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Bicycles are not one size fits all, West Mifflin shop owner says

| Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, 7:03 p.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Mike Costyzak owner of Zak's Speed Shop in Mckeesport is dialing in the rear derailleur on a bike in his Walnut Street shop.

Imagine you've received an invitation to a school reunion. How long's it been? Ten, 20, 30 years?

No matter, you've decided to go and need a sport jacket. There's that leisure suit at the back of the closet and the discount store in the old shopping plaza always has a few sale jackets on the rack.

Whichever of those options you choose, you're bound to look and feel like a million dollars when you arrive at the party, right?

Of course the answer is very likely “no.” Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and their dimensions change over the years.

As surely as there is no such thing as a universal blazer, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all bicycle.

It's an analogy Big Bang Bikes owner Glenn Pawlak offers to customers all the time when they venture into his West Mifflin shop looking for a bicycle.

“When you're riding a bicycle, it has to be matched for your body. That just has to happen,” Pawlak said.

A bad-fitting bike can deliver an experience akin to going for a walk in leg shackles or shoes that are too tight, he said. “Why would you do that? It doesn't make sense.”

People who are getting back into cycling after years away from the activity have a wide variety of things to think about when they are purchasing a bike.

There are considerations concerning the type and amount of riding they are looking to do, their fitness level and economic factors.

There are racing bikes like the ones they use in the Tour de France and fat-tire mountain bikes that can stand up to any path in Colorado.

And then there are a ton of bikes in between generally known as hybrids.

Hybrids work for a lot retirement-age cyclists because they offer speed and efficiency in the style of a road bike and a stable, upright ride, more like that of a mountain bike.

Mike Kostyzak, owner of Zak's Speed Shop in McKeesport, said he sees a lot of retirement-age baby boomers shopping for hybrids.

Young- and middle-age adult riders often are interested in a lighter, more road-oriented version of the hybrid known as a cyclocross.

“It's like a more robust road bike,” Kostyzak said. “It's a road bike with a stronger wheel set and larger tires.”

But whatever frame style or make interests a bike shopper, it always comes back to getting the right fit.

Big Bang Bikes has a sophisticated gauging system that uses electrodes, simulated riding conditions and computer imaging technology for riders on a quest to find a perfectly matched bike, but Pawlak acknowledges the high-tech approach isn't essential.

Using an ordinary, and much lower tech, medical protractor known as a goniometer and plumb bob, Pawlak said he can get an accurate read on a rider's body dimensions that typically compares within a few millimeters of readings generated by the computerized station.

“It doesn't have to be a crazy expensive process,” said Pawlak, adding that it is helpful to have assistance from a knowledgeable person.

When it comes to getting the right height and setback for the seat, there are ergonomic principles that should be adhered to.

Pawlak said fewer rules are necessary when it comes to adjusting the height and angle of handlebars, but riders should realize that choices they make up front will have consequences in the areas of handling, aerodynamics and comfort.

A common misconception held by many inexperienced riders is that they should be able to stay seated on their bike with both feet planted on the ground, Pawlak said. If they can do this, the seat is too low and riders will not be able to pedal efficiently.

Instead, the seat should be adjusted so the leg is nearly straight when it is at the bottom of the pedal stroke. Riders should dismount from the seat and straddle the top tube of the bike frame when they are not riding.

Cost and quality are other factors riders and would-be riders must consider.

New bikes at department stores may start in the neighborhood of $100 but the quality and durability of these bikes are highly questionable. Consumer Reports advises against buying the cheapest of bikes and suggests $300 as a starting price point.

Of course, the sky is seemingly the limit when it comes to price tags for high-end bikes.

Kostyzak notes there is one instance when a cheap bike can be the right bike.

Children outgrow bikes so quickly, he said, it doesn't make sense to invest a lot in casual-use bicycles for boys and girls until they are about 12 years old.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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