First Ride: Open WI.DE at the Leadville Trail 100
What happens when you bring a gravel bike to a mountain bike race?
By David Kennedy
If you haven’t noticed, the expanding gravel bike scene pushing itself towards the fringes of where a drop-bar bike can go, Andy Kessler and Gerard Vroomen founders of seven-year-old Open Cycles, are partially to blame for the rapid increase over the last few years.
Open’s initial release of the U.P. over three years ago, had us left us impressed here’s what we had to say about it “With a frame design unlike any other that maximizes its versatility for both on- and off-road use, Gerard Vroomen engineered the best gravel bike to date.”
Now drawing on the success of the U.P., Open Cycles once again goes for gold, our test bike was spec’d with 650b Enve G27s, Schwalbe 2.3 tires, an Enve cockpit and seat post, and a 1x 12-speed SRAM Force eTap AXS drivetrain completes the build.
THE RACE ACROSS THE SKY
Snow-capped mountains surround the town of Leadville, which sits at over 10,000 feet in the Rockies nearly year round. The Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike race takes riders out and back for a 100 mile course with just over 10,000 feet of climbing. Gravel roads and graded climbs/descents make up about 80 miles of the course with about 10 miles in each direction that consists of rock gardens, single track and stutter bumps and a smidge of asphalt that links it all together.
When the WI.DE arrived at the plush and modern RBA office the week before the race, we knew that we had to bring the do-it-all dirt bike to the toughest one day mountain bike race in the country to figure out how far we could push a gravel bike out of its comfort zone.
Rolling through the first quarter of the LT100 the WI.DE handled the fast asphalt descents and the winding, wide fire roads with ease. The hard packed dirt was no match for the massive 650×2.3 tires and the high volume and on the pavement, the rigid frame had the efficiency advantage over the full suspension softies.
On the freshly graded descents, the WI.DE is able to descend with confidence, the rig could flow over the the leftover imperfections and we were able to get up to speed thanks to the aggressive gearing the 42×10 offers. Cornering at high-speed was predictable and and similar to an endurance road bike thanks to the relatively short 101cm wheelbase . With the high volume tire it can accommodate, the WI.DE also gave some room for error when there was an unexpected root or rock on the exit of the turn, the WI.DE would roll over it with a reduced handlebar jarring than a thinner tire would produce.
The most limiting factor of the WI.DE at Leadville was the SRAM 1x gearing. While the 12-speed Eagle cassette offers a wider range of cogs than most gravel bikes, when compared upfront to the 28 tooth front chainrings its mountain bike competition the 42 tooth chainring was too tall to navigate for the steepest grades of the course.
On the route back to the finish line, the downhill sections we climbed on the way out are torn up from all the action earlier in the day and the rocky bits are now part of the descents. The rockiest and ruttiest of which is the 2 mile Sugarloaf descent. While the WI.DE is effective at damping most impacts, the build up of about 7 minutes of non-stop shaking was intense and had us seeing stars at the bottom. Surprisingly, the Open was able to stay upright when we took the wrong line into the rough stuff.
AT THE LINE
By the time we made it to the finish line, our hands were numb and our backs were sore, but the experience did give us an idea at how the original Leadville racers from the first run 26 years ago might have felt on their rigid frames with 26 inch wheels. While we may not opt to bring a gravel bike to a mountain bike race again, the Open WI.DE got us to the finish line at Leadville without having to use “yard bars” and that’s a first ride we’ll never forget.