The Freedom To Explore

Meet J.ACK owners, Tobin and Nina, the couple celebrating milestone birthdays in style.

Tobin and Nina decided to mark their 50th birthdays with a celebratory cycling tour to the South of France on a pair of titanium J.Laverack J.ACK’s.

There was a time when milestone birthdays and landmark events were marked with reflection, pipe-and-slippers moments to stop the clock, gaze into the rearview mirror and celebrate life’s rich tapestry.

These days, thankfully, those same occasions instead serve as springboards to create new memories rather than dwell on old ones.

As the gonzo journalist Hunter S Thomson wrote, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride’!’”

This spirit of seizing life by the horns was exactly how Northamptonshire couple Tobin and Nina intended to celebrate their joint 50th birthdays and 25th wedding anniversary this year (albeit without the smoke and skidding!).

Inspired by Tom Vernon’s ‘Fat Man on a Bicycle’ radio documentary, in which the 19-stone cyclist feasted his way south to the Mediterranean coast, Tobin and Nina planned to ride in Vernon’s tyre tracks on an epic 600-mile tour from their home to the South of France, pedaling through Normandy, the Loire and Auvergne all the way to the beaches of Montpellier. Adding their own twist, the couple had also penciled in an ascent of iconic Mont Ventoux, before catching the train home.

But first they would need two new bikes to carry their kit and pedal in comfort.

“My original plan was to buy an old-style steel-framed touring bike, but really I wanted something more modern,” says Tobin.

The answer lay in a titanium J.Laverack J.ACK, “that I could use for touring and then strip down the racks and panniers to use it as a sportier road bike. We just couldn’t do everything we wanted to do on a carbon frame.”

During the design process the couple decided to add mounts to their custom-made J.ACK frames for mudguards and touring racks, bought Brooks panniers, specified wider tyres for even greater comfort while touring and opted for wheels with dynamo hubs to power front and rear lights – “I don’t know why every bike doesn’t have these, it’s such a good idea,” says Tobin. In addition, with a nod to their landmark year, they personalised the frames with a motif to mark their silver wedding anniversary as well as their dates of birth.

While Tobin had long wanted a made-to-measure frame, the bespoke approach proved particularly beneficial for Nina.

“The guys at J.Laverack gave us a proper bike fit on a jig to get the angles and measurements just right for us,” she explains. “I’m only 5’1½” tall and it was very interesting how far they changed my position, compared to my normal bike. I’ve really noticed the difference; I’m using different muscles now.”

Their maiden ride on the new bikes, however, was a baptism of fire as they pedalled home from J.Laverack’s Oakham workshop into a 40pmh headwind as the tail end of a hurricane battered Britain. This is also a deceptively hilly part of the UK, Cotswold in colour and geography, with short, sharp contours rippling to the edge of the county.

The ride should have provided the ideal training for their odyssey to the South of France, but the pandemic blocked their route to the Mediterranean. Undeterred and armed with their two new bikes, Tobin and Nina simply switched destinations and set off for a week-long, 420-mile East Anglia tour from Northamptonshire, heading for the North Norfolk coastline before eventually looping back via Cambridge. Cycling 45 to 75 miles per day, they carried all of their luggage in panniers and stayed in hotels.

Tobin first went on a cycling tour to France as a teenager with a mate (“mainly because we could drink legally there at 16 or 17,” he admits), but cycling took a backseat to work and family until his 40th birthday, when he bought a secondhand Bianchi.

“And then Nina got into cycling, started beating me, and my son joined in from the age of 12 or 13, and that’s how we got back into cycling.”

Before moving on, it’s worth a quick dab of hydraulic disc brakes to investigate those three words, “started beating me.”

“For Tobin’s 44th or 45th birthday I bought him a track experience at Halesowen Velodrome,” recalls Nina. “Tobin, our son and my brother-in-law were riding, and the coach said to me and my daughter that we should have a go. I’d never been on a road bike before, nevermind a bike with no brakes, no gears and clip-in pedals, but we did a pursuit race and I lapped my son and husband!”

Bitten by the bug, the couple started to cycle more frequently, with mid-week rides of 20 to 25 miles, stretching to 40 miles at weekends. Both are delighted to be significantly fitter at 50 than they were a decade ago – cycling has played a key role in Nina losing over three stone in recent years and she is currently training to become a personal trainer.

Bitten by the bug, the couple started to cycle more frequently, with mid-week rides of 20 to 25 miles, stretching to 40 miles at weekends. Both are delighted to be significantly fitter at 50 than they were a decade ago – cycling has played a key role in Nina losing over three stone in recent years and she is currently training to become a personal trainer.

“I don’t come from a family that is into exercise, and I didn’t realise how much I would enjoy it until I started,” she says.

And as for their fun tour of East Anglia… “It was a fantastic way to spend a week and a good way to unwind,” says Nina. “We did get soaked once, but we found a shelter for lunch and had hot donuts!”

Most importantly, Norfolk’s rain and headwinds have done nothing to dull their enthusiasm for their French adventure.

“Our tour was good training for next year when hopefully we can do the trip to the South of France that we had originally planned,” says Tobin.

Bicycle Specification

– Bespoke Geometry J.ACK frames
– ÆRA AR Dynamo Disc Fork
– Hand-brushed frame finish
– Personalised bead-blasted graphics
– Engraved headbadge design
– Streamline integrated cable routing (headtube & bottom bracket)
– Shimano GRX Di2 groupset
– Hope brake calipers
– Supernova E3 Triple front dynamo light
– Son Schmidt rear dynamo light
– ÆRA Carbon Dynamo Seatpost
– Pro Vibe handlebar and stem
– Fizik soft touch bar tape
– Brooks C13 saddle
– ÆRA AR|36 carbon wheels hand-built with Son Dynamo front and Hope RS4 rear hub with Sapim CX-Ray spokes and brass nipples
– Panaracer Gravel King 32mm Tan side wall tyres

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