Richards Sachs-RGM Watches rider Dan Timmerman stood out from the field at the US cyclo-cross national championship not only for his mountain man beard but also for what many would consider his old-school rig, built around a classically proportioned lugged steel frame and matching fork.
Naysayers would be quick to point out its heft - as it's roughly a full kilogram heavier than other elite-level machines at 8.72kg (19.22lb) complete - but Timmerman let his legs do the talking this year with six UCI wins, 10 UCI podium appearances, the VERGE series overall win and an impressive eighth place finish in the men's elite race at nationals to cap off for his best season yet.
"To a certain extent, obsessing over weight makes more of a difference in a rider's head than it does on the course," Timmerman said. "Sure, it makes a difference to some degree, particularly rotating weight, but the engineering, experience, and wisdom that goes into the frame geometry, tube shapes, and the overall ride quality make so much more of a difference that it can easily make a pound or more completely negligible."
Sachs builds the team's bike with a special lighter-weight version of his usual Columbus PegoRichie tubeset. The "way shorter" butts shave grams but also require more careful tubing selection, and the niobium-enhanced alloy is highly resistant to impact damage - a key attribute in a sport that regularly sees extensive travel.
In place of TIG welding and radical shaping, Sachs instead prefers to use his own brazed short-point lugs and round profiles that he's continuously developed since first building frames in 1972.
And to prove that Sachs himself knows what is required of his racers, he's no slouch on the bike himself, finishing the season ranked fifth overall nationally in the men's master category.
Claimed frame weights are better than most would guess at an estimated 1.5-1.6kg (3.4-3.5lb) for team bikes, putting them roughly on par with most modern aluminum chassis. According to Sachs, the matching steel fork adds another 620g - just about 100g heavier than top carbon models but resulting in a balanced performance and feel front to rear.
Timmerman adds that the steel frame's distinct ride quality suits his light-footed riding style.
"Back in the day on the mountain bike I was always described as a finesse rider, getting by more with technical skills rather than fitness," he said. "I gained a lot of fitness since then, but I still enjoy a more technical mountain bike-ish type of course with lots of turns and bike driving. The RS machine carves turns and dampens bumpy lines and is smooth as butter with a nice balanced geometry. It's been a very predictable, fast machine."
Sachs famously prides the squad on its strict adherence to sponsor-appropriate equipment with deviations from the designated team spec allowed only in very extreme circumstances and after prior discussion. Not surprisingly then, Timmerman's bike closely follows this directive with a complete SRAM Force group, aluminum cockpit components from Oval Concepts, shallow-profile carbon tubulars from Cole Products, Challenge Grifo tyres, Crankbrothers Candy SL pedals, Cane Creek SCX-5 cantilevers and a Selle San Marco Aspide covered in red Lorica just for Sachs.
Pundits will quickly point out that none of the aforementioned gear is generally considered ultra elite and a few key upgrades would net major weight savings, but Sachs insists the benefits of maintaining high-quality and long-term relationships with his sponsors ultimately yields more benefits to the team and its riders. To his credit, the team boasts nine national championships to date since 1997.
Sachs sums up his attitude towards the team's sponsorship handily in an online message to Timmerman and company on his blog, Cross Reference:
"Please remember this from an earlier email, as well as from years past in case you've heard me state it before: there is only one first reason we exist and why we go to races. That first reason is that we owe our souls to every single sponsor, equipment provider, behind-the-scenes donor, and fans/followers/friends who support us.
"We are at the races to prove a point. That point is to be ambassadors for all of those I just mentioned. (Y)our obligation is to know everything about every company on the kits as well as about every part we use until the season ends. We are at the venues to represent, and represent well. We (the team - you - us - the folks who raced here before 2009) give good brand.
"In an era and in a climate in which teams falter, vaporize, splinter, cease to exist, and just plain can't raise a fucking dime, we are flush. We are quite flush atmo. Data point - we're not Radio Shack flush, but heck - I can only panhandle so much, huh. We have parts. We have a good war chest of funds. And we have each other.
"Let's represent, let's make memories, and let's race."