From Would-Be Writer to Bicycle Framebuilder
A funny thing happened to Richard Sachs eight years ago while he was making plans to enter college to become a freelance writer. Somehow, he wound up in England where he began learning how to make bicycle frames instead.
“I was supposed to enter Goddard College in April 1972, but I never quite got there,” Sachs, the owner of Richard Sachs Cycles in Chester, explains. “Somewhere along the line I decided that making bicycle frames was what I really wanted to do, I guess.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what prompted that decision,” he continues. “Let’s just say I’ve always considered a well-made bicycle frame to be an appealing and aesthetic object. Let’s just say that I saw a certain amount of beauty and symmetry in hand-made bicycle frames, and simply decided that making them was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Sachs, 27, opened his own framebuilding shop five years ago and has since forged a reputation as one of the country’s finest and successful craftsmen. In fact, Sachs bicycle frames—which are produced entirely by hand at the rate of ten a month—have become so popular over the past few years that Sachs has trouble producing enough frames to meet the demand. And the resulting backlog of orders is why it generally takes Sachs six months to deliver a frame once it’s ordered.
Sachs, who spends roughly 60 hours a week in his Chester shop, says he first began leaning towards a career as a professional framebuilder shortly after graduation from The Peddie School in Hightstown, New Jersey in 1971. A native of Bayonne, New Jersey, he had made arrangements to enter college the following spring in order to give himself enough time in which to “knock around a bit and try to earn a little extra money.”
“I had a notion of going to college and becoming a freelance writer, but I had no clear direction, no clear-cut goals in life,” he recalls. “I was just kinda’ knocking around, waiting for April to arrive and looking for something constructive to do.
“Cycles and cycling have been one of my main interests since I ought my first bike while still in high school,” he adds, “but I never had seriously considered building a career around that interest.”
Nevertheless, in an effort to find gainful employment while waiting to enter college, Sachs traveled to Burlington, Vermont, where he landed a job as a bicycle mechanic. And it was in Vermont, while toiling as a mechanic, that he discovered his future calling.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that the heart and soul of a bicycle is in its frame,” he relates. “I discovered quickly enough that anyone can be a bicycle mechanic, but that it took quite a bit of skill, knowledge, and experience to become a framebuilder.
“Right about then I decided that if I was going to stay in the bike business, I would only do so as a framebuilder. To me, framebuilding is the pinnacle of the business and framebuilders were the giants of the industry.”
In October of 1972 Sachs left Vermont to begin a 7-month apprenticeship as a framebuilder for the prestigious and internationally known Witcomb Cycles firm of Great Britain. There he learned the basics of the craft and began to gather the skills and expertise that go into each of the frames he produces today.
Late in 1973, after returning to the States, he ventured to Connecticut to work as a framebuilder for Sports East, an East Haddam firm that held the exclusive franchise rights to all Witcomb products sold in this country. And two years later, Sachs quit the job, rented a small shop in Chester and began making his own frames.
“Money was never the big consideration,” he states, recalling his decision to strike out on his own. “I had been working as a framebuilder with several other people and the frames we were producing had lost that special, personal touch. I just felt that too many hands were touching those frames and that it was time for me to start producing my own unique product.
“Also,” he adds candidly, “I decided I wanted my own name on the frames. I guess there was a certain amount of pride and ego involved in the decision.”
Richard Sachs Cycles was not an overnight success, but it was probably the next closest thing. Almost from the moment Sachs opened his doors he was engulfed in a steady stream of orders and requests pouring in from throughout the country. And though Sachs’ frames are not exactly inexpensive, (each one of the five-pound, steel constructed creations sports a price tag in excess of $600), Sachs has never been able to build enough frames to seriously reduce his ever-expanding accumulation of back orders.
Thus, given the incredible and widespread popularity of his creations, there can be only one logical conclusion regarding Sachs and his position among the rest of the country’s 20 or so professional framebuilders: Richard Sachs is an artist among peasants.
“I wouldn’t call myself an artist, though I’ll admit that 60 to 70 percent of the time I spend on each frame is devoted to visual and aesthetic considerations,” he says. “I believe in building the frames to look good as well as in building them to function properly. Obviously, the aesthetic appeal of my frames is of prime importance—or I’d never be able to get six bills ($600) for them.”
And though $600 may seem like a lot to pay for eleven pieces of steel tubing brazed together to form a bicycle frame, Sachs thinks his prices are rather reasonable.
“Let’s face it,” he says, “your bike is only going to be as good as the frame it’s built on. If I don’t do my job right, nothing else you add to the bike later on is going to make the damn thing work right.
“Without a good frame,” he concludes, “the most expensive tires, gears, and attachments in the world are useless. And I think I make a good frame.”
And hundreds of people throughout North America apparently agree.
The preceding article was originally written for The Middletown Press by Marc Silvestrini, and appeared on April 24, 1980. All references to should be kept in that context.