The Lauf True Grit gravel bicycle is an attention grabbing, nimble, gravel racer.
Almost anyone who saw me riding this rig asked about one thing.
“What kind of fork is that?!” Is pretty much the expected question now that I have ridden this bike for over 100 miles on various rides in the last 1.5 months. The leaf spring suspension design on the Lauf Grit SL suspension fork definitely looks different than most rigid carbon forks you would expect to see on a drop bar all road bike like this. After that initial question, the second question is always, “How much travel does it have?” 30mm and it’s maintenance-free.
Drop Bar MTB or Dedicated Gravel Rig?
Which to choose? As a mountain biker who rarely rides road, but frequently rides rigid forked rigs on the trails combined with plus tires, I was very curious to see how the Lauf True Grit’s 40c tires with 30mm of suspension would compare to the familiar, rigid plus-tire rigs. For example, currently, my monstercross rig is a steel Salsa El Mariachi with rigid steel fork. Over the last 9 years, I have ridden it with various rigid forks, various flat and drop bars, in combination with too many different tire widths to count. That rigid mountain bike approach is admittedly not the best for all applications, in fact, for technical sections it can be downright intimidating some times. Having to pick the right lines and slow down for chunky rock gardens is not recommended for those who have depended on suspension for long enough to dictate their riding style accordingly. I currently own a hardtail with suspension combined with 3 inch tires and have owned full suspension rigs in the past as well. While all of these different types of bikes are enjoyable for different trails and riding styles, my primary focus is applying my rig to endurance dirt cycling. I love riding long distances, away from asphalt and concrete. Usually I don’t have a whole day to ride, but whenever I ride, I like to cover as much distance as possible on dirt with whatever time I have available. Usually my monstercross rig, with a 2.6 Maxxis Ikon tire up front and a 2.2 Maxxis Ikon on the rear wheel is what I reach for. Especially when I plan on riding for maximum mileage on dirt, as long as the terrain isn’t super technical on the chosen route.
A combination of rigid fork and wider tires has been the formula that has allowed me to stay comfortable, in control, and confident in my rig over the maximized mileage rides. I have nothing against suspension forks, but in the back of my mind I am always thinking that it is heavier and more prone to failure when compared to rigid forks. The thing about the wider tires is that they are also heavy with more friction upon the terrain compared to thinner tires, but they have provided the small amount of compliance and bump absorption that I find extremely valuable over a long distance ride.
My History with Lauf Forks
Unlike many other riders I know, I am not unfamiliar with Lauf.
Back in 2014, I was very excited to see a viable, durable, maintenance-free suspension fork option when they were mentioned in different online publications I frequent. I wondered what Lauf meant, so I googled it. Translated in German, it means run. But Lauf is an Icelandic company. I tried Google Translate, set to Icelandic. “LEAF”. Very clever. Leaf springs that run. I love it!
I had ridden a Lauf Carbonara fatbike fork on a friend’s 4 inch tired fatbike during a group ride in San Diego in 2015. I was very curious as to how it would flex under my weight and torsion of the handlebars as I stood and climbed up a long, 2 mile rocky climb. Either the squishy 4 inch tires, or the Carbonara’s 60mm of travel, or a combination of both created a strange sensation that I was not a fan of. It felt like it flexed too much in a different manner or direction than what I had come to expect from a traditional suspension fork and narrower, 20-25psi tires. I like a very rigid platform when climbing out of the saddle.
I have friends who I highly regard as some of the best endurance riders around that have chosen the Lauf Trail Racer 60mm fork on their long distance rigs. When I took another look at Lauf options, I realized they now had designed a frame to compliment their 30mm gravel fork. I was excited.
At 17.6 pounds with clearance for 45mm tires on 700c rims and that 30mm of leaf sprung suspension, this is very quick rig that still provides comfort and control over the rougher sections of dirt I have been riding. And the suspension doesn’t need any maintenance! Win. More on the ride experience in just a bit. First, lets take a look at what you get with this bike.
When I first unboxed the test bike, a True Grit Race edition, I was stunned by how awesome the Lime Green paint looked when the light hit it. Truly a great paint job. The graphics were cool too. A leaf here and there, True Grit on the top tube, Lauf on the down tube and “Just Ride” text on the fork leg tops and arch. Those Just Ride graphics seemed excessive at first. I will come back to why those ended up being one of my favorite things about the bike that I didn’t realize until the end of my testing.
Next, I noticed the “Beer or Gear” bottle opener. Lauf describes this as, “The Beer Or Gear front derailleur design opens up endless possibilities. Most True Grit riders are going to want the mechanical robustness and simplicity of 1×11 drivetrains. These riders will get a bottle opener where a front derailleur would otherwise be. ” I will also come back to this and why it is my least favorite part of the True Grit a little later.
All the parts looked familiar to me otherwise. I had ridden these Easton handlebars before and liked them a lot on another gravel bike. Same with the Maxxis Rambler 40c tires. The SRAM Force 1 drivetrain and brakes were new to me, but I was familiar with them. The gearing was nearly identical to what I have on my monster cross rig, but this particular True Grit came with an Absolute Black oval ring for me to test as well.
Race Edition Specs:
- Frame: True Grit Carbon Frame, 12x142mm through-axle
- Fork: Grit SL Carbon Fork, 15x100mm through-axle
- Handlebar: Easton EC70 AX Carbon
- Rear Derailleur: SRAM Force 1
- Front Derailleur: Lauf Bottle Opener
- Shifters: SRAM Force 1
- Brakes: SRAM Force 1 Flat mount (160mm rotor front and rear)
- Crank: Easton EC90 SL 42t
- Saddle: WTB Volt Pro
- Seatpost: FSA SL-K 27.2mm, Carbon
- Wheels: DT Swiss XR1501 (6-bolt, xD freehub, tubeless ready)
- Tires: Maxxis Rambler 40c EXO/TR 120TPI
- Stem: Easton EA70
- Headset: FSA Orbit, IS 42/52 (45° lower bearing)
- Bartape: Easton Pinline
- Cassette: SRAM 1195, 10-42t
- Chain: SRAM 1130
- Bottom Bracket: Easton BSA 68mm
There is no denying that this bike is light and comfortable. At least more comfortable than a rigid forked equivalent bike on the type of terrain you would expect to ride this bike upon. I think Lauf hit a home run making this bike and fork for the intended application. Is it as comfortable as a mountain bike with conventional suspension over really rough terrain? Absolutely not, but it also weighs a lot less and the suspension is maintenance free.
What about that question I had in the beginning about a drop bar MTB with higher volume tires and a rigid fork compared to the Lauf True Grit? Well, its a mixed bag. Where the Lauf shines is in the gravel application or smooth singletrack that has the occasional rough patch here and there. There is no tire squirm with the 40c tires and when you combine that with this very short, 30mm travel, you have very predictable handling that is as close as you can imagine to a rigid rig, but with the comfort that you would prefer when the rough stuff comes along. With bigger tires and a rigid fork, you have a similar feeling, but the tire squirm is felt and it doesn’t feel as nimble because of the increased rotating weight. That said, you can “tune” the give of the higher volume tires with more or less tire pressure. With the Lauf suspension, you cannot tune it to suit the anticipated terrain ahead.
I rode this bike hard. I really wanted to see what it could and could not do as well as see what I could do when aboard this gravel racer. I was able to ride hard and fast on the forest roads just outside Prescott, AZ. From a stop, the off-the-line take off was amazing. This bike is no slouch! During climbing, it was very evident that the bike was not the limiting factor as I could easily hit my limit by trying to see how far I could go at my fastest speed possible. On the downhills, I was leery of hitting washboarded sections and potholes on the dirt roads. I didn’t really want to trust the short travel to soak up everything I might come across. As an experienced rigid rider, this was my typical mode of operation. When coming up on some potholes, washboard, or rocks in the shadows that I didn’t see, any that were larger than a couple inches in size would definitely jar me like a rigid bike. It was strange getting jarred unexpectedly since I was used to the travel soaking up most of the small rocks and bumps. It was a surprising experience to bottom out the Lauf fork on the bigger obstacles unexpectedly. I took the Lauf True Grit on various singletrack trails as well. Some were smooth hardback with occasional rock ledges that were 6-18 inches high. The True Grit flew on the smooth hardpack and was very enjoyable. I suspected that I would need to walk some of the more technical sections with rocks and ledges and while I did on rare occasions, I was very surprised with how far I could ride before needing to hike a bike. Uphills with ledges were the most amazing. I thought I would lose traction and/or be unable to get over the small rock ledges, but the Maxxis Rambler tires really hold well for such as small contact patch and the bike’s sub-18lb weight really allowed me to heft it easily up and over obstacles. This was the biggest eye-opening experience for a mountain biker that rides wide, high volume tires on the regular.
When out of the saddle, I could feel very minimal flex in the Grit SL fork on a rare occasion when I got my weight over the front a little more than usual. Also, when out of the saddle, I would occasionally hear some disc brake rotor rub and despite my best efforts to adjust it out, it would come back every now and again. The Force 1 brakes performed flawlessly however and the hoods and levers felt very comfortable to my hands. The Easton AX bars were just as I remembered, very comfortable with the conservative bends that still allowed for maneuvering in technical singletrack that I would’ve thought a lot more difficult had I not experienced it first hand.
Absolute Black Oval & SRAM Drivetrain
The drivetrain never gave me any issues and the Absolute Black oval chainring felt very natural. I felt a slight difference compared to my bikes with round chainrings, but that sensation was gone by the first half mile, if not sooner. Absolute Black claims that their rings provide, “Up to 9% increase of Force effectiveness, up to 7% less oxygen consumption, up to 15% less Ventilation (breathing) and up to 10% heart rate decrease”. While I cannot confirm these statistics, the ring felt natural to my pedal stroke, looks great, and I would definitely enjoy using them again on any of my rigs. Being a Shimano fan, I was unsure about the SRAM drivetrain performing up to my standards. I have ridden a friend’s GX Eagle 1×12 groupset recently and was not impressed. Obviously SRAM’s higher end stuff is on another level, but my bias was still there. I can happily say that this drivetrain performed flawlessly and wasn’t brand new when I received it. I would happily ride this groupset for hundreds of additional miles without thinking twice.
The Lauf True Grit would not have even been considered for review if it didn’t have provisions for attaching gear, accessories, and accoutrements needed for staying out away from civilization all day. The generous frame triangle allows for the largest water bottles to fit in the water bottle cages, or a large frame bag could be run to carry all the gear you could want, even for a bikepacking trip. The third water bottle mount on the bottom of the down tube (see image above), gives options to mount another water bottle of course, or one could attache a Widefoot Liter Cage, Anything Cage, or Blackburn Outpost cage for more water capacity or other gear that may be needed, like a stove or other tools. The top tube also has a two bolt mount, but this would be for a fuel tank style bag. The attention to detail is shown off here in the bolts with the Lauf leaf graphics. Very classy.
Beer or Gear?
It is obvious that the guys a Lauf definitely have an affinity for beer, which is common for many cyclists. With many of the gravel race events having a beer garden as part of the event, this is understandable. The “Beer or Gear” bottle opener on the frame is evidence of this, as are the phases on the shipping box: “This side up please, beer on us when in Iceland” and “Content may cause hyper excitement. Make sure you have a beer close by to calm you down.” While these are clever phrases and the bottle opener will be embraced by many beer drinking cyclists, I am not interested. Being that I am a recovering alcoholic, this bottle opener and phrases are wasted on me, but I have heard a few riders along the trail comment on how the bottle opener is a cool feature. I wonder how often, even when I drank heavily, this bottle opener would be utilized on a 17.6lb race bike like this. Do riders who enjoy beer really bring glass-bottled beer with them on the ride? That would seem to defeat the purpose of having such a lightweight race bike. If riders do bring bottled beer on the ride, how many would they normally bring and how would they cary them? Would it be enough to warrant carrying a bottle opener on the bike for extended periods? My guess is that most riders who really love beer would enjoy a beer or two with friends after the ride and traditionally keep a bottle opener in the car with the beer. Why carry the extra weight of the bottle opener on your bike the whole ride just to look cool and pop your friends beers open using your bike? It seems like it would be an awkward position to pry a beer open anyways, squatting down low and having to hold down your lightweight bike to impress your friends. It seems like you would be trying too hard to impress and I think Lauf is trying too hard here as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the paint job on this bike is phenomenal. The green sparkle finish is bright, but not so sparkly that it looks blingtastic, flashy, or cheap in any way. The graphics pretty good, but as a man of simplicity, I initially thought they were a tad excessive. However, on a couple rides when I reached the point of being physically spent and mentally drained, I found them surprisingly encouraging. I always figured slogans like this were a waste, but these ones are positioned properly where you see them in a head down position and they aren’t big and in your face. I was reminded by them that I don’t necessarily need to ride hard, or fast, or long. The way I heard “Just Ride” during these times where I was in the pain cave with no more left in the tank was, “Just ride, however you want, however you need to, just keep going, just enjoy your time outside. Just ride.”
In summary, the Lauf True Grit is a bike that exceeded my expectations, allowing me to go places I never thought I would take a 40c-tire-equipped bike, let alone a 17.6 gravel racing rig. I was able to climb up chunky rock fireroad that would have been a challenge on many mountain bikes, I rode in snow, sand, flows singletrack, ice, steep sections with rock ledges, and plenty of asphalt. While I am not a fan of their heavy beer-laden phrases or front derailleur bottle opener, I know many of my friends would be. It would be difficult for me to choose this bike or a monster cross steel bike for many of the smoother trails I ride, because it can stand in the gap between a xc mountain bike and a road bike very well. The bike soaks up small chunk that would fatigue your body during hours of gravel riding and yet is light and efficient enough to hang with many roadies that have less capable bikes.
The Lauf True Grit as seen here in the Race Edition is sold for $4990.00. More information can be found on the Lauf website.
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