Torchbearers: Richard Sachs, Part II



For Part I, go here.

PB: When fitting a customer for a bike, how do you usually work? How often is it in person?
RS: The interaction I have with a client always includes a dialogue as well as a completed order form containing the conventional anatomical measurements and the contact points assimilated on the bicycle or bicycles used. I usually give all of this (that is, the information I have at hand) about 30 quick seconds before an image is conceived for the design which will become the client’s frame. No formulas. No stationary bicycles. No don’t touch me there stuff. I’d say it’s all intuitive. Some cats see dead people. I see riders on bicycles. It’s just that simple. PS: This all occurs in person less than 10 times per year and has never been any other way. Since my first week in the trade, nearly all of my orders were filled for clients who were anything but local to me.


PB: Let’s talk about geometry: Would you say all your bikes have a consistent ride that is your signature, or do you vary your geometry based on the customer’s preferences and needs?
RS: I make road bicycles. Since my background is from the sport, I know what has to go where so that the bicycle I make 1) fits the rider superbly well, and 2) handles the way it should, atmo. It has nothing to do with whether the cats rides on the road or pins on a number to enter a race, nor would it matter if the race is an industrial park criterium or a Battenkill or similar. I make road bicycles and they work on a road. Period.


PB: Who does your paint?
RS: JB Custom Paint (Joe Bell).


PB: How long have you been working with Joe?
RS: JB has painted all of my frames since 1986.


PB: How long is the wait for new customers?
RS: It’s less of a wait and more of an ordeal, atmo. But another two Obamas at this point and I might be near that last order currently in the queue.


PB: Do you ever anticipate taking new orders again?
RS: I do take orders. There’s some ambiguity surrounding what I do and don’t do and I will try to arrange that disorder here. In late 2008 I stopped taking orders for Richard Sachs Signature road frames from new clients. There was a window of about 4 weeks left open until all of this went into effect. All along, I have still accepted orders from 1) repeat clients, and 2) for other types (‘cross, for example) of frames. Also, while I didn’t put this in the fine print, I never turned down an order from someone stationed in the military, or from a teacher, or from a member of the clergy. In my mind, folks who fall into these categories are beyond my ever saying no to. If they wanted to get in the queue and be part of the ordeal, so be it, atmo. So, yeah – with the current demand lined up, the delivery is about 7-8 years or so. Data point: I work at a 4-6 frame a month pace, have left spaces open each year for some repair and emergency work, and anticipate continuing to run a ‘cross team whose frames will also need to be made during seasons years from today. I’ve done my best to map it all out and keep it from owning me. It’s my business, but it’s also my life. I don’t want to have or invite stress, atmo.


PB: What’s your pricing like?
RS: The 2010 frame base price is $4000. Most of my frames are sold as assembled bicycles.


PB: What keeps the work fresh for you and gets you up in the morning (or out in the evening) and excited to build?
RS: To quote myself paraphrasing a quote from the sculptor Louis Bourgeois about whom I read an article in an in-flight magazine some twenty years ago, “I continue to work in order to redeem myself for all my past mistakes.” Or some shit like that….


PB: You’re part of The Framebuilders’ Collective. What was the motivation to help start an association devoted to what can be a pretty solitary craft?
RS: TFC is a group born from a connection several of us made with each other early on in the framebuilding message board and listserv era. Those involved felt a kinship and synergy with the others and wanted to cement a bond. While it took several years of backroom chats and decision making, the collective was created. We made the concept public at the NAHBS show in Indianapolis. It’s a peer group. I don’t think it exists to legitimize us, or what we do, but it would be incorrect to assume we don’t have long term goals. The website’s two short pages should answer every question folks would have about the organization.


PB: You sponsor a pretty dynamite cyclocross team. How did this season go?
RS: It was a great season. They all are. My personal results were less than they were in 2009, but I can still live with them.


PB: Since you started the ‘cross team you’ve had some stunning successes. Would you recount a few high points for us?
RS: The ‘cross team began as a stepchild to the road team(s) I had been supporting and managing going all the way back to 1982. By 1998 I decided to focus all of my marketing efforts and sponsorship dollars on ‘cross. Members of the team have won 10 National Championships over the years and have represented at the Worlds on at least 6 occasions. At the core, the team has always been comprised of pals, or pals of pals. We’ve never recruited, poached a rider from another organization, or rested our hat on one particular cat or kitten. It’s always been a group effort and I have found myself using the word family with some regularity. We get along, we travel well, we live for autumn, and then we disband in January. Rinse, lather, repeat, atmo.

The single highest point I can articulate with regard to the RS ‘Cross Team is that it has become a brand onto itself and, by dint of that, is a trustworthy financial and emotional investment for all the sponsors, industry suppliers, and supporters it’s had over its history.


PB: What’s your life away from building like?
RS: It’s one in transition, atmo. Since I left for Vermont that fateful day in the early 1970s and my life took one turn after another, followed by more of them, I rarely looked back to assess the direction or to help shape it. That’s why I use the word serendipity to the point of overuse or even abuse. But as I approach my 40th year at the bench and answer questions like yours, I do reflect on all of it as a body of work. Because of that, and owing to my age (57 as of this writing), I can’t ignore that I have lived more than half  of my life. I’d like to find a way to take what’s left and make it as enriching as possible. To date, my focus has consumed me and I am beyond being one-dimensional. As a matter of fact, I could be the poster boy for the one-dimensional life. The transition is, or will be, about what else out there might call for me. For years I have described myself as a racer who makes bicycles (not the other way around), and that the job I have stayed with was just a way to spend the days sandwiched between race starts. As my own racing interests wane, I now think about what else is out there. Okay – I have to get back to earth now, atmo….


PB: Do you have outside interests beyond bicycles?
RS: My family and my home life are my life, much less my life away from bicycles.


PB: When people talk about the A-list of frame builders, your name is at or near the top of everyone’s list. To what do you attribute that?
RS: There’s this saying, sooner or later we all become our parents, or words to that effect. I think the A-list stuff is just fodder. Or gossip. There will always be a pecking order, or a list of folks who are new, or new with a bullet, or firmly established and part of the mainstream. Having been part of the niche from the 1970s, and living through an era or three when there was no niche left to speak of, and to still be attached to it all in the internet years when framebuilding is cool again, I’ve become a point of reference. My frames are not better, and I don’t know that much more than others, but I am still here working daily and part of the crowd. Writers see this and it becomes a story. Other writers see it and also see the story, and more stories are written. The public ends up reading what’s served up, attaching its own emotion to it, and that energy contributes to the talk you speak of. It’s just that simple.


PB: Who do you consider your peers from a standpoint of work quality?
RS: I know many the players but not their processes. There are lots of craftsmen who are capable of making a frame of high quality, one which fits well, and also exhibits the personal touch and beautiful flourishes that the niche is known for.


PB: You’ve got an awfully high profile for a one-man shop. What are some of the things you offer for sale aside from frames and T-shirts?
RS: There are the aforementioned framebuilding parts and supplies, of course. I also have RS ‘Cross Team apparel, the Imperfection Is Perfection DVD, several posters, and a variety of atmo and CFRA (‘Cross Fucking Rules Atmo) stuff. The site has the mother lode listed on one of the pages.


PB: How important is self-promotion for a builder?
RS: It’s a business, atmo. You have to be both accessible and approachable. It helps to also know what goes where.


PB: You’ve just done a big overhaul of your look. How did the collaboration with House Industries come about?
RS: About 22 months ago I asked Rich Roat and House Industries to take a look at my identity program, deconstruct it, and create something for me with what was left. Before that, maybe a half year earlier, I woke up, looked at what I had (the 30+ years of essentially red and white) and concluded I was done with it.


PB: How much freedom and/or direction did you give them?
RS: My desire was change, either wholesale, or minimal the choice, the direction, the entire range of concepts (and there may have been just the one—I never asked) was in their hands. I made the decision to change, asked Rich and House Industries if they would take on the project, and waited until it was complete before I saw anything. This is all their work. And I couldn’t be happier. And I wouldn’t change a single thing they did.


PB: So what happens if someone wants the old red and white, the old decals?
RS: This is what I do now—dot period. And it’s not a new policy at all. I have had quite a few art file revisions through years. Decal scales change. Ink colors get bolder or more opaque.The frame reliefs get trimmed with different shades of paint. Font borderline weights have evolved. Even the reds and whites we have used all along since 1981 have had more variations than I can remember. When any single line in the sand was crossed, we never went back to what came earlier. It’s no different this time.The graphic details that House Industries created for me are now the default art that comes on my bicycles. The red and white scheme that so many are familiar with is now part of my past.


PB: Anything else on the horizon we should know about?
RS: You know the line, and I know you know the movie. So I’ll just add the quote: “Never tell anybody outside the family what you’re thinking again.” That has been my policy for at least as long as the film has been in rotation on cable television.


PB: Don’t forget the contact info:

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  1. Souleur

    Padraig, excellent interview

    I’ve read alot about the men that make this trade a true craft and art

    Mr Sachs is simply genius, from all points and as I read his answers/opinion, I simply have to step back and stand in awe. He is truly multidimensional and it would benefit not only cyclists but all to emulate such virtues.

    I can think of only a few other builders that would seriously give answers with the depth like he does, and yes, one is Dario. Having read much of both, its incredible the parallels each have to one another.


  2. Aaron

    Bottom line, they are modes of transit – which I think separates the quality bike builders from those with bolder aspirations – think bicycle as art mindset. I went to the Sacramento a few years back to view all the bike porn at the NAHBS. When it came down to picking a builder for my bicycle, I would have liked to use Richard, but I couldn’t wait 7 years, and couldn’t afford the price tag. So, I looked about, talked to several builders, and ultimately went with Dave Anderson (ACB) because he drew on the classic sense of the building purpose – transportation first, then art second. I would have loved to get a piece of art that I rode around occasionally, but function wins out over aesthetic ATMO (to borrow and acronym), and I’m super happy with my stick. And fortunately Richard is correct, luckily, there are a whole host of great builders out there to select from. Ride on, and thanks for the interview post.

  3. Bikelink

    One thing that made me curious was his take that riding style, racing vs. not racing, and types of racing (crits, battenkill, track) didn’t make a different. How could that really be best? I’d want a higher bb for crits/track, very twitchy steering for latter and much less so for former, rock hard stiffness for track, very stiff for crits, more absorbing if I was a ‘century’ rider or did huge long races. Not that you’d necessarily have 4 bikes (though sure some do even just for the road), but if my lifeblood is doing crits then wouldn’t that tweak the ‘formula’? I get the sense that he decided in his opinion based on racing he does/did what a ‘real’ racing/any bike should be like…but perhaps, while he is obviously a frame building genius (I’m not arguing he’s not!)…that that opinion may not be the best for everyone? But sure, if there is essentially a 10 year waiting period then buyers aren’t buying a workhorse racer but an all around bike. Finally perhaps he’s thinking: “If I make 4 different ‘types’ of road bikes, all these crazy people will want one of each and I’m already 8 years so that would just drive us all crazy.”

    1. Author

      Bikelink: Frame building may be a bit like religion in that different people believe different things. I know more of the story about how Richard arrived at his views on geometry than some and respect his reasons behind his conclusions. That said, I also understand that not everyone will agree with him, nor should everyone, and this, I hope, is part of the service behind these interviews. Finding a frame builder should be a bit like making a friendship and in that you’ll encounter someone you simply click with.

  4. Pingback: Richard Sachs Interview with RKP - Part 2 | CYCLOPHILIAC - American Made Cycling

  5. Cameron

    I’m a very new frame builder (2 years, a handful of frames). I made my first frame for myself with tubing and lugs purchased from Mr. Sachs. I didn’t know what I was doing and had questions. Mr. Sachs doesn’t know me at all, but responded within minutes, kindly to any inquiry. As great a builder as he is, he seems equally kind. It is rare to have someone of such quality take the time to help a total stranger. Thanks for the interview, and thank you Mr. Sachs for being a quality human.

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