Antibiotic-resistant pathogens are a major health concern in everyday clinical practice. Because their detection by conventional microbial techniques requires minimally 24 h, some of us have recently introduced a nanomechanical sensor, which can reveal motion at the nanoscale. By monitoring the fluctuations of the sensor, this technique can evidence the presence of bacteria and their susceptibility to antibiotics in less than 1 h. Their amplitude correlates to the metabolism of the bacteria and is a powerful tool to characterize these microorganisms at low densities. This technique is new and calls for an effort to optimize its protocol and determine its limits. Indeed, many questions remain unanswered, such as the detection limits or the correlation between the bacterial distribution on the sensor and the detection's output. In this work, we couple fluorescence microscopy to the nanomotion investigation to determine the optimal experimental protocols and to highlight the effect of the different bacterial distributions on the sensor. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.