The Universe’s Most Enigmatic Frame Builder

by | June 19, 2018


I told him that traditionally, there is an introduction at the start of a Q&A, wherein the writer pontificates about the subject of the interview and attempts to depict a lifetime of unknowable background and influences in a few hundred words, and also says what the person was wearing and if it was sunny or rainy when they talked and maybe what they had to eat. I told him that was not really my thing and I didn’t think it was his, either. I think I said, about it all, yuk. Or maybe ick. I said since this was Bicycling‘s special issue about cycling’s makers, maybe he and I could make the intro together. He said that sounded interesting. So I said, let’s start by telling people who you are. And he said: I am Richard Sachs.

I didn’t tell him I knew he was going to say that, but I knew he was going to say that. I told him it was a great answer. Because it is. Then I said: You’re going to leave it to me, then, to tell people that you have been putting a file or torch or both to bicycle frames for more than 40 years, that you are revered for your skill and dedication even among those other framebuilders who on their own are worth revering (most say you’re a master, all agree you’re an icon), that you, along with just a few others, essentially created the American hand-built frame culture in the 1970s, and that, among other innovations you developed your own steel tubing because you could not get exactly what you wanted, that the queue for one of your frames, with a price that starts at $5,000, is rumored to be closed and that even customers who’ve already ordered face a wait of up to eight years to get their bikes?

Richard Sachs kind of sighed without really doing so. He said: The wait—I haven’t said boo or made a public comment about the queue since 2008. But I know the internet conversations about it. The memes. I can’t control that and don’t engage even when asked about it in social media. I’m transparent with my clients, keep diligent notes about promises and deadlines, and send out emails when there are lemons that life serves me. In mid 2015 I wrote a message to every client to take their temperature regarding the wait, and to make sure they were still good to go when their name reached the top. I offered everyone the chance to cancel and get a deposit returned. That erased about 60 lines in my book, and I wrote checks for roughly $22,000. The overwhelming majority of clients elected to wait. These are things that the masses don’t… Well, they know now atmo. What I’d like people to consider, since I am being given the mic here, is that one can get a nice bicycle many places; I’m commissioned heavily (now) as a result of 40 years of work.

Atmo is a thing he says. It means “according to my opinion.” I kind of sighed without doing so, and told him I’d been hesitant to bring up the wait because it feels almost sensationalistic and in a way not germane to his story, but it’s the kind of fact that has to go into a piece like this. I told him I didn’t know why that was but it was. I told him I myself was more interested in truth than facts.

Then I asked, what’s the most significant thing I’m leaving out of this summary of your life? You got your first bike when you were 17, an Atala Grand Prix that your mother bought you as consolation for not buying you a car. You’d made a list of things you wanted if you couldn’t have a car, and a bike was on top because this kid named Jimmy Farmer, who is now an artist and playwright, used to ride around on a one-speed bike with a basket and despite the fact that bikes were uncool in your New Jersey neighborhood Jimmy had so much charisma and composure that you wanted some of what he was. You kept riding, eventually starting to ride not just around but like a studied cyclist, and after you graduated from the above-your-station prep school your mother had sent you to, in the downtime before going to the college that you’d been accepted to, you moved to Vermont to try to get a job at a bike shop that had advertised for a mechanic in the classifieds of the Village Voice. The job was filled by the time you got there. In spite or something like it, you went to the library and wrote letters to 30 European framebuilders—which to you was a way cooler occupation than bike mechanic and would show them—asking to apprentice, to sweep floors, to do anything to get in. While you waited to hear back, you hung around the shop, and by then you had a Hurlow and partly because they thought the bike was exotic, the people at the shop offered you a job. One company took up your offer, Witcomb, in England. You never made it to college. You went to London and they were surprised when you showed up and you had to remind them who you were, and for around 10 months you mostly swept floors and carried boxes in what you call—with affection now—a Dickensian factory. When an entrepreneur wanted to start Witcomb USA in Connecticut, you returned and began building frames for real. For about 15 bucks a week and free board in someone’s house. You began racing, and building bikes for racers, some of whom won national titles, and when Witcomb, in your words, “started to become, like, you know, a job,” you quit and started Richard Sachs Cycles in 1975.

In reply, Richard Sachs said, It occurred to me today while riding, and only since I haven’t written for my site in over a week: I unplanned my life. Serendipity would be an overused word to describe the path I was on. I’m the accidental bicycle maker. I didn’t want or plan to do any of this. But I became a bicycle maker once enough of the right mistakes were made.

It was sunny when we talked.

Note: For the complete interview from late 2016 visit bicycling dot com