The Freedom To Explore

Meet Ed Hawkins, the adventure rider

The rough roads through Malaysia’s plantations provide extraordinary riding opportunities for the former elite triathlete.

“When you ride through the plantations, you’re always asking yourself ‘I wonder what’s down here’. So you cycle down the access road only to find another… and then another. It feels like the same thrill you had as a child when you first got into cycling, pedalling to the end of the street where you lived, and then setting out to explore beyond. We’re in danger of losing that sense of adventure as adults.”

For teacher Ed Hawkins, five years living amid the endless web of routes the interconnect southern Malaysia’s plantations presented priceless opportunities to satisfy his adventurous spirit.

“There are miles and miles of amazing rides here, ranging from single track roads to beautiful dirt cinder tracks, a bit like Australia,” says Ed.

“When I have free time I’m always examining Komoot and Google Heatmap to plot new routes. You can ride through the plantations for three or four hours and see only 10 or 15 people. I have found so many different kampongs [villages] where people have hardly ever seen a westerner on a bike.

“Sometimes the routes work and sometimes they don’t. You might reach a dead end and there will be 30 monitor lizards or a big snake on the track and you just turn around and head back. You have to be adventurous, that’s part of riding.”
[And just in case you were wondering, these are serious snakes – python, cobra and king cobra, several metres long, with torsos as broad as drainpipes.]

Alongside adventure, Malaysia’s routes represent attritional riding – fine, iron rich soil from the neighbouring fields working its way into components, while 32 to 37 degree heat and 100% humidity take their toll on riders.

The rough and tumble of riding through Malaysia’s back country echo Ed’s early sporting career as a professional rugby player. When working long hours as a teacher compromised his fitness, he began to run to the school, four miles along the rollercoaster inclines of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. “It absolutely killed me,” he recalls, but within a year he was enjoying a tilt at the London Marathon. Fast-forward from Easter to summer and he was on the startline of his first triathlon.

“And then I just caught the triathlon bug,” he says. Progress and success swiftly followed. Stepping up to the 70.3 distance (half Ironman) triathlon Ed twice qualified for the World Championships, and then set his sights on a full Ironman (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon run).

Combining an exhausting 22 hours of training per week with a new job in Dubai, Ed subsequently qualified and raced twice at the pinnacle of triathlon endurance, the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. He also began coaching other triathletes and racing for a amateur road cycling team in the United Arab Emirates.

Cycling is a big deal in Dubai, with weekly ride-outs from the legendary Wolfi’s Bike Shop attracting anywhere from 100 to 150 riders for an early morning sortie along 200km of dedicated cycle paths through the dunes and desert.

After six successful years in the UAE, Ed took up a new teaching post in Malaysia, where a serious injury unfortunately brought an abrupt end to his triathlon career.

“I had a bad crash in a race when someone walked out in front of me on the bike leg and I went over the handlebars and broke my back. I had a clean break of my L1 vertebra and tore the ligaments in my knee.”

Despite reconstructive surgery he has never run properly since. But rather than rue his misfortune, Ed simply found a new path to follow, the injury migrating his sporting life to road and adventure cycling as he swapped the hard, skinny 19mm tyres of his time trial bike for the grip and cushion of wide and occasionally knobbly tyres, and exchanged the fragility of a carbon frame for much comfier and bomb-proof titanium one.

“I had suffered a bit of damage to a carbon bike while I was travelling, and I thought that if I was going to be travelling a lot I wanted either steel or titanium,” he says.

Having been ‘spoiled’ by free or heavily discounted bikes during his life as an elite racer, when it came to spending his own money he wanted a special frame, and living abroad he wanted it to be British. And that’s where the coincidences started to mount up.

Back at his parents-in-law in the UK, he received a promotional email from The Observer with the headline ‘Seven of the best four-season bikes’. The review described the J.Laverack J.ACK as ‘a phenomenal bike’ – not only was J.Laverack based down the road from where Ed went to school, but he also had a dog called Jack! It felt like fate.

“I went to the company’s workshop in Oakham and the shape of the bike was stunning, as was its versatility,” remembers Ed. Titanium is so tough yet light.
It’s stiff through the areas of the frame where you want it to be stiff and compliant where you need it. You can still feel what is going on through the road, but it takes out the harshness of vibrations. Titanium is a material you can ride for hours and hours because it’s so comfortable.

I have ridden 420km in a day and while I was tired at the end, I got up and rode again the next day, and again the next. I’ve ridden over 11,000km on my J.ACK in a year and I haven’t even thought about riding my other bikes. It’s a testament to how good this frame is: crit races, endurance rides and even gravel tracks, it does it all.”

So good, in fact, that Ed bought a second J.ACK, set up for ultra- endurance events (with Shimano Di2 electric gears, dynamo hub wheels and 56mm deep carbon rim wheels).

Ed now has 2021’s 1,500km self-supported London-Edinburgh-London cycle ride in his crosshairs. It will be another quest for a man who has never lost his spirit of adventure.

Follow Ed’s cycling adventures on Instagram at @blackdogenduro

Bicycle Specification

– 54cm J.ACK frame
– ÆRA AR Dynamo Disc Fork
– Pavé frame finish
– Personalised bead-blasted graphics
– Engraved headbadge design
– Streamline integrated cable routing bottom bracket
– Shimano Ultegra Di2 groupset with RX rear mech & sub-compact 46/36 chainset
– Supernova E3 Triple 2 front dynamo light
– SON coaxial junction box with Sinewave Revolution charging device
– Pro handlebar, stem & seatpost
– Fizik Adaptive R1 VS Evo saddle
– ÆRA AR|56 carbon wheels hand-built with SON Delux Dynamo front hub & Hope RS4 rear hub with Sapim CX-Ray spokes with brass nipples
– Panaracer Gravel King 32mm tubeless tyres
– PDW Full Metal Fenders