Is this the Aston Martin of bicycles?
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When the creative director of one of the coolest brands on the planet contacts you, it’s hard to stay calm,” says Oliver Laverack, co-founder and designer of J Laverack Bicycles. He is recounting the moment nearly three years ago when Aston Martin’s Marek Reichman called him about commissioning a bespoke bike. “At the time, I was cycling to our workshop in Oakham, in the East Midlands. I think I managed to keep my cool but, I mean, Marek is responsible for some of the most desirable cars of the past decade.”
For many, Aston Martin is the epitome of automotive beauty, craftsmanship and performance, and designs such as the Rapide S, Vanquish, Vulcan and DB11 have all emerged from Reichman’s sketchpad. The brand’s Warwickshire headquarters is a hub of engineering excellence; it’s also where Reichman first came across a J Laverack bike. “One of my designers cycles about 10,000 miles per year. He rides to work in winter and summer, in rain and snow, and I couldn’t help but notice his new bike. It was made in titanium, all in matte grey with matte-black wheels – super-simple yet very attractive, and incredibly light.”
It was the simplicity of the silhouette and design details on the J Laverack J.ACK road bike that piqued Reichman’s interest – striking a chord with his own design ethos. “Pure and simple is often the most beautiful answer,” he says. “The Spitfire wasn’t designed for its looks but the engineers understood that what works looks right. It’s simplicity and great engineering.”
A bespoke bike takes this a step further, with every measurement finely attuned to the individual requirements of its rider. “Every tube length and angle can vary,” says Laverack, who created his bike-building business (named after his grandfather) with David Clow in 2013. “We spend hours considering the proportions of every frame to create the perfect fit and look.” The process begins with a detailed “bike fit”; the customer pedals on a jig while J Laverack’s expert in-house fitter subtly tweaks every dimension to identify the optimum riding position for comfort and performance. For Reichman, this proved revelatory, exposing a muscle imbalance in his legs from an old injury. “I’d never had that measured before,” he says. “It was only when I got onto the machine and started pedalling that I realised how your ankle position, or how your foot pronates on the pedal, how the tiniest of angles can make such a difference.” And, crucially, it means his personalised J.ACK allows him to unfurl his 6ft 4in frame after a long ride without the hint of backache.
Reichman refers to himself as a social cyclist, “not a bike lunatic”, and often heads into the Chilterns or Cotswolds for long weekend rides with friends. Now he hopes to join them at vintage cycling events called L’Eroica. The heritage series began in Italy but now hosts rides as far afield as Japan and South Africa. Participants must ride pre-1987-style bikes, which means steel frames, gear shifters on the down tube and toe-clip pedals.
Many L’Eroica riders dust the cobwebs off a bike languishing at the back of their sheds, but Reichman says he was never going to find a good vintage fit for his height. Instead he approached Laverack about a second commission. He wanted the geometry and fit of a modern bike but made in the same way as a vintage bike.
The result is the Classic, J Laverack’s first steel frame. This fitting tribute to Reichman’s home town of Sheffield eschews the outsized tubes and junctions of modern bikes in favour of neat, narrow tubes that meet in shiny, polished lugs. For Laverack, the design and build became a pan-European quest. He ordered the frame from a master craftsman in Italy before going in search of original parts, hitting the jackpot in Germany, where he unearthed a brand new 50th-anniversary Campagnolo groupset (gears and brakes) from 1983, still in its original presentation case. The first of these is on display in the Campagnolo museum; the second was given to Pope John Paul II. “Only 15,000 were ever made and I managed to source No 0777,” says Laverack, adding that Marek’s titanium J.ACK is number 007.
The finished bike is spellbinding, its functional engineering set off by a high-shine “cromovelato” paint finish, with a translucent scarlet lacquer applied over highly polished chrome. “It looks incredible,” says Reichman. “We’re going to try to replicate that finish on a car body at some point.” The bike’s good looks mean that when not in use it will be a prominent feature, alongside the titanium J.ACK, of the house he is building in Henley-on-Thames. “These bikes will go in the hallway – and why not? They are beautiful objects,” he says, adding that it’s likely they’ll be joined by further J Laveracks before too long. “Oliver has just loaned me a titanium all-terrain bike, so one of those might be my third. And I’ve asked him to look at a full-suspension bike as well, so I’ll probably be on to number four at some point.
“I like working with people who make things. In the detailing of [the Classic] you can see the love and passion that has gone into making it. My old man was a blacksmith. He could forge tungsten steel by eye. Commissioning a bike like this keeps artisans in work, making lugs and brazing frames. And that makes me happy.”