Report on the Handmade Business
It makes you ponder predestination: A serendipitous series of naive but gutsy decisions set Richard Sachs, a beginning bike racer just out of high school,on the road to becoming one of America’s pre-eminent custom bike builders.
With time to fill before entering college, he spotted an ad in New York’s Village Voice for a wrenching job in Vermont. With the confidence that only a bike-crazy 18 year old could muster, “I bought a one-way Greyhound ticket to Burlington thinking I’d go up and ace this job. When I got there, they looked at me like I was crazy,” Sachs said.
Unemployed but undaunted, “I went to the library and wrote to 25-30 bike makers in England and France, basically saying ‘Will work for food to learn about bike making,'” he said.
Amazingly, Witcomb Cycles, London wrote back, “We’d love to have you.” Using college tuition money, he went.
It was an eye-opener.
“To me, bikes were so beautiful. I had this vision of them being made in some antiseptic arena with tile floors, by people in lab coats. I had no idea it was a labor-intensive job by people in dirty shop aprons on floors coated with metal filings,” he laughed.
Not a formal understudy, ” I glommed as much information as I could and picked up the basics, but I was not there so much being taught as (being) exposed. No way did I come out of there a frame maker.” Sachs said.
Tuition money running low, he returned to New Jersey, but soon joined Witcomb USA, his mentor’s new branch in Chester, Connecticut.
“It imploded pretty quickly; Witcomb wasn’t sending enough frames. The boss said to me and Peter Weigle, ‘You’re going to make frames. Get some torches,'” Sachs said. (Weigle had also worked with Witcomb and is still a frame maker himself).
Sachs improved his craft, but soured on the job.
“I didn’t have the stomach to see such a fun thing made all business. It was taking all the love and passion out of it, so I left and started Richard Sachs Cycles late in 1975,” he said.
A racer himself, he already knew riders who needed frames. Sachs had orders before he lit his first torch as an independent.
“I took a pro-active approach to magazine advertising — VeloNews, Bicycling, Bicycle Guide — everything,” Sachs said.
Favorable product reviews, numerous magazine articles, and more recently, complimentary postings on the Internet kept orders flowing.
For three decades, he’s stuck to one clear principle: he works alone, without assistants, personally building each frame at the rate of 5-6 per month.
“The last thing I wanted to deal with was ‘How fast, how many, how quickly are you going to get a helper?’ All I wanted to do was to be left alone and make my bikes and make them better,” Sachs said.
Frame making is the core business, but he’s long sold peripherals such as softgoods, and five years ago he added lugs that he designs and has cast in Taiwan, both for his own use and as a supplier to other makers.
More recently, he and fame Italian bike maker Dario Pegoretti collaboratively designed tubesets specifically designed for builders who use lugs and braze frames, then persuaded Italy’s Columbus to make them.
“I got my first 70 sets in August, and it’s the best thing to happen to us artisan builders in the past 10-15 years,” Sachs said.
Richard Sachs Cycles
Years in Business: 33
Number of Employees: 1
The following article was originally written for the Bicycle Retailer & Industry News, and appeared on March 1, 2007. All references to should be kept in that context.