The Joy of Sachs
Richard Sachs will ask the requisite questions, do the perfunctory measuring, and generally play-act the tailor-with-a-tape-measure shtick. But the truth be known, he doesn’t need any of it. He could size you up, take your order, and ship you out of his garage door inside of three minutes.
After 14 years in the business, the 32 year-old Sachs is comfortable with his instincts. He is just one of a handful of builders of custom racing frames in this country. Actually, his stationary describes him as a “craftsman builder of lightweight bicycle frames.” That’s something of a misnomer, according to Sachs, who, despite the one-man workshop in tiny Chester, Connecticut, and a cluster of twenty-odd frames half completed, insists he’s not truly a craftsman. At least not in the classic sense.
“If I couldn’t race bikes,” says Sachs, who takes to the countryside each day at 4:30 p.m., I wouldn’t have the interest I have in doing what I do as a craft. The true craftsman transcends one craft as time passes and maybe takes up another. I’m not like that. I don’t sit back in a chair with a beret and reflect on my work like an artist. I’m just a racing cyclist. On the other hand, there is an artistic quality to what I make. And I know I’m making something that borders on being perfect.”
There’s no better display of Sachs’ intensity than when he’s hunched over a clamped frame with goggles in place and a blow torch blazing. “When I have the torch going I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t answer the phone and I don’t go to the door. It’s the single most important part of construction,” says Sachs, who passed up college in 1969 to be a volunteer apprentice for a bike manufacturer in England.
His 25’x25′ garage, with its odd collection of tools, tubing and alignment tables, looks more like a high school woodworking shop than the expected state-of-the-art production facility. There’s no shipping room, no Richard Sachs catalog to flip through, no reception area in which to do any flipping, and the display bikes are dusty. Sachs spends most phone calls with potential customers trying to explain that Richard Sachs takes calls, writes down orders, sweeps the floors, and builds their bikes.
The garage is directly adjacent to Chester’s quaint downtown, and Sachs draws crowds in the summertime. He could probably do without them. “They’ll look at the bikes on display and say things like, ‘Wow, doesn’t that hurt when you sit on it?’ or ‘How much does one cost?'” Sachs says they’re incredulous over the $900-$2000 price tag. “Now, I don’t understand blowing $2000 on a watch, but I don’t wander into jewelers’ and ask a lot of questions, either.”
Sachs works 12 hours a day during the winter, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. He needs to produce at least 100 frames to turn a modest profit. Maybe because he’s looking for ever-finer modifications, the brazing, the filing and the assembly take more time than when he started. Still, he ships out two a week.
“I make bikes to please myself, first,” says Sachs. “I read about a baker who was talking about his handmade baguettes. He said that he communicates something to the materials he touches. I’m not the type who would phrase it that way, but there’s truth in what he says. It’s here in my shop.”
The preceding article (including pricing) was originally written by Todd Balf for Ultrasport Magazine, and appeared in May, 1986.