Friday, April 4, 2008

Imperfection Is Perfection

“I love working at the bench. It’s the best part of the job.”—Richard Sachs

Filmmaker Desmond Horsfield has made a documentary about Richard Sachs. Having now seen the work no less than a half dozen times, I can say it is a momentous work encompassing all that Richard Sachs is: frame builder, racer and philosopher.

There are a number of theories about why Richard Sachs is arguably the most popular of all frame builders. I’ve often pondered the issue myself. Now I know. Even though I’ve known Sachs for more than 15 years, the documentary condenses the man to his essence. He is, frankly, the archetypal frame builder. Equal parts artisan, engineer, racer and theoretician, he is all things we imagine a master should be.

The film opens where it should: With riding shots of Sachs aboard his bike. Riding the bike is, after all, where it begins and ends for Sachs and where he wants the experience to begin and end for his clients.

From riding, Horsfield moves next to a shot of Sachs brazing. The thrill of seeing Sachs braze is akin to seeing Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly walk onscreen. It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The drama we experience as we watch is Horsfield’s creation. His camera movements are efficient, economic even, and his editing seamless, fluid.

Filmmaking is much like sculpture and the artist’s real talent comes in knowing what to take away; how to leave just enough behind. What you see onscreen is imperative.

One wonders how many people have actually seen the man braze. Like painting or writing, brazing is solitary effort, and as rarely recorded as whales mating. What you notice is his precision of movement, how his hands execute each act with the assured grace of the routine. To see him braze is to know the brush stroke of Monet. And all the while the voiceover continues as a counterpoint to the physicality of fabricating the frame itself.

Sachs gave Horsfield a surprisingly rich vein to mine. From saved letters and newspaper clipping to old photos and videotape, Sachs’ archives add a depth to the film utterly unexpected. We also see Sachs racing in his latest passion, cyclocross, and seeing him work his way up through slower traffic tells you just how serious he takes racing.

I expected to watch the film and come away with a better sense of how to build a great bicycle frame from steel. That didn’t happen. Ultimately, the film raises more questions than it answers. It’s a window into an endeavor, not a skill. That, perhaps, might be Horsfield’s great achievement; he created a film that reflects the conversation that Sachs wants to have, not the job skill we may imagine frame building to be.

In documenting Sachs’ lifetime of work, Horsfield has not only created a great film about two subjects we find fascinating—Sachs and frame building—but he has created an indispensable work for all those who find beauty in cycling.

To order the DVD go here. To learn more about the film maker and see a clip, go here.


JB said...

Class comes from class. Chester Connecticut is class.

Anonymous said...

Dam you Radio Freddy. Another $49.00 lost.....

sma said...

you sold me. good bye $50

Anonymous said...

You are overly romantic is discussing bike frame construction. Brazing is not an art, it is a technique mastered by thousands. R.Sachs brazes bike frame fittings. People braze all sorts of things with equal quality. Sachs bikes are well built. Sachs bikes are not mystical. Modern bicyles incorporate technological refinements developed over many years. However, a bicycle remains a mechanical device. Some are more aesthetically appealing than others.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. It so often surprises me.

Anonymous said...

sachs is mystical. he comes to me as a radiant light producing unicorn.. no hold it.. that's sacha. its so hard to tell with them both emanating so much light.
sachs comes to me as a giant boner with flames shooting out the tip.

you can reduce the frame making process to just brazing plumbing together or you can look at an individual's relationship to his craft. sometimes a bike is a bike. it's parts put together. other times its evidence left behind of an existential moment.

imbue it with whatever meaning or sentiment you like... i see, taste, feel, want and desire to have those feelings about a sachs because i can connect to the life being lived while the brazing is happening.

he gets it and we're all the better for it.


Xterrafied said...

I have had the wonderful pleasure of growing up in Chester Ct. I have been blessed with the ability to ride a cross bike pretty darn fast. When I was a young brat I would often ride my BMX bike into town to buy candy and hang out with my friends. Every once in a while I would poke my head into Richards basement shop. I thought he was one of the coolest and strangest guys I had ever laid eyes on. Years later I got the opportunity to race for his Cyclocross team. I had never been on a bike that rode so well, nor have I been on one since. I spent 4 years racing his bikes as hard as my little legs go. He is a racer and a riders dream. The product and the man, give you that little extra something to get over the next rise or through the mud just a little faster. I cant wait to see the film and dive just that little bit deeper into what makes Richie and his bike unforgettable.


Tim said...

Call me crazy, but there is a line between craftsmanship and art.
Maybe other aspects of Sach's frames can be considered art, but BRAZING is a technique. A technique that requires alot of skill and motor control, but so does does pipeline welding. Do Union welders ever get called artists after they passed their x-ray tested, in the wind, inverted position welding?

Brazing is really the easiest of the welding techniques. Maybe tied with MIG.

Ron George said...

I hope I can get my hands on the DVD. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

i think reducing frame making a bike to the simple act of brazing is to miss al the big pieces of the puzzle. the brazing doesn't matter if the bike doesn't fit.. and the actual physical manufacturing process is just one thing in a series of things. all those tubes have to work together with a body and wheels attached and the ride of the bike is sublime thing too. it transcends parts and process.. which are just a means to an end.

i hate to use this wort but.. there is a gestalt involved. brazing is just a means that end. i don't think sachs sees these things as precious.. they're meant to be ridden hard.


e-RICHIE said...

from noel -
"i hate to use this wort but.. there is a gestalt involved. brazing is just a means that end. (cut)"

gets it atmo.

Anonymous said...

oy 'scuse my typos. imagine all the right letters in the right place and know that "wort" means "word". i often type faster than i can type.

Anonymous said...

Another great post. It inspired me to learn more about Sachs, and I ended up linking to it in on a post on my own blog here:

Anonymous said...

Whoops. I don't think that link worked. Try this.

Anonymous said...

Dickie Rocks The House; Dickie IS GOD!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

He makes a decent bike but it's JB's paint that everyone gushes over. Without the paint it's just another bike. The Gestalt is int he paint people.

Anonymous said...

Also worth a look is the often overlooked Steelman Cycles. Brent Steelman has been making hand built frames for 25+ years. He's also one of the last recipiants of the renegade and unsanctioned PWMTOS (People Who Make Their Own Stuff) award at Interbike.