What is a Richard Sachs frame like? Try this: Think of the heroine in a James Bond movie--a stuning beauty who turns out to have hidden strengths and the ability to kick some serious ass when the need arises.
That pretty well sums up the work of Richard Sachs--stunningly beautiful works of art that also work exceedingly well, handling like a dream and saying, "Come on, let's go, I want to go fast!"
Like many relationships, your love affair with a Sachs begins with rumors ('Hey, there's this really cool bike you need to meet!"), progresses to seeing the object of your desire, and culminates in that first meeting.
Until our Sachs arrived just before Thanksgiving 2002, we had never actually seen one in person. But Richard's reputation has travelled far and wide, and, fueled the recommendations of friends and the glowing testimonials of other Sachs owners, we knew this would truly be a bike we would want to ride for years and years.
That initial impression was more than confirmed the day we took delivery and unboxed the frame. As we peeled off the layers and layers of bubble wrap (lots of it!), and the sunlight hit the paint for the first time, we were simply stunned. In the
sunlight, the paint almost explodes--it seems to be lit from inside. (The special RS red applied by Joe Bell is actually a "candy" color--a base coat of bright white it topped by several layers of translucent color; the light hits the white, bounces back, and creates the most amazing color effect we've ever seen on a bike.) And the color is just one aspect of an obsessively perfect paint job. The cutouts in the lugs are flawless--JB's work on this small feature involves several steps all by itself, including laying down a base coat under the color.
Below the amazing paint is Richard's stunning workmanship. The lugwork is simple and elegant--just a hint of flourish on the front of the head tube. The brazing and filing that took hours of Richard's time are reflected in the the crisp lines of the lugs, the cool "points" filed into the fork ends where they meet the blades, and in a dozen other tiny features. You can spend hours poring over this frame, finding little hidden details. Example: There's a trademark stamped on the bottom of the chainstay
that has been carefully filled in with yellow highlight by JB; nobody but the owner will probably ever see it, but it's there are a reflection of the
attention to detail. Example #2: The masking on the head tube crisply divides the red and white along a line that goes exactly down the middle of edge of the lug. The lug is maybe about 1.5mm
thick, so that fine line is extremely precise. You look at some of this work and think, "How did he do that?"
A Few Frame Notes
The frame's geometry reflects Richard's philosophy, which hews more to traditional European designs than to "modern" notions. Richard feels that it is possible to build a single frame that works well in both a criterium and a stage race; he doesn't build "purpose-specific" frames.
The chainstays have the unusual characteristic of being musically resonant. When we are coasting, the buzzing of the freewheel (already
fairly loud--a common Campagnolo characteristic) rings through the
stays. The bike, it seems, sings to you while you are riding . . .
The geometry may hearken back to the classic era, but the tubing and workmanship are thoroughly modern. Richard hasn't put a tubing decal on a frame for about 25 years--he uses top-quality steel, and he may use tubes from several makers in order to find exactly the right gauge or size.
After checking it out carefully, here are a few items we noted:
- The tubing is generally slightly oversized. The down tube is also slightly conical, flaring out a few millimeters at the bottom bracket.
- The chainstays are rather tall, and are pressed into a smooth, oval shape at the front--there are no indentations to clear the rear wheel.
- All of the tubes seem to be somewhat thin-walled (compared to our other steel frames).
Richard doesn't put tubing decals on his frames, but it's
safe to assume that he's using the best stuff available.
So, how does it ride? Simply amazing. This is a frame that
does everything well--even seemingly contradictory qualities like
comfort and stiffness.!
We've been riding a titanium Merlin for about 12 years--first an original Merlin and more recently their compact
Agilis--so we'll compare the Sachs to that bike.
Simply put, the Sachs does everything better than the Merlin-we're talking very slight differences in some of these areas, but Richard's frameset slightly edges titanium in every area
(except weight, where there is a penalty of a few paltry ounces).
And when we say "slight," remember that we're comparing frames
at the highest level--improvements at this lofty pinnacle don't come
easy, and the fact that Richard is able to use very traditional
materials to produce a frame that outperforms titanium is pretty
impressive. And beyond the performance, of course, is the beauty
of the bike. Our Merlin looks great in a "stealth
bomber" way, but it can't compete for knock-your-socks-off
appearance with the Sachs.
Two double centuries on the Sachs have confirmed that this is the most comfortable bike we have ever ridden. The ability of the frame (and Richard's fork) to absorb road shock is
simply . . . amazing, and it gives the lie to the notion that carbon
forks ride more comfortably than steel. The bike seems to dare the rider to head for bumps in the pavement, just so it can float over them. After 200 miles in the saddle, you get off this bike ready for more . . .
In a seeming contraction, however, the frame is also exceedingly stiff in the bottom bracket. Jump on this frame, and it leaps forward.
Handling? Point this bike around any corner, down any hill, toward any bend in the road, and it goes there immediately. At the same time, it's very stable-we've had the bike up to 50mph+ several times, and it remains rock solid at speed.
The bike, in short, can ride much better than we can--we're nowhere near
testing the limits of its abilities.
This combination of handling and stability comes even with a wheelbase about 2cm longer than the Merlin-the Sachs is about 1cm longer both in front of and behind the bottom bracket, a layout that undoubtedly contributes to the frame's comfort (by moving the rear wheel farther back and reducing road shock at that end).
Indeed, the only problem with this bike
is that it's so darn perfect. Ride down the road, and you'll find
yourself glancing again and again at the frame . . . and worrying a
little about some errant pebble that might try to bounce up and hit the
bike. It's understandable that some owners
would choose to turn their Sachs into a "wallhanger" to keep
it that way, but we choose to answer the bike's call to ridden long and
hard--something we look forward to doing for years to come.