There’s this guy I see racing around Chester always on a bicycle, often donning a funny red cap to keep his head warm in the colder months. He stops off at the post office and exchanges one armful of packages for another, gives his signature head nod greeting to those he knows, mounts his bike again and speeds off around a corner back to his one man shop where he builds made-to-order racing bike frames that he ships all over the world.
Richard Sachs has been building Richard Sachs bicycles and bicycle frames for over 30 years. Each is handcrafted to the exact measurements of the person it is being built for, so the bicycle fits the rider much like a tailored suit fits the wearer. Equally recognized for their comfort, precision and performance, Sachs’ bicycles have changed little over the years and are still made using traditional hand-building methods. With singular vision, Sachs has selectively culled what works for him and sticks with it.
“I insist on actual quality, rather than perceived quality. The success I realize is due, in part, to the commitment I make to ensure that no compromise exists in the design, materials, construction, or finish of a Richard Sachs frame or bicycle.” Few bicycle makers can offer a frame built as well as mine”, Sachs says with quiet certainty and conviction rather than conceit.
Sachs spent the first 20 years of his career “figuring out what he wanted a Richard Sachs bicycle to be”. So what exactly is that? For one thing, they are not massed produced but carefully crafted to order. And while some of the ideas for the designs and materials that Sachs employs are available to other people, he also uses proprietary pieces and fittings that he developed. Each piece has to be “delicate, beautiful, precise and easy to work with” because in addition to performance, Sachs also believes the end product should have a pleasing design sensibility. So even though he may utilize some preexisting components, it is Sachs’ “thumbprint” parts, his ideas, and his workmanship, that make a Richard Sachs bicycle a unique product.
“Through the years I have been able to combine my experience in the sport of racing with my artisan approach to frame building to develop a predictable, repeatable construction assembly that enables me to produce a perfectly straight, well-balanced frame, ideally suited to the needs of each and every client placing an order”, says Sachs. This is why Richard Sachs is esteemed worldwide and why his bicycles are highly regarded by their owners.
Sachs’ cycles are an infusion of art, geometry and mechanics. In the late 1970’s he had a major break through with regard to his designs after watching a National Geographic special entitled “The National Living Treasures of Japan.”
“I knew I was looking for something more in frame building. I saw this program and was inspired by the Japanese reverence for quality handmade articles of all types, some important, some mundane, but all constructed with respect to craft, skill, and heritage, and I suspect, with little or no regard to commerce or promotion. My attitude towards frame building embraces this attitude. No bicycle could have ever had the impact on my decisions and choices the way the topic of that program did”, says Sachs.
Sachs developed his interest in bicycles when he was attending boarding school in New Jersey where he is originally from. He started hanging around a bike shop called Kopp’s Cycles, making a “nuisance” of himself as he so aptly put it. He would stop by the shop regularly to view the latest models and collateral gear and accessories. It was during these many visits that Sachs befriended shop owner, Fred Kuhn, “who”, Sachs says “was influential with respect to my taking bicycles seriously.”
The summer between high school and college proved to be a fateful season for Sachs. He tried to get work as a bike mechanic, but couldn’t secure a position. Not content to take no for answer, and in an act of defiance for being refused work as a mechanic, Sachs wrote to several bike companies in England that he found in the pages of a trade magazine, and offered free labor in exchange for an education in bicycle frame building. He boarded a plane for London to apprentice with Witcomb Lightweight Cycles and postponed his college education. He stayed at Witcomb for almost year before running out of money, but had learned enough to parlay his experience into a bike maker’s career or “at least the start of a bike makers career”, reflects Sachs.
When Sachs returned to the United States, he decided to bypass college, and coincidentally, went to work for Witcomb USA who had set up an exporting business in Chester to distribute Witcomb bikes and parts in the US. “The guy who owned the Witcomb USA name decided to start building frames so I became a frame builder. But it became too much of a chore. My boss did not really love bikes. He just wanted to be part of the bike boom. I left there and started Richard Sachs Cycles in April of 1975. I started out simply and simple”, says Sachs. And for the past 31 years he has continued building in this way.
Sachs passion for bicycle building is rivaled only by his passion for bicycle racing which has been doing steadily since 1971. He boasts a cat 2 license (in the world of bicycle racing only a cat 1 license is better and only few hundred people earned it), and has qualified to ride in the USA Cycling National Championships six times on the road and twice on the track. He has been racing with The Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club since 1974 and his frame building business has been the official title sponsor of the team since 1981.
He has also been a faithful sponsor and participant of Cyclo-cross teams in the US for the past 10 years, and has been instrumental in helping the sport to gain popularity. Richard Sachs, along with RGM Watches and Hudson Valley velodrome are sponsoring Richard Sachs’ four-person Cyclo-cross team for the 2005-2006 season. (Cyclo-cross is an off-road race that takes place during the fall and winter months. It is a grueling, one hour race through woodland trails, meadows, mud, steep hills, pavement and grass. It requires frequent maneuvers of dismounting and remounting when the bicycle can no longer be ridden up a particularly muddy or vertical incline and has to be carried on the shoulder until remounting can occur.) Richard Sachs’ four-person Cyclo-cross is competing in the New England Championship Cyclo-Cross Series, at UCI events across the US, and in the US Nationals.
Sachs has dedicated his life to cycles and cycling, but what else would he do? “I never really had the thought: What am I going to do with the rest of my life when I get through with this bike thing, because it just kept going. Why would I trade this for anything? Being in the bicycle business and the whole life style that comes with bicycle racing seems to suit me. I like bikes. Bikes are cool.”
The preceding article was originally written for INK Publications: A guide to finer living in Connecticut and Abroad, by Caryn B. Davis.