LAUF CARBONARA 9-MONTH LONG TERM REVIEW
LONG-TERM PRODUCT TESTING
Let's start off by saying back in January 2016, we were REALLY excited to try out the LAUF CARBONARA design on several different Fat Bikes.
After 9 months of testing LAUF Carbonara Forks, between JAN-SEP 2016, rideFATbikes.ca gathered information from :
- our real-world observations and test notes
- conversations with the LAUF CEO
- conversation with LAUF Marketing
- customer ownership feedback (from both race and recreational LAUF use)
Our ultimate decision was to stop carrying LAUF CARBONARA forks for use on Fat Bikes.
The LAUF leaf spring design (and cost!) is best utilized on XC MTB and CX/gravel bikes, in our view.
The benefit of using a LAUF Carbonara on Fat Bikes is limited to a few key areas, or certain race-specific event conditions, and within these environmental conditions, the LAUF will excel. This would be hard-pack, rolling terrain, gravel roads, steep climbs void of large obstacles, sandy beaches, pavement, groomed snowmobile trails. If you race under these conditions, then owning a second LAUF-equipped Fat Bike, built just for these events/terrain conditions, might be something appealing to you.
Example of a race where LAUF forks would excel : P2A - Paris to Ancaster race. (LINK)
On local trails, LAUF Carbonara ownership approval ratings were above 80% for the 1st month, then dropped to around 50% approval rating after 3-4 months.
Dissatisfied Fat Bike owners using LAUF forks mainly complained about two key things :
- Limited Suspension Travel (it was nowhere near the claimed 60mm)
- Long-term fatigue to hand/wrists/fingers/joints by absorbing the constant rebound energy released by the undamped LAUF design.
Basically, due to the inherent design of the LAUF fork, if you can maintain a fast enough constant speed, on smooth enough terrain, the two above issues tend to go away.
Our more detailed explanation of our data findings, and our conversation with LAUF, is listed below.
Now, after our 9 month testing period, we re-sifted through the LAUF marketing material and focused specifically on a few key statements by LAUF in describing their own product.
These quotes were taken word-for-word from their website :
LAUF Says :
Why a Lauf Fork? What is its intended use?
A Lauf fork is aimed at a specific purpose; to absorb small bumps faster and smoother than any conventional suspension fork, while being almost as light as a rigid fork and completely maintenance-free.
A Lauf fork doesn’t have friction or a damping mechanism. To keep the suspension from feeling bouncy we set the spring rate of Lauf forks fairly high (hence only 60mm of travel are needed).
A suspension fork without damping is a terrible idea!
If you are doing rough AM riding, yes, then you want dampening in your suspension. You need it to stay in control. You need the dampening to effectively kill the energy charged into the fork in the big hits during AM riding. With the limited suspension travel of a Lauf fork you are not charging (as) much energy into the suspension so that it needs to be absorbed by dampening in the rebound.
What if I take a Lauf for some rough and gnarly riding?
If it really is rough and gnarly, a longer travel dampened fork will give you better control.
What about lateral flex?
The only rigid connection between the right and left sides of the fork is the axle and hub. This is a source of lateral flex with our fork, like on all up-side-down forks.
What happens if I “bottom out” the Lauf Fork?
The Lauf forks come with rubber bump stops on its fork legs specifically made to take the out-of-the-ordinary-hits.
In review, RIDEFATBIKES.ca Responds to LAUF's marketing claims with :
"If all the energy is stored into the LAUF fork (upon absorbing a bump or "hit"), where does this energy go, when it's time to be released? Does 100% of this accumulated energy get transferred back into the Bike and the Rider? Is it like pulling back on an elastic band, and then letting it go?"
It seemed to us, that the only energy dissipated, was via the Fat Bike tires. After-all, the LAUF design is not an actual "shock", it is really just a "spring". Leaf-springs require something to dampen their rebound energy...or else they will release this built-up energy with intensity! ... so the only two "elastic" variables left are the tires, and the rider themselves.
LAUF CEO and MSc of Industrial Engineering, Benedikt Skulason kindly responded, over an 8-page conversation, where the following information was confirmed (and condensed):
- The Constant Operating Region (COR) for the LAUF CARBONARA is between 0-40mm travel.
- The LAUF Carbonara operates with the most efficiency as two (2) conditions are met:
- The bike is ridden at an increased rate of speed.
- The suspension travel needed is closer to 0mm, rather than 40mm (about 1.5in)
- The 60mm suspension travel limit is the emergency stop feature, and the fork is not designed to be used constantly, or efficiently near this region. (It will operate to the 60mm travel limit, but not efficiently)
- If the suspension travel needed by the rider is above 40mm (1.5in), or under slower operating speeds, LAUF suggested the rider switch to a conventional, fully-adjustable suspension system (such as Cannondale Lefty or a Rock Shox Bluto RCT3).
- "Efficiency" is described as the LAUF fork leaf-spring's ability to mitigate the stored rebound energy (accumulated by the leaf spring as the bike travels over obstacles) and how this energy is later released by the spring (milliseconds later) and transmitted back into the bike.
- LAUF confirms that almost 100% of the energy charged into the Leaf-Spring remains there undamped, before it is released back into the bike. Therefore, it must be transferred somewhere useful, or it will be transmitted up the fork, into the stem/handlebar, and into the rider and bike frame.
- NOTE : As noted by LAUF, The rebound energy is BEST dissipated if one or both wheels of the bike are not touching the ground. How is this accomplished? The faster the rider travels on the bike, the greater the chance for one or both wheels will not touch the ground, even for milliseconds, while the bike is tracking and reacting to its suspension system, and quickly riding over the terrain. If the wheels leave the ground, while the LAUF fork is discharging its rebound energy, then it is dissipated efficiently.
- AKA - if the wheels don't leave the ground, the rebound energy stored in the LAUF fork is discharged into the opposite ends of the LAUF fork : the wheelset (tires) and the handlebar/stem (the rider's arms). If the tires (which are on the ground) cannot absorb this rebound energy on their own, the majority of this rebound energy is absorbed by the rider themselves.
- Our conversation ended at this point, and waiting to hear back from LAUF for further clarification on long-term affects of this rebound energy on the rider. (12 OCT 2016). UPDATE : it is now 7 NOV 2016 and still no response back from LAUF.
RideFATbikes.ca Observations after 9 months of testing :
Hats off to companies that design, engineer and bring new cycling products to market. It can be a very expensive and risky undertaking. Some products succeed as innovations of the sport, whereas others fail.
Please understand that the LAUF is a SPRING. It is not a SHOCK. It cannot DAMPEN energy. It is DESIGNED to REBOUND all the ENERGY it absorbs, and it will release that energy like a spring... in accelerated fashion. The bigger the "hit" or compression, the more dramatic the release of energy. There is nothing designed into the LAUF fork to stop this from happening.
This review is not intended to bash the product because it cannot dampen energy. It's about being realistic on how draining that rebound energy can be on the rider, when ridden over terrain that is beyond the LAUF's intended operating range - which is substantially less than 60mm. 60mm is the EMERGENCY CUTOFF limit designed into the fork, and not where it should be constantly operated.
Customer and Product Support
LAUF's emphasis on marketing, clearly outranked its dedication to customer support and dealer commitment in Canada.
In measuring Performance, the LAUF Carbonara excels in a few limited regions, and not much in production can compare to its capabilities when riding WITHIN in these conditions:
- LIGHT-DUTY XC terrain, especially while sprinting and climbing in sand, gravel, or smooth hard-pack.
- Travel of 0-15mm most efficient use of fork, upper suspension travel limit is 30-40mm COR (constant operating range).
- The faster the bike is traveling, the better the LAUF seems to work at reducing suspension feedback - assuming suspension travel is 15mm or less. This improves tracking and decreases steering response time.
- Decreased weight, for a fork classified as having "suspension" travel.
- LAUF tracks well through mud and snow.
Before we continue, LAUF does not recommend the CARBONARA for AM use, nor is it recommended for constant use in terrain requiring suspension travel in excess of 40mm, or 1.5in. (Switch to LEFTY or BLUTO at this point)
Yes, we have bottomed out the Carbonara Fork several times. It feels like something on the bike broke/cracked when it happens, as it is a jarring and eerie feeling and that "feedback" is certainly transmitted through the steering.
In general, during "normal" operation, the steering was quick and responsive.
The front end of the bike felt agile and light, like a rigid carbon fork.
The LAUF aids in acceleration and sprinting on smooth terrain, much more than a traditional suspension fork. GPS verified top speed (on flat-level terrain) of 47kph was obtained multiple times, on multiple LAUF-equipped Fat bikes (both alloy and carbon) with standard "stock" 32t FR 10t RR gearing, using 4in, 4.25in, 4.5in and 4.8in tires.
(Top speed (on flat-level terrain) using a BLUTO RCT3 is currently 45 kph, and Mekkem/Wren "110" was 42kph).
A characteristic of the way in which the engineers designed the LAUF Carbonara, is that it performs best when the terrain does NOT have obstacles greater than 25-30mm in height. (aka - it's an undamped leaf-spring gravel fork, and it works really, really well on gravel, sand and "smooth" hard-pack).
Google the term "undamped". It translates to : "undiminished, as in energy, vigor" and "having constant or increasing amplitude". What does this mean? The bigger the "hit", the larger the release of rebound energy from the fork...not in linear fashion, but exponentially, as in x2, x3, x4, x5 the initial amount of "energy" loaded into it - which is caused by it hitting a bump or obstacle. Also, as speed of the bike increases, so does the multiplier on the rebound energy created when the leaf-springs engage the terrain.
All that said, the design has two functional problems to deal with concerning rebound energy :
- How does LAUF dissipate the rebound energy? (they can't dissipate it through the current design... they can only hope the rider has the tires at a low enough PSI, and the wider the front tire the better, as more tire volume will absorb more rebound energy coming back off the LAUF) - otherwise, this rebound energy gets transmitted into the bike frame and then into the rider.
- How big of a "hit" can LAUF expect this fork to absorb, before the rebound energy is noticeable by the rider, and transmitted into the rider? (about 10-15mm)
The LAUF fork requires an adjustment of (somewhat lowered) tire PSI to work as the engineers intended - or else, the higher the tire PSI, the more (((amplified))) the rebound energy from the leaf-springs on the fork becomes. It will definitely fatigue the rider, increasingly faster over time, than a traditional (adjustable) suspension fork... you will most likely feel it in your wrists, neck and shoulders...and to some extent, your elbows if you don't bend them while riding or grip the handlebar too tightly. This all assumes there is suspension travel needed to be (((dampened))) during the ride.
The LAUF also works better if your hand grips have some elastomer compound in them to absorb even a small bit of "chatter" from the fork. Every little bit helps, and its a noticeable improvement.
Now go back to what LAUF said in its own product literature :
"A Lauf fork is aimed at a specific purpose; to absorb small bumps"
"A Lauf fork doesn’t have friction or a damping mechanism."
Therefore, the LAUF leaf-spring design, in no way, can compete against a true adjustable suspension rebound/damper fork, once those "little bumps", turn into anything "substantial". LAUF considers "substantial" to be 40+mm, when factoring in the Carbonara's constant operating range.
PRICE : Even with LAUF now lowering their MSRP to $890 USD for a Carbonara, we cannot justify that buy-in cost upon the consumer. This fork is still highly overpriced at the retail level. The price needs to be cut in half. Very good rigid carbon forks now cost under $300 USD. Bluto RCT3s are found on eBay for under $350 USD. The LAUF would have general consumer value at around $450-500 USD retail.
We have found the majority of interested buyers reconsider their options once they hear the price tag, and look elsewhere towards other products offered by different brands
- Overall, in the front (suspension) fork market, the LAUF series are the most expensive options. They will perform best, if riding conditions are kept within certain limits, and not used in certain terrains.
- If you are tailoring race bikes for maximum performance at specific events, like a light-duty XC race, of mostly fire trails, gravel and paved roads, the LAUF series of leaf-spring forks should give you a definite edge over a rigid fork and some other suspension options. (Example - P2A - Paris to Ancaster race) ... especially on sprinting and climbing.
- Two major drawbacks:
- LONG TERM fatigue (on the rider) when using the LAUF Carbonara. The extent, depends on the terrain, rider speed, tire PSI, and a few other factors.
- Trail option limitations. LAUF-equipped Fat Bikes, should be practically limited for use in non-AM environments. When the LAUF is installed, it effectively limits where you can ride that bike.