The science of healthy cycling

Experienced Bodacious Bicycles owner provides custom fittings
June 11, 2018

Story Location:
306 Atlantic Ave.
Milton  Delaware
United States

Gary Hughes can design a custom bicycle, repair a bike or provide a custom fit, but what he's really about is improving quality of life.

Hughes, owner of Bodacious Bicycles at 306 Atlantic Ave., Milton, opened his business about a year ago.

Even after a few minutes of conversation with Hughes, you understand his passion for cycling. You also quickly learn that there is much, much more to cycling than simply sitting on the seat and pedaling.

Hughes applies his engineering background to fitting cyclists to their own bikes or custom-made bikes. It's a science. Hughes, a former Defense Department engineer, has bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering, and a PhD in engineering materials. He's also a certified bike fitter and personal fitness trainer.

At his full-service bike shop, he sells stock and custom bikes – but not in the traditional way – and he can repair, tune and restore bikes.

A life committed to cycling

Hughes doesn't talk much about it, but he is a cycling guru. He rode across the country in 1981 going 3,400 miles in 30 days, ending in Ocean City, Md. His wife, Kathryn, accompanied him on a moped.

Over the years, he has accumulated more than 250,000 miles cycling in all 50 states, throughout Canada and Mexico and most of western Europe. He's ridden every possible type of bicycle on every conceivable surface, including velodrome racing.

A decade ago, he opened a custom-fit bike shop in Easton, Md., and quickly earned a name for his work, attracting cyclists from all over the country and even some from overseas.

He had no plans to leave Easton, but a near-tragic accident six years ago changed the couple's lives. Kathryn fell on her birthday, suffering a serious stroke. "She nearly died and was supposed to be bedridden the rest of her life,” he said.

The couple moved to North Carolina for more intense rehabilitation. “Her recovery has been a miracle,” Gary said.

Kathryn's back riding as well. He built her a custom bicycle with a hydraulic seat post because she has balance issues.

“My wife missed this area,” Hughes said. “She had spent a week at Broadkill Beach and really loved this area – and we really liked Dogfish Head,” he said.They settled on Milton and built a new house that includes two rooms in the basement and a garage devoted to the bicycle business.

It's all about a proper fit

If you think you'll be in and out for your fitting, think again. It's a three-hour process for his most popular fitting service. He likens the process of fitting a bicycle to solving a puzzle. He uses a Bicycle User Interface to find the proper fit.

He says finding the right bike is like finding the right pair of shoes – they have to fit properly not to cause pain and to be used. “You want the bike to fit you, rather than you trying to fit yourself onto the bike,” he said. “I have to get to know the person. No two people are alike. It's a true fit, and not just about size. It involves the science of cycling.”

Center of gravity, body style, cardio-respiratory fitness, pre-existing conditions, motivation, age, physique, riding style and the cyclist's reason for riding are among the factors he considers, but that's only a partial list. He measures just about every inch of a cyclist's body from top to bottom, literally.

He also has a trainer and two specialized stationary bicycles to obtain information for fitting.

It may seem like a lot for the three main variables of cycling – pedals, saddle and handlebars. But even minor changes can make a big difference in comfort level and efficiency. “Setting those up is hugely personal,” he said.

Eventually, he takes all the data, enters it into a computer and using an algorithm, he can develop a fit report. “Then we start to measure the bike,” he said.

If possible, he tries to make adjustments to a cyclist's bike based on the data. “But in some cases, a custom bike is needed,” he said.

Although he doesn't have the equipment anymore at his shop to build a custom bike, he can design one and get it built. He's also starting to design more adaptive bikes, including battery-assisted electric bicycles.

One thing missing from his shop is a bicycle showroom. “People are tempted to buy what's on the floor,” he said. If a person is looking for a new bicycle, after the fitting evaluation is completed, he will offer suggestions. It normally takes one to two weeks for a stock bicycle to be completed.

A proper fit does not only enhance a cyclist's riding experience by making it more enjoyable, it can also have far-reaching implications.

He uses his own experience as an example of what can happen. He's convinced that he developed a serious prostate problem because of an improperly fitted and sized saddle. “It almost killed me. I needed surgery,” he said.

He also has plans to offer classes and workshops, and host bike tours in the region.

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