Visit to Lee Cooper Cycle Frames

With a 10-day R&D residency with Coventry Transport Museum’s cycle collection just around the corner, I’ve increasingly been wondering what exactly is hiding behind the words when we nonchalantly talk about making bikes.

I’ve dabbled with a fair bit of metalwork of varying sorts in the past – ranging from non-ferrous City & Guilds style making of sweet dishes through to a summer job making gates and railings – but I didn’t really have any concept of what might be involved in making a bicycle. I sort of assumed it would include a lot of measuring (and even more filing), but beyond that *shrugs*




How do we get from this to a bicycle?

I went to the Bespoked UK handmade bicycle show in Bristol a few weeks ago which helped me start to get my eye in by properly stopping to look at what joins to what. I suspect I’m guilty of usually ‘reading’ a bike, with my brain filling in a lot of what it thinks it sees; perhaps not quite to the extent of some of these renderings, but still with a certain amount of cognitive hand-waving over some of the details.

Bespoked included a series of short Meet the Maker videos which helped to whet my appetite for finding out more about the framebuilding process and the talks I went to at the event also hinted at some of the things that framebuilders were aiming for in their work as craftspeople. Only one logical thing for me to do next: I did a bit of searching online and tracked down Lee Cooper (second link) who’s a framebuilder reasonably local to Coventry. I explained what I was curious about and he agreed to let me visit his workshop and watch him at work.

I spent a couple of hours with him today, trying to pull off a combination of staying out of the way, poking my nose into stuff and asking him questions about what he was doing and about his experiences within the industry. It was fascinating watching the processes involved with all the jigs and tools designed for very specific tasks. There was also some walloping!


Fork legs being percussively encouraged into the fork crown

I was able to recognise elements of the brazing process from welding and soldering I’ve done before, but it was also really nice to watch someone who’s been brazing for decades: where the filler rod gets placed, how hands come to rest and how everything moves around in workstands to reveal the specific area that the flame needs to reach next.


Brazing rod and shoulder

Seat lug braze

The seat lug being brazed. I spotted this rest/reinforcement hand position a few times and it spoke of well-practiced movements and familiar pauses

Bridge braze

Lee at the Very Useful workstand he uses for a lot of the brazing

Bridge Braze

The frame can be spun around in the clamp as Lee works around it with the torch, getting at it from all angles to make the braze flow around the lug

I took a load of photos whilst I was there, but here are some I’ve picked out.


The fork legs being brazed into the crown


…again with a bit of strategic hammering as the metal expands and moves




Rear triangles


This very small ruler was deployed shortly after a very hefty piece of steel square section was used to tweak the frame alignment!


A lathe and jig being used to cut a mitre. We talked about how kit like this is worth the investment when you’re making so many frames and the alternative is filing them to shape by hand…

Bridge tack

Once cut, shaped and drilled to give a blowhole, the bridge is tacked into place before being taken to the big stand for brazing (see above)

Bottom bracket lug

Bottom bracket lug

Hot bottom

Hot bottom

Many thanks to Lee for his generosity with his time and knowledge. He’s back framebuilding under his own name after a stint building for larger companies, so check out what he can do for you if you’re in the market for a handbuilt cycle frame.