Review: Imperfection is Perfection

by | May 1, 2008

The title of this video summarizes its content. For most of its 29 minutes, Richard Sachs examines the idea that perfection in a bicycle frame (or any other hand-built object) is an abstract concept. He holds this ideal in his head, but with experience, he has come to realize that this ideal will remain elusive. Whether it is a file that dulls with use, or other aspects that change from day to day, every frame is different, and none ever turns out exactly as the builder envisioned.

The film is professionally filmed, with nicely composed images of Richard Sachs’ workshop, and perfectly lit panning shots of gleaming brand-new bikes. However, a few short sequences showing Sachs with a brazing torch made me realize that I wanted to learn more about the actual building of Sachs’ bikes, or his ideas about bicycle design. I found myself thinking: “I get the meaning of the title. Now tell us why you are soaking that frame in a plastic tub on your patio. Or what sets your frames apart from those made by other builders.”

I suspect that many viewers may know little about details of creating a hand-built steel frame, and those familiar with framebuilding probably already know that perfection always is elusive. I would have liked to see an in-depth tour of his workshop and a description of the process Sachs uses to build one of his famous frames. The beautiful images in the video and chance to hear Sachs talk about his philosophy will likely satisfy the many fans of Richard Sachs bicycles. For them, the professional quality of the images justifies its price.

Richard Sachs responds —

Des Horsfield’s dvd was about me and the path taken, rather than a tutorial or exposé on how frames are made. From my perspective, the inspiration for it all was a film that changed my life as well as how I relate to the bicycle framebuilding community. I saw “The New Yorker Special”, a film about luthier James D’Aquisto, on PBS in the late 1970s, a time when I was already becoming jaded with my trade as well as with the commercial bicycle industry. It turned a light on inside of me, a light, heck — it opened an entire utility that I was unaware I possessed. It created a fork in the road, and I took it.

This film is really not about bicycles at all. This is an era in which framebuilding is once again a valid career path. Folks all over the globe are embracing message boards, Flickr sites, and specialty shows in an effort to further the flow of information. In making the dvd, we thought that folks could get a unique perspective — mine — and possibly use some of it as a catalyst with which to stake their own claim in this market. It’s not about the bike; it’s about the bike maker.

The preceding article, a film review of the Des Horsfield DVD entitled Imperfection is Perfection – Richard Sachs Bicycle Maker, appears in the Summer 2008 issue of Bicycle Quarterly.