Dirt Rag Magazine

First Impression: Lauf Carbonara fat bike fork


Let me tell you, few things make quite an impression as seeing one of these in person. The Carbonara fat bike fork is the second major product release from Lauf, after the Trail Racer mountain bike fork, first for 29ers and then for 27.5. Hailing from Iceland, Lauf is a small company dedicated to bringing its radical design to market, and so far these suspension forks are its only product.

The very sight of the Lauf design usually results in the peanut gallery unloading in the comments section of its favorite social media network or making jokes about the brand’s name.* Mountain biking wouldn’t exist without experimentation, so hat’s off to Lauf for trying something new.

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My first impression after taking it out of the (exceptionally nice) packaging is that it resembles something Ripley blasted out of the airlock at the end of “Alien.” The fork weighs 1,144 grams with the included, bolt-on axle and tapered steerer tube. It has a 494 mm axle-to-crown measurement and uses a 150 mm hub. It retails for $990 and is available stock in white or matte carbon (pictured). For $100 extra, you can order one custom painted in one of eight Pantone colors.

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It works by using a dozen S2 glassfiber plates that flex to allow the axle to move vertically. The Carbonara has 60 mm of travel, and there are bumpstops integrated into the design so you can’t overdo it. I haven’t been able to bottom it out in normal riding. Lauf says the resistance is progressive, meaning it moves more easily through the first third of its travel than the last third. The springs slot into the carbon fiber chassis and are bonded in place, and Lauf says it took thousands of trial-and-error samples until they got the desired flex just right.

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The Carbonara is available in two stiffness tunes for the leaf springs: one for riders under 187 pounds and one for riders over 175 pounds. Yes, they overlap. It’s not a weight limit, but more of a guide for how you want the fork to perform. The benefit of such a design? Zero maintenance for one, and no performance degradation from the cold. I’m led to believe it gets cold in Iceland.

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I’ve mounted it up to my trusty Salsa Mukluk (which has had approximately 258 different build setups at this point) and we’re headed out to see what it can do. Watch for the long-term review in Issue #191. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it.

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*If you’re still making puns substituting this brand’s name for “laugh,” please stop. That joke is over. It’s the bike industry equivalent of people making “Seinfeld” references in regards to my last name.

 

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First Impression: Kona Hei Hei Trail


Ed’s Note: This bike is part of our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test where the Dirt Rag staff spends significant time aboard less-expensive but fully capable offerings that we’d seriously consider buying ourselves. The final review will be out early 2016 in issue #189. Subscribe today so you don’t miss it!


Price: $2,500

The Hei Hei has long been Kona’s premier cross country platform, and while past models have been no-compromise race bikes, the latest generation reflects the changing nature of cross-country riding and mountain biking in general.

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While the aluminum frame moves a racy 100 mm of travel through an all-new suspension design Kona calls Fuse, the 120 mm fork and 68 degree head tube angle are more commonly found on bigger bikes. It’s no wonder that the new bike gets the “trail” designation right in the name. (There is a Hei Hei Race model with a 100 mm fork for the go-fast crowd).

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The Fuse system is a classic single-pivot design that does away with the secondary pivot in favor of a flex design. This keeps both the cost and weight down and means one less part to maintain. The result is a classic single-pivot feel with a lively nature. If you run your rebound knob clocked at the “rabbit” end of the dial, you’re going to like this bike. The smaller packaging of the Fuse system also allows for 16.9-inch chainstays, which just barely qualify as worthy of the “short rear end” moniker.

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It’s clear the parts spec has been chosen with a great balance of functionality and affordability. The RockShox Recon Gold TK Solo Air isn’t flashy but is a solid workhorse. The 2×10 Shimano Deore/XT running gear is tried and true including the Deore hubs (with Centerlock rotors, woot!) laced to WTB i25 tubeless rims. Even the Kona house-brand cockpit components fit great, with wide handlebars and a 35 mm stem clamp. Ok, I might change out the grips, but I can’t knock Kona for those. The Hei Hei Trail doesn’t ship with a dropper post, but one can be easily installed with either internal or external cable routing.

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No, mountain bikes aren’t cheap, but it’s amazing how capable a bike in this price range can be. I predict some fun times ahead on the Hei Hei Trail.

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Subscribe today so you don’t miss the full review in our next issue, plus long-term ride tests of all eight bikes in our annual, sub-$3,000 bike test.

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First Impressions: Santa Cruz Highball 27.5 CC XX1


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As we reported in February 2015, Santa Cruz has added a 27.5 option to its 2015 Highball lineup. The original 29er model also received minor geometry tweaks, but in both wheel sizes, the hardtail remains true to its cross-country, racy roots.

The CC designation denotes an upgraded carbon frame that, thanks to some nips and tucks, shaves 280 grams compared to the base C model. My very first impression came when I hung the Highball 27.5 CC XX1 on our scale and rubbed my eyes at the 19.7 pounds on the display (w/o pedals). A sub-20-pound mountain bike is not front-page news, but even as a spoiled-rotten magazine guy, it’s not every day that I get to ride such a svelte steed.

On the trail the feathery carbon frame felt flex-free when cornering or accelerating hard. It’s almost expected that each new generation of carbon frame ups the light-yet-stiff ante, but I still find myself shaking my head when I stop to think about the engineering that goes into a bike like the Highball.

The Highball 27.5 CC is available in a frame-only option for $1,899 (all that gee-whiz technology doesn’t come cheap). Complete bikes start at $4,299 (with an XT kit) and max out at $6,799 for the XTR build—with our XX1 review bike not far behind at $6,299.

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Highlights of the XX1 build kit include: Fox 32 Float 100 mm Kashima fork, SRAM XX1 rear derailleur and shifter, Race Face Next SL cranks and bottom bracket, Shimano XTR M9000 brakes (160mm rotors) and DT Swiss 240 hubs (142×12) laced to WTB Asym i19 TCS rims.

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This is my first review bike with SRAM’s 1×11 gearing. So far the XX1 rear derailleur has flawlessly run the chain up and down the 10-42 cassette. The shift-lever’s action felt a little “heavier” than I’d expected, but I’ve gotten used to it and haven’t thought much about it since my first few rides.

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The carbon Highball frame has provisions for a high direct-mount, bottom-pull front derailleur. Of course, the 1×11 model we have in for review requires no shifty bits up front. Rather, there’s a Race Face Next SL crankset that features a 32t narrow/wide spiderless chainring. Haven’t yet dropped a chain, and really don’t expect to.

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The derailleur cable (or cables, depending upon the drivetrain/model) and rear hydraulic hose are internally routed, with the later getting its own internal guide tube, which keeps the hose from rattling. With the 1×11 drivetrain keeping chain slap in check, the Highball glides with ninja-like stealth.

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Here’s a look at the underside, showing the detachable plate that allows access to the internal cable routing. Also note the external bearings of the threaded Race Face bottom bracket.

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The size large 27.5 CC XX1 model that I’m reviewing has a 69 degree head tube angle, 16.7-inch chainstays, a 24.6-inch top tube, 12.4-inch BB height and 44.1-inch wheelbase. While this is not a full-blown bike review—that’s coming soon in print—I will say that my first impression is that the geometry translates into a well-balance ride.

The Highball’s snappy steering response and short rear make it a joy to flick around at low-to-moderate speeds—while at higher speeds the bike has a long-and-low feeling of stability that inspires confidence in sweeping curves, or when pointed straight down a chute.

I’m still racking up the miles on the Highball and will have more to say in print. In the meantime, pop over to the Santa Cruz website for all the gory details on the Highball lineup (they’ve even got an aluminum version for metal-heads).

 

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