Thursday, July 14, 2016

Bam-Boozled by the Lauf

About the time that the Tour Aotearoa finished I started noticing the Lauf fork making a few more appearences in "Social Media Land". A local rider Gary Moller took one to the Masters MTB world champs a few years back, but a misunderstanding about the course meant it wasn't the best solution for him on the day. The guy that did the fastest ride in the 2016 Tour Aotearoa used one, Jacob Roberts, and there were at least 2 others on the course as well.

Someone popped up in my Instagram feed one day, having just done a respectable time at the Karapoti Classic with one.  He did a 2:52, he was also on a Boo Bamboo bicycle, and single speed to boot. He was obviously pretty fit. Only the hard-core go under 3 hours on a single speed at the Poti ! Long story short, Vijay, being the good brand ambassador that he was, offered it up any time I wanted to take it for a spin.

Time passed, the numbness in my hands from the TA was starting to subside and Vijay was heading back to University in Baltimore where he had come from, for his study swap at Massey Uni in Wellington. I needed to hurry if I was going to try it out. I picked it up on a thursday night but only managed to get the one 2 hour ride in on it in the weekend.

The first thing that I noticed was the gearing, it was quite low, Todman street in Brooklyn posed no problems, and I did the Transient Serendipity trails on it before heading out to Revolution Cycles where Owen was working saturdays. He'd mentioned that he had done some work on the bike for Vijay so it was a good chance to hear his views on it as well.

It's hard to get a really good impression of a bike in 2 hours, with its funky handlebars, which I did like, and while the reversed (American styles) brakes did work better for my numb right hand I obviously wasn't going to go crazy on it. I came back and rode along Highbury Fling and did some out and back on the Car-parts trail. One thing I noticed straight away was the pedal clearance. I should have been getting pedal strikes but I wasn't. A quick measure back home showed me 315mm of bottom bracket clearance which was a lot more than any of my other bikes. Vijay pointed out that it had an eccentric BB and that while it was only at "4 oclock" it could have been part of the reason. It didn't make the bike feel ungainly but then it didn't make me feel like hammering like a nutter either.

I guess I was looking at it as a potential bike-packing rig. I have no idea how well these tubes all hang together with a load on after 1000 plus kms but the finish looked damn good to me, and the feel was very nice. Currently weighing in at around 71 kgs, I couldn't make it noticeably flex. The feeling was more akin to a carbon bike than anything, but not a stiff one, a compliant one. As much as you can tell these things. Anyway, I liked the feel of it compared to something like my Carbon Giant XTC hard-tail.

Its pretty hard to describe the fork. To me the closest thing it resembled was a rigid fork. It went where I pointed it, and didn't have that vague feeling that I often get with suspension forks of going generally in the direction they are pointed. I actually like this feeling. Its a lot like riding your Cross bike off road and enjoying the precise nature of the steering.

Apparently the forks come in two spring  "strengths" and I don't know which this one was, presumably the stiffer of the too, as the less stiff one has a weight limit of 70 kgs. When you are out of the saddle, as you often are in a single speed, there was not the mushiness that you would expect  from an unlocked suspension fork. I couldn't really tell how much of the 60mm of travel that it was using. The small bump compliance didn't seem that great to me, and I asked myself, what would I want for Bikepacking, given the "non-big-hit" nature of it. I decided that some kind of relief in the 2 to 3/5ths travel area might be ideal, or at least doable. I am sure the low impact stuff takes its toll over time, but anything that responsive is likely going to be a bit annoying. This I guess is why a lot of bikepackers go rigid. No big hits, and a small weight saving.

A typical rigid carbon fork comes in at around 500-800 grams, so the Lauf, at 990 grams is a reasonable compromise for a bit of comfort. A new Rock Shock SID suspension fork weighs in at 1366 grams, but you have a reasonably complicated device there, so if you are one to get paranoid about that kind of thing then the Lauf might appeal. The old wheel between the knee test didn't show the Lauf fork to be any different than my usual suspension fork in sideways flexing.

I am not known for my technical skills so this fork, given its limitations was a fun ride, especially for a rider who spends most of his time on a rigid-forked steel Karate Monkey. I think it shows real potential as a bikepacking fork. And given that bikepackers are the last people to worry about looks, the funky looking design may not be a problem at all : )

Thanks Vijay.