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Road Kings: Racing Bicycles

A select few bicycle builders across the united states are hand-crafting the ultimate human-powered vehicles
Marc Wortman
From the Print Edition:
Vince McMahon, Nov/Dec 99

(continued from page 3)

Sachs employs a process of low-temperature brazing typical of jewelry making. He never uses an extra drop of material. He also pins the jointed tubes together during the brazing to assure no variance in a straight alignment. "I want my frame not just to be exactly perfect for the ride, but exactly perfect," says Sachs. "If you cut my frames down the middle, they'll be exactly equal on the axis."  

Sachs's painstaking work ensures no need for later corrections. "I like to say my frames are born straight, rather than built and straightened later, like production frames. If I build my frames straight, they will stay straight. If they're built and then straightened, the frame will want to return to where it was, because steel has a memory."  

Once Sachs completes his work, he ships the raw frames to Joe Bell in San Diego, who paints them fire-engine red with white trim. Small inscribed markings are tucked into various angles on the frame that are barely noticeable. There's nothing flashy or avant garde about the Richard Sachs look. The lines are clean and classic. "I was blown away by the beauty of the work," says Turnage. "It's the best paint job I've ever seen."

The frame then comes back across the country to Sachs for a final inspection, the addition of wheels and components if requested by the customer, and delivery.  

Other frame builders consider the painting part of their craft. Weigle, Kellogg and Baylis offer customers virtually any color that moves them. "Every bike should be different and have character," says Baylis. "One of my goals is to maintain the absolute individual characteristics of each bike based on the customer." Dennis Caprio, an editor at Yachting magazine and an amateur racer, had Weigle paint his bicycle sea-foam green highlighted with a deep metallic burgundy. "It's an astonishing combination," Caprio says. "Peter is an artist."  

For those who really want to turn their bicycles into statements on wheels, a few builders specialize in exotic finishes. They'll etch designs into the tubes and sculpt the lugs into leaves, flames or other shapes and forms, as well as do flashy paint jobs on the frame. Seattle's Glenn Erickson will even encrust tubes with semiprecious stones. Such flamboyant bicycles are as much for the collecting and showing as for the riding.  

A handmade bicycle is clearly not for riding to the corner grocery. "Nobody walks in the door who isn't a dedicated cyclist," says Weigle. "Most have thought about it a long, long time. It isn't an impulse buy. They finally have the time and the means to purchase something they've truly wanted."  

"For me," says Caprio of his Weigle, "it's a psychological thing. I've always wanted to get a Ferrari, but my income has never allowed it. This bicycle has a similar feeling. It's extravagant, but I could have spent a lot more money on less useful things."

With so much thought, money, time and effort invested, riders develop deep emotional attachments to their bicycles. It's their ride. Turnage is typical of such bicyclists. He doesn't stint when it comes to describing the feel and beauty of his Richard Sachs bicycles. Again, he compares Sachs's approach to frame building to the notoriously meticulous Ansel Adams's efforts in the darkroom. "There's the same almost over-the-top devotion to craft coupled with a great pride and humility," he says.

"Richard's work is a summit for American craftsmanship of the age in any field. I love fast, beautifully made cars. I appreciate Patek Philippe watches, the control you have with Hasselblad and Leica cameras, the feel of Hermès leather. I'm more satisfied with Richard's bikes than almost anything I've ever purchased. The bottom line is he creates bicycles that ride better than any other I've ever been on."

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