Ron Cooper, one of England’s most highly regarded frame builders, passed away this past Wednesday, December 12, at the age of 80.
Ron began building frames when he was fifteen years old, starting in 1947 when he began a full apprenticeship at A.S. Gillott Cycles, London, England. He learned his craft from the finest frame builders in England, most notably Jim Collier, Bill Philbrook, and H.E. “Doc” Green. Ron was an avid racing cyclist, and the enviable skills he acquired at A.S. Gillott were paralleled by his accomplishments on the road. He was selected for the National Cycling Team, The R.A.F. Cycling Team, and later, for the London Center Team in the 1952 Tour of Britain (Milk Race).
Ron Cooper continued building for A.S. Gillott off and on through the 1960s as orders began to dwindle, until he left Edwardes of Camberwell (who then owned A.S. Gillott) in 1967. As such, Ron built the vast majority of the A.S. Gillott frames from the late 1950s through the 1960s.
In 1967, Ron left A.S. Gillott to build frames under his own name, and by late 1970, he set up a small shop in Honor Oak Park, S.East London. Ron continued to work well into his 70s in Dartford, about 20 minutes from his old shop in Honor Oak Park.
From taking the initial order to stapling the crate for shipping, Ron’s shop was a one man operation. There were no apprentices—just his dedication to making the best bicycle frames in the world. Working from a mock-up of the customer’s order on his drawing board, handpicking the steel tubes, and without a jig using traditional freehand brazing, he produced frames of superior strength and responsiveness.
With the emeregence of large bicycle factories and assembly line production, the use of jigs became widespread. Ron strongly believed that brazing frames in a jig creates internal stresses and, therefore, steadfastly refused to use one.
As an employee at Tony Tom’s A Bicycle Odyssey, in Sausalito, California for many years from 1994-2001, I had the pleasure of meeting Ron on a few different occasions, including a memorable weekend in Reno, Nevada with Ron, his lovely wife Olive, and Tony in 2004 or so.
According to his son Martin, Ron built over 7000 frames during his 65 year career as a framebuilder. He leaves behind an amazing, and in this day and age of mass-produced aluminium or carbon fiber frames built in factories in Asia, a largely unknown legacy.
I will always treasure the frame Ron hand-built for me in 1997.
Rest in peace, Ron … you will not be forgotten.