By Christine Facciolo
Special to Delaware Business Times
Gary Hughes knows there’s more to riding a bike than hopping onto the saddle and pumping the pedals.
Hughes, owner of Bodacious Bicycles in Milton, said it’s all about the fit. As a lifelong cyclist, he takes a scientific approach to repairing, designing, modifying and custom-fitting bicycles.
“I tell people to think of a bicycle as a prosthetic,” he said by phone from Albuquerque, New Mexico, as he cycles old U.S. Route 66. “You wouldn’t want someone to pick up an artificial leg for you on the way home from work. You would do all kinds of measurements to make sure that you don’t put other joints in an uncomfortable or potentially damaging position.”
Most bicycle shops offer a basic fit after the bike has been purchased. The problem, Hughes said, is the fitting is not personalized and does not allow for consideration of how the bike will be used.
Hughes takes a scientific approach to bike fitting. A former Defense Department engineer, he has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and a doctorate in engineering materials. He’s also a certified bike fitter and personal trainer.
Hughes is also an avid cyclist. He’s covered more than 250,000 miles cycling through all 50 states, throughout Canada and Mexico and most of Western Europe. He’s even participated in velodrome racing, a unique sport in which the bikes are different and each type of event requires certain technical skills.
Hughes started his bike business 10 years ago when he opened a shop in Easton, Maryland. He and his wife, Kathryn, planned to stay but a near-tragic accident six years ago altered their plans. Kathryn fell on her birthday, suffering a massive stroke. The couple moved to North Carolina for her rehab but their love for Broadkill Beach and Dogfish Head brought them to Delaware.
They built a house in Milton devoting the garage and two rooms in the basement to the business, which opened last year.
Hughes said finding the right bike is like finding a properly fitting pair of shoes. “You want the bike to fit you, you don’t want to try to fit the bike,” he said. “That’s a mistake a lot of people make.”
Hughes offers three fitting services: two for recreational cycling (General and Enthusiast) and one for cyclists who want to up their game (Performance Enhancement).
A bike-fitting session at Bodacious Bicycles is hardly an in-and-out affair. Prospective clients are urged to set aside three hours for the Enthusiast Fitting, the most popular service and the one recommended by Hughes. It is designed for cyclists who are planning to go on longer rides.
“That’s when the aches and pains start to show up,” he said.
Motivation, reasons for riding, riding surface, fitness level as well as any pre-existing conditions that might affect range of motion are just some of the factors Hughes considers. He then measures every nook and cranny of the cyclist’s anatomy. He also uses trainer and stationary bikes to obtain more information for the fitting.
He then runs the data through an algorithm and develops a “fit report” for the actual bike.
It may seem like a lot of work but even minor discrepancies in the three main variables of cycling — saddle, handlebars and pedals — can affect comfort levels and efficiency.
Beginner cyclists may find this surprising since many probably chose their childhood bikes for aesthetic appeal.
“Kids have a much greater tolerance for something that doesn’t fit quite right,” he said. “As we age our tolerance becomes smaller.
A poor fit can not only affect comfort, it can have far-reaching health implications. Hughes draws on his own experience to illustrate what can happen. He believes an ill-fitting saddle caused him to develop serious prostate problems in his twenties.
If possible, Hughes will modify an existing bike to conform to the data but in some cases, a custom design is needed.
Hughes does not have the equipment in his shop to manufacture a custom bike, but can send the specs to a manufacturer and get one made in about three months.
One thing you won’t find at Bodacious Bicycles is a fully stocked bicycle showroom.
“I do keep a few stock bikes but I don’t want someone to fall in love with a bike because it looks neat,” he said. “That might influence their going through the fitting process.”
Hughes is also starting to design and adapt bicycles for cyclists with physical challenges. His wife is back cycling again thanks to a pneumatic saddle that solves her balance problems.
“It’s so much fun for me because every person is different and no two fittings are identical,” he said. “It’s a puzzle figuring out what works for each person whether they have a disability to not.”