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Carbon is real too... Part1. January. Unboxing the OPEN U.P. powered by Hotchillee

At AEIGHT we’re known for making bespoke, made-to-measure, one-off steel frames. But we appreciate that not everyone wants this. For some, carbon-fibre is a great option and so last year we took the decision last season to offer carbon frames and bikes alongside our bespoke steel and custom alloy options. We offer and ride several brands including Basso, Yeti, Hope, ENVE, Kinesis and now OPEN, and to highlight them we’ve decided to document a year’s worth of riding and racing on board our carbon options...

(Don’t worry if you’re a fan of steel - we’ve not hung the torch up just yet! We’ll document a year in the life of a steel frame too).

For several years I’ve worked with Hotchillee as a mechanic - this season I’m officially on board as one of their Ride Captains, and one of the massive perks of this is that we get to show off some brilliant kit, including OPEN’s frame and bike offerings. The U.P. that we’re currently riding was the OG of the companies line up and fits into almost exactly the same mould as my ØNE gravel/all-road/do-it-all frameset. It’s a great option if you want to ride all surfaces on the same bike as it can take road tyres for training, cyclocross tyres for racing, gravel tyres for adventures and 650b mountain bike tyres for getting rad!

Our RC bikes were delivered with a Campagnolo Ekar drivetrain, HED wheels, Schwalbe tyres and 3T finishing kit. The build is, in my opinion, the perfect mix of well thought out equipment - no crazy thrills, but all solid kit that you know you can rely upon - it’s very similar to my own approach with AEIGHT, where my rational is that even our base model bike should be something I’d like to ride myself.

The HED Emporia GA Pro wheelset is a brilliant example of this as it’s light enough to be competitive, whilst being strong enough to use for training and racing. HED were one of the first brands to go wide with their rim profiles with models like the Belgian and the Ardennes, and the Emporia model is a continuation of this. It features a squared-off bead to minimise the chances of compression flats and mechanic friendly external nipples for truing the wheel. Simple little design additions like this really make a massive difference and they are excellent intentional choices made by HED and the team at OPEN.

For the purposes of this “unboxing” test I wanted to take the bike out for it’s first ride exactly as delivered, so I simply set my saddle height, fitted my pedals and jumped straight on. We headed straight down my local gravel gravel trails for a café ride, with a little bit of CX skills thrown in for good measure. As soon as you jump on the bike for the first time you are aware of the intentionally short reach, which is really refreshing for riders like me. It allows you to set the bike up with a normal stem length and adjust the saddle setback to put you further over the BB, rather than having to do this the other way around. This isn’t the case with the majority of brands because they have an outdated view of saddle setback based upon a UCI rule which has no relevance to most peoples riding. It’s really great to see brands like OPEN start with a blank sheet of paper and design a bike the same way that I do, i.e. To maximise the way the bike works for people who love riding.

The rear end of the bike is encouragingly stiff without making the ride harsh. OPEN have a brilliant explanation of their carbon tech on their website. To paraphrase them, almost all bike brands have access to the same raw materials and it’s all about experience and testing when it comes to how you actually lay the carbon up, and how that then affects the frame and the riding characteristics. There’s no shortcuts when it comes to this process - you have to design, build, test, adapt the design, test again, and evolve the design over the years.

OPEN also have a slightly lighter version of the U.P. which they call the U.P.P.E.R. and it’s interesting to see that they are very proud of the fact that the two frames share an identical ride experience, the U.P.P.E.R. is simply lighter. Again it’s refreshing to see this definition, and honesty, as it really builds my faith in the brand.

Back to the trails and the next thing I notice is how well the bike changes direction - this may seem like an odd thing to say, but cornering is reliant upon several obvious factors and a whole bunch of things that probably most people have never even considered. Most people reading this probably have a fair idea about how head angle affects the bikes ability to corner, and probably a fair amount of riders get how fork rake/offset affects the steering feedback. Trail is however commonly misunderstood and this is a very important part of the U.P.s design - in simple terms the team at OPEN have considered how the Trail is affected by each possible likely tyre size and come up with the perfect compromise so as to keep the steering feeling consistent. When I did the same with my ØNE frame I went through several different prototypes to nail this and OPEN have clearly gone through the same process to get this dialled in.

Steering and then pedalling is also affected by body position and those tweaks to the saddle setback allow fine tuning of this again via saddle position, which alters your hip position, the angles at which you can place your weight on both your feet and hands, and also your core body position. In an off-road environment you’re using your body weight to change direction as much as your steering so the whole frame design becomes important.

Tyre choice on the standard bike is a 35mm Schwalbe G-One All-round - in the UK this tyre is the type of thing that I’d probably suggest is pretty limited to Summer all-road work, as we don’t have a lot of the hardpack gravel that people enjoy in Europe and the US. There is never going to be a “gravel” tyre which suits all riders because the genre changes geographically, and from season to season, so I knew I’d likely be changing this tyre and storing it ready for Summer, but I figured I try it as it was. I’ve used the TLE version of the tyre before and it’s super capable, and even in the wrong conditions, the tyre actually is pretty good. I was being pretty careful to place it in the correct ruts and to be gentle with the brakes, but it was surprising how much inappropriate stuff I could ride with it!

Speaking of the brakes - my particular bike was set up Euro style and my head was having a touch time computing what was happening. More for my own interest I wanted to see if I could adapt to this - the answer was, kind of! After an hour I was at least pulling the correct lever even if I didn’t quite have the finesse, but putting them in the UK setup is definitely on the list of tweaks!

So, initial impressions of the bike are overwhelmingly good, and pleasingly for me, the many positives mirror what I’ve done with my ØNE frame. This is also good in terms of this test because I’ll very easily be able to compare what I know, with how I develop the OPEN over the coming months. The next thing to do will be to make some small changes and take it racing to really test it out - I also want to do a decent long ride on it, as that’s when you really start to understand what works and what doesn’t. But, the fact that we’ve decided to stock them as a brand proves that I’m pretty sold on the concept!

If you’re interested in building your own custom, semi-custom or fully bespoke bike for off-road or road please get in touch via the contact form or the contact details on the website ( We have bikes to suit most riders in a range of materials and builds.

Photos and words by Glen Whittington


#aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride bikes as much as possible - follow his adventures on Instagram. He started racing in 1998, initially specialising in XCO, Marathon and Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike. He became a mechanic in 2002, working in shops and also for professional race teams. During this time he spent more time racing ‘Cross and Road, and then also TT. In 2013 he built his first bespoke steel frame and then spent several years at Roberts learning the art. Since then he’s designed his own range of bikes, frames and wheels which he now offers to the public, alongside servicing and race support, as part of his ÆIGHT brand - you can find his business Instagram account here.


We’re always looking for riders to be part of our ÆIGHT CØLLECTIVE. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently - Rather than a jersey being the common theme, we kit our riders out with bespoke steel bikes and handbuilt wheels made in our Sussex workshops, the ÆIGHT WHEELWØRKS and the ÆIGHT MANUFACTØRY. We then support each other at events and races regionally, nationally and internationally - whether that’s for mountain bike, ‘cross, gravel, crit, road or TT - it’s what we call, the #aeightbikeco

The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club - that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we work with, mostly so we can standardise shared equipment, but your own sponsors and clubs are almost always welcome. We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to

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