Chester Resident Captured by the Beauty of the Bike.
Creating a bicycle frame is not just a job for Richard Sachs. It’s a labor of love.
“You don’t look at it as just a bicycle. You look at it as a well-made product, like a fly rod or a well-strung instrument,” Sachs said.
Sachs works alone on Main Street and oversees every detail of design and construction, from selecting the geometry to suit each customer to hand-filing the lugs and tubes.
“I do this mostly for myself. The challenge of making a bicycle is almost better than selling it,” Sachs said.
Sachs does sell his frames, however, and Richard Sachs Cycles has become internationally known for its high quality product.
National and Olympic athletes have competed using Richard Sachs cycles, and Essex resident Jeanne-Yvonne Tucker will travel to Manchester, England, Aug. 22 to compete in the world team triathlon championships. Tucker will be riding a Sachs bicycle with a custom-made frame.
Sachs has been a craftsman builder of lightweight bicycle frames since 1972, but the road to success was never clearly planned out. Of his career Sachs said, “I didn’t choose it. It chose me.”
“None of this was planned,” Sachs said gesturing to the materials in his shop. “It was just a series of incidents that drew me deeper and deeper into the business.”
Sachs’ interest in bicycles began when he was in high school. “The last two years of boarding school, I consumed everything on racing and bicycles,” Sachs said.
It was while attending The Peddie School, a boarding school in New Jersey, that Sachs began racing competitively.
“At the time I thought there was nothing more beautiful than a racing bike, and the fact that you could use it in a sport was fantastic,” Sachs said.
Sachs graduated from high school in 1971 and was set to enter Goddard College in Vermont to pursue studies in creative writing. Sachs, due to enroll in April of 1972, decided to fill the time by pursuing his interest in bicycles. Sachs wrote to the prestigious Witcomb bicycle frame-building firm in England and volunteered to work as an apprentice in their shop.
“I was just kind of frustrated and wanted to do something before starting college. It was really just a lark. The thought of having a young American come over and see the process would be good for them too, Sachs said.
Sachs lived in England for about eight or nine months and in between cleaning up the shop and packing boxes, the young apprentice learned the craft of bicycle frame building.
“I learned enough from watching and performing small tasks to knock one out myself,” Sachs said.
At the time, the Witcombs planned to export their bicycles to America and were setting up operations in East Haddam. Sachs decided to take a job at the East Haddam factory.
“This seemed much more interesting than going to college,” Sachs said.
Sachs worked for a little less than two years before opening his own business in Chester. Sachs opened Richard Sachs Cycles in the center of Chester in 1975. His current shop at 1 Main Street is his third location in town.
Sachs specializes in made-to-order road bicycles. The term “road bicycles” covers a broad spectrum and according to Sachs can include “anything that is used on pavement.”
Sachs currently makes between 80 and 90 bicycles a year. It takes the craftsman three to four days to build a bike.
“Most of them are done straight through. Sometimes I work on two but I don’t like to rush,” Sachs said.
After Sachs is completed with the work, he sends the bicycle to Holland Cycles in San Diego where the paint is applied. The finished product sells for about $3300.
Sachs’ cycles, which are sold nationwide, are advertised in “Velo-News” a bicycle racing paper, and in “Bicycle Guide” magazine. Most of the purchases are made by out-of-state customers. Because Sachs specializes in custom-made products, customers fill out questionnaires regarding the specifications required for the bike. Questions on the form range from anatomical measurements and frame information to the type of chrome plating and color desired.
Sachs may spend two or three months on the phone with the customer reviewing the specifications before actually beginning construction.
“Basically the sizing dictates how the bike will be laid out. It’s just like purchasing a suit—the waist needs to go with the jacket size. Every last dimension is suited to just one person. Although other people may ride it, the bike is built for one person,” Sachs said.
Fit is not the only area emphasizes when Sachs builds a bike. Sachs also stresses the importance of such areas as stability and cornering. Sachs strives to achieve a combination of rational design, first-class construction, and fine workmanship.
“I set a standard for myself and when I achieve it, it’s a sold bike. When I exceed it, it’s a sold bike that I feel good about,” Sachs said.
Sachs has sold many bicycles and said he believes his customers are satisfied with his work. Many clients are repeat customers.
The custom-made frame Sachs built for triathlete Jeanne-Yvonne Tucker was the third bicycle Tucker had purchased. Sachs also created bicycles for Tucker’s husband and her husband’s son.
“They’re a wonderful, wonderful bike,” Jeanne-Yvonne Tucker said.
One of the reasons Tucker chose a Sachs cycle is because of its flexibility.
“It’s much more flexible than other racing bikes. Other people, when we finish a race, may say it was really bumpy over a stretch on the course and I didn’t even notice it. Riding on a Richard Sachs bicycle is like riding in a really nice Mercedes,” she said.
People who buy Sachs bicycles shouldn’t hold unrealistic expectations about excelling overnight, Sachs said.
“It doesn’t mean if you buy it you’ll go faster or further. It’s just like a watch. You have an expensive watch but 10 o’clock is still 10 o’clock,” Sachs said.
“A bicycle is not like a car, almost anything works. At the highest level, racing is an athletic event not just one of machinery. But I still like to make my bicycles the best they can be,” Sachs added.
The preceding article (including pricing) was originally written by Beth Damarjian for The Pictorial Gazette, and appeared on August 17, 1993.