Building and Racing Bikes, His Life
For most people bicycling is only a hobby. For Richard Sachs it is a way of life.
Sachs, formerly of Bayonne, has devoted full-time to cycles and cycling over the past three years, including spending nine months in England at his own expense, working for free, learning how to fabricate bike frames from scratch.
Now building frames at a Connecticut shop, Witcomb U.S.A. in East Haddam, Sachs is also a dedicated racer who travels around the country during the racing season.
“It’s definitely a full-time thing,” he explained. “You must get up early and eat properly. If you want to be really good, you have to give up everything and train. I’ve changed my entire life-style. Whatever I do involves bikes.
“If I wasn’t a racer,” Sachs said, “I don’t think I’d have much interest in cycling. I couldn’t ride just once a week and consider it worth it. I ride every day. During the off season I ride about ten miles a day during the week and about 40 miles on Saturday and Sunday. During the racing season that goes up to 50 miles a day.
Sachs, 21, first got seriously interested in bikes following his graduation from high school. He had owned a ten-speed bike and had raced before that summer, but while waiting for college acceptance he answered an ad in a New York paper for a repairman in a Vermont Bicycle shop.
Since he had some experience with bikes and since he liked Vermont, he thought he would work for a few months while waiting for college acceptance. The love affair began then.
That September, instead of going to college, as he had planned, he spent his first year’s tuition to pay his way for nine months at an English bike building concern outside London.
Although he said he learned a considerable amount about bike frame building in England, he felt the company, in business for decades, considered frame construction not so much an art as it was a job
Building bikes is a craft to Sachs. It gives him pleasure to look at the bins of tubes used in making frames and then look at the finished product from 14 to 20 hours later.
“We’ve joined old world craftsmanship with modern production techniques at our shop. For instance, we assemble, braze and align all tubes by hand, but we use machinery to bend the tubes to the proper angles. Since we work with tolerances and within limits, this improves the product and is better than bending tubes by hand tools. Once you pass those limits, the bike will not handle correctly.
“We’ve kept up the quality,” he said, “but we’ve managed to cut down production time considerably.”
Sachs makes frames for racers and for people who want a hand-built bike. The frames weigh four to six pounds stripped bare.
Frames on mass produced bikes weigh about 10 to 12 pounds while a fully equipped bike could weigh about 30 pounds. A racing bike with lightweight wheels and lightened racing gear might weigh in at half that, even less.
Although Sachs would like to be a successful racer, he says it would be more satisfying to him if someone who used his frame won a spot on the country’s Olympic Team.
“I hope to gain some measure of fame in that top racers will ride the bikes I make,” he said. “When building bikes becomes an exercise rather than a work of art, I probably will lose interest.”
The following article (including pricing) was originally written by Thomas Golodik for The Jersey Journal, and appeared on February 1, 1975, under the headline “Building and Racing Bikes, His Life.”