Book Review: Richard Sachs, Bicycle Maker

With the North American Handmade Bicycle Show starting in just another day, it seems an apropos moment to take a look at a new book about the man who is arguably the most outspoken and iconic practitioner of the frame building craft: Richard Sachs. Nick Czerula spent a year as he says, “as a fly on the wall of  Richard Sachs studio.” Based on the more than 120 images within the book, Czerula isn’t lying.

The book does nothing so much as document how solitary the work of a frame builder is. As romantic as it may seem to fit someone or to experiment with new geometries, frame building is mostly working with metal. Brazing it. Drilling it. Sawing it. Filing it. Getting metal shavings in your fingers. Czerula documents all this in crisp black and white images.

What’s most surprising about the book is just how stolen so many of the images are. Sachs is as self-conscious a frame builder as there is. And that Czerula could so blend into the background to get shots of Sachs going through the dailiness of his work, of his routines should not be under-appreciated. Czerula manages to capture more than just the serious, frame-builder-at-work Sachs. Bits of his quirky personality and humor come through as well as fierce drive as a competitor in cyclocross.

Think of the book as a portrait of one of the more outspoken craftsmen around. At first, I confess, the book felt incomplete because it features no text. Pardon me; I’m a writer and I tend to see a book without text as a bit like a burger with no fries. However, the more time I spent with the book, the more I came to see it as being an interestingly objective look at someone who is constantly defining his efforts in the written word. Had the whole frame building thing fallen through, Sachs’ original plan to study English would have served him well. His introspective nature has made him the most articulate frame builder out there. If you’re still curious why bike magazine editors have made him the most written-about frame builder on the planet, there’s a good reason. When we talk to him, we find a kindred spirit.

If you haven’t been following his blog. You might want to. It’s Sachs, unfiltered. Just him. No pesky bike magazine editors to get in the way. Check it out here.

To the degree that Richard Sachs exemplifies the craft of frame building, this book could be viewed as a cryptic how-to manual. This concept is reinforced by the book’s organization. It begins with Sachs prepping lugs and follows the process of building a frame through to its conclusion, right down to shipping it off for painting, prepping the finished frame for assembly and finally installing the parts to complete the bicycle. Along the way, Czerula does a nice job of reminding the reader that Sachs will be working on a number of frames at any given time.

Printed in a relatively large landscape format (11.75″ x 8.75″), the book presents the images large enough to digest them, right down to the tiniest detail. The 110-page volume isn’t cheap, at $59.95, but efforts of this sort are rare and this shows a level care and devotion more books could benefit from. If you’re a fan of Sachs, or just a fan of frame building, this is well worth your time and money.

You can pick it up here.

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11 comments


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Smackalacka: Maybe you’re new here, so I’ll let you know now: We play it civil here. No name calling, no insulting, no BS. This is a space for constructive conversation.

  1. rick

    Yea that was not a great comment..I do think RS may have bummed a few people out, me anyway, with his take on SRAM though . I love hand built bikes, in fact I have one that I have loved for 10+ years but I think it is a bit much to think that SRAM needs to make sure their product launches coincide with NAHBS. Yea it would be great to have the newest RED parts on your bike but really is it not the frame the were celebrating here. You may be marginalized somewhat, although not that much all things considered, but you cannot possibly think you matter as much as a company that build more bikes in a day then you do all year. SRAM is a huge company trying to stay ahead in an ever changing market place and I think the early product launch was just them doing that. We need hand built bikes but we need a strong industry even more.

  2. Mike

    @DJ Grammatically terrible though it was, I actually understood Rick’s comment just fine. Let me translate: “Richard Sachs got his nose bent out of shape because the new SRAM Red won’t be available to him for his bikes before NAHBS. Who cares because SRAM isn’t going to bend over backwards for a little frame builder and, regardless, better that the big boys in industry thrive as a whole than Richard Sachs get his parts in time for hand built bikes for NAHBS.” Not saying I agree, but it makes sense.

    Also, Atlas Shrugged? Try reading Infinite Jest. The footnotes alone are a novel.

  3. DJ

    Oh, that is kind of a crumby thing. The part that makes the least sense to me still is why SRAM would wait so long into the year to release the new product. I have no facts to back this up (and think it could make an interesting article), but I would think that alot of people really into bikes are going to make the purchase in the winter so they have it ready for spring. Doesn’t Shimano release their stuff in the winter? The Atlas Shrugged comment was just a friendly poke at the pro industrial comment. My apologies to Rick for not having a basis to understand his comment.

  4. dstan58

    May I bring this back to hand-built bikes? Thanks. I live in SE Michigan, about a 20 minute ride from a custom builder, Matt Assenmacher. While Sachs studied English and apprenticed at Witcomb (IIRC), Matt studied Biology and apprenticed at Bob Jackson. I’ve been a fly on Matt’s wall many times and over the past thirty years, I have seen every phase of frame building. Watching Matt is a lot like watching any Master Craftsman. Nothing is wasted; time, energy or material. Function drives form. Mastery is intriguing because it requires extraordinary amounts of self-discipline (Is this the best I can do?) and the ability to step outside one’s self and view one’s work as a highly critical outsider. Each time Matt has handed me a helmet when he’s brazing, or allowed me to watch him grind and finish, I have felt lucky to be a part of a moment.

  5. gj937

    I kick myself every day for selling my 1976 Richard Sachs bike with Campy Super Record groupo. It was a great bike then, and would surely turn some heads today, if I hadn’t sold it. Argh!!!! It’s great to see that the art of frame building is still appreciated.The carbon bike I ride now is nice, but no soul.

  6. Pingback: Book Review: Richard Sachs, Bicycle Maker | RICHARD SACHS CYCLES

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