded reviews. Two of the gravel bikes you have reviewed recently are on my shortlist, and would be great to get a clearer comparison. Between the GT Grade and Upper – which do you like better off road, especially on rougher gravel and singletrack (assuming better than kit tires on the GT)? I’m thinking more about capability and confidence, vs. comfort. Thanks!

  9. The UP/UPPER really can handle just about anything — especially with 650b wheels. Personally, that’s my top choice and setup for the ultimate versatility. It also happens to be the most comfortable. The GT Grade is so smooth due to that unique rear triangle. As far playfulness, the UP/UPPER is hard to beat. It just feels so nimble. The Grade doesn’t feel quite as playful, but with some wider tires, it could be very capable — I just wouldn’t call it playful.

    Hopefully that makes some sense. Both are great bikes that have been a ton of fun. I’ll toss the Argon 18 Dark Matter into the ring as well. It’s in for review now and it’s a great bike.

  10. Kim Derlich on

    Hi Jason – Thanks for a good reveiw… Im about to build a UP og UPPER.. even that money is not that importen, I do think its a lot for 180 gram, if I cant feel the different ?
    And what´s your experience with 1 x setup… Im thinking AXS mullet, with force shifters, XX1 back and a 1295 cassette… or GRX di2 shifters for + back, and a sram 10-42 cassette..
    Wheels, I have the G23 for summer, and need som 650 for rough trail and winter…

    Hope you have some imput for me.

    Thanks / Kim

  11. The UP and UPPER will be very hard to distinguish and it is only 180 grams, as you stated. I have tested the AXS Mullet groupset and I quite like it overall. You can read my review here:
    https://www.feedthehabit.com/road-biking/review-sram-red-xx1-etap-axs-mullet-build/

    If you are primarily on pitchy gravel, the mullet build is great. For smooth gravel or mostly road, I’m a 2x fan — especially with the existing Red AXS 10-33 or the new wide-range Force AXS 10-36 cassette.

  12. Hey – great review, thank you
    Struggling to decide between UP/UPPER and the Specialized Roubaix. Usage mostly (not so great) road with occasional detours. I have a Diverge and feels tad sluggish on road, but do like the comfort…

  13. Angui… thanks for the comment and question. I haven’t ridden the most recent Roubaix, so I can’t speak to how that one rides. I’ve heard good things about it. As far as the Diverge goes, it’s not quite as responsive on the road as the UPPER is.

    While the UPPER is no Specialized Venge Pro on the road, it’s about as responsive and zippy as you’d ever want or need in a pure road bike. And… it just so happens to be able to handle huge gravel tires too. I still absolutely love it.

  14. The Open UP(PER) actually has some of the most aggressive frame geometry in this category. Good that it worked for you, but many (most?) people will not fit this bike without quite a few spacers.

  15. Thanks for your comment. The stack/reach of the large UPPER is 580/387, which puts it more in an endurance or gravel race bike geometry, that’s true, but it’s not out of line with much of the competition. It does happen to fit me quite well and comfortably. I ride with about 2.5″ saddle-to-bar drop and could reduce my stack height about 5mm further on the UPPER and still be in that range.

    If you do compare the UPPER to others in this category, you’ll find that quite a few are actually within 1-2% of the stack/reach figures for a 55-56cm frame:

    Open UP/UPPER: 580/387
    3T Exploro: 575/390
    3T Exploro Racemax: 584/385
    Cervelo Aspero: 580/397
    Norco Search XR: 580/390
    Trek Checkpoint SL: 586/387
    Cannondale Topstone Carbon: 579/385
    Rodeo Traildonkey 3.1: 576/384
    Salsa Warbird: 585/381
    Pivot Vault: 589/398
    Factor LS: 585/392
    Viathon G.1: 582/388
    Ibis Hakka MX: 580/382
    Argon 18 Dark Matter (0mm): 590/387

    Here’s my list of bikes that fall somewhat outside the UPPER’s geometry:

    Thesis OB1: 595/388
    Specialized Diverge: 610/392
    Chapter 2 AO: 605/388
    BMC URS: 603/419 (stubby stem required)
    Santa Cruz Stigmata: 596/388
    Giant Revolt: 602/391
    Jamis Renegade: 595/387
    Devinci Hatchet: 603/402
    Argon 18 Dark Matter (30mm): 619/378

    If you need a taller stack, I’d suggest looking at the second list of bikes. Hopefully you can find one in there that gets you the proper geometry you’re looking for.

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