Oct 11, 2019
INTERVIEW: COOPER BIKES
For decades, the name Cooper has been synonymous with innovative British engineering, not to mention unmistakable, original design. It started with John Cooper in the mid-twentieth century—a pioneer who took a whole new approach to making racing cars, and the man behind the original Mini Cooper. John was the first person to build a rear-engined racing car, going on to be the first to win a Formula1 race with this design. Fast-forward to 2009, and Cooper Bikes is born—the bicycle division of the Cooper Car Company, a venture by John’s son Mike and grandson, Charlie. The brand blends modern technology with the tried-and-tested design principles that helped make Cooper famous, resulting in stylish e-bikes for the modern, urban commuter. We caught up with Charlie Cooper to find out more about the bikes and how the Cooper name has influenced his work.
What inspired you to start designing bicycles?
Ever since I injured my knee playing rugby, I have been an avid cyclist. I also loved the aesthetic of the steel bikes from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I thought that modern carbon bikes, despite their performance, were a bit ugly. When my father’s John Cooper Works business was moving into the MINI factory in Oxford, we had the idea to use some of the workshop space to design and build some beautiful steel bikes. It soon turned out to be a successful little side project, and we managed to sell the bikes in some of the UK’s biggest retailers.
How would you describe Cooper Bikes’ aesthetic?
Classic, simple, yet built for purpose.
What goes into making a Cooper E-Bike?
Our first range of E-bikes launched last year, and they marry our simple, classic design philosophy with modern E-bike technology. We still use a robust British Reynolds steel frame but with an all-in-one electric hub that has the battery and motor built in. The hub allows us to keep the design language consistent across our range but offers the great added performance of an E-bike. We also still use some of the best components like a Brooks saddle and Shimano hydraulic brakes on the Disc version.
Your grandfather was a pioneer in British engineering. What’s the most valuable thing he taught you?
To keep it simple. Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest. He also used to say to me “If you are struggling for a new idea, go to a museum.”
How has your family history influenced your own venture?
To keep the family name alive, I have tried to stay true to the Cooper brand. A legacy of innovation and technology focused on bicycles and E-bikes rather than the motorcar. I’m not sure we can revolutionise the bike industry quite like my grandfather did with the automotive industry with the rear-engine revolution, but we do have some pretty amazing E-products in the pipeline that hopefully keep the history of Cooper innovation alive.
Does your approach to design differ in any way?
I take the problem first and find a solution. It started with wanting to create a bike I could commute on that looked beautiful but had great modern components. Now we are looking at how to solve bigger problems like making commutes more enjoyable and easier.
How has Cooper Bikes grown since its inception?
When we started out, very small quantities of bikes were being made in the back of a workshop/warehouse in the south of England. Now it has grown into a European-wide business selling in the thousands. We still have ambitions to grow further into North America, Asia and Australasia, but E-mobility regulation is quite slow and makes worldwide distribution tricky.
Your bikes are built for the urban commuter—how do you see city transportation evolving?
As well as loving bikes, I am a massive petrol head, but with city congestion and worries about air quality, I see the motor car becoming less important in major cities. Personal travel in cities will be dominated by E-mobility products such as E-Bikes and E-scooters with infrastructure improving to accommodate them. I still think people will use motor cars, but more electric cars and for journeys outside of cities. As I work with MINI as a brand ambassador, I see a lot of great future products that will definitely keep the MINI brand alive. I can’t wait to get my hands on the new MINI E.
What’s been the biggest challenge of your career so far?
Last year I took up motor racing and even made a small documentary on YouTube with MINI about it. Trying to grow the business whilst learning how to race has been a challenge but incredibly rewarding.
What can we expect to see next from Cooper Bikes?
We are developing a whole new range of E-bikes for 2021 which will hopefully shake up the E-commuter market. We are designing and developing the ‘Go Anywhere’ E-commuter bike. But over the next year, we’ll continue to develop our current range and will be growing our distribution globally.