Cooper Bikes Fixie Review: First Impressions

Cooper Bikes have kindly loaned me a Sebring for review so it seemed only fitting that I broke away from the pleasure of riding it and actually reviewed it. Wasn’t easy you know.

Plenty of automotive manufacturers have been into the bike business, most notably Ducati with Bianchi’s range of Ducati bikes. Meanwhile I’ve seen Mercedes bikes, Porsche bikes, and some kooky BMW mountain bikes with telelever suspension system in the 90s. Land Rover, best known for making box-shaped cars that will go anywhere, has had a red hot go at making bikes and still knocks out a couple of dull-looking bike-like objects.
It makes sense to leverage your name as a manufacturer of cars or motorbikes and use that to flog a few bicycles. Ducati perhaps works best because they lend their name but rely on a real bike manufacturer to make the bikes. If I was being rude I’d suggest they were just Bianchis painted red, much like Sportsgirl never actually manufactured any Barinas. (I know, you’re disappointed now. Sorry.)
Cooper have chosen to enter the bike market by landing smack bang into the middle of our niche, what is currently called the urban bike. All their bikes are fixie or urban type bikes. If they are perhaps getting bikes knocked out by a Taiwanese manufacturer with the Cooper name on them, they are in essence doing what everybody does these day. Even Cannondale has bikes knocked out in Taiwan these days. And my wife’s Bianchi is made in Taiwan. The crucial thing here is design and quality control.

To wit, have a gander at these lovely welds.

All welds are smooth and consistent

The construction of the bike is first rate and the steel tubes are Reynolds 520 and not some anonymous steel tube nominally marked as 4130. The frame is stiff and sure and true…and lovely to look at. For those with a knowledge of bikes that goes beyond a few labels, you’ll appreciate the construction of this bike. The joy of this bike lies in the detail.

One of those little details are the very minimalistic chain tugs. I only really appreciated these chain tugs when I got a flat in the rain on Tedder Ave. I whipped the rear wheel off, found a thumb tack sticking out of it, and thanked my foresight for bringing spare tubes, patches and a pump, and set-to about repairing.
When replacing the wheel, getting proper chain tension and alignment can be a little hit and miss on a fixie. And then you get the spanners onto it and it all slips out of alignment when you’re tightening. Or you get it all done and find the chain tension is a little loose (or so tight you can barely peddle). Okay, maybe you overcome this in time with a little practice, thing is you don’t have to worry about it with the Cooper. The chain tugs hold the wheel perfectly in place while you wield the spanners. No worry, no fuss. It’s little details like this that separate a quality bike from a cheaper number.
The Seat
The Brookes saddle needs a section all of its own because it’s a work of art all on its own. Brooks saddles are much desired but rarely purchased (because they cost so much!). Fake Brooks abound and while some can look a little Brooksy none can match the construction of the Brooks. In short, if you love your Brooks you have a saddle for life. 
Cooper Bikes Sebring resplendent with Brooks saddle

The Brooks saddle has no padding, just a piece of stiff molded leather slung between the saddle frame.

When padded saddles first appeared, exponents of the leather saddle argued that when properly worn in the leather saddle was your bum’s best friends. Others reckoned it was the bum that got worn in and not the saddle. I love hard saddles so I wasn’t overly worried by the Brooks (but I did wear knicks under my shorts at first). What I can tell you is that my bum quickly forgot what saddle it was sitting on. Now, after only the third ride, there is a mold of my bum in this seat and the seat itself disappears from consideration when riding. 
The Brooks saddle is the difference between having a bike you own and a bike that is yours. Once your bum has made an impression on your saddle this bike will never properly fit anyone else. It’s not quite like Kit and the Knightrider but it’s sure a relationship many bikes are lacking.
The Brooks saddle, quite apart from looking beautiful, also makes a statement about you as a cyclist. Nothing says hard-fucking-core like a stiff piece of leather slung between two rails. Bike owning non-cyclists love big squishy saddles. They couldn’t ride more than 100 metres on this saddle without freaking out. This saddle says,  You’re the man (or woman) and they’re soft and weak. Go home and do 100 push-ups. Macho freak.

I’ve done about 100kms with this saddle now, have ditched the nicks, and am a little bit in love with it. Don’t tell the wife.

The Ride


I’ve got three rides under my belt on the Cooper Sebring so these comments are more first impressions than full review. It takes a while to get off one bike and adjust to the order of a new bike.

The first ride was Labrador-Burleigh return in beautiful late afternoon sunlight. The second was Labrador-Burleigh return in the rain.

The bike attracted its share of attention on the ride. The fixie crowd on the Gold Coast is small enough to know each other by first names so when they see a new bike in town they sit up and take notice. When the bike is as beautiful and refined as the Cooper they’re all over it. On the other hand, non-fixie and non-cyclists find the single speed thing just plain weird. Dont even bother trying to explain it to them.

Cooper Bikes Sebring fixie in afternoon light at Burleigh Heads

Robbie McEwen must be in town (or some guy who looks disturbingly like him). I saw him on my rainy ride and he did a double-take on the Cooper. I’m sure as hell not rating a second look from Robbie on my normal ride. I could see him figuring Aple D’Huez  with a single gear. Don’t be surprised if you see him on a Cooper this year instead of one of those silly Ridley carbon fibre jobbies.

Richard from Precinct magazine was all over the fixie thing and loved the Cooper. The Cooper history definitely lends the bike something special that would otherwise be lacking.

The geometry on Cooper is quite neutral. Whipping through traffic, carving a turn or riding no hands is super easy. Track stands are a doddle. My Mojo has a similar feel but the toe overlap on the front wheel annoys me. That’s gone on the Cooper. It’s a well sorted bike.

I didn’t want to stop riding on my first outing. The weather was perfect and the bike just too nice to get off. I had an appointment to make back in Main Beach (for some lunar eclipse watching) so I didn’t dally too long. I slipped around to Tallebudgera and took some piccies.

Nice fixie mate.

The bike rolls beautifully on some very slick hubs. They’re unbranded but the Cooper Bikes website tells me they’re Formula hubs. Whatever. They’re slick sealed bearing hubs, maintenance free and smooth. The wheelset is completed with some Alex semi-deep dish rims. It’s a good wheelset, decently light but strong enough to take the bumps of urban commuting. Some Kenda tyres complete the picture.

The gearing on the Cooper is no-nonsense. As in, if you can’t ride we don’t want no nonsense from  you. The 42-16 give a pretty high gear ratio that made pushing into the headwind on my rainy ride a bit of a chore. No mind, I’m used to that. The 48-18 on my regular ride results in a fairly similar  gear. If you’re getting about on one gear you have to expect to suffer sometimes, it’s what proves you’re the man and the not some cream puff in a car. Hell, any cycling means discomfort and it’s your ability to come to terms with that that marks you as a cyclist. Stuart O’Grady knows how to suffer. It won him a Paris-Roubaix. If the hurting gets too much you can always turn to knitting as a hobby.

Question was, how would the gearing go on the hills. Gold Coast is pretty flat but if you live in Nerang and want to get on the fixie train then you’re expecting to haul arse up and down a few hills. I squeezed a 40 min ride in between Christmas functions and hit every hill within the vicinity. Cottlew Street was probably the worst, a short sharp pinch of about 300-400 metres. I didn’t grind to a halt, which is about all you can expect. If you ride with one gear you’re well used to tackling hills on the hills’ own terms and the Cooper is up to the task. The frame is stiff and weight is reasonable so your efforts are pushing you upward and patience and a little grit will get you to the top.

If you have any problems with the gearing swap it at the point of purchase. Shouldn’t be a drama. I would say though, that with the Brooks saddle and the tall gearing, Cooper is aiming this bike at proper cyclists. If you have man boobs or bingo arms you need not apply.

Points of Contact

I can’t say I’ve ever kept standard pedals or bars on a bike for long. There’s nothing wrong with the Cooper’s pedals but I ditched them for my favorite flats pronto. The bars are keepers but if I was keeping the bike I’d probably swap the brakes levers. The Cooper’s brakes are the same Tektro stoppers seen on so many fixies these days. Mostly they get removed by their  owners but I love brakes. Going fast is synonymous with stopping fast in my book, and the Tektros do a fine job of hauling you up. My problem is I’d like the levers where I can get to them when on the horns, or when cornering with my hands on the rounded part of the bars. The standard levers don’t allow that. Cooper also make the Monza with flat bars, which would address a couple of these concerns straight away, but the cow horns on the Sebring look cool and have a perfect reach and feel, a compromise with levers might best suit me.

Cooper Bikes Serbing, good from any angle

Summary

So far the relationship between bike and man is going as well as could be expected. I love being on the bike and journeys are deliberately extended  or sought out for the sake of sharing time on the Cooper Bike. When not on it Cooper’s fixie it is a pleasure to look upon. I only wish I owned it so I could swap out the levers and maybe pledge eternal my relationship with the saddle. Oh well, dream on…

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