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.
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.
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.
There is a decent choice of top quality titanium frames from some very established brands. Interestingly, many of the latest titanium bikes we've featured recently on road.cc are from the disc brakes, endurance, four-season mould, such as the J.ACK, Kinesis GF_Ti Disc or Sabbath September to name just a couple.
I've ridden some lovely titanium bikes over the years. For me, the J.ACK slots in between the traditional approach of the Van Nicholas Chinook and the modern and stiff Enigma Evade Ti. It shares a very similar ride and characteristics as the Evade, a direct and taut feeling when riding at pace. For me, the Evade just manages to offer a slightly more rounded package, with the company's own carbon fork providing a slightly smoother ride than the Enve.
The Evade also pushes the R J.ACK hard on price, with a frame costing £1,560 and a Dura-Ace build coming in at £4,699, compared with £1,750 and £6,200 for the R.JACK. The exact specifications are slightly different, though: older Dura-Ace 9000 and a host of Enigma finishing kit compared with the latest Dura-Ace and Hunt wheels, and posh Enve parts.
Other rivals we've not ridden but are going to be worthy of consideration include the Seven Axiom SL ($4,850), Lynskey R150 (£999) or the new Van Nicholas Boreas (£1,249). There is also the new offering from J.Guillem (from the founder of Van Nicholas), the Major, costing €1,985. These are all frame-only prices.
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
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road.cc test report
Make and model: J.Laverack R J.ACK III
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
State the frame and fork material and method of construction. List the components used to build up the bike.
Stock spec list as follows – our test bike came with some non-standard parts, such as Hunt 50Carbon wheels and a PRO handlebar:
Shimano Dura-Ace 9100
Enve Carbon Fibre Road Fork 2.0
Hunt 38Carbon Wide Aero Road Wheelset
Brooks Cambium C13 saddle – carved or standard
Dura Ace bottom bracket & Hope integral headset
ENVE finishing kit
Personalised bead blasted message
Internal cable routing
Choose from two geometry options
Electronic groupset ready on request
Timeless bead blasted graphics
Coordinated laser etched top cap
Optional threaded or press fit PF30 bottom bracket
Bespoke painting options
Tapered head tube
28mm tyre clearance
Durable 3Al-2.5V titanium tubing
Hope seatpost clamp included
Tell us what the bike is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
A timeless titanium road frameset, available in two distinct geometries, for the discerning rider.
Every frame is unique. Customisable options include bottom bracket type and bespoke, bead-blasted message.
Every frame shares the R J.ACK's perfect balance of agility, comfort, speed and style.
Hand-made titanium road machine built for speed and comfort.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
Excellent build quality and high attention to detail.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
3Al-2.5V titanium tubing with custom shaped top tube and tapered head tube, and fully internal cable routing.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
Available in race or classic geometry with a custom option also available.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
Offers a very conventional race bike stack and reach for a good fit.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
The frame offers that classic titanium smoothness that still makes it a wonderful material for making a bicycle.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The front end feels stiff with the carbon Enve fork and oversized head tube.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Very smartly indeed, you won't be caught out by an attacking break on this bike.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so, was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively, neutral or unresponsive? Quite lively at low speeds and steady at high speeds
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Handling was very responsive.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Hunt wheels inject speed and the Cambium saddle is comfortable once you've got used to the shape and firmness.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
The Enve stem and seatpost are a good combination, and I like the shape of the PRO handlebar.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Tell us some more about the drivetrain. Anything you particularly did or didn't like? Any components which didn't work well together?
The new Dura-Ace 9100 mechanical groupset is very impressive, with excellent shifting and braking performance.
Wheels and tyres
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Maybe...
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
It can't offer the heritage of value for money of some other more established titanium brands, but if you're looking for something different and want to buy a British design, the R J.ACK is a pedigree choice.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.