An Interview with Benedikt Skulason of Lauf Cycling
Craig over at The Gravel Ride recently caught up with Benedikt Skulason of Lauf Cycling, an innovative bike brand from Iceland. Learn all about the inspiration, advantages and story behind their unique Lauf Fork.
Host: Craig Dalton
Guest: Benedikt Skulason from Lauf Cycling
Today everyone, I'm excited to bring Benedikt from Lauf to the podcast to learn more about the interesting forks and bikes that these guys have been making since 2010. Benedikt. Welcome to the podcast.
Thank you. Glad to be here.
You're in Iceland today, so this is an international conversation!
Yeah it is kind of shitty over here now.
I know we've got to get you over here to Marin county. We've got a little bit of sunshine today and a lot of trails I'd love to explore with your product.
Yeah, that will be nice. So we're having the worst summer since the beginning of recording whether in Iceland. Wow. So the worst May being followed up with the worst June of all time.
So does that mean a lot of wet weather?
Mostly it means rain and like a yes, sub 10 degrees Celsius temperatures like Fahrenheit or so.
Well we definitely got to get you out to California then. I always like to start off by learning a little bit more about you as a cyclist and kind of what drove you to discover off road riding and gravel riding later.
I've always been into bikes, obviously a lifelong passion. And back here in Iceland it was. So I'm, what am I, 33 now, years old. So when I was growing up it was kind of in the middle of the mountain bike boom, where the, when the first suspension forks were hitting the market, uh, the first, uh, workshops for two, we're like really gaining momentum in the market back then. Nobody wrote anything about the mountain biking. I stamps there were no road bikes to speak of. Maybe a, maybe somebody old cousin or something, brought one home from his days in France or whatever, but it was all about mountain bikes. And, and you know, I'm in, back then mountain bikes were, yep. Close to what we know as scrambled bikes today basically. So it used to be called not the bags and that, and I enrolled them as such.
But in fact they were road bikes like we got under day. Uh, I've been writing a lot since early childhood, uh, and always been fascinated by like the same product and as a, as a small small tear that I've participated in, like some invention, uh, like contests here in Iceland, a and one a price as a 12 year old or what it was and I spent all my price money on buying a bike and then when I was complimented as that as a Christian, which happens when you're like 13 or 14 here, then I've got some presidents and then I used that money to buy a suspension for comment back. So it was a rock shot, judy t two four that dates it a little bit. Yeah, exactly. So yeah, it's been all about bikes. It's funny when you look at it in retrospect. So I mean I had no idea this was coming at me.
It was never, it was never a goal in itself too to go into the biking industry, uh, because I mean there is no wash, no bike industry here in Iceland, but it Kinda just happens as a result of a lifelong passion for the topic. So yeah, I got my, got my masters in engineering, I actually did my master's in the US, so I studied in Manhattan, Columbia, did my master's there and I was always fascinated by a composites. Composites are what basically drove me into the cycling industry, so to speak. So I really wanted to initially, so back in 2007 or eight, I was studying, uh, uh, basically how to make my own carbon bike. A lot of people have, have done this and like, because it's fascinating, fascinating material. So I spent a lot of time on researching how to do all that, uh, coming to the conclusion in the end, but that it tricky to do start from level ground to make your own carbon bike.
You need to do a lot of testing and it need to have a lot of hands on experience, experience with material. So that got me thinking, where can I get a job in composites, which led me to work to a job at a which is nice landscape company, world's biggest a prosthetic maker, a worlds because high-end, prosthetic makeup and, and I worked there for awhile. The designing prosthetic feet, the carbon blades type. And that opened my eyes to so up until that point, carpooling was, yeah, like it is too, like it's still is to most designers. It is a way of making a really rich it then late structure that work in a prosthetic company. It made me realize that, that it's more than that. It's also about the fracture performance of the material, how long it can last. There's basically no fatigue in carbon.
The only fatigue in like composite products got carbon frames for example. It is the fatigue between the fibers. So when the epoxy resin between the fibers that get deteriorates over time, uh, but like the fibers themselves, they left forever. And this is amazing stuff. So, so realizing and seeing just with your bare eyes, how much flex and performance and, and, and load carrying capacity you can get out of our composite leaf spring. It's just ridiculous at which led me to think how can I use this to make, to improve your bicycle basically in the beginning and, and that question like fundamentally was not about just the actual performance, it was about how to use flex but still controlling the movement of the, of the path of the suspended. We'll uh, because as you know, when you have a suspended or not suspended, but like for gaming forks, say that's a really old steel like curved forks.
You can only take that concept so far if you make them like, like really, really thin and make them stretch far to the front and they become a way to noodley it's just you have no lateral support or front the back support and the structure. So that was like the key problem I was trying to address how to tie things together to control the flex basically. And that's. Yeah, love fork is the result of that. And were you able to prototype that locally and Iceland? Yeah. Uh, wish this a your limit. Then I could show you a short your first prototype, but it was crazy looking prototype made out of aluminum. You profile a beams, uh, in a way like what was it, 15 pounds or so, just the for a thing. Uh, but, but obviously it wasn't, it was not about achieving low weight at that point was just about proving that the suspension would be guided properly and then it will behave normally, so to speak and how we respond to a break forces and stuff like that.
So we did a series of these aluminum prototypes or first bringing them to the right, like stale, you mentioned live the right, the of suspension and, and uh, yeah, I think the break and enter into the concept and all that just to see if it worked. Which, yeah. Which it turned out to do. It works well, but then yeah, back then, yeah, we, we, we celebrated that achievement like we had won the World Cup or something. Uh, what we didn't realize then is that there was just like a fraction of the, of the task I had to make something that works and now as a matter of producing it and marketing it and finding the right application for it, etc. Etc. Etc. And that has been. Yeah. So, so we made these first prototypes back in 2011, late 2011. So ever since then we've been working on, on bringing it to the market and yeah more and more basically.
Yeah, as I mentioned to you, I had seen allow for probably back in 2012, 2013 here in San Francisco and I was intrigued by it. Uh, the riding around here, a lot of fire roads, stuff that you don't really need a lot of beefy suspension for. So on a hardtail twenty niner, which is where I saw the fork, it just made a ton of sense and for someone like myself who doesn't go uphill that quickly, having the weight weight advantages was really intriguing for me and I'd, I'd never seen anything like it. And I know the gentleman who wrote it, I thought a lot about hiS equipment, uh, so I remained intrigued by it never pulled the trigger on the mountain bike side, but as I got into the gravel market and sell your products kind of evolved into that field as well. The same light bulbs went off. So I'm curious to hear your perspective about when you started to see the influence of the gravel market and you started to see the application of your fork there.
So it's a, it's a fun question because in a way it has always been above rental bikes for us. It just weren't called rebel bikes, uh, back in the days. Uh, so, uh, and this was, this was really tricky with the mountain bike for because what we had done was that I'm still have, although we have, we've updated the mountain bike fork a substantially since way back in 2012. So that version is way improved now in the latest version. but at some of the story back then, yeah, we had basically had the gravel fork for mountain bikes are song people saw it. And, and, and this was a common misconception in the us basically, that this was a fork, a good on, on a mountain bike and then to like granola nasty, like, yeah, aggressive cross country riding or all month and writing a, but they've never been above that, that they've been more about a different iceland's, like you said in the presentation.
So back here, like the benchmark race, we have a, it's called the blue lagoon chance and it's a, it's a cross country, like an old style cross country race. Uh, and it's not super technical, but it has, but it has like a coarse surfaces, coarse gravel roads. Uh, so that is the type of writing that the four position initially made for basically turning mountain bikes into fast gravel bikes. Uh, but, but the problem we had there was that it was a, it was a tricky thing to explain because we were, in a way you could say that we were trying to invent rebel bikes.
Yeah, you absolutely were. I mean, I think if you think about the trends in mountain biking in that era, you were actually going the wrong direction. People were going greater and greater travel, talking about different categories like trail bikes and enduro bikes and here you addressing a problem that uh, you know, most people weren't perceiving for mountain bikes specifically.
Exactly. So we were kind of when people were asking for more, we were giving them less at, which was a kind of weird, weird situation. And often, I mean, we, we, we've, we've always thought that we were doing the right thing, but it wasn't like at the, at the right time and it didn't have the right market fits back man, like 12, 13, 14. I often visited some, some trail centers in the us where I wrote everything easily on my heart with allow fork and it was super nice, uh, and overtaking guys on, on, on, on, on mass. Massive or mountain bikes are on like buffed single tracks. Uh, so people are, yeah, they often have. Yeah. Two big bikes. The bikes are. But we do a big problem for people. Right. But I mean, but, but if people want to want to get those folks, then it's up to them. I mean, not saying that it's worse, but it, but it's, yeah,
yeah, it probably would have continued to be an uphill struggle to convince people that that fork met their needs.
So the situation now it's the opposite. It's basically now we're in the position of offering people more and, and, and the gravel segments at, which is kind of,
I think you hit the nail on the head. It is exactly opposite. You've got a market that is as the mentality that fully rigid is the way it should be. And now you're saying how about adding a little suspension on it?
Yeah, yeah. If you. Yeah. So you wrote maintenance, uh, pounds of extra weight compared to a carbon fork or something and to get always sexual attraction and comfort and yeah, speed. Basically you just roll faster on, on, on coarse gravel. So. So that's, uh, that's a more fun and easier proposition to have, which is a, which is cool to see a lot of fun
that. Absolutely. So did you end up redesigning the fork specific for what we call the gravel market?
So it took us awhile to like decide on, on how much give to, to have in the fork. So yeah, we ended up with these, uh, 13 millimeters of travel, so, so I mean, and going down from the 60 millimeters that we had on our multiply ports and it was, it took a while to come to that conclusion because when, when you ride on gravel for it, you don't really notice anything, anything happening anymore. So that's a difference between the thirtY, under 30. You don't feel it moving and, and, and, and at first you might think like, well this is, this isn't doing anything for me, it's not until you go and compare it to our richard back then men are like wow, this is a world of a difference. So that was what we were after with a gravel floor to make it simple enough so it wouldn't bother you, but still that you would feel a massive difference to, to rigid fork. So we, we're trying to maintain or the benefits of, of our rigid setup, but, but just giving you more benefits as opposed to when you have like a traditional suspension for it, then you're inevitably always been. You inevitably have to accept a lot of downsides. So we want to like get the pastels basically that was the idea.
So a couple of questions come to mind for me. When You bring the fork on the road on a gravel bikes, you're on a more mixed terrain where you've got road and off road sections. How does it feel? And you know, where's the performance lag? Which presumably there's some In there when you hit the roads.
When you're on tarmac or our smooth, smooth roads, obviously there is less need for it obviously. Uh, then it just acts like a lifesaver when he, when you hit that pothole maybe, or if you're, if you're writing on poor time like, like we have here in Iceland than it does a lot for you because it can take a that high-frequency bush. It can really effectively remove that from you. And not in the way that some like free manufacturers talk about that the leadership of the frame or something removes something with a black box technology. It actually can ride next to one writing a lot of work on tarmac and you can see it, It's like a, it's like a bee bursting, like I'll be there, the blades, but then again, obviously, like you say, when it becomes smaller and smaller and smaller, you have less and less need for the fork. So eventually, I mean you will always have downsides of the additional part of width, uh, and it's going to be less arrow as well than your, than your typical role. but obviously, uh, but we, uh, in our design we try to minimize those downsides. So, so unless you are like aiming for port placements in enrolled racist, uh, it should absolutely not bother you are when you use that a road bike. Yeah. That's the intention.
That makes sense. So let's talk about the performance benefits when we get off road.
Yeah. So off wrote some purists purists, they, they like to save him that he can just run a wider tire, deflated a bit and then you get the same performance or something. But the key here is that you can actually, you can run a, a higher pressure or turn it around you, you can only drop the pressure so far and before you mess things up before it's just too much rolling resistance and too much risk of, uh, of, of, of a puncture or hitting the rim or snake bites on that if you have a tube. So we can only take that comfort so far when the hits become slightly bigger, you benefit a lot from having the extra 30 millimeters from the fork. This was a. So it was pretty cool. I just came back from the dirty cancer. Uh, so, uh, so four of us here from the office in Iceland, we flew over to Kansas and did the race. oh yeah. It was awesome to do it. Don't I? Have you. Have you done it?
I haven't. I've read about it and we've had a number of guests on the podcast who have raised there and it looks amazing and I know the community out there. It's definitely on my list of things to do.
Yeah. I'm in a like all writers should have it done on their liSt. I think it's really cool. You met then and nicely organized as well. So it is, it's, yeah, everything Fun around it and everything. caught cold atmosphere. But yeah, I was saying yeah, it was really cool to see in the race there the difference, the fort made sense. I was amazed myself because usually back here I'm just riding by myself or with the guys from the office around the city here. Uh, but like on the center and then like next to a rigid gravel bikes, like similar bikes, seminar tires and everything, but just not with the fork and not with our long geometry either. I wasn't literally flying past people maced. I was just like, get out of my way and I'm not the fastest center usually. Um, um, yeah. but, but yeah, that was a little different story now.
Yeah. Have yoU, have you, I know you guys are engaged with a number of athletes, you probably have done dirty cans on multiple occasions. Have you talked to them specifically about their experiences without the dao fork and with the left fork and how they felt afterwards?
I don't recall such a, so it's, it's not, it's usually not me, the that's like talking to all the love writers out there and like I'm not the contact person for that. I'm I to stick within r and d that obviously I talked to a lot case every now and then and and basically what we look at, what the media has said about this is that they know what we heard from yet basically or everyone that has reviewed our bike or for a cause that they say that it's gonna be hard to go back to richard for having been on this for it just, I mean reality, reality is harsh and if you don't tell the fork in between you and reality, it's, it's, it's rough roll by.
Yeah. Now I got to imagine on a long event like dirty cancer, that having that suspension upfront just really helps the fatigue factor.
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Yeah.
Yeah. And I, I mean I imagine that's going to be an important segment for the product. Someone who really is focused on that type of racing or somebody who spends a lot of time off road versus mixed terrain I think is going to be an ideal for you.
I totally agree. And it was a, it was really, honestly, I was really glad to see if the cancer was fulfilling to see how many people were writing are forms that I was. I was amazed. I mean I know, I mean we sell, these forks are like every month they go out all these forks, but, but it's just to see them see all these writers on our product that we, that we cooked up in a, in a garage, in reykjavik, in Iceland like eight years ago or whatever it was six years ago. It's just, it was amazing. So I was estimating like, around where I was riding the race, it was like between one out of 10 or one out of 20 riders were on, uh, on our form, which was, yeah, five to 10 percent. Yeah. That must have been an amazing feeling.
I mean, I mean even if I mean, you, even if it will all stop here and I'll just go the same conveyor belts for full processing machines or whatever, I will be a pretty fulfilled having, having just seen this was awesome. So then last year you guys also made a huge leap in introducing your own bikes and frame sets. Yeah. Yeah. There was a, there was actually that wasn't the, that was not plant a, like a, like it only kima basically this idea like one year earlier, uh, this wasn't enough, the original plan, but it just turned out to be the next logical step for us as we had been getting. YeS. So good reviews on the fork. Uh, uh, but still always having the battle of, of, you know, we had to make a fork that, that was compatible with so many different frames. So many different standards, uh, and so many different geometries because, uh, the, uh, the frame geometry is really important, uh, like the frame geometry we have combined with the function of the four.
If you do it, it makes a big difference. You need to have the right geometry subtle. So it was kind of frustrating not being able to control the whole picture. Uh, so, and we have been writing all the major gravel bags. Basically we have them ourselves or have written them a fake shells or whatever. So we had a pretty clear Idea for, for, for. Yeah, what we thought would be the perfect gravel bike and we'll have persuaded that this bag, this didn't exist already. So yeah. So we've kind of decided to go for it. And, and, and it was like, in retrospect it was pretty obvious because, I mean, we, we already had these set up for it. Basically we have been designing and making the forbes for several years and, and uh, the, the carbon like design that goes into a four piece is way more complex than that.
Then what we needed for the frame. So it was easy in comparison I would say, because we have already done all the groundwork. So what were you seeing in the market with the existing frames that wasn't there? And so what it, what the true grit, where is it, where will it differ from to a gravel bike that might've been around a couple of years back? Yeah. So a lot of it you will just some simple things. Basically a had angle. a had angle is a crucial thing for a frame. I remember just a few years back, I didn't, I didn't care who had angles was just just the, just the number or number on my computer screen when I was checking out different bikes. But now I know why everyone stated something. We did extensive comparison, the research between different ad angles. We made like a, a frame, but you could adjust the head angle and the top tube length and so on the fly almost just like two minutes to adjust the head and the top two black.
And it was just so revealing to see how much nicer a gravel bike. The king in our opinion. Uh, because the answer was above opinion, you can say that bike is better than all of you down in most cases unless one of them is broken or something now, but it's uh, so to, to have the slacker head angle that we have. So it's probably around the degree, one degree, slacker that then you see you on most other gravel bikes. And this makes a huge difference. The bike becomes so much more stable nature to live with nature to live with in gravel writing because what we have seen is that, that people basically we're taking road bikes, uh, and, and, and, and cramming gravel tire onto them and often even boasting about maintaining a road bike geometry, uh, which isn't the way to go about it, we think because on a gravel bike in need, the more stable geometry, uh, on, on fast.
So you don't want to have the front tire underneath, you want to have it a little bit in front of you. Anyone could have more trail on your bike. So this had uncle, uh, and to combine it with a long tube, this is the key to how our bike behaves that are a lot of details obviously, but this is the key and when we combine a slack and google, which gifts stapled handling a combined it with a long top tube, the long top, your gifts it back the agility that you lose out on when, when you give it us like animal because a long top tube means that you fit the short stem on your bike. I mean, people know all this from mountain bikes already, so we're not making, not discovering anything new here. Just stuff you're just applying. Yeah. What we already know from mountain bikes to road bikes basically.
Interesting. I mean it, it sounds like you had a very specific customer and style of writing in mind and focused on creating what you thought was the perfect bike for that rider.
Yeah. So we wanted to, uh, also to us too often we think fast bikes are fast bikes, meaning yeah, the rider has some aggressive fit on first folks that are mostly what distinguishes them. Usually those bikes, they have sketchy handling, basically our steve had ankles and if you'll almost nervous, so we wanted to give the unique combination of a staple chassis underneath you are fast writing position for the writer so you can go into your like aggressive role position in a bag. So it's intended to be a fast bike, a bee wanted to get the stability that that is usually only being a being applied to touring bikes or or, or, or similar. So why not have both was there was the fundamental thinking we have the bike.
Yeah. I think it's really interesting as new riders come into the sport there's a philosophy you have to have a personal philosophy about what your intention is and the industry including you guys is trying to discover how to fit riders with that intention and I think you guys have done a great job of defining an archetype of this intention and creating a complete package around it.
Yeah, I mean like, like you were saying earlier is gravel bikes. It's such a wide segments. It's almost becoming a problem now. I think you, you, you can have like gravel bike a and grow up. I be in that they can be so different. They can be like a, like a mountain bike and a road bike almost.
Yeah, I mean just down to tire selection. Even you can create these just radically different bikes on the same frame.
Yeah, that's a cool. So that makes it so interesting.
It really does and I think it makes it super interesting when you think about going to tackle new events like Dirty Kanza, you go out there, you need to think about a certain type of terrain and a certain type of durability and a certain type of fatigue versus what you might think of in Vermont or an icelander In California. And I think that's a very invigorating part of the sport for a lot of people, myself included. I like going out there and trying new things. It reminds me of those early days of mountain biking you are describing where you just didn't know. You didn't know if you had the right equipment, you had no Idea what the terrain was going to hold and
yes. You know what nobody knows that's the so I mean we're, we're, we're all lost. I mean the guy that it keeps changing, I mean competition, so they bury and your fitness batteries and everything, so the theft of your bike, you need to change that and you need to go with these tires for this race and those tires for that race. So it's. Yeah, it's, it's fun. It's not like a traditional road bike where it's mostly just, yeah, you have one set up and you just write it.
Yeah, exactly. Well I think that's why we're all here and that's why the listeners are listening and this has been a great conversation. I appreciate all the time. If people want to learn more about the fork and about the frames, where should they find you? Where's a good place to get information?
Yeah. Pro. YeAh. Google love, love work or love. True grit. The name of our name of our bike off to. Great. I will look that up. Uh, then again, I'm probably a bunch of reviews and stuff. I mean I can also point you to our own website. It's a biased media though.
I'll put all the links in the podcast notes that people will know how to find you. You do have some very interesting videos on the website that are just informative. I'm in greater detail, you know, per this conversation about how, what your philosophy was, how the fork works, what are the different considerations. So again, thanks so much for the time. It's been great to get to know you guys a little bit better and I look forward to seeing more of your products out on the road.
Thank you so much. And um, I'm still awaiting on your invitation to California.
You got it. Anytime. Thanks Benedikt. Thank you.