Bike enthusiast combines expertise in art, cycling to create ideal career
When Adam Kaplan was growing up in Palatine, Ill., he says he was more into skateboarding then cycling, but that changed when he went away to college in Madison, Wis.
“I bought a bike to get around campus and to ride the trails, and I just fell in love with it,” says Kaplan, 41.
Today, Kaplan’s the co-owner and head bicycle fit technician at Get A Grip Cycles in Chicago. Kaplan, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1996 with a bachelor of fine arts degree, says his expertise is in ensuring cyclists, whether they’re hardcore racers or weekend-ride enthusiasts, are riding bicycles that truly fit their body type and form.
“You want people to be comfortable on their bikes. It’s the best way to truly enjoy the sport,” Kaplan says. “What I do is basically teach adults how to ride their bikes more efficiently and more comfortably. If they’re riding in a way that minimizes stress to their body and keeps them comfortable throughout their ride, they’re going to fall in love with the sport and do it for a long, long time.”
Mixing science and art
Kaplan’s goal— adjusting an existing bike or custom-ordering a new one to perfectly fit a specific rider— is simple, but his method to achieve it is anything but. Kaplan spends much of his workday in Get a Grip’s fitting area, which has several tools to assess the needs of each cyclist.
He spends up to three hours interviewing customers to learn their goals and habits, videoing their movement on a stationary bike, taking accurate measurements of their bodies and more, all designed to address seven critical elements to an effective, safe ride: comfort, stability, balance, power, breathing, nutrition and biomechanical efficiency.
“When you fit a person to a bike, everything affects everything else. Nothing is isolated. The placement of the foot affects the movement of the leg and everything else. Everything is connected,” Kaplan says.
Still, the precise measurements and exact requirements are only part of the equation. Kaplan, who concentrated on abstract painting in school, still creates art when he’s away from the bike shop, but he knows what he does at work requires just as much creativity as his personal projects.
“I view the bike as sculptural, kinetic sculpture, really, And I consider this my studio,” he says, gesturing to the space around him. “It’s all about the interaction between the rider and the machine, and I play a huge role in that. I’m the designer. I’m the artist.”
His customers would agree. Kaplan’s goal, to create lifelong relationships with Chicagoland cyclists, is coming to fruition.
“We see cyclists for years,” he says. “The initial fitting is key and we can make adjustments every year or as often as we need to after that. When someone sees the value of a bike fitting, they want a long-term relationship.”
Pioneer in his field
After building his interest in bikes in school, Kaplan knew he would make biking more than a hobby. He moved to San Diego after college and began selling bicycles off the floor at a bike shop. He moved over to road bikes and began spending time with customers to ensure they were purchasing a bike that fit their body type, cycling plans and lifestyle. Kaplan attended a bike-fitting conference, sponsored by bicycle manufacturer Serotta, and was captivated by the attention to detail.
“The best minds in the industry were there and it really reinforced what I already believed and opened my eyes to even more,” says Kaplan. “I took that knowledge back to my shop but (the owners) didn’t really see the light. They weren’t necessarily interested in having me spend that much time with one customer, so I continued to pay for my own training and certifications.”
Eventually, Kaplan headed back to Chicago, where Ben Serotta, the namesake and founder of the bicycles he sold in California, suggested he team up with Kevin Corsello, the owner of Get a Grip Cycles.
“He was very receptive to what I wanted to do and he wanted to offer those specific services to his clients, so it was a great pairing,” Kaplan says.
Since coming to the store, Kaplan has honed his craft and system and is recognized as one of the top bike fitters in the country. You’d think that would create an incredibly exclusive client list of highperformance athletes and cycling celebrities, but that’s not where Kaplan places his priorities.
“Sure, we have a lot of triathlon athletes and names you would recognize, and I do enjoy working with them, but there’s nothing like getting a recreational rider to fall in love with something that’s very important to you,” says Kaplan, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Rogers Park.
“I’m a guy who rides his bike to work every day, leads group rides on weekends and rides on trails or races when he gets the chance. To get people to love riding their bikes, to make it part of their everyday life, that’s the best part of my job.”
“I view the bike as sculptural, kinetic sculpture, really. It’s all about the interaction between the rider and the machine, and I play a huge role in that.”
- Adam Kaplan