VERDICT: Proof titanium still has its place for top-end racers road bikes, and proof geometry can make or break a bike.
Originally published on www.cyclist.co.uk | Words by James Spender for www.cyclist.co.uk – September 27, 2021
Do you remember that bike company started by that ex-racer? Or that revived 1930s French brand crowdfunding to build new old-school cranks? Or that sports nutrition outfit inspired by their cousin’s dog’s aunty’s great-grandma’s flapjack recipe?
Cycling inspires cyclists, and cyclists inspire cycling, and frankly it’s all rather lovely. Which is why I had a soft spot for this bike from the off. The registered name at Companies House might be Oliver Laverack, but the bikes that Oliver and co-founder David Clow have created bear the name J.Laverack: Jack, Oliver’s grandfather.
‘He was a test pilot who flew some of the first military planes,’ says Oliver. ‘And although he was a reserved Yorkshireman he’d occasionally tell incredible tales of flying under pylons or taking his future wife Ada out on flying dates.’
Jack was also a keen amateur cyclist, and he inspired a passion in Oliver to ride. Little did he know his grandson would like riding so much he’d start his own bike brand in 2015. Six years on, this is its flagship racer, the R J.Ack Disc.
What you looking at?
If steel underwent something of a renaissance a few years back, I’d say titanium is doing the same now, and it has gravel to thank. Titanium is naturally predisposed to making great gravel bikes, partly because it deals with knocks much better than carbon or aluminium.
And though rivalled by steel in that regard, it’s roughly half the density, meaning a given tube can be just as stiff at half the weight. Thus titanium represents a blend of the two that’s perfect for gravel.
But lest we forget, in the right hands titanium also makes brilliant road bikes. True, ti frames rarely get below 1.2kg, but with top-drawer components being so light now, a ti-racer can hit some decent weight numbers, and the R J.Ack is proof: this size 56cm weighs 8.3kg.
It’s therefore not exactly a revelation to say the R J.Ack climbs well. I’ve ridden lighter, stiffer carbon frames more adept at climbing, but most of the time – the exception being sharp, punchy rises – the R J.Ack is untroubled by inclines, with its 56mm-deep aero rims helping on the longer seated efforts.
I make this judgement based on average speed, because considering the R J.Ack makes no other concessions to aerodynamics, I found my average speed slightly up, particularly on one loop I ride that’s basically pan flat.
Those wheels are from sister-brand ÆRA, which like J.Laverack frames are sourced from the Far East and laced to Chris King or Hope hubs in the UK. I say ‘like’ the frame, as that’s designed by J.Laverack and then manufactured in Asia – a common supply model for UK titanium brands.
Unlike small-batch steel, it’s rare to find titanium frames made here in any numbers. Yet while you could find some very similar looking ÆRA rims elsewhere, the frame is unique.
Neat touches abound, from the engraved bottom bracket shell that is imprinted with the company motto, ‘Freedom to explore’, to the engraved cowls on the rear dropouts.
The stays are gratifyingly curved, usefully for clearance and nicely for aesthetics, and the top tube has a distinctly flattened appearance, which is a throwback to an early J.Laverack that was designed to be shouldered for cyclocross.
I had half expected a spiel about the top tube shape boosting comfort because it can flex more, and I half wanted that spiel. It would at least have been one solid thing to hang my judgement on that this is one smooth bike. As it is, I’ll now have to look elsewhere for answers.
All tied up
That’s the bottom line with this bike: it rides so very sweetly. This is the ‘race’ geometry spec, meaning shorter fork trail, steeper head tube and lower stack, and although there is a ‘classic’ geometry, I’d say the R J.Ack’s handling is perfectly keyed in as it is, so if it ain’t broke…
It’s balanced and stable for descents, smooth on good surfaces and sting-softening on the rest. Yet, despite this cruisy quality, the R J.Ack retains a vicious bite when it comes to corners, and it’s this ability to blend these two things, smoothness and sharpness, that elevates this bike into the realms of something very special.
I’ll admit the tyres play a big role: tubeless, 28mm and with a proven rubber compound, the Conti GP5000s provide exceptional grip. Yet it’s the frame’s suppleness and moreover its geometry that really bring out the best in these tyres. And these wheels. And this cockpit.
A good frame ties its parts together while remaining the beating heart, bringing with it a pronounced identity, and that is exactly what’s happening here.
The R J.Ack frame material and design make themselves known, but at the same time they help create a bike that is more than the sum of its parts. That is, a bike that’s taut, agile and responsive, yet all the while operates with a smooth, assured spring.