Turning Bicycle Building into an Art Form

by | Aug 24, 1984

Richard Sachs of Chester has a logical explanation of why he would rather build a bicycle than race one. “Some people like the equipment aspect of whatever recreational activity they’re involved in,” he said.

Sachs, 31, started building racing bikes 11 years ago. He has perfected his art to the point where most of his customers say that he is the best in the United States.

“He knows what he is doing,” said Stuart Orr, a top racer from Essex and a member of the Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club of which Sachs is a sponsor. “He puts so much time an effort into it. His bikes are so well built that it is something you don’t have to worry about when you’re racing. He’s a perfectionist.”

His dog and stereo keep him company in the small garage in the center of Chester, where he builds his frames at the rate of two a week. The steel tubing is from Italy and it is specifically designed for racing bikes. The joints are imported from France. Sachs molds the material together using a technique called silver brazing, and the result is work of “jewel-like” quality.

The bikes are specifically designed according to the rider’s height, weight, and intended use. “My intention is to build a racing bike that is versatile enough to be used in a 20-mile criterium and a seven day stage race,” he said. “It is designed with rigidity and comfort so the rider can go long distances without suffering wrist or back fatigue. There is very little value in something that doesn’t fit.”

One frame costs $825 and a complete bike ranges between $1850 and $2600.

“I feel my price is in line with what the customer is going to get. I’m not going to charge people for the inefficiencies I experience,” he said. “Given the fact that I spend two to two and a half days on one frame, I could charge a lot more.”

Prospective customers find out about Sachs’ product either by word of mouth or by his advertisements which are run in two major publications. “It is a normal progression, as your name is mentioned more, to increase production. People are under the impression that I am a factory. I’m not interested in hiring unskilled labor to produce more Richard Sachs frames at a lower level of quality. I don’t want to clone my product. I feel people always come to where the quality is.”

Sachs got his start in late 1972 when he decided to go to England to work for free for some friends who build racing bikes. He used the money that was supposed to pay for tuition at Goddard College in the fall for living expenses. “It was an exposure type experience. I mainly did the menial labor and observed the master builder,” he said.

Nine months later, Sachs was back in the United States working for Witcomb U.S.A. in East Haddam. There, Sachs became a framebuilder.

He started his Chester business in 1975. “I left Witcomb U.S.A. because I didn’t think the frames we were making or the way we were selling them was right,” Sachs said. “If I had been more mature I would have seen that we were way ahead of our time. When I left I set some goals and it has taken me a long time to achieve them. It took me four years to figure out how to run the business. I’m trying to perfect what I know so people will associate my name with the highest quality.”

In addition to building frames Sachs also sponsors the Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club. The club has 25 members who reside in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Ten of the members receive a frame from Sachs to use for the racing season. The others are offered the opportunity to purchase a frame or bike from Sachs. He is the club’s technical director, which means he takes care of all the details at the races. “They’re there to race and do nothing else. It takes two people to take care of them,” he said.

“I consider the club a form of promotion. I sponsor the club rather than run more advertisements because when I was racing there was always someone there to help me. It also keeps me visible in the racing circles.

“Club members are expected to act professionally even though they are amateurs because they are ambassadors for my business and the sport,” Sachs said.

Some of Sachs’ customers have won medals in national competition while aboard his bikes. One of Connecticut’s top riders, Rudy Sroka, is a Sachs customer. Another customer is on the Olympic Cycling Team but did not ride Sachs’ bike in the Olympics.

“As the sport grows, major companies will get into sponsorship. 7-Eleven is now the primary sponsor of the Olympic Cycling Team so the members are required to ride a certain bike,” Sachs explained. “This is good because my average customer is a racer or a pro, so as the sport gets more exposure, more people become aware of the sport and my market expands.”

Sachs’ customers are more willing to praise his work than he is. The president of the Philadelphia Art Museum, who is one of the few customers who is not a racer but “cares about quality and is willing to pay for it” said in a letter about Sachs’ bicycle, “It makes me feel young again. Sometimes I think it should be on exhibit rather than carting my body around the back roads of Philadelphia. It is really a work of art.”

Another customer in Tallahassee wrote, ” I didn’t expect to notice a difference immediately. It handles the bumps and hills beautifully. I never imagined owning a bike that couldn’t be improved. My only complaint is that I can no longer blame my shortcomings on my bike, I must now rely solely on my ability.”

When asked if he thinks if his bikes are the best in the country Sachs modestly replies,” I don’t want to say anything about my bikes at the expense of others. I’m trying to make a bike at the highest degree of quality. In every industry there is going to be a point beyond which there is nothing better.

“Also, in any industry there isn’t just one but a few who have reached that point. I don’t think I could compare what I do to sports cars or violins because quality is quality. If people say I’m the best that makes me proud.”

The preceding article was originally written by Carrie Kimball for the Old Saybrook Pictorial, and appeared August 14, 1984. All references should be kept in that context.