Made to Measure
A custom, hand-built, made-to-measure bicycle ranks with things like first-class airplane seating and hand-tailored suits. If you’ve ever experienced such luxuries, it might be hard to comprehend what separates them from the mundane. But once you try the good stuff, you never want to go back. For our last Race Test of 1994, we decided to try a full custom bike from Connecticut’s Richard Sachs. After Richard Sachs builds you a custom frame, you’ll feel like every other frame that you’ve ever ridden was a lucky guess in terms of fit and construction. A custom Sachs begins with six anatomical measurements from the rider: crotch to floor, sternum to floor, arm length, height, weight, and foot length. After considering the set-up of your current bike, he then determines the dimensions of your new frame.
Sachs selects Reynolds Cro-Mo Record series tubing for his frames, and brazes the pipes together with silver. You won’t see a big “Reynolds” logo on the frame, however. “I haven’t used a tubing decal since ’77” he explains. “A lot of people think the tubing dictates the quality of the frame, and there’s no sense in that.”
In these days of carbon fiber this and TIG welded that, Sachs’ traditional lugged steel jointwork almost looks retro. He doesn’t use any oversize, dent-prone, ultra thin-wall tubes, or weird looking gusset reinforcements. Retro or not, the workmanship evident in this frame is absolutely impeccable. Every lug is crisply defined, each cut-out perfectly clean. Sachs’ craftsmanship is simply stunning—that’s the only way to put it.
When prodded about the frame’s geometry, Sachs talks in lengths, not angles. “I haven’t a clue as to the angles on the frame,” he admits. “The angles are simply a by-product of the linear measurements. The frame should be more about position and fit, rather than geometry.” In terms of the resulting handling characteristics, the bike is race ready. Sachs designs in about five centimeters of trail (a measurement, I might add, that is dependent on head-tube angle), which makes for quick steering.
The Sachs came equipped with Campagnolo’s top-of-the-line Record component group. The Record components had Campy’s usual heirloom-quality finish work—a perfect match for this frame. Included were Carbon Ergopower brake/shift levers—which are 100 grams lighter than their metal predecessors—and Campy’s powerful”Record Extra” brake calipers. A sealed cartridge bottom bracket and 8-speed cassette hub rounded out the modern parts from Vicenza.
Sachs is a veteran of more than 25 years of racing, and his competitive influences can be felt in the frame. At the O’Doul’s Capital Criterium in Providence, RI, for example, I was able to push the Sachs to its criterium style limits. The one-km course included a 50-foot climb and descent as well as an unreasonably large selection of bumps and wavy pavement.
Through 80 long laps, the bike never missed a beat. The 35-mph sweeping turn on the descent scattered the pack across the wide street, with the best move being the tight, inside line. During the high-speed-weaving-through-the-peloton maneuvers, steering was quick without being twitchy. The gradual descent required a constant series of upshifts as the pack accelerated, and the Ergopower levers were right on the money, as they are capable of sweeping the chain down the entire freewheel with one long push of the upshift button.
At another local criterium, I did manage to dig a pedal through a tight, off-camber turn. Sachs builds in about eight centimeters of frame drop, resulting in a relatively low bottom bracket height. Even though I was using Speedplay pedals, which offer tremendous cornering clearance, I did feel that alarming scrape of metal to asphalt as I exited the corner. While the cornering clearance of the Sachs is not touring bike low, this frame is not a crit-daddy special.
With very few road races left in the cycling Mecca of Colorado, I was pleased to have the chance to ride the Sachs in the Peak to Peak road race, from Estes Park to Nederland—a reverse route of part of an old Coors Classic stage. The 40-mile point-to-point course included numerous climbs, and topped out at 9,200 feet. The 21 pound Sachs could be considered somewhat heavy by 1990’s standards, and it did feel a bit sluggish compared to some of the sub-19 pound machines I’ve tested. Nimble, 28-spoke wheels helped to shave rotating weight though, and the Vittoria CX (front), and CG (rear) tubular tires were the ideal setup for racing. On the course’s steep descent, where my cyclometer read 59mph, the Sachs instilled great confidence thanks to its completely stable and vibration-free ride.
Sachs builds between 80-100 frames each year. Other than painting, he constructs the entire frame himself—every tubing miter, every braze, and every stroke of finish filing. While a lugged steel frame may not be quite as light and high-tech as a titanium or carbon fiber model, steel has its own traditional advantages. One of these is that Richard Sachs builds perfect made-to-measure frames only out of steel.
The above article originally appeared in the November 1994 issue of Winning Bicycling Illustrated, reprinted courtesy of Alan Coté.