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Get Bike Tuned and Bike Fit

By Dave Kraus

Spring has arrived – finally! The sun is shining and the grass is greening up. You haul that bike out of the basement, pump up the tires, and head out on that first ride of the season – only to limp home when you find your rear derailleur refuses to shift. Oops.

Or your new bike shifts great, but every ride leaves your back stiff, and your knees aching – so much you can’t ride again for a week. Your saddle is too high and you’re stretched out like Superman in flight just to reach the handlebars. Oops.

Whether your bike needs a mechanical tune-up to be ready to ride safely, or some adjustments to make sure it fits your body, early spring before the season starts is the perfect time to take care of both according to Capital Region and Adirondack cycling pros.

Heather Rizzi of Plaine and Son Ski & Bike in Schenectady, and Broadway Bicycle in Albany, suggests the longer your bike has been unridden, the more it needs a tune-up. Plaine’s has been in Schenectady for almost 60 years, 30 of those on Upper State Street, and Heather estimates the store does over 1,200 tune-ups each spring. “Because of our history and longevity we attract a lot of customers. We do A LOT of bikes between February and May.”

A standard tune-up at any bike store typically includes adjusting shifting, brakes, and torquing all bolts to spec, she said. The mechanic also lubes the chain and other parts as needed, checks tire pressure, and the condition of the tires. Bikes in storage for long periods of time risk dry rot of the tires, and shifter cables can stretch, and get out of alignment over one winter. “It’s important to get everything checked, so when you jump on it you can enjoy your ride instead of ending up calling for a ride,” Heather added.

Proper bike fit can also be an important ingredient in lasting enjoyment of riding, and cyclists today have more options than ever to achieve the correct fit.

“If you’ve never been properly fitted before, you never know the joys of being comfortable on a bicycle, and being balanced on your bike,” said Brian Delaney of High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, whose store has been doing pro fits for 30 years. A good bike fit can increase enjoyment for all levels of cyclists.

Brian continued, “It doesn’t matter if you’re going out for an hour ride or a five-hour ride. If you’re comfortable on your bike you’re going to be happier. Knowledge, caring, wisdom, and experience are all important.”

Any number of comfort issues can be traced to improper fit, according to Chris Pitts of Elevate Cycles, with locations in Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs, who has been doing professional fits for over 17 years. “Neck pain, wrist pain, lower and upper back, foot numbness, knee pain – all can be traced to bad fit, even though the rider may not realize it,” he added.

“Most cyclists adapt to the fit they currently have and don’t know if it is correct or not. Many cyclists are also under the impression that once you have been fit, there is no reason to be fit again. Positions on the bike change with fitness, injuries and flexibility. Therefore, a fit really should be adjusted with these things in mind at least once a year.”

“Whether you’re getting fitted on your new bike or on a bike you’ve owned for years, finding the right fitter can be important,” said Kenny Boettger of Placid Planet Bicycles in Lake Placid. Like High Peaks across town, Placid Planet does fits for both casual and enthusiast riders, and also serves the growing ranks of triathletes, in the village that hosts an Ironman every July. Kenny has been a professional bike fitter since the mid 80s. “You want someone that listens to what you are looking for and can implement what you are asking for,” Kenny said.

Steve Fairchild at Grey Ghost Bicycles, in downtown Glens Falls, agreed and added the client needs to take an active role in the process. “They need to ask questions of the fitter and their qualifications to ensure they are comfortable and feel the shop/fitter has the ability to serve their needs, be it from a casual road cyclist to an Ironman athlete,” said Steve, who has an extensive cycling, racing and fitting background. “A good fitter will also be experienced in all disciplines and have practical experience as well, from road to tri to mountain, and from competitive to casual riding.”

Once you’ve found the right store and fitter, the next step is the actual fitting session, which may take anywhere from one to four hours. Garrick Dardani of Steiner’s Ski & Bike in Valatie, with other stores in Glenmont and Hudson, said “the first step of a typical fitting takes place before the rider even gets on the bike.”

“I ask the client a bunch of questions. I need to know what their expectations are, and we also have to get comfortable with each other, and build up some trust. I need to know about any injuries or any physical limitations, and how they want to use the bike I am fitting them for,” he said.

Next, Garrick does a physical assessment, measuring body segments, flexibility, range of motion, and checking for symmetry or lack of it. He then explains what he’s found and what he’s going to be watching for on the bike.

Then it’s time for the client to actually get on the bike. It may be the client’s own new or current bike, or it might be one of several types of adjustable size cycles. A custom designed size cycle has a variety of possible adjustments far beyond a normal bike, allowing the fitter to change the length of the frame tubes and other, normally fixed measurements, to determine exactly what frame size and associated parts are needed to make a perfect fit.

Once those measurements are determined, the fitter can then install parts to ensure the new bike fits perfectly, or suggest changes in equipment or adjustments, which can improve the customer’s current bike.

Tim Bonnier of Tomhannock Bikes in Pittstown, said the result of a good client and fitter collaboration can be dramatic improvement in both comfort and performance. “I’ve had many customers come into the shop and tell me they’ve never been fitted, or they have set up the bikes themselves, and in a matter of minutes we can make improvements that bring immediate smiles and confirmations claiming comfort and efficiency.”

He continued, “If the cyclist is comfortable and efficient, the desire to ride and perform will be greatly enhanced. In addition a properly positioned cyclist will be able to better conserve energy and, most importantly, be able to prevent overuse injuries that can result from poor alignment on the bicycle.”

In addition to those mentioned above, you can also utilize these shops for tune-ups and bike fit: High Adventure Ski & Bike in Latham, Victory Cycle Works in Clifton Park, Blue Sky Bicycles and Spa City Bicycleworks in Saratoga Springs, and Inside Edge Ski & Bike and Rick’s Bike Shop in Queensbury. Have a safe, happy cycling season!

Dave Kraus is a long time area cyclist, photographer, writer and AFAA certified personal trainer. Contact him at dbkraus@earthlink.net.