Bikes of the 2014 Absa Cape Epic – Open 1.0 There were six Opens in the race – two on Team Open-Rotor-Asterion, and four on the two Assos teams. Here is the bike of Subaru-MarathonMTB.com’s Will Hayter (guesting for the Open-Rotor-Asterion team) in its Cape Epic guise. Six Opens is probably more than you’ll generally find in one place; they’re still pretty unusual, and ours attracted a good deal of comment during the race. A few basics to start with: the frame is light, at only around 900g. But it has also proved itself to be tough, surviving the Epic apparently intact. It comes in matt black or white – we had one of each on our team.
One of the more unusual things about this frame is the geometry. While a lot of XC 29ers seem to have settled in the high 60s for head angles (e.g. 69.5 on a Scott Scale), Open has gone with 72. Twitchy, perhaps? Not so; you’ve still got loads of front wheel out in front to play with; but I found the frame superbly responsive, which itself inspires confidence on technical descents, rather than needing a slacker head angle to sit behind. It’s set up for forks from 80-100mm travel – we were running 100mm and it still felt pretty sharp.
As you would expect from something that has come from the minds of Gerard Vroomen of Cervelo and Andy Kessler of BMC, it’s a beautifully designed bit of kit. Here are some of the little touches that I find particularly nice. There’s a small hole about 10cm from the top of the seat-tube, so that you can check, with a small implement of whatever kind, that the seatpost extends that far down. It makes total sense when you think about it – why should it just be seatposts that have a minimum insertion? There’s the integrated titanium chainstay guard / chainsuck protector plate – very elegant and tidy.
A big complaint about the use of bigger seatposts, especially on a hardtail, is that they can make things uncomfortably harsh.
The cables and rear brake hose are all internally routed, and all enter the frame at the same point via an interchangeable plug on the left-hand-side of the headtube. I hadn’t seen this arrangement before, but it means the bars can pass through their full range of movement without resulting in cable rub on the frame. Smart. The seatstays are very Cervelo-esque – pencil-thin and flat in cross-section, to aid compliance. This complements the choice of a 27.2mm seatpost, which I applaud – again some much-needed flex. A big complaint about the use of bigger seatposts (why 34.9, Scott?), especially on a hardtail, is that they can make things uncomfortably harsh. Why not use the flexing qualities of carbon to good effect, as Open does?
The finish on the matt black frame is lovely – very understated matte black, with coloured highlights around the base of the headtube and subtle branding on top of the toptube; almost too subtle once I’d put a rubber toptube bumper (from Skean in France), a spare tube and the Cape Epic’s barcode sticker on there!
My only complaint when using the frame for a race like this is tyre clearance. Gerard Vroomen has written a blog post on tyre and rim widths. He’s right that you shouldn’t bother with “unnecessarily wide tires”, because they will add weight; and building in a lot of clearance at the bottom bracket might result in a weaker frame. But at the same time, if you’re using the bike in a stage race over rough terrain, where comfort is at a premium, you’re going to need a decent bit of tyre volume. The muddy day at the Cape Epic almost found the boundaries of tyre clearance on 2.2 tyres and a 30mm rim – pretty tight back there. Fine in the dust though! Something to look out for – the 1.0’s “crazy twin”. The Open One, based on the 1.0 but built in Germany and even lighter, at under 800g for a size Large! Open also has a full-sus frame in the works, which will definitely be worth a look.
I used a mixture of XTR parts with a Rotor crankset, somewhat unusual SR Suntour Axon forks and a set of Syntace finishing kit – W30 wheels, Vector carbon bar, FlatForce stem and P6 seatpost – see the separate review on these parts.
Rotor REX1.2 crankset with Q rings
I won’t try and second-guess the science on Q rings; others can argue about that to their hearts’ content. All I know is that I quite like them; perhaps not enough to convert all my bikes to them, because they aren’t cheap; but subjectively, I found they encouraged me to push a bigger gear – all that deadspot elimination must have been good for something.
They felt particularly good when getting out of the saddle to power up a short incline – perhaps something about the particular angle that I had mine set up at. And I never had any problem with dropping the chain due to having to run the front derailleur a bit higher up the seattube.
Whatever your opinion on Q rings, the REX cranks are definitely worth a look. We were using them in double-ring guise – a good number of top riders at the Epic were on single rings for the light weight and simplicity, but with the length of the race and the steepness of some of the climbs, I would always rather have the extra help of a little ring. The spider can be switched to accommodate the single-ring set-up anyway, so you keep the versatility. As with Rotor’s road cranks, the REX cranks use its “Trinity Drilling System” – a classic example of bike industry excessive branding: as far as I can see it means take a chunk of aluminium and drill three holes down it. But who am I to argue; it seems to produce a crankset which is light and stiff. And not even crazy expensive, at GBP300. Yes, a lot of money, but not too bad compared to the competition at SRAM XX and Shimano XTR level.
I also like the fact that the cranks are all alloy – carbon may look good out of the box, but it doesn’t really seem to offer lighter weight in the context of cranksets, and it looks terrible after it’s taken a few rock strikes and a bit of shoe rub. Talking of which, the slim lines and the shape of the REX cranks – very straight compared to, say, XX’s big bend in the middle – seems to lend themselves to good shoe clearance.
The Axon fork is pretty unusual. I for one have tended to think of SR Suntour as the sorts of forks that are found on entry-level mountain bikes and not much more. But the company is showing its ambitions with the Axon range, as evidenced by carbon legs, for example. It provides these forks to French legend Julie Bresset. It’s fantastically light and pretty stiff. It just lacks the buttery smoothness of a Fox. But again some very nice design touches – a clever 15mm quick release using a compression nut rather than a screw-in design. I found it took a little getting used to, but once through that, enabled very quick wheel removal / replacement.
There’s no need to say much about XTR stuff, apart from that it works really well, is light and looks good. Nuff said. And I used tried and tested contact points – ESI silicon grips and a Specialized saddle – for the Epic you need to go with stuff that you know you’re going to get on with. In fact, there will be those that say that you should never change anything on your bike within a good few weeks of the Epic, so that your body doesn’t have to adjust to anything. I broke all those rules with only one ride on the Open before leaving for South Africa, and new Scott shoes for the event as well; but seemed to get away without any adverse consequences.
- Open 1.0 frame, black, size large
- SR Suntour Axon carbon forks
- Rotor Rex1 cranks with 38:25 Q rings
- XT shifters
- XTR Race brakes
- Quaxar floating rotors
- XTR front and rear derailleurs
- Syntace W30 wheels
- Maxxis Ikon EXO tyres
- Syntace FlatForce stem, 100mm
- Syntace P6 seatpost
- Syntace Vector carbon bars, 700mm
- ESI Chunky grips
- Elite Cuissi Gel bottle cages
- Specialized Phenom Pro saddle