BY MEGAN TOMPKINS
PORTLAND, OR—Michael Sylvester began practicing yoga 18 years ago to improve mobility in his hip joint after a terrible bicycle accident. A hardcore racer, he was skeptical of yoga back then.
“If you had said before that time I was going to teach yoga, I would have said, ‘Yeah, like I’m going to be an astronaut.’ Now after 18 years of practicing and 13 years of teaching, it is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever done,” Sylvester said.
Now a professional bike fitter and an instructor of Trek’s fit training seminars, Sylvester incorporates yoga in his fitting techniques.
“It totally changed my fitting and changed my awareness of my body and other people’s bodies,” Sylvester said.
Diane Lees agrees that yoga and fitting are complementary. A certified yoga instructor and the co-owner of HubBub Custom Bicycles in Cleveland, Ohio, she also uses her knowledge of yoga and flexibility to improve custom fits.
“One of things I look at immediately is flexibility,” Lees said. “I have the ability to watch somebody on a sizing system and determine what their flexibility or inflexibility is. I use that to make them more efficient and comfortable.”
Yoga devotees such as Sylvester and Lees also recommend yoga to clients. They report that yoga helps offset the repetitiveness that cycling tends to create in the body, improves flexibility, strengthens core muscles and prevents injury.
“They go together well. The cyclist’s poor muscles sure need the awareness of a good yoga teacher. It can quickly bring awareness back to the cyclist’s body,” Sylvester said.
Lees also teaches yoga in a dedicated 480-square-foot yoga studio she opened adjacent to HubBub. She teaches five traditional hatha yoga classes each week and rents the studio to other teachers.
She said her yoga classes have developed a huge following among the shop’s clientele. Classes at the studio, which holds 10 to 14 students, are always full. She said the classes also draw a lot of men, which is unusual for the activity.
She said the yoga studio has translated into some bike sales. And she reports selling a little bit of yoga product such as mats and some cross-functional apparel, something other dealers might consider dabbling in.
A recent study conducted by Yoga Journal found that Americans spend $5.7 billion a year on yoga classes and products including equipment, clothing, vacations and media. The study also found that 6.9 percent of adults or 15.8 million people practice yoga.
And yoga also appeals to women, a demographic bike shops have historically had a hard time reaching. According to the study, the ratio of yoga practitioners is 72.2 percent women to 27.8 percent men.
That’s a demographic that Will Holt has catered to by holding yoga classes in his Atlanta, Georgia, store. After moving Bicycle Link to a larger space last summer, Holt put his apparel on moveable racks to create flexible space.
He then hired two yoga instructors to teach Wednesday night classes to draw customers into the store during the winter.
Holt said the yoga classes have attracted new customers, particularly women. “We had a few existing customers, but mostly we are attracting new customers, people who had not been in the store before and women, which was a goal of the class,” Holt said.
“That is our largest growth area with women in cycling. We’re really focused from an inventory standpoint, but more importantly how to sell to and how to communicate with that market.”
For retailers that already offer indoor cycling classes, yoga classes are an easy extension.
Bill Baker, owner of Black Bar Bicycles in Winchester, Virginia, began offering yoga classes two years ago when it moved to a new location. He designed the store around racks that could be moved on casters to create an open floor space for yoga and indoor cycling classes. Black Bar Bicycles holds yoga classes two to three evenings a week.
“We’re incorporating interval classes and yoga, which is an extremely nice workout,” Baker said. “It takes about five minutes to clear the floor, turn off the lights, turn up the heat and put the curtains up to make it private.”