Sebring fixie from Cooper Bikes, follow up review

The Sebring has been enhancing my urban fixie lifestyle for more than a month now so I thought it best I dignify my last review with some extra thoughts.

I’ve been swapping on and off the Copper Bike’s Sebring. There are many places you can’t take a bike you don’t own, like the beach. Leaving the Cooper at the mercy of the salt would be a crime at the best of times, worse still if you don’t actually own it. I suppose if I did own it I’d lock the bike up a block back from the beach, like I used to when my bike was new and I still cared for it. (Please don’t tell the bike.) But the truth is the Sebring is more thoroughbred than hack bike. It’d be the ideal fixie for that quick urban commute to work and zipping up and down the regular roads and pathways to and from mates/pub/girlfriend. It’s a bit too nice for hack duties. (And that’s why we have to own multiple bikes. Why do we have to explain this to our partners when it’s so obvious?)

The bars are low and you can flatten out on the bullhorns for a fast position. (When I say the bars are low, what I mean is they would be if I fitted the stem the other way round, with a downward stem, but hey, I’m old and stiff okay.) The gearing is quite high. This makes for a bike that is built to go fast. You have to have the requisite level of fitness for this fixie but when you do you travel at seriously fast speeds. There’s no better fun than whipping past the lycra set on a single speed bike, this is something I’ve really enjoyed on the Cooper. The Cooper is fast.

A fast Cooper. Same company but this one needs petrol.

You do need to maintain the right fitness for the Cooper Sebring. Pre-Christmas I was loving the big gear. Even smashing into a long headwind ride down to Burleigh Heads was more a case of showing my true grit rather than any outright suffering. Post-Christmas I’m wondering if the bike could be raising expectations I can’t meet. This fixie seems to be calling for a faster and fitter rider than the guy who ate and drank so much so recently. Headwinds worry me and hills are to be feared (ever so slightly). You could fix this with a change of gearing but I’d rather keep the Cooper as is and change my fitness. I want to be taking on those lycra loonies again. “Cometh the gear, cometh the man,” my poppy used to say. It’s better to raise yourself to the bike’s standards than to lower it to meet yours (or mine…ahem…).

Me after post Christmas binge. I’m the llama.

The bike’s gear could be a proper burden one day but that’s part of the challenge that lies within this bike. You can see the scenario, you pull the bike out, you have somewhere to go, and you’re smashing into a massive headwind. You might be feeling a little tired or a little lazy, and you have just this one big gear. On another day it might be a challenge but today you’re feeling a little weepy. Well, you just have to rise to the challenge then dont you? It’s a bit like Batman Begins. Christian Bale, who  was so wooden as batman, climbs to the top of a huge mountain to meet his master, and the master greets him and then kicks two kinds of shit out of him. The lesson of the day is, sometimes you can’t choose when to fight but you still have to rise to the occasion. So okay, you’re batman, which makes the Cooper Sebring the batmobile. And this is part of the beauty of having a single speed (the philosophical part, not the batmobile bit…that was just me funning okay). It reveals character. If you think you have some then maybe consider getting a Sebring. If you like ten minute spins round the block in an easy gear with the iPod blaring (don’t want to get bored out there on our own now do we?) then maybe you oughta be honest with yourself and get something a little more generic and kid friendly.

I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.

Batman on a cool cycle. It’s not a Cooper.

Anyway, fixie riders change gearing so often you’d think some of them had attention deficit disorders. We all have different ideas on th perfect gear. What I’m saying it, give this one a go. It’s not a skidding gear for the no brakes fixie purists, but it’s a fast gear for those who want to measure up. (Hopefully me one day.)

I’m not a  huge fan of drop bars. It’s been a decade or two since I could reach down that far without squashing my gut up into my lungs. It might be an efficient riding position aerodynamically but it’s not terribly efficient for my breathing. But when you’ve only got one gear it’s nice to have somewhere to go when the wind blows straight into your face. The bullhorn handlebars are a real plus here. The reach forward to the bar ends was spot on for me and stretched me out enough for me to know I was pushing less headwind. As I mentioned in my last review, I’d be happier if I had bar-end brake levers, and they’re something I’d definitely fit if it was my bike.

The contact points on bikes are always a difficult area for bike manufacturers to spec. I’ve barely owned a bike where I haven’t replaced the handlebars, seat or pedals in the first month (and often before leaving the shop). The contact points can be very personal. People take a favoured saddle from one bike to the next. Cooper have done a good job with the contact points on this bike. The handlebars are definitely keepers, the pedals are okay (but I’d ditch them…sorry, I like BMX flats) and the seat is superb.

Well done to Cooper for putting a Brookes saddle under our bums. There can be no saddle more desired by the fraternity of urban cyclists. The Brookes is the saddle many would buy if they could afford it. I’m not sure exactly which model of Brookes saddle was on the Sebring (because let’s face it, unless it’s got big old springs under it, it just looks like a saddle) but you can bet the saddle would set you back $300-400 to buy it by itself. Seeing this Brookes saddle on a bike that retails for about $1,400 is a real bonus. Given that the rest of the spec hasn’t suffered for it I’d say we’re seeing the value of buying a complete bike that hails from England (land of the Brookes), with Cooper negotiating a volume deal for us to share in.

The Brookes saddle definitely feels foreign on the first ride. For many it will be frighteningly hard. The surface is shiny leather and you slide around on it. That’s gone after  ride one (and check the bottom of your pants because there it is) and the saddle quickly molds itself to you bum. I’d have expected a longer break-in period but I found that after the third ride (say, 4-5 hrs ride time) I was the happiest of friends with my Brooks saddle.

Visit the Brookes saddles website to read the story about the saddle that did over 100,000kms.

I can see that not everyone will love the saddle but I’m sure many would keep it just because it looks so damn fine. On a bike of such understated refinement as the Cooper, the Brookes is a badge of honour. Many wont know the Brookes, and they’re therefore not part of the fraternity. If you really hate it, sell it on ebay. Even second hand they fetch a couple hundred.

In the time I rode the Cooper Sebring the bike didn’t develop any squeaks or annoying noises. Some of the gear on the bike is unfamiliar to us who live under the Southern Cross. We know of Sturmey Archer (didn’t they make those hub gears back before the Boer War?) but can’t exactly place their gear in the pantheon of bike bits. Fixie riders are less guilty of comparison than road cyclists (who can recite the periodic table of Shimano in ascending and descending order, “Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105…rubbish…”) and many will be more concerned about the look of the gear than its function. What I can tell you is it functioned flawlessly and looked pretty good. And there’s something a little Old World about the name Sturmey Archer that I like.

Cooper don’t have a single derailleur in their whole line up, using internal hubs for the bikes that have gears. This is a great idea in my view. If you have to have gears at least you can have no-fuss, low-maintenance gears. Curiously Sturmey Archer, who made hub gears back when Jesus owned a tricycle, aren’t the supplier of those gears. SRAM is, with their i-motion range, though I suppose we don’t really have to ponder that here in the land where one gear is king.

The Cooper Bikes Sebring is a lovely bike to ride. It’s classy and understated, swift and comfortable. It’s back with it’s rightful owner now and I’m very sorry to see it go.

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