Bike magazines and riders rave about your handmade frames. What’s the difference between yours and one off the rack?
I always go back to the fact that it’s made by hand and it’s made by me. A handmade anything is usually better than the equivalent made by a line of workers with quotas and price points. I bring to it almost 20 years of my own riding and racing experience. I’ve developed a process of assembly such that the bike holds the road correctly, tracks perfectly, and is comfortable to use.
Your brochure says that each bike is perfectly fitted to the individual rider. Do you mean you consider whether it’s a short person, a heavy person, a person with long legs?
Yeah, everything is taken into account. I take the order form with the rider’s measurements from his current bike as well as his anatomical measurements. I try to find an area so he gets what he needs and I can still feel like I’m making a bike of my own design.
What do you measure?
The most common things are the body inseam, the length of the arm, the length of the torso, and some other things that are a little more nebulous. Like if I can determine if a rider’s upper leg in relation to his overall leg is longer than normal, then I have to position the rider on the bike so that he can use that leverage. If you buy a suit and there’s no way that the pants that come with it fit, you shouldn’t have to buy the pants. And when you buy a bike with me, everything fits you, no matter what your size is.
What happens when somebody gets a bike that doesn’t fit?
That’s commonly what happens in stores. I think that if more bike-shop owners spent the time to fit riders onto bikes that were properly sized and explained, then more people would use their bikes for much longer than they do. I think the mentality in the retail shops is that if they don’t have your size they’ll try to sell you something close. And I don’t think people would buy a suit if it was the right cloth and the right color but it wasn’t the right size, so why should they do that with bicycles?
All you do is make frames. How do you get pleasure from doing the same thing over and over?
I don’t have a pat answer, except that when I got involved with this I was drawn to it with as much enthusiasm as I still have now. The biggest enigma for me-and I think anybody who makes anything by hand would feel this way-is that no matter how hard I try, some come out better than others. Obviously everything is going to be at a certain standard that I’ve set for myself. But you wonder why, no matter how hard you try, sometimes it comes easier, sometimes it’s better. And you want to be able to figure out how to get to where that isn’t a question anymore because you have a better understanding of how you work with your hands, how the product evolves from a pile of material to a finished thing. And that’s a motivation for me. Not to make more, or to train people to make them for me, or to buy them from jobbers and put my name on them, which is the typical route in most businesses. That has no appeal for me.
How much do your bikes cost?
The frames are $1200 for ready-made, $1400 for made-to-measure. The complete bicycle, depending on how it’s outfitted, bills out to between $2600 and $3000. Given what a factory bike of equal componentry costs, that’s not a lot of money.
Who buys them?
It’s a real cross-section. People that race, people that want to have a real high-performance product. What I don’t get is the person who just wants a designer product. Maybe once a year I’ll get somebody who has no clue about bicycles or me but knows that this is a prestige type product. And that’s okay now, whereas when I was younger I had an attitude about it.
Your ad mentions Olympic and National team members have bought your bikes, but I gather that’s infrequent now.
It’s not frequent at all anymore. Throughout the ’70s I was fortunate enough to be friend and bike-maker to many people on the National team, and of those at least half a dozen were on the Olympic team. But now cycling is like other high-profile sports with corporate sponsorship. If you are picked to represent your country in an international race, you’re bound by the federation to use the products of the sponsors.
Do you envision a day when you would sell out and let your name be used on a production line?
No. That opportunity has come and gone several times. If my name’s on it, I should be the maker.
Would you even hire a couple of people to help you?
Anybody who makes anything by hand gets offers for apprenticeship all the time. But as I said, it’s still a puzzle to me why some frames are better than others no matter how hard I try and no matter how good I feel. And as long as I haven’t been able to solve that, how could I possibly face trying to train somebody to work with me if I don’t feel a full master of it myself?
The preceding article (including pricing) was originally written for Northeast Magazine by Steve Kemper, and appeared on February 18, 1990, with the headline “Conversations with Richard Sachs.”