Robin Williams’ bicycle collection is up for auction, to benefit two different charities. One of the bikes up for auction is a Ron Cooper fancy-lugged fixed gear road bike.
Robin was one of our clients when I worked at A Bicycle Odyssey in Sausalito from 1994-2001, and I remember when that frame was built for him by Ron, and recognize a number of the other bikes in the auction as ones that we either sold to him, or worked on for him. He was a great client for the shop.
I just wish I had the money to bid on and buy that particular bicycle … Robin and I were very close size-wise, and I’ve always loved Cooper’s lugwork.
While Robin was often “on” when other customers were around, the time he spent at the shop after closing were some of the most enjoyable conversations about bicycles and movies I’ve ever had. Robin had a genuine love of all things bike, and I think he really appreciated the way that we treated him as bike rider, and not as a celebrity … especially when he was talking about something he loved.
However brief our encounters were, I was always impressed by the man and his genuine love of bicycles, from the first time I met him at City Cycle in SF while reassembling one of my bikes (I rented a travel case, and left the bike packed until I could return the case), to all the times he came in to the Odyssey … he was a genuinely good person, and I cherish the conversations we had.
One of my fondest memories was shortly after he won his Oscar in 1998. I was behind the counter chatting with him while Tony (the shop owner), Tim and Shane (the mechanics) were working on one of his bikes … I asked him, Oscar aside, which of his movies meant the most to him; he gave me three:
1) Awakenings, for the opportunity to work with Robert De Niro. De Niro is such a consummate method actor; the scene where Robin’s character was tossing a ball at De Niro, and it bounces off him a couple of times before he catches it. Robin didn’t know De Niro was going to catch the ball at that particular moment, so the look of surprise on Robin’s face in the film was genuine.
2) The Fisher King, for the opportunity to really work with director Terry Gilliam (ex-Monty Python, also director of Brazil). Sure, Robin had a small but memorable role in Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen a few years before, but The Fisher King was more of a star role really giving the two men the time to work with each other.
3) Aladdin; Robin would occasionally sneak into some of the theatres in San Francisco showing the film after it was released. A lot of the things the genie said were subtle adult humor, so you’d have kids laughing at the genie’s antics, and parents laughing at things that their children weren’t old enough to catch.
I’ll also never forget the teasing I got from him when he found out I was moving to Utah from the Bay Area; my own personal Robin Williams riff … the world lost a great man when he died, and I’m glad to see that his bikes will benefit two very deserving organizations.
As for Ron Cooper, the builder of the bike which caught my eye in the auction … Ron built me a frame in 1997 or thereabouts (50 years after he first started his apprenticeship) when I worked at A Bicycle Odyssey as well, and it is definitely one of my two favorite bikes … the other being a road frame that American framebuilder Richard Sachs built for me in 2003 or 2004. I can truthfully say that I’ve had bikes built for me by one of the greatest English framebuilders of all time, and one of the greatest American framebuilders of all time.
I met Ron a few times before he died in 2012, both at the shop in Sausalito, and in Reno one spring when I interviewed him for the Cooper website I was ran … one of these days, I will get to shake Richie’s hand as well.
Richie and I have been digitally joined since 2001 when I first built his website, right on through to current day … but in that time, I’ve only spoken to him twice on the phone, and I’ve never met him face-to-face. One of these days, I will get a chance to shake his hand, sip a fine single malt, and just have a comfy seat to talk bikes.
One of the best parts tying everything all together for me is that both Ron and Richard spent time apprenticing under the same man: a builder named Jim Collier who worked at A.S. Gillot, where Ron got his start in the 1940s and 1950s, and who also worked at Witcomb Cycles, where Richard first started learning his craft, in the early 1970s.
I have been very fortunate to get to know these three gentlemen … and I love how it’s all been tied together. As Grant Petersen (Bridgestone Cycles USA/Rivendell Bicycle Works) once said, “Think of bicycles as rideable art that just might save the world.” Bicycles saved my life, and cycling has been responsible for giving some incredible opportunities and memories, including those detailed above.