OPEN × Rene Herse U.P.P.E.R.

Posted by: Jan Heine Category: Our Bikes

OPEN × Rene Herse U.P.P.E.R.

When we proposed the ‘all-road bike’ as a new type of bike, way back in 2006, we envisioned modern carbon racing bikes with ultra-wide tires. In fact, bikes exactly like the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. Of all the bikes we’ve tested for Bicycle Quarterly, the one I really wanted to keep was the U.P.P.E.R. It had just the right amount of flex to climb like a mountain goat. It felt stiff (in a good way) when I was pushing the pedals on the flats. Its acceleration could only be described as ferocious. The fork was one of the most compliant carbon forks I’ve ridden. This was a bike that was equally at home on gravel and on pavement—the epitome of the all-road bike we’d been looking for.

Our test bike had to go back, but Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen, the founders of OPEN, suggested building one just for me. One thing led to another, and we decided to collaborate on a limited edition of framesets. OPEN does these from time to time, and there are some strict rules of where the logos from the outside company can go. Natsuko had something different in mind: Create a modern interpretation of the classic mid-century Rene Herses, the original all-road bikes. During her previous job in Tokyo, she’s worked with the award-winning design studio There There, and she wanted them to design this frame. (They also designed our book The All-Road Bike Revolution and our water bottles.) So we asked Andy and Gerard if we could get more freedom in designing the OPEN × Rene Herse frames.

Andy and Gerard have been friends for years. We talk from time to time about where the industry is heading. We share our joys and commiserate about the challenges of running our small companies. Even so, we were surprised when Andy wrote back: “I am really excited about this project also. Normally we say the OPEN logo has to stay on the downtube, but with this project I think we should be OPEN and leave you complete freedom. Can’t wait to see with what you are coming up…”

We were speechless. Complete freedom—which also means complete responsibility. This had better be good!

There There went to work. They have a lot of experience with product design, so they started by asking a lot of questions. What do mid-century Rene Herses look like? What is the essence of OPEN’s philosophy? How will this bike be ridden? How long are the frame tubes for each size? How big are the water bottles that might obscure the logos? It was a wonderful process of distilling the essence of what we wanted this bike to be.

Here is the result. The prototype is going to be my own bike, and I can’t describe how excited I am! The color is inspired by the classic ‘Bleu Herse,’ now in a matte finish to reflect the different properties of carbon as frame material. Steel, as used for the mid-century Rene Herse bikes, is thin, cold and smooth. Glossy paint reflects those properties. Carbon has more volume and is warm to the touch. The matte paint of the OPEN × Rene Herse emphasizes this difference.

The insides of rear triangle and fork blades are painted midnight blue, making the bike look slim and fast. OPEN’s signature multi-colored rings on the head tube and fork blade, plus the OPEN logo on the seat tube, complement the classic Rene Herse logo on the down tube. Fortunately, Gerard’s and Andy’s taste is similar to Natsuko’s and mine, so the logos go really well together.

Of course, we aren’t making showpieces, so the most important question is: How does the new bike ride? Even better than I remembered! This is the bike that pioneered the dropped chainstay to increase tire clearance—a feature that has been copied by the entire industry. OPEN still does it better than most, and the U.P.P.E.R. has room for 650B x 52 mm or 700C x 40 mm tires, yet it’s shorter, lighter and more agile than gravel bikes designed for huge 700C tires. It feels like a road bike…

…but it can go almost anywhere. I’ve built mine with SRAM Force XPLR. I love the immediate shifts and easy-to-modulate brakes. In many ways, the new bike actually rides quite similar to my Rene Herse with its Nivex derailleur. And yet it’s totally different—where the Herse is the essence of a ‘manual’ bike, the OPEN has electronics and hydraulics doing things for you. I’m beyond happy to have both.

Gerard Vroomen and Andy Kessler are some of the smartest people in the bike industry, and the U.P.P.E.R. shows this more than any other bike they’ve created. There’s nothing gimmicky about it—everything serves a purpose. Starting with the dropped chainstay: Above you see how close the chainring is to the tire, because there’s no chainstay in between the two. That means you can run wider tires and still pedal efficiently on road cranks with a low Q-factor. The right chainstay has been moved downward, where there’s more space between chainring and tire. This feature has been copied widely, but we have a lot of respect for the people who came up with the idea originally. Andy once told me: “If there’s one bike Gerard and I want to be remembered for, it’s the U.P.P.E.R.” I can see why!

The U.P.P.E.R. is the ultralight version of OPEN’s classic U.P. all-road bike. Weights of 880 g for the frame (size M) and 370 g for the fork are pushing the boundaries of what is possible, yet there’s no compromise in ride quality or performance. Having ridden both the U.P. and the U.P.P.E.R., I prefer the lighter frame not just for its lower weight, but also because it flexes differently. I find it very easy to get in sync with the U.P.P.E.R.—for me, this is a bike that’s effortless to pedal at any speed. While it’s great fun to ride the U.P.P.E.R. at a moderate pace, I have to admit: This bike encourages me to pedal harder, and it puts a huge smile on my face. Feeling the bike surge forward under my pedal strokes is addictive! At the end of most rides on the U.P.P.E.R., I’m completely out of breath—and incredibly happy.

This has been a fun project, and we’re excited to share it with our customers. We’re offering the OPEN × Rene Herse U.P.P.E.R. frameset as a limited edition. The frame/fork costs the same as the regular U.P.P.E.R. ($ 4500). We’re taking orders until November 14, 2022. The frames will be delivered in January 2023 directly from OPEN.

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