Interviews: 20 minutes with Richard Cooper
Nottingham-based Richard Cooper races in the British Superbike Championship for Buildbase Suzuki alongside Bradley Ray.
MCN sat down with the 35-year-old at a recent Suzuki-run trackday at Silverstone circuit between sessions to discuss life away from racing, fishing at Mallory Park and a garage full of C90s.
How often are you on a bike outside your racing?
"Every single day. I commute to work, I ride a motorbike at work for development and then if I get home in time I go out and I go riding after work. That could be riding pit bikes, motocross or anything else.
"I also have a series of Honda C90 Cubs, which I modify and we sometimes go out for an evening ride on them, too. So, in answer to your question, probably 365 days a year!"
What draws you to these bikes when you’re riding cutting-edge superbikes for racing?
"I honestly don’t know, but there is something about it that draws me in. It would be easy for me just to say I love motorbikes - that’s the easy answer - but clearly there’s something else there that encourages me to be constantly on motorbikes. I might never find that answer myself - I might never know!"
So what’s in your personal collection?
"I’ve got seven Honda C90s, which vary in their level of customisation - going from a standard bike to a custom one, to even a race one! I’ve also got a motocross bike, a Honda CB500 and two pit bikes. The garage is pretty full!"
Away from racing, where do you find yourself the most?
"I’d say in my garage. As daft as it sounds, it’s like my little getaway zone. Even though it’s still motorbikes, I’m not actually riding them and a lot of the time I won’t be doing anything of any real importance – just tinkering, making things shiny, or fit differently.
"That’s the honest truth. If you ask anybody they’ll say if I’m not riding bikes, I’m either fixing them or I’m in the garage."
So do you have a mechanical background or are you self-taught?
"I like to think of myself as self-taught. I never wanted to be a bike mechanic, but I like to be able to fix them. I think the reason I didn’t want to be a bike mechanic was because I don’t really like every day bikes like commuters or tourers.
"That said, there’s something strangely weird about the C90 and I’ll tinker for hours on end with them."
Does that mechanical insight help with the racing?
"I think so. For example, if I go to the workshop on a Monday or Tuesday after a meeting, I can clean the bike up and then have a look round it. If I want to change anything, then I can just get the file out and tidy it up, or I can move things if I want to experiment.
"That’s the good thing about my team. They let me do things like that because they know that I generally know my way round a tool box. I wouldn’t take the engine out, but I’m happy to do general maintenance."
You’re also a trackday instructor as well aren’t you?
"Yeah, I work with James Whitham on his trackday schools, which couldn’t be much better for me really because they are Suzuki connected. The schools are also so well run and have a real cult following.
"It’s nice to be part of it and it’s sometimes hard to believe we get paid for doing it! It’s that kind of job and it’s nice to be able to give back to the general public."
Have you got a standout race bike that’s been your favourite?
"In 2009 I was riding the crossplane crank Yamaha R1, but my team owned a 2008 pre-crossplane superbike, which was an ex-Rob McElnea bike, ridden by Karl Harris.
"To this day, that bike is my favourite. It did absolutely everything you could possibly want it to do. Back then the superbike engines were different in BSB, as you were allowed to use titanium rods and pistons. There were full-blown superbike engines on the grid whereas now they have been tamed down a little bit."
So, as well as favourite bike have you got a favourite racing memory?
"To pick out one memory, I think I’d have to say winning my first BSB race at Oulton Park. I led the race, got caught, got passed, and then won it on the last corner.
"As a rider, to find motivation, you think of so many racing scenarios in your head. You think about them when you’re training or when you’re driving your car.
"I remember it now, cutting back on Christian Iddon on the last corner. He ran wide and I cut back and we dragged to the line. Days like that are when you look back and think 'that was pretty awesome.'"
Can you describe the feeling of winning that first BSB race?
"More than anything, I was just pleased for my mum, dad and my girlfriend. Being a racer, you put them through a lot and so to see their faces looking at me on the podium was amazing.
"You’ve finally given something back to them after all the hard work they’ve given you and if they weren’t there to experience it, then you would’ve fallen flat.
"When you’re on the podium and you can see them you’re far more emotionally involved. For instance, if I was looking at my mum and she was in tears, I’d be gone because that’d just break me down."
Have you got any other hobbies?
"Yeah, have you ever been to Mallory Park? Well, there’s a lake there and I do quite a bit of fishing in it. It’s something I used to do when I was around 15 or 16-years-old and I did it quite a lot growing up as a kid, before growing out of it.
"However, in the past two months I’ve really got back into it. It seems strange, but I’m so keen on it because it’s the absolute opposite to anything else I’ve done in the past 15 years.
"You basically just sit there on a chair waiting for fish to arrive, but I’ve been really enjoying it and getting some stick for it on social media as well!
"What’s also funny is that I’ve probably had more interest from people messaging me about fishing then they actually do about me finishing seventh or eighth in a superbike race."
Is it a special privilege to fish at Mallory?
"Stewart and Steve Hicken own Mallory Park and also run the team, so although you’re not meant to fish it properly, you can do it with permission. There’s some good fish in there too that are very hungry!"
Away from the hungry fish, what keeps you hungry to compete?
"In general, it’s a want to succeed. This year, I’ve also got the added bonus of having Bradley Ray as a teammate. He is unbelievably talented and having him alongside you brings something out in yourself.
"I want to see him go onto bigger and better things, but in the meantime I want to beat him. It is a catch 22 situation, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be on that other bike if I wasn’t as good as him."
Last year your rode in the British Superstock Championship. How does that compare?
"Superstock 1000s are always enjoyable to ride and it’s always nice when you’re going to a meeting that you have the potential to be a race winner.
"However, the better feeling is when you get a Superbike working perfectly. I would love to be in a position where I could be thinking, right, this weekend at Brands Hatch, on the Superbike, I’m gonna fight for a podium and I might well do, but it is less predictable in the Superbike class.
"With Superstock, I knew if I didn’t go out and get three podiums then it’d have been a crap weekend. Every weekend I went out with the aim of three wins. They are different ends of the scale, but they still give you the same feeling once you get it right."
Have you got a favourite track on the BSB calender?
"It’s got to be Brands Hatch GP, just due to the success I’ve had there in the past and the nature of the circuit. There’s also the atmosphere that it gives off.
"I’m 35, so my era of Brands Hatch was the 1990s and Carl Fogarty and Colin Edwards in World Superbikes at Brands Hatch when there was 125,000 people. They used to say you could feel the crowd.
"I love the strong crowds we have at BSB, but obviously we don’t have 125,000 people at a round. I can't imagine what that must’ve been like. There aren't many places that you race at around the world that give an atmosphere like that. Assen is another one of them."
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