In January 2023, Icelandic bike brand Lauf opened an assembly line in Harrisonburg, Va. It was here, 10 months later in the dusk light of what was once the printing warehouse for the Daily News-Record, that the company unveiled its bike, the Úthald.
Lauf not only has a history with gravel bikes, but also building engineering solutions that make these bikes both comfortable and fast. The Úthald, however, is not primarily meant for the dirt. It is what the company dubs a “fast road bike.” Surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be.
In 2016, when Lauf was designing and developing the True Grit bike, most brands were opting for stiffer gravel frames with steeper head-tube angles. Lauf leaned toward compliance and stability in order to obtain speed. When you consider mountain bikes, this approach isn’t so radical. Still, it seemed no one had applied it to the road. As such, Lauf began to question the reasoning behind road bike geometry in general. After asking a variety of engineers why every brand seemingly followed the same formula, the only answers that came back were “it was tradition” and “it made the bikes ‘feel fast’.”
Feeling fast versus being fast
According to Lauf, most bike brands and their engineers focus on producing bikes that feel fast. But this perceived speed, noise, impact and stiffness are often an indication of the opposite. In reality, the difference between one bike to the other is never going to be sufficiently dramatic for a rider to feel it.
Benedikt Skúlason, the founder of Lauf and an engineer himself, recognizes that when huge teams of noteworthy engineers have worked on specifically optimizing carbon-fibre bicycles, it’s unlikely that any particular brand will swoop in with one idea that puts their years of research aside. Taking the same approach lacks creativity and is unlikely to result in huge gains, but altering this offers a window for progress and “where there is tradition and conservatism, there tend to be opportunities.”
Most brands tend to distinguish between two rider types: the fast ones and the less-experienced ones. The companies mostly offer speeded frames to one type and compliance to the other. However, Lauf’s True Grit reinforced the idea that greater confidence on the bike will directly translate into higher speeds. It’s not a matter of speed or compliance, but speed and compliance. “When you are stable and confident, you can ride faster. Period,” Skúlason says. With the…