Weekends

Richard Sachs builds bicycles in Chester center.

He works alone. In the brochure on the desk it reads, “At Richard Sachs Cycles, I am the work force.” People wait a while and part with sizeable amounts of money for a Richard Sachs cycle. That’s a story for the business section.

Richard Sachs also races bicycles. It’s not quite as lonely. He is a member of the Connecticut Yankee Bicycle Club. The “team” races from early spring to late fall as far north as Quebec and as far south as New Jersey. Chris McNeil of Old Saybrook is also a member of the team.

“Because they ride my bicycles and have my name on their clothes, it is thought of as my team,” Sachs says. “I’m just one of the sponsors.”

Sachs’ association with the club predates his business and that’s a sports story. On weekends (and sometimes during the week) he thinks like an athlete. His fascination with bicycles goes back to his schoolboy days at New Jersey’s Peddie School.

“I’m good enough, in my age group (35-44) to get out of my own way,” he said. “My goal is to not be anyplace where I embarrass myself.” It is achieved with more difficulty than one would imagine.

The lure is a podium (top three) or in the money (top 10 or 15) finish. “That’s not going to happen every weekend,” he declared. “If I can race once a month to a top 10, that’s good enough. I won a race last year. I won one three years ago. I’ve had lots of seconds and thirds.”

Victory, however, is what’s it’s all about. “You keep thinking,” he continued, “if you put your time in, you’ve still got one more win in you. It’s not realistic that you’re going to get it because it’s so competitive, but you keep trying because it’s fun and because of the comradeship you’ve built up over the years.”

It is a team sport. There is drafting, lead outs, blocking, all designed to get somebody from your team on the podium. You do this at speeds of 20mph or more, all of it generated from within your own mind and body. In Europe, where bicycle racing ranks with football (soccer), Sachs wouldn’t have to spend much time explaining his sport. The two most watched sports events in the world are the World Cup and the Tour de France├úsoccer and bicycle racing.

While fitness is vital, “it’s like a chess game” where, often as not, “the smartest guy wins,”

Sachs believes America is oriented to armchair sports with definite offense and defense. Like crew or Nordic skiing or speed skating, bicycling is hard for Americans to grasp. “People see it on television,” Sachs declares, “say, ‘that’s interesting’ and change the channel.

The 1984 Olympics resulted in changes within the sport in America bringing sponsorship and money resulting in more teams. Competitors no longer had to buy their own equipment. There was a determined effort that actually resulted in an American winning the Tour de France.

It is still, however, outside the mainstream of American sport.

Sachs has had more success since “reaching the age-graded stuff” where he has found a new enthusiasm. He’s in better shape, and races “three times as much.” It is, he added, not uncommon for master athletes. They are, in fact, survivors.

There is, Sachs estimates, a 30 percent turnover because it is incredibly hard. People come in to bicycle racing :as they do to other sports. ‘Hey, they say, I’ve got a good bike, I ran some track in high school.’” It’s not enough.

Sachs’ season starts about the end of January with about two months of “basic riding, nothing heroic.” Then, with the racing schedule approaching, comes interval training, a phase known well by runners, rowers, and speed skaters. It involves heart rates. It is maintaining maximum output for increasing longer amounts of time.

“You do maximum effort for 90 seconds and you can fall over and die,” said Sachs. “You finally get to the point where it’s not as hard and it’s a really good feeling. You experience the runner’s high.” It’s one of the rewards.

“Racing is easy, training is hard,” said Sachs who prepares by himself although there are training races. In the season, “the racing itself keeps you fit. Of course, you have to ride every day.”

From his first bike race, Sachs recalls being fascinated with both the beauty and the sports aspect of the bicycle. Like some fly rods and shotguns, even automobiles, they can be both objects of art and sport.

“I wanted to learn how to make them,” explained Sachs, who headed to England and a “family business where they make bicycles” instead of college after Peddie. After nine months abroad, he came to Chester to work for a company that marketed and then built bicycles. By the early 1970s he was out on his own.

He doesn’t sell many Sachs bicycles to racers now (top competitors no longer buy their equipment). Truth is, he sells bikes to people who can wait for and afford something unique, something to show off. Much of Sachs’ racing experience, however, goes into each bike.

He continues to race and learn. “I don’t know what else to do on weekends,” he said through only a half smile.

The preceding article was originally written for Pictorial Gazette by Pete Zanardi, and appeared on October 28, 1997, with the headline “Sachs continues to build, and race, bicycles.”