Richard Sachs Framebuilding Material

As a framebuilder whose career began in the ferrous era, I’ve always had a synergy with lugs. Despite that the industry eventually eschewed steel as a viable material for making bicycle frames en masse; I believe the best are still made with it. I also think the best of the best are made with lugs. Part of my reasoning is romantic and tied to the baggage I inherited by dint of my early 1970s arrival on framebuilding’s doorstep. And part of it is because I’ve spent four decades observing as folks try to reinvent the bicycle.

For all the science, materials engineering, and bar graphs one can throw at a board, nothing changes the fact that technique and technology go hand in hand. To this end, I believe that the best bicycles are the ones made by folks untethered to price points, model year choices, and marketing trends. Among this group are some remarkable craftspeople whose frames are made, by hand, with lugs.

I first designed lugs in 1981 when an alliance with my supplier, Takahashi Press Company Ltd, led to a collaboration. Prototypes I supplied would become the launching pad for a new line of parts they were introducing. The company was moving production of some its items made using the bulge forming process to what was referred to as lost wax casting. For that project, I reworked some Nervex Ref. 32 lugs that I had been using for the previous seven years. The ideal was to produce these shapes in a ready-to-use version. Prior to the investment cast era, framebuilders were not just brazers and assemblers; they were metalsmiths too. It was part of the job to take small, pressed steel products from no-name European companies, rework them to look more beautiful, machine them so that the interference fits between them and the tubes they held would be improved, and also make them fit frame designs of the day. And – after the hand labor required for this – the frames still had to be built. The Takahashi project that I was involved in was the first to take some of the labor out of the intermediary tasks of framebuilding by producing higher quality raw materials for the trade. Lugs that fit better, had consistent quality, were available with a higher degree of finish (and were more beautiful too) – this was the goal. I am proud to have been part of that. The first versions hit the market in late 1983.

The next time my designs would show up in frame lugs would be about a decade later. In 1990, Bridgestone Bicycle Company commissioned me to create a set of frame lugs for a line of road bicycles they were making. Unlike the first ones I did for Takahashi, the B.B.C. lugs needed to be ornate and have a look-at-me quality. These parts would be used on manufactured bicycles and the work order asked that the shapes I arrived at should have enormous visual appeal and encourage the potential client and end user to want to look at the bicycle and be pleased with the details. The interaction between me, Bridgestone’s U.S. office, as well as the folks based in Japan, spanned well over a year. While the prototypes took less than two days to create, we all spent months deliberating over whether the technology existed to produce such intricate parts.

The text of a fax that contains some of the information that speaks to the trepidation and delays involved has been posted elsewhere, but sadly, B.B.C. closed its doors in the mid 1990s before the lugs were ever made, but the project was salvaged, tools were made, and the new lugs were ultimately used on the frames marketed by Rivendell Bicycles.

"I first designed lugs in 1981 when an alliance I had with my supplier, Takahashi Press Company Ltd, led to a collaboration. Prototypes I supplied would become the launching pad for a new line of parts they were introducing."

Through the years as the industry has decidedly become non-ferrous and placing so much emphasis on industrial-made bicycles, the need for high quality steel tubing and fine lugs to join them with became less and less. By 2000 I was thoroughly disenchanted with the supply chain and began plotting a way to become both my own supplier as well as a resource for other peer framebuilders who also felt that the well was going dry. By 2002 my first set of modern era I.C. parts for what were now OS (over-sized) dimensions became a reality. I branded them Richie-Issimo. The set included a matching fork crown and bottom bracket shell. Within two years, I added the Newvex, Nuovo Richie, and Rene Singer lug sets to the list of goods I offered to the trade. In 2004, working in tandem with Dario Pegoretti, and collaborating with Columbus in Italy, a design for a new tube set became a reality. The concept was to create the first 21st Century steel tube set specifically designed for artisan framebuilders who chose lugs as their joining process. PegoRichie tubing entered the vernacular by 2005. In 2011, an even larger version of PegoRichie ÜOS (Über OverSize) tubing was added to the line, along with Sax Max lugs, bottom bracket shells, front derailleur braze-ons, and a 28.6mm fork crown sized for 27mm ÜOS fork blades.

If someone asked me about the state of framebuilding in the late 1990s, I may have sounded discouraged, jaded, and even poor-mouth. Part of me still had ties to the romantic and humble beginnings of an earlier era. Somewhere along the way, I was able to reverse engineer some of the trends leading up to Y2K and put myself in the position of designer for, and as a supplier to, many of the fine craftspeople who now comprise the framebuilding community.

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