Words by Road.cc – December 15, 2016
Verdict: A thoroughly enjoyable and fast riding titanium road bike from a new British bike brand
The new R J.ACK from young Rutland-based company J.Laverack combines the classic titanium appearance with a ride that is wonderfully smooth and entertaining when you up the pace.
J.Laverack, if the name is new to you, is one of the newest brands on the UK market. It carved a bit of a niche for itself with the disc brake-equipped J.ACK, a bike with go-anywhere four-season abilities.
Ditching the disc brakes and taking on a racier persona, the new R J.ACK is a more conventional road race bike.
Ride and handling
You won’t get far down the road on the J.ACK before you realise there’s something special about this titanium road bike. Many words get slung about when people start rhapsodising about the virtues of titanium, the most frequent being ‘springy’ when asked to describe a titanium-framed bike.
J.Laverack has produced a frame that retains the inherent liveliness of the material, but has increased the rigidity just enough to produce a very sharp-riding race bike. With the stout feeling amplified by the stiff Enve carbon fibre fork and oversized tubes, the result is a bike that feels alert and direct. But it also retains the smoothness that draws many cyclists away from carbon and aluminium to titanium. It certainly delivers the ride I would expect of a high-quality titanium road bike.
Titanium allows a small amount of flex. This not only contributes to the smoothness experienced over rough roads, but it also provides a level of engagement between the road surface and the contact points that’s missing from many overly stiff carbon race bikes.
What do I mean by engagement? I mean it’s an exciting, fun and confidence-inspiring bike to ride. It has a ride quality that surpasses that of many carbon frames. Where good carbon frames can damp the road surface beneath you in a brutally efficient manner, titanium relays just enough of the surface while filtering out the harshness, to provide a lively and entertaining ride.
The wheels seem to follow the contours of the road surface rather than crashing in and out of dips. Nowhere is this better felt that on fast descents with a variety of road surfaces to deal with – it’s planted at high speed and feels secure through the bends. I didn’t detect any huge amount of negative flex from the frame either, whether sprinting or climbing out of the saddle, but then I’m not putting out thousands of watts at the pedals.
It’s a bike that lets you really climb, sprint, chase, surge and plummet to your full potential. It promotes confidence, never getting nervous or twitchy. You can exploit its nimbleness through challenging corners, and the weight – albeit a small penalty over an equivalent carbon bike – doesn’t detract from the ride. Let’s face it, 7.5kg isn’t exactly heavy. And on the climbs, the stiff front end comes into play and really lets you lean on the handlebar and wrestle the R J.ACK up any steep gradient.
Even with the deep-section Hunt wheels, the bike provides a very smooth ride. My local roads are a riot of surface dressing and deterioration, but the R J.ACK manages to waft away the ripples of vibration effortlessly. I swapped from the deep-section wheels to shallow carbon clinchers with 23mm tyres, and even on such narrow rubber (by today’s standards) the ride was still silky smooth.
The front end, as I’ve mentioned, is altogether more direct. J.Laverack uses an Enve carbon fibre fork with an oversized tapered steerer tube, and for the most part, the stiffness here is well balanced with the compliance of the frame. There are occasions, though, when you get a jolt of feedback through the handlebar when you encounter a ridge or crack in the road surface. It’s not enough to spoil the ride and it’s a rare occurrence, but it does highlight how silky smooth the frame is, and a reminder of the sporty credentials of the R J.ACK.
While it’s billed as a race bike, and it will surely suit the performance-minded cyclists reading this, in my mind it’s a better match for a cyclist wanting a comfortable and smooth ride for tackling long distances rides. That’s where it felt most at home for me, providing big miles comfort rather than the snappy and demanding nature of a tight criterium circuit – not that I tested it in a crit race, but I do have a circuit I use for testing that aspect of the ride and handling.
Frame and equipment
Titanium. Exotic and mythical, it still holds a special draw for many cyclists because of its unique ride character and satisfyingly smooth road feel. While carbon frames are getting ever stiffer, lighter and more aerodynamic, the desire for titanium has never diminished, and if anything, is more popular than ever before.
The material is lighter than steel, and stronger than steel and aluminium, and its high fatigue strength means a titanium frame should last forever. And, because it doesn’t rust, no paint is needed, providing the unique finish that is an iconic part of the material’s allure.
J.Laverack only works with titanium. The R J.ACK’s 3Al-2.5V titanium frameset, designed in the UK and made in the Far East, is exceptional, with very tidy welding and some really nice details that help it stand out in the titanium marketplace – no mean feat when most titanium road bikes look the same from a distance. Some of those details are carried over from the company’s first bike, the J.ACK disc-equipped road bike, such as the flattened-in-the-middle top tube, oversized head tube and internal cable routing.
To shed some weight over the original J.ACK, the tubing has been slightly modified to produce a lighter frame. The down tube has been downsized, the wall thicknesses have been reduced and a 27.2mm seat tube is used instead of the 31.6mm on the J.ACK. Tyre clearance is generous for a race bike: it’ll comfortably take a pair of 28mm tyres. Unlike the J.ACK, there are no rack or mudguard mounts on this frame, but you could spec them as a custom option if you want, along with a number of others.
The geometry is more race bike than the original J.ACK, which focused on endurance and comfort, but the company will be offering a choice of two geometries, race and classic, depending on how aggressive a fit and ride you want. You can also choose custom geometry if you have a particular requirement.
Ever take much notice of the head badge on a frame? For some, it’s clearly an afterthought. Not so with J.Laverack: time and energy have gone into the design of the Gryphon head badge that really finishes off the bike nicely.
Build and equipment
J.Laverack will sell you a frame for £1,750, with the Enve fork an additional £410. It’s offering full builds starting with Shimano 105 costing £3,550, going right up through the Shimano product range to Dura-Ace Di2.
The R J.ACK III test model costs £6,200, built around the brand new Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 mechanical groupset. The rest of the equipment includes upgraded Hunt 50Carbon Wide Area wheels and Schwalbe tyres, and a mix of Enve and Pro carbon finishing kit, topped off with a Brooks Cambium saddle.
I’ve ridden Shimano’s new Dura-Ace 9100 on a few bikes now, and the latest iteration provides stunningly light and slick gear shifts, with the new front derailleur noticeably shifting the chain more quickly and more easily under load than the previous version. The new brake callipers provide clearance for up to 28mm tyres, which fits in well with the available tyre clearance on the frame.
Rolling stock is the impressive Hunt 50Carbon Wide Aero wheelset, built around a deep-section carbon rim with tubeless compatibility. Featuring the on-trend U-shaped profile rims, the wheels feel exceptionally quick in a straight line, and stable in a crosswind. The rims are fashionably wide too – 25mm externally and 19mm internally – and that makes even narrow tyres appear much wider than the carcass measurement would indicate.
The braking performance is exceptionally good, with a lot of feel at the lever; really pull on them and you get a nice amount of bite. They’re excellent in the dry, as good as the best carbon wheels and brake block combinations I’ve tested, and they’re not bad in the wet, though a little less consistent than a good aluminium rim.
The finishing kit on this bike comprises a mix of Enve seatpost and stem and a PRO Vibe handlebar, all carbon fibre, each component going about its business with impeccable performance. The Enve seatpost cradle is a bit tricky to set up the first time, but it’s a job you only need do once. The Pro handlebar has a comfortable shape, as does the Brooks Cambium saddle.
J.Laverack might not boast as much heritage as some other titanium brands, but it has succeeded in designing and executing a finely balanced road bike. The R J.ACK is a bike for someone who wants a fast and comfortable ride with the unique properties of titanium, and isn’t overly concerned about weight – or price. On those merits, the R J.ACK can certainly hold its head high against the competition.
A thoroughly enjoyable and fast riding titanium road bike from a new British bike brand.