A fast disappearing word in these assembly-line times. Handmade brings back memories of bygone days, fine workmanship, and lasting quality. The end product becomes an expression of the maker’s personality transmitted through the tools to the material.
In the small town of Chester, Richard Sachs is keeping what he considers a dying trade alive. Sachs is the owner and sole employee of Richard Sachs Cycles and he produces handmade bicycle frames.
Even to the untrained eye, the workmanship sets his frames apart from others. The lines are clean, each joint free from metal burrs found on many frames. The influence is Old World and rightly so, for Sachs received his training in Europe.
Though largely self-taught, Sachs, who is 27 years old, spent nine months in the early ’70s in England working without pay at Witcomb bicycle manufacturing. He financed his stay with money originally intended for tuition at Goddard College.
“Framebuilding is still a European craft,” he said in a recent interview, “as well as a family business passed down from father to son.”
“There are no schools for it,” he said.
Sachs has been building frames since 1972 and his style in the beginning was Italian. But as his expertise improved with each frame, he gradually introduced his own imprint.
“Every time I’d build one, I’d learn something new,” he said.
While he may put his style in the looks and workmanship of his frames, he stresses that he is not a custom builder who builds frames to exotic and sometimes unworkable dimensions.
“I provide a stock frame that is handmade,” he said.
Sachs has nothing against new technology in frames and bicycles. Super-light materials like graphite and titanium combined with what he calls “NASA technology” are good for biking and racing in general, but something is missing.
“They are building frames with their heads, not their hearts,” he said.
Demand for Sachs frames has grown into a six-month backlog. He makes approximately 10 frames a month.
“It was tough at the end of last season, but right after it was over, it picked up and I’ve been chasing my tail ever since,” he said.
But when asked if he’d consider taking on an apprentice to help with the load there is a hesitancy that betrays the pride he takes in doing it all himself to his personal standards of quality.
“There are very few things that I do on a frame that I would let someone else do,” he said.
And although he feels his frames are built from the heart and not from the head, he is also a businessman. He offers only complete bicycles built up with the finest Italian components because it brings in more money. Right now, Sachs offers the option of buying a frame or a complete bike.
Nearly three-quarters of Sachs’ sales are through dealers and he has orders from all over the country. At the time of the interview, one had been sent to Chicago and orders have gone as far as California.
There is a mystique that surrounds things that are handmade and those who make them. Sachs is aware of that and does his best to quash it.
“I’m not a craftsman in the sense that if I wasn’t doing this, I’d be making baskets or pottery,” he said.
Sometimes when he receives an order for a frame, the people will call him and start telling him their life story or riding history. They think it might help him in making it.
“They think they’ve practically got to sleep with me to build their frame,” he said.
Sachs is aware that mystique is different between America and Europe.
“In America, the mystique is the equipment In Europe the equipment is merely the instrument, the mystique comes from the rider,” he said.
But he admits that his name gives some cyclists “status appeal” but it’s not so much himself so much as his work.
“I’ve created a following because people can order a Sachs frame and they don’t have to worry,” he said.
And being a businessman and not a purist makes it easier to live with some of the reasons why people buy his frames.
“Out of ten people that buy my bikes, one buys it to race and use it to its full potential, another because he can’t find a stock frame that fits his needs, and the others buy them because they can afford them,” he said.
Sachs frames are expensive. They were selling for $575 but the fluctuating price of silver used in brazing the frame tubes and an expected 10 percent rise in frame stock prices will force Sachs to pass on some of the costs.
He expects the frames to go up to about $650. The complete bicycles sell for about $1,300 with Italian components.
With a six-month backlog, it seems there are enough people who want that something extra a handmade frame might bring.
But no matter what that something-extra is—status or mystique or just the intricate workmanship—some are still taken back by the price.
“Even though it’s handmade, it’s still a bicycle.”
The preceding article was originally written by Glenn Waterman for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, and appeared on May 13, 1980. All references to should be kept in that context.