07/31/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Cycling Comes of Age as New High-Tech Approach Offers Greater Comfort

Many people can relate to a golf club fitting and appreciate its positive effects on the enjoyment of a round of golf, but to most, a bicycle fitting is a new concept. Today, the cycling world is experiencing a revolution in helping consumers enjoy their bikes, and many report that cycling is outpacing golf as the activity of choice.

Bike fitting had very humble beginnings at the turn of the 19th century -- an era where bicycles had common design and sizing features. These features and the fact that bicycles were largely similar in size and were made of the same materials, allowed many anecdotal fitting techniques to suffice. As bicycle design and performance has evolved, steel has been joined by carbon, titanium and exotic aluminum and magnesium alloys. The once-standard bicycle sizes of the 60s, 70s and 80s have been replaced with a proliferation of choices that make each brand somewhat unique. There are women-specific bicycles (more upright with shorter reach), there are Tour De France replica bikes (long and low reach) and there are the rotund cyclist versions that have all the high-tech features, but are slightly gentler on the body of a weekend warrior.

So how does one choose a bike given the myriad choices in sizing, materials and features? Perhaps the better question is, how do you avoid buying the wrong bike? One place to start is a company that has a three-decade obsession with the science and art of bike fitting. When Ben Serotta built his first bicycle sizing machine in 1979 he knew that he was going to be pioneering a new approach. His company, Serotta Competition Bicycles has relentlessly developed new ways to enhance the cycling experience.

Ben Serotta realized very early in his career that the fit of the bicycle is as important as the bicycle itself. This philosophy was brought out to the world stage when the first American victory at the Tour De France was aboard a Serotta. "Our company mission has always been to build the best bicycle in the world," Serotta recalls. "Like everyone else, our focus always was centered first on the bicycle itself- frame materials, construction technology and general design, but the more we spoke with our clients, be they Tour de France contenders or weekend warriors, the more we realized that 'fit' was absolutely key to the feel and performance potential of the bicycles we'd build. So we realized better than that truly building the best bicycle in the world really means: building the best bicycle in the world for you specifically."

In 1998, Serotta founded a professional bike-fitting school that is now widely regarded as the finest bike-fitting course in the world. It attracts retailers, coaches and medical professionals from around the globe, who attend its courses every year. As the curriculum has evolved and become more sophisticated it became apparent that a broader forum was necessary to support research and the integration of the medical community. In 2006, the Serotta International Cycling Institute (SICI) was founded. The SICI mission is to unite the scientific, medical and retail communities and leverage a greater understanding of the science of bike-fitting. Ben Serotta's thirty-five-year journey has recently lead to the opening of the Serotta Fit Lab, which will showcase the best in bike-fitting technology. Located at the company's headquarters in picturesque Saratoga Springs, NY, the Serotta Fit Lab boasts 2D and 3D cycling analysis tools that enable the fitter to dynamically track every movement a cyclist makes while riding.

This is certainly a quantum leap from the 1980s, when holding a plumb line from the nose of the cyclist to set the handlebars in the right position was common. The days of standing over a bicycle to check stand-over clearance are rapidly disappearing. If there is a bicycle even vaguely manifesting itself in your future the moral of the story is to get a bike fitting first. It is easy to fall in love with a sleek Italian carbon fiber wonderbike, but do yourself a favor and find out what fits you first. It is a very civilized way to buy a bicycle. You make an appointment, the fitter will figure out the perfect position for you and then you work together to figure out your dream ride. That old football injury or your bad back will influence what bike you will be most comfortable on! So find a great fitter and bike shop that prioritizes bike fitting as a primary part of their business. The Serotta website is a great place to start. Consult to find a better cycling experience To quote Ben Serotta, "a better fit results in a better bike."

According to Happy Freedman of the Hospital for Special Surgery and a recognized cycling coach, "there are some very important things to remember about bike fitting. A bike fit session is a snapshot in time. Your position on a bicycle will change with age, fitness, flexibility and injuries. Sometimes you have to make seasonal adjustments. Adding layers of clothing for cold and wet weather can change your flexibility and functional limb length, affecting your relationship to the pedals, saddle and bars." Mr. Freedman also advises that some issue such as burning or numbness in the feet and hands may indicate a medical problem that should be seen by a doctor. "Sometimes the aches and pains are more then just a fit issue -- they may be an early warning of something more significant."