Lauf has always done things a little differently, going back to 2013 when the Icelandic brand teased its first leaf-sprung suspension fork for mountain bikes.
In the years since, Lauf has turned its attention to gravel bikes, with the True Grit arriving in 2017 and, more recently, the Seigla. Now, the company has launched its first road bike, the Úthald.
In Icelandic, Úthald means ‘endurance’ – but, as you’d expect from Lauf, it’s a bike designed to challenge the traditional conventions of race and endurance road bikes.
Lauf has applied its knowledge from designing gravel bikes to produce a road bike that takes a different approach to fast progress on tarmac, with a slack geometry that balances stability and performance, and a tailored approach to aerodynamics.
Let’s dive deeper into why Lauf has launched a road bike – and the thinking behind the new Lauf Úthald.
A road bike from a gravel background
The relationship between road bikes and gravel bikes is convoluted. The first gravel bikes were essentially road bikes with wider clearance, according to Lauf’s founder and CEO, Benedikt Skúlason.
Then, gravel bikes started to develop their own personality, with a more relaxed geometry, lower gearing and ever-increasing tyre clearance.
The emergence of gravel race bikes as a sub-category has seen things swing back the other way. Many fast gravel bikes are getting closer to road bike territory again through more conservative tyre clearance and more responsive, race-ready geometry.
With the Úthald, Lauf is coming from a different design direction though, as Skúlason explains.
“The brand has always been all about gravel,” he says. “This gives us a different perspective on geometry. We originally came from an XC MTB background, so our True Grit and Seigla gravel bikes were groundbreaking when we launched them, with more stability than other gravel bikes. But now many other brands have adopted a similar geometry.”
The key, according to Skúlason, was to find balance in the geometry – to offer stability for off-road riding, while still enabling the rider to get low on the bike. That same thinking has been applied to the Úthald.
“At the time, our geometry was radical, with a ‘fast fit’, which was more fun,” Skúlason continues.
“A fast ride doesn’t mean that a bike shouldn’t be stable though. However, road bikes designed for an aggressive fit always have a steep head angle that gives them handling that is sharp, responsive and nervous, and we questioned why this should be.”
Stable is faster
Lauf’s first fundamental idea with the Úthald, according to Skúlason, is that making you stable will make you faster. The over-focus on responsiveness in road bikes is down to two factors, he says: tradition, and that the ride feels fast if it’s more ‘edgy’, even if it isn’t.
On top of that, Skúlason says larger brands often try to segment their customers between those who are less experienced, to whom they offer stability and a more upright ride, and faster or more experienced riders, who are offered a more aggressive fit and quicker steering. The latter typically comes at a higher price.
Coming from its gravel origins, Lauf is ready to challenge that thinking with the Úthald. According to Skúlason, the rider fit of the Úthald is similar to ‘fast road bikes’ from major brands such as Trek and Specialized – and indeed to Lauf’s own Seigla and True Grit gravel race bikes – but the geometry is still designed to be significantly more stable.
While we’re typically used to seeing head tube angles of around 73.5 degrees for a medium frame on performance road bikes, the Úthald’s is a whole two degrees slacker at 71.5 degrees. This has a big impact, Skúlason says.
“If you’re more confident, you can ride faster,” he says. “It makes it more comfortable to go fast and there’s not the feeling that you are going to be thrown over the handlebar.
“Longer, slacker geometry is already the norm for mountain bikes and gravel bikes, so why not for road bikes too?” he asks.
The downside of a more stable ride is in the tricks a stable geometry can play, Skúlason says. Riders used to quicker steering on performance road bikes may equate fast handling with performance.
Bike designers have had a steady stream of innovations to embrace over the past 15 years or so – carbon frames, disc brakes, aerodynamic know-how – and Skúlason thinks a fresh approach to geometry could be the next frontier in road bike design.
While there’s science behind building bikes, there’s an experiential layer above that, Skúlason continues, and Lauf has looked to address the fun factor, too.
Although the front-end geometry of the Úthald is slack, Lauf set out to keep the rear of the bike as tight as possible.
Shorter chainstays are intended to give a more direct feeling to the ride, so Lauf has gone as short as possible – and shorter than competing bikes – at 405mm. However, the Úthald still offers 35mm of tyre clearance and meets the recommended shortest chainstay length for SRAM and Shimano drivetrains.
A more compliant ride
Lauf’s second fundamental concept behind the design of the Úthald is that fast bikes don’t have to be uncomfortable.
For Skúlason, the objective here was to build extra compliance into the frame, and avoid the extra weight and complexity of active suspension systems.
“We have the same compliance system in the rear of the Úthald as on the Seigla, which is up there with bikes with pivots and active suspension systems, but without any of the drawbacks,” says Skúlason.
With a 75kg rider aboard, the rear of the Úthald’s frame will sag by 4.5mm. According to Lauf, if that rider then hits a pothole, the frame can flex up to 15mm, measured from the saddle towards the rear hub.
The carbon layup required to provide this compliance adds “something like 40g” to the frame weight, claims Skúlason.
“We’re giving you that compliance just from the frame,” he adds. “Plus you get the comfort from the wider 32mm tyres we’ve fitted.”
Lauf makes the frame from what it calls Impact Resistant Modulus carbon fibre. Lauf avoided using higher-modulus carbon, because the brand says this prevents frame flex, can make the frame feel harsh and leads to far lower impact resistance.
Lauf hasn’t neglected front-end comfort either. The brand’s Smoothie Road handlebar includes impact-resistant glass-fibre tops. Lauf says it provides 2.5mm of compliance here under a 40kg load.
Despite the weight added by the Úthald’s compliance features, Lauf claims a painted, size-medium frame comes in at 985g, plus an additional 365g for a painted fork. The Smoothie Road handlebar, meanwhile, adds 270g in a 40cm width.
Aero where it matters
Skúlason says that, while stability and compliance are the key areas where Lauf has used its expertise in gravel to innovate with the Úthald, the brand has also applied some of the latest thinking in aerodynamics where it really matters.
“We focused on aerodynamics where we could and where it matters the most,” Skúlason says. “We initially wanted to go for a highly shaped down tube, but you need to add ‘lazy fibres’ to achieve that, which don’t do anything for you but improve aerodynamics. The trade-off wasn’t worth it.”
Instead, the top of the down tube, for example, is designed to be aerofoil-shaped, while lower down it expands to shield the bottles, something that can be achieved without too much additional weight.
On the head tube, meanwhile, the extended, deeper, tapered profile helps to reduce the drag footprint and also improves frame rigidity. In the fork blades, there’s an easy win from the narrow but deep profile.
At the rear, where the airflow is already much more turbulent, Lauf’s design prioritises comfort over aerodynamics, incorporating a round seat tube and seatpost, for example. Although the slim, dropped seatstays may improve aerodynamics, they’re designed primarily for their comfort characteristics.
Keep it simple
Lauf has also resisted two key aerodynamic trends, with the Úthald’s cockpit remaining a two-piece affair, using external cable routing – despite front-end integration now being the norm on performance bikes.
“We have yet to see any studies that show any benefit that is remotely worth it from routing the cables through the headset,” says Skúlason. “Internal routing will make changing your fit and working on the bike much harder.”
The gains from integration tend to be quoted for extreme cases, adds Skúlason, pointing out that a three-watt gain might, as an example, be quoted at a riding speed of 50kph. “This number drops to about 0.3 watts for a wirelessly shifting bike ridden at 30kph,” says Skúlason.
Additionally, the Úthald is built for wireless electronic groupsets only, which immediately halves the number of exposed cables (leaving behind only hydraulic brake hoses).
Skúlason also says the low stack height of the bike results in shorter exposed hose lengths.
Race or endurance?
So, regardless of its name, is the Úthald a race bike or an endurance bike? It’s both, says Skúlason.
“It’s a race bike, but it’s combining the benefits of both types of bikes,” he concludes. “We fit the rider on it to go fast, but it also gives you stability and way more compliance than any other fast road bike.”