Don’t lauf, this funky fork serves a useful, yet very narrow purpose
Answering the question that was never asked. It happens a lot in the modern world of prosperity and globalization. The mere fact that a consumer has a thousand dollars to spend on a complete bicycle—let alone some whiz-bang carbon mountain bike fork—is exactly the reason why a thousand-dollar whiz-bang carbon fork like the Lauf Trail Racer (TR) 29 exists in the first place.
So assuming a question was asked before the first Lauf TR 29 came to being, what question could it possibly have been? “Can someone make a 60mm travel non-suspension suspension fork that weighs more than a rigid carbon fork, but less than a proper suspension fork, costs more than both and doesn’t perform better than either?” Or perhaps “Can I spend $990 on a 60mm travel fork that has zero damping rebound, flexes like crazy in corners and bobs like mad when spinning at a high cadence?”
Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the Lauf TR 29. On the positive side, at least for me, the Lauf TR 29 does look pretty cool. Not everyone would agree, as I’ve heard less flattering descriptions including “death trap,” “that thing’s a lauf-ing stock” and “looks like an uglier version of an AMP Research fork.”
No doubt it has a polarizing appearance, but one thing’s for certain, get the Lauf TR 29 and you’ll be the only person on your block—and perhaps in the western hemisphere—to own one. That’s got to be worth something, right?
Leaf spring concept
Before going into how the Lauf TR 29 rides, let’s discuss a few details around its design concept. Hailing from Nordic island of Iceland, the Lauf TR 29 is a 29-inch-wheel-specific fork with a 1.5- to 1-1/8-inch tapered steerer that weighs a relatively light 990 grams. It runs a 180mm or larger brake rotor and can fit up to a 2.35-inch tire.
All 60mm of travel on the Lauf TR 29 comes through the Lauf Spring System (LSS), essentially a series of small composite leaf springs bonded between a carbon fiber fork and 15mm thru-axle dropout mechanism called a Springer. Each stack of leaf springs—called a Springstack—is bonded into the fork and Springer through an Integrated Spring Pocket.
A major positive of this design is that the Lauf is absolutely zero-maintenance. No leaky seals, no fork rebuilds, nothing. Just ride. Another upside is that there’s zero friction which makes the fork energy efficient. And with an impressively low 200 grams of unsprung weight, the TR 29 does a good job of absorbing small bumps.
The 60mm of travel is progressive, so initial small hits are easily absorbed. When bigger hits are experienced, the suspension stiffens to prevent bottom out, and during the test period I never once managed to bottom out the TR 29, mainly because I didn’t trust the fork enough to send it off any significant drops. But the folks at Lauf said I shouldn’t worry, as they’ve put prototypes through more than 170,000 shock cycles without any indication of wear. Additionally, the engineers behind the fork have a lot of experience with composites, with a background in designing high-performance prosthetic feet. If Oscar Pistorius can compete in the Olympics with prosthetic feet, then I’m pretty confident the Lauf is gonna hold up.
For optimal performance based on rider weight, the Lauf TR 29 is offered in two versions—Regular and Light. Regular is optimized for riders above 143 pounds while the Light is ideal for riders below 154 pounds. Both versions carry five-year warranties for riders up to 240 pounds. What about outside five years? The Lauf website says “please contact us anyways because we still care about you.” That’s reassuring…I think.
A rocky ride in the rocks
Although it looks cool, garners odd stares and questions wherever I go, and sort-of works depending on the terrain, I still really struggle to understand the purpose of this fork. Because it has no rebound damping, the TR 29 is a complete pogo stick in rocky, technical terrain. Jam down a technical section of trail, and once the fork gets into a rhythm, it starts bouncing almost uncontrollably to the point that it sends you into the weeds.
Trying to turn when the fork is pogoing is a nerve-wracking proposition, constantly sending you off line and losing traction right when you need it most. Quite honestly, this fork felt dangerous in the rocks, forcing me to significantly back off my typical descending speed. At least with a rigid fork you know exactly how it’s going to perform. It might not soak up many bumps, but you know it isn’t going to pogo and shoot you off a cliff.
A little better on the smooth stuff
So then let’s talk about smoother terrain. On buffed out trails with occasional bumps and small rocks, the Lauf works great, but so does a rigid carbon fork that weighs a pound less and costs several hundred dollars less. A rigid fork also sucks up just as many bumps when paired to a big, fat cushy 2.4-inch front tubeless tire. Plus the rigid fork is far more stiff and predictable in corners. Simply lean sideways on the front wheel with the TR 29 at a standstill and you can see how much the front wheel flexes side-to-side—not great for aggressive, high-speed cornering.
On a singlespeed the Lauf is also no good because as soon as you start spinning anywhere above 130 rpms, you can feel the front end start to bounce—an especially unsettling and irritating sensation when you’re on the bike for hours at a time.
So if it’s not capable enough in rocky terrain, not as stiff and predicable enough in smoother terrain and costs more than a proper high-end 100mm-tavel suspension fork, who would want to buy a Lauf TR 29?
I emailed the company and asked them that exact question. They promptly got back to me and said that the fork is specifically designed for fast-rolling marathon courses and typical cross-country courses to take the edge off many small hits that fatigue the body after hours on the bike. Lauf believes that when conditions slightly worsen—especially when an event can run as long as 100 miles—a rigid fork begins to take a toll on the body. The Lauf also delivers better traction in loose, gravely corners than a rigid fork.
Lauf also states that a traditional suspension fork can work well for marathon events, but riders usually end up locking it out for a fair amount of the race, resulting in an overweight fork that needs constant attention based on changing conditions. Lack of rebound damping is a significant downside of the Lauf, but damping on a proper suspension fork equates to energy loss, whereas the Lauf returns that energy to forward momentum through the LSS system.
But perhaps the biggest advantage of running a Lauf TR 29 is it’s rolling efficiency over a rigid fork with a fatter front tire. Running a knobby 2.4-inch front tire with low tire pressure drops rolling efficiency significantly—definitely an undesirable characteristic on high-speed trails and dirt roads. Because the Lauf offers 60mm of travel, one can run a thinner, lighter tire at a higher pressure for more rolling efficiency and less energy loss without losing any suspension advantage.
Who is this fork for?
Okay, so we’ve figured out the target market for the Lauf TR 29—an XC/marathon racer who has $990 to spend on a suspension fork that works really well on smooth and semi-bumpy surfaces. Seems like the nichiest of niches to me, but hey, I’m not here to judge whether or not the folks at Lauf are entrepreneurial geniuses. For its intended purpose, the Lauf TR 29 works perfectly. It makes sense, sort of, but are there enough mountain bikers in the world clamoring for this type of suspension solution? As the Zen master always says, “we’ll see”.
Lauf expects the fork to ship in May, but are accepting pre-orders on their website now. Order before April 15 and they’ll knock another 10-percent off and enter you to win an all-expense paid trip to Iceland for an epic mountain bike adventure.
Lauf Trail Racer 29 Fork (TR 29)
- Intended use: Cross country
- Size: 29-inch wheel only, 1.5- to 1-1/8-inch tapered steerer
- Materials: Carbon with aluminum hardware
- Travel: 60mm
- Spring type: Carbon leaf springs
- Brake type: 180mm or larger post mount
- Tire width capacity: 2.35-inches
- Weight: 990 grams/2.2-pounds
- MSRP: $990
- Available: May 2014
For more information visit www.laufforks.com.