When I decided to cycle across Europe this Summer 2023, to not only explore and experience this continent but also to raise funds for World Bicycle Relief, I spent almost two months agonising over which of my two geared bicycles to take on the 7500 km trip.
Those who have been following my adventures since my first ever know that from early 2016 to Spring 2017, I cycled across Canada, coast to coast to coast, in winter and on a fixed-gear bike, a Guinness World Record odyssey that changed my life as a person and as a personality as it propelled me to unexpected cycling fame, particularly ironic given that I had embarked on it to escape the uncomfortable rapidly rising fame that my DJ career was generating!
After pedalling close to 18,000 km on a fixed-gear bike, I quickly concluded that it was a one-time thing because if I wanted to have limbs that worked well into my golden days and if I wanted to be more efficient with my travels, I was better off getting a bicycle with gears.
Fast forward to 2023 and I mostly ride geared bikes, namely the OPEN U.P.P.E.R. and the OPEN WI.DE..
If you are familiar with the brand, you’ll recognise it as the small Swiss cycling company that originated modern performance-based allroad or gravel bikes as they’re now commonly known.
The difference between the two frames is that the WI.DE. accepts larger tires, has a more relaxed geometry and only runs a 1x drivetrain compared to its older sibling, the U.P.P.E.R..
While OPEN does sell bike builds on their site, they mostly sell frames to their customers and let each rider build theirs with components and accessories that best fit their cycling objectives.
As someone who is fortunate to own and ride both frames extensively, I built the U.P.P.E.R. as a long-distance and endurance road bike that is best suited to asphalt but can also dabble on unpaved terrains and even the odd singletrack if it’s not too gnarly.
On the other hand, the WI.DE. was built as the ultimate gravel grinder which excels on almost all off-road surfaces and is perfectly at home on single track as long as no suspension is needed. The bonus? It surprisingly rides VERY well on paved roads.
To understand why, when it was time to make a decision on which of the two to take on my epic European expedition, I need to quickly list each one’s attributes and in parentheses the advantages those provide, some of which I have mentioned earlier.
U.P.P.E.R.: 2x drivetrain (more gears and they are closer together which is perfect for long-distance), lighter (better for climbing and carrying a bike up the stairs to the fifth floor of an Airbnb rental), runs 700c & 650B wheels (which accommodate 40 mm and 56 mm tires respectively which are very comfortable and can roll almost anywhere)
WI.DE.: wider tire clearance in 700c and 650B (46 mm and 61 mm respectively which makes the bike ultra comfortable and able to ride on any road paved or unpaved), more relaxed geometry (ideal position for long-distance rider as it’s not as tiring despite the aerodynamics penalty), 1x drivetrain (less prone to mechanical issues and a no-brainer to operate).
Overall my dilemma was between a lighter, more agile bike or an even more comfortable, goes-anywhere bike that is also less prone to mechanical issues thanks to its drivetrain simplicity.
My major “gripe” with the WI.DE. as a cross-continent bike was the 1x drivetrain which has wide gear jumps which can make finding the correct one in the wind, my implacable foe, a living hell. In nasty winds, from personal experience, one is either mashing (pedalling a hard gear) or spinning like a hamster and shifting all day trying to find the best place on the rear cog, all in vain.
My major “issue” with the U.P.P.E.R. is that once you have ridden mega-giant tires that its sibling can clear yet almost maintain the same speed, it’s hard to go back to narrower tires.
To put this in perspective, consider this.
I ride 700c x 38 on my road bike, aka the U.P.P.E.R., and people think that I am running a humongous tire which makes sense if they are riding the now industry standard, the 28 mm (those who still ride 23 mm would faint if they saw my road bike setup!).
When I throw my leg over the WI.DE. which can ride on 61 mm tires (on 650B wheels), the 38 mm suddenly feel less comfortable!
The wider the tire, the more comfortable any bike will be, even if you pay a negligible aerodynamic, weight and perhaps rolling resistance price.
By now you should have noticed that my focus is on comfort and not on speed. That is because I am not a fast rider and I stay in the saddle for months, so my priority is to be comfortable because I will be spending long days on that bike.
I pondered and pondered until I had to come to a conclusion.
Why not enjoy the best of both worlds???
I could enjoy a 2x, a lighter frame, yet extra wide tires.
So I (my Phat Moose mechanics in Ottawa, to be clear!) took the 650B wheels off my OPEN WI.DE. and put them on my U.P.P.E.R. and voilà!
Unfortunately, the widest tire I can fit whilst running a 2x is a 48 mm (all my tires are by René Herse, for whom I am a brand ambassador) but on paved roads and good gravel it’s beyond heavenly in terms of comfort and manoeuvrability.
After I came up with the solution, I sent a quick email to Jan Heine, head honcho of René Herse asking for his opinion on the matter, and it turns out that he runs the same wheel/tire combo as I do, aka 650Bx48 mm because for him too, it’s the best of both worlds.
My route across Europe will be 98% paved surfaces and I like to believe that the continent has better roads than Canada, so my choice of bike is optimal, in my opinion, for the surface that I will be riding and for that 2% surprise.
All this is starting to come across as conjecture, so let’s get to the issue that really matters.
How does an OPEN U.P.P.E.R. that’s running a 2x and 650Bx48 (slick) tires feel?
On asphalt? It has become the best bike touring or endurance machine. Those wider tires will certainly come in handy when I add up to ten kilograms of bikepacking gear to the bike.
It has “gained” a little bit of weight but it’s less than a full water bottle, so essentially a non-issue given what I gain in return.
The other little downside is that a 2x requires two batteries versus the XPLR, a 1x groupset that I never really got to try to see if it would fare well on tour, which I suspect it would given its name, but I never got to really test it personally so I cannot form an informed expert opinion.
Before starting my trip across Europe, I travelled to Kenya for a cycling safari presented by Savanna Cycling. I was not going to take two bikes (cumbersome, redundant and expensive), so I took the U.P.P.E.R. in the configuration above, except that the René Herse 650B x 48 were treaded tires this time, as opposed to slicks.
It passed the test but last year I took the WI.DE on the same Kenyan scenic routes and it fared better, thanks to the even larger tires.
But that’s not a concern, because as I said, the U.P.P.E.R. will primarily be a pavement prince for the most part as it rolls from North Cape, Norway all the way to Tarifa, Spain.
So this is how I solved my dilemma. My Latin teacher in secondary school always told the class that whenever we faced two choices, the third one was the one to pick and a good 30+ years later, his theory is on the rivet as taking the best of both worlds was the best bet.
Bonus! Quick guide for those who cannot make up their mind between the two OPENs.
– If you will be riding mostly on the road and some “reasonable” gravel, pick the U.P. or U.P.P.E.R if you plan on having a 2x drivetrain.
– If you will be riding some serious gravel, the WI.DE. is your frame but the U.P. or U.P.P.E.R. will also work if you put a 1x on it as well as 650B so that you can put on a tire larger than 44 or 48.
– If you already own a road bike that you are happy with and want to start “gravelling”, get the WI.DE.. If you already own a MTB, a gravel bike or any that does off-road well, then get the U.P. or U.P.P.E.R..
– U.P. vs U.P.P.E.R.: If you want the best of the best, get the latter. But please note that the former is also good. Either way, you will be all smiles until the end of your days as these bikes are timeless.
– If I were your Latin teacher and you were facing a choice between the U.P and WI.DE., my answer to you would be two-worded: “Get both”. You will experience heaven in various ways with both. Build the first as a 700C, 2x for mostly road and the odd off-terrain, and the second as a monster 650B machine by maxing out the tire clearance with a knobby. That will be the duo that will go down in history!
Back to the programme…
Once I start my trip across Europe and when I finish it, I will share some thoughts on my choice of OPEN bike and will even update this article while on the road if, sorry: WHEN!, new points pop up…
This is a post by JaBig, a Canadian DJ who is (as of this writing) about to cycle across Europe from North Cape, Norway to Tarifa to raise funds for World Bicycle Relief, in addition to embarking on a dream adventure of a lifetime.