Bicycle Racer makes hobby a career

by | Jul 28, 1985

When Richard Sachs graduated from a New Jersey high school in the early 1970s, his love of bicycle racing propelled him to a small shop in England where he did odd jobs for eight months just to learn the craft of bicycle building.

While on the job a Witcomb Cycles, a family-operated custom bicycle building business in the southeast section of London. Sachs spent most of the time sweeping floors, packing boxes, and making coffee. “I had a strong desire to learn the craft and was willing to do whatever was necessary just for the experience,” he said.

During his brief stay at Witcomb, Sachs was allowed to work on only two bicycle frames by himself, but the experience led him to become one of the top builders of lightweight bicycle frames in the United States.

When Sachs embarked upon his career, bicycle building was not a typical American craft and most serious racers were using European-made bicycles. Even today, Sachs is one of only about a dozen top craftsmen in his field.

Although he won’t tell you that his bikes are the best in the country, he admits they rank with the best. “I know I’d rather ride my bike than anyone else’s, but I’d never say they are the best—that’s just too bold,” Sachs said.

In 1973, Witcomb decided to market bicycles in America and Sachs found himself in East Haddam working at the new Witcomb plant. While there, he worked on a few custom-made cycles, but spent much of his time producing a line of factory-made bicycles.

Frustrated with the lack of opportunity to develop his skills, Sachs left Witcomb in the summer of 1975 to open his own shop. With a $2000 loan from an uncle and a strong desire to make the best bicycles possible, Sachs opened up a workshop in a garage on Main Street in Chester.

When he started out, he was producing about 140 bicycles annually, but quickly learned that quality was more important than quantity. He now makes only two bicycles a week.

“I make each bicycle to please myself—like I’m the client and it must please me before I’ll sell it to anyone else, ” he said. A Richard Sachs bicycle is made to order for $1700 to $2500. A purchase order must be accompanied by a 50 percent deposit and detailed information on the physique of the rider including height, weight, leg length, and foot size.

Spending about eight to nine hours daily in his workshop, Sachs works alone on all of his bicycles. “It’s impossible for me to sell a bicycle with my name on it unless I do 100% of the work. If a customer is going to buy a Richard Sachs bicycle, he expects it to be made by Richard Sachs and no one else,” he said.

But he sends the finished frames to Brian Baylis Cycles in California to be custom painted and uses wheels from Wheelsmith Inc., also in California.

The performance of a $1700 Sachs bicycle can’t be improved, he said. A fancy paint job, like zebra stripes costing $500, chrome plating, or substituting titanium for a metal alloy in some components can account for a higher price.

Talking about his bikes in his uncluttered, organized workshop rings a proud smile to Sachs’ clean- face. The appearance of the 32-year old, slightly balding man, who wears one gold earring in his left ear, black clogs, and an industrial apron bearing the Richard Sachs logo, seems to reflect his English training as a craftsman. A pair of shorts reveals muscular legs, evidence of the many hours of pedaling his products.

Sponsoring the Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club, a group of about eight riders that compete weekly on the East Coast, is a most satisfying way to display his craft. Each of the riders uses a Richard Sachs bicycle and wears a team shirt with the Sachs name and logo.

Although Sachs hadn’t raced in the last couple of years, he decided to rejoin the club this season and spends his weekends on the racing circuit throughout New England and New York.

Only about 15 percent of his bicycles are sold in Connecticut, with the rest being distributed throughout the country. Besides displaying his craft annually at international show in New York, he has advertisements in most of the top cycling magazines.

Sachs said people wouldn’t see a Richard Sachs bike in international competition because cyclists participating in big-money races are always sponsored by big bike companies who pay athletes well to ride their bikes.

Sachs said he has seen cyclists racing his bikes in big races, but the name, logo, and signature have been painted over and replaced with the name of the sponsor.

He admits that this bothers him, but added, “What makes me feel the best is when I see people riding one of my bikes do really well in a race.”

He said most cycling depends on the skill of the rider and not the bike. “Although you expect the rider to have good equipment, equipment alone won’t win a race,” he said.

Sachs said he might never be rich making 100 bicycles a year, but added, “I’ve had 12 years to think about what I want to do with my life, and this is it. And, best of all, I’ve accomplished more than most in my field.”

The preceding article was originally written by Paula Frattini for the New Haven Register, and appeared on July 20, 1985. All references to should be kept in that context.