Monday, October 15, 2007
An Interview with Richard Sachs, Part II
"Here’s the deal: I don’t understand the word 'custom'." -Richard Sachs
In part two of our interview with Richard, we discuss some of his views on building, position and geometry of road and cyclocross frames.
Click here to read Part I
BKW: Investment cast lugs are much harder to cut and file than stamped steel ones. How much reshaping of lugs do you do these days?
RS: The original versions (circa late ‘70s) that were available were very hard. Over the years metallurgy has changed and they aren’t as hard any more. The material that Long Shen uses yields a lug that is quite malleable. The old investment cast stuff didn’t appeal to me because the stuff was ugly and the material sucked. Now it’s a question of getting shapes that I design and have cast to my specifications. That’s ideal.
BKW: Do you ever build with antique lugs anymore, or just your stuff?
RS: I’ll make something “like that” two or three times a year. I’ll do a Nuovo Record-equipped bike that is period correct. I have more than I need of those old lugs. I like taking a lug from dirt floor quality and reshaping the points, the shoreline, etc. But it’s really only a reminder of how I used to work. Casting has allowed me to produce a part that requires much less labor than stamped steel lugs, and it provides a much better starting point for close tolerances and higher quality joints.
BKW: You’ve always been careful to call your frames “made to measure” rather than custom. Can you talk a little about your perspective? It seems many cyclists aren’t clear on the distinction.
RS: Here’s the deal: I don’t understand the word “custom.” I just wanted to make bikes for people who wanted to use them on the road. When I started I just thought, “I want to do what I want to do.” I got to do that from the beginning. But because I came up in the era of Bicycling road tests, I had to deal with people who were reading the reviews. I was always conflicted that the people who were good racers would give me very few measurements. On the other hand, consumer types would come in and ask can you make this like a DeRosa if a DeRosa was recently reviewed. Transposing specs from one bicycle to another is fraught with peril, especially if some specs are misunderstood. In that ‘70s era, I found that many folks took the monthly road tests too literally. Of these, some would ask the framebuilders to copy this, or make it like that. If you’re new and have no backbone, you find yourself executing these orders. One such frame was for my pal Rudy, and when he went to the Tour de l’Avenir he had a terrible experience because the bike was poorly thought out, and not suited for European stage racing; Mike Neel really dressed him down for bringing that bike. That was in ’78. Since then, I make my bike not your bike. How can they be custom if I decide what goes where? I’m a guy who makes what I think is my bike. Though the order precedes the bike, it’s not “custom.” The term “made to measure” comes from tailoring and is used to differentiate between that style and “custom” and “bespoke.” If a tailor has a style, you don’t go to him and ask him to do more than to make it fit. You don’t say, “Make it look like Karl Lagerfeld or Calvin Klein.” Most people understand now you don’t tell a builder how to build a bike. You don’t show up with a blueprint. My view is there might be a million choices, but there’s only one right one.
BKW: When fitting a cyclist, what is the first dimension you zero in on, is it saddle setback?
RS: Saddle height and saddle setback. Everybody knows their saddle height. That gives me a mental image of how big the frame is that I’ll make for the customer.
BKW: Aside from cantilever bosses, how do your cyclocross frames differ from your road frames? Specifically, do you use different diameter or wall thickness tubes and, given the same rider, do the frame dimensions vary between road and ‘cross?
RS: All the bikes I make, I make as light as I humanly can. I use the same PegoRichie tubing. The differences between road and ‘cross are mostly how a rider sits on the bike. Most of my cues are taken from Adam Myerson of Cycle-Smart. [Sachs sponsored the former Collegiate Cyclocross National Champion for several seasons.] He showed me that the‘cross position has to be configured quite differently. You can’t just take a road bike and put canti’s on it. The saddle is lower, it is more forward, and the relation of the bar to the saddle is closer and higher. If you’re gonna race ‘cross, rather than just ride it on dirt roads or around a park, your positon is going to be different.
End Part II
Return to Part I
Photos Courtesy: Richard Sachs