CV equipment in every corner at HF Biz show

Everywhere we turned at this year's Health & Fitness Business show, we saw cardiovascular equipment – treadmills, bikes, ellipticals, you name it, everybody wants to have it and sell it. While strength training equipment and accessories had a strong presence, cardiovascular equipment enhancements and new models remained the pulse of the show.
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Everywhere we turned at this year's Health & Fitness Business show, we saw cardiovascular equipment – treadmills, bikes, ellipticals, you name it, everybody wants to have it and sell it. While strength training equipment and accessories had a strong presence, cardiovascular equipment enhancements and new models remained the pulse of the show.

But very little was earth-shattering in features. Rather, most were companies filling out their lines, updating current pieces, or re-tweaking and redesigning the look and feel. That in fact was a major theme of the show in general – new aesthetics, softer lines, and more intimate or less stark colors.

Not to say there weren't a few standouts: Of note was the rollout of the hugely expanded cardiovascular equipment line called Endurance by longtime strength equipment manufacturer Body-Solid. Also catching the eye was former e-tail-only Smooth Fitness displaying a bunch of new retail treadmills and ellipticals branded Evo, some of which have one of the coolest tread features around – the so-called "Motion Control," which is a sensor on the handrails that allows users to speed up or slow down with a wave of their palm. SportsArt America also had two new recumbent bikes that had one of the smoothest and easiest seat adjustments anywhere (yes, patent pending), as well as a comfy mesh seatback on one recumbent a la Herman Miller dot-com chairs that will promise to beckon buyers' behinds and backs.

Pacemaster and Life Fitness were among the few CV manufacturers who weren't boasting new or improved products – just four Pacemaster treads we already know and a handful of Life Fitness Essential and Life Fitness Sport treadmills, ellipticals and upright and recumbent stationary bikes that are already at retail. Bodycraft also promises CV in the future but said they weren't quite ready to show final pieces at the show.

All in all, we found that the industrial design, overall quality, features and even warranties of cardio equipment continue to improve while prices actually in many cases continue to drop, partly because of the influence of overseas manufacturing.

Read on for the nitty-gritty (in alpha order) of SNEWS' nosing around booths and hopping onto lots of equipment for all 19 expo hours:

Bladez Fitness – Originally in the personal transportation business selling scooters and carts, Bladez formed a joint venture last year with Taiwanese factory DK City to begin manufacturing home CV equipment this January. The company was showing four each of pricepoint-oriented treadmills and ellipticals in a royal blue (ye-ow!) that earned mixed reviews from dealers we talked to. A point of interest is that hand sensors on all cardio equipment measure body fat through bioelectrical impedance (BIA). Through BIA results depend on a number of factors, we found that our measurements seemed fairly accurate (or maybe it just measured low and we liked that).

Bodyguard – Four new home treadmills and two commercial models were showcased, with the home units carrying a lifetime warranty on the frame, 10 years on all parts and three years on labor – one of many vendors bowing to the pressure of offering lifetime. The new industrial design featured smooth, rounded edges to replace the previously dated-appearing boxy treadmills that came out three years ago. Look for the products to be available at retail in September.

Body-Solid – New treads, ellipticals and bikes under the Endurance brand and manufactured in Taiwan generated lots of interest here. Aimed at being “a good value” – the Body-Solid hallmark overall -- the home and light commercial cardio products feature a lifetime warranty will help Body-Solid get closer to its goal of providing “everything you need to run a fitness store,” national sales manager Todd Keller told us, which, we also hear will include accessories in the future.

Diamondback – Pretty much just tweaking going on here, with the 1150 recumbent bike replacing the 1100 model, complete with a new design, a polyurethane roller seat slide assembly and a handful of new programs. The 300 series elliptical, priced at $600, and the company's only home unit with a front drive, features a cyclical motion versus a true elliptical shape, felt decidedly un-elliptical to us because of the up-and-down motion, but we were told that the company can't keep up with the tremendous demand for these. The prices certainly don't hurt.

Horizon – Four new treadmills, branded Elite Series to replace the S-class, range from $799 to $1,699, and offer wider belts (20 inches) and more programs. Available in September at specialty retail, the treads have a great look and feel – especially at these superior prices. Also new are the unique pivoting foot platforms on the company's ellipticals, which reduces the numb-toe common to workouts on these machines. These are only the second we've seen of the pivoting platforms and we love the feel.

Kettler – Showcased here were prototypes of the company's first two treadmills, a home model for $2,500 and a $3,500 light commercial machine. Like all Kettler's equipment, the pieces will be made in Germany and will be available in spring next year. We actually saw these at the ispo show in Germany in February – the country where Kettler is so far and away No. 1 that no other manufacturer can get close.

Keys – Taking advantage of its new licensing agreement with Ironman, Keys introduced no less than five treadmills, one elliptical, one recumbent, one upright and one indoor cycling bike, in addition to 15 (!) benches. Whew, one busy company. Due out in September, these lower-priced products (ranging from $499 to $1,999 for cardio pieces) will be in sporting goods stores with less expensive components and shorter warranties than the company's specialty retail Alliance line. Clearly, Keys is hoping the cache of the Ironman name will boost sales, and we won't be surprised if it does.

Landice – Following the trend, this treadmill manufacturer has cosmetically overhauled all its home and commercial models, including color LCD displays, numeric keypads, black machines (versus white previously), and a crossbar that has been moved for easier access and comfort. No changes in price or warranties; look for these products; which still hit the higher-end market, in October.

Nautilus Group – The company continues to re-align its Nautilus and Schwinn brands so there is less overlap in price and features, with Schwinn sliding lower to fit below the points hit by Nautilus CV, which was introduced a year ago. Two new Schwinn treads ($1,100 and $1,400 suggested retail), both with grip and chest HR control and a pretty solid feel from a brisk walk to a speed sprint. Feature of note: Quick speed change buttons in increments of 2 mph (2, 4, 6, 8, 10 mph). Also new were four Schwinn bikes one of two companies we saw that adapted the indoor cycle feature of a seat on uprights that adjusts fore and aft. Handlebars also adjusted upright for sitting tall or downward for a racer ride. Also, two new Schwinn ellipticals ($1,100 and $1,400) with front drive and an 18-inch stride. At the Nautilus brand, the ellipticals introduced last year were redesigned with less-overpowering lower, sleeker consoles and a fixed handrail in case users don't want to use the moving upper body arms.

Octane Fitness – Not actually on the trade show floor, Octane Fitness was earning rave reviews from dealers who popped into its hotel suite (invited and not) and tried the Q35 and Q35e models that sell for $2,199 and $2,599, respectively. We noticed significant improvements over the prototypes we saw last year, and particularly appreciated the sturdy, smooth feel of these front drive units. Octane is in 180 retail stores now, and anticipates growing to 250 in the coming months.

PCE Health and Fitness – Under the brand name Life Span, this is the company's first booth at this show (last year that were offsite showing prototypes) where they were hoping to pick up a few more retailers. They offer three treads, one upright bike and one recumbent bike at this point, with price points ranging from $499 to $1,199, and are in 150 dealers in major markets. Life Span products have smaller footprints and simple electronics, with particular appeal to seniors and urban dwellers with limited space.

Smooth Fitness – New Evo treadmills for retail feature the company's patented Motion Control system that lets users change speeds with the wave of a hand. And the new commercial model, priced at $5,000, features the patent-pending Intellitrack which adjusts the deck's cushioning according the exerciser's gait and footfall intensity or allows the user to choose which level of firmness he or she likes -- a feature that we found pretty cool and dealers were craning their necks to check out. Also, we liked that the tread's frames are separate from the pedestals, which makes the console and uprights feel more stable and eliminate the shake. Look for six treads available by October. Also coming are two EVO ellipticals, at $999 and $1,499, featuring a sturdy but somewhat space-consuming double frame, the X-Cite light commercial model has a 19” stride with a circular motion that SNEWS felt was a bit bouncy, but it is the brand's first. Watch for a full commercial model featuring elevation sometime in the future.

Spirit – Always a treadmill specialist (although it introduced one elliptical a few months ago that the company admits is only selling "OK"), Spirit has revamped its treadmill line to “soften up its look” and fulfill more price points from $895 folding home units to $3,995 commercial machines, with the lower prices coming from its first venture with a Taiwanese manufacturer (see separate story). The partnership we are told should grow. What caught our eye was the oak color side rail stepping extrusions on the S228 home model, which President Rodger Hurt told us the company was using to check out dealer response at the show.

SportsArt – The company spent a year and a half redesigning its bikes and will offer four new models—two recumbent and two upright—for home and light institutional use in October. A nifty patent-pending four-bar linkage adjusts the seat fore/aft (like the indoor cycles always did) as well as up and down. Plus, the higher end model features a patent-pending mesh seatback, similar to Herman Miller ergonomically designed office chairs that cost thousands of dollars for the dead dot-commers. We were so comfortable and the concept is so great that we wondered why no one had done this sooner – a big DUH for the design folks. Congrats SportsArt! In addition, SportsArt has a new $2,999 vertical market elliptical available in January and was soliciting feedback on a new commercial elliptical prototype.

Theradyne – Traditionally a treadmill-only company, Theradyne was showing a prototype of its first elliptical, made in Taiwan and to be distributed to specialty fitness retailers in October. MSRPs are $1,099 for the lower-body only unit and $1,199 for the total-body machine.

Trimline – Among several new home treads on display were the T370HR at $2,199 and the T340 at $1,299 that replace existing models. Made in the U.S., both include a new 30-year motor warranty, 20-inch-by-57-inch two-ply belts (with an orthopedic belt on the T370HR), LED displays and customizable Walk, Jog and Run speed keys. The T370 HR also has pre-set elevation quick keys and a 3 HP motor (which many manufacturers are still adding or maintaining although they all tell us off-the-record it is total overkill and unnecessary, so go figure).

True – True presented its three premier home treadmills that range from $4,395 to $5,695, with the 550 ZTX offering electronically adjustable deck cushioning for a personalized feel of firmness or softness and an orthopedic belt. Also new is an instructional DVD that comes with the treadmills, featuring a 30-minute treadmill workout and education on heart rate monitoring. We liked the look and feel of the top-of-the-line 550 ZTX, as well as True's interest in educating users.

Vision – The company relaunched its patented iNetTV product on its elliptical, upright and semi-recumbent bikes. The technology allows exercisers to play CDs or DVDs, surf the Internet, watch cable TV or play X-box games and to create “an environment,” according to Vision, because of the built-in speakers. A new $1,599 elliptical, included a patented folding technology, is due in November. The company also was soliciting feedback from retailers on a new treadmill prototype, including quick keys, an integrated reading rack and two water bottle holders.

Versaclimber – The longtime climber that is an upright rail with moving hand and footholds took its place back at the show for the second year running to show retailers it's not only still there, but has updated climbers with electronic feedback and an easier-to- use movement than on models of yore. Although not for everybody, the climbers are a great space-saving piece with a super workout value and shouldn't be overlooked.

Wynne – The North American distributor of Tunturi cardio products, Wynne also distributes Monark commercial products and its one brand of CV. New at the show were several Tunturi home treadmills and upright and recumbent bikes to be launched in January. Monark has a new wheelchair upper body ergometer for $1,799 as well as a new home tabletop UBE for $699.

SNEWS View: As we said earlier, cardio everywhere, in every corner, and frankly nearly in every booth! As one attendee said, "Everybody wants to be everything." They sure do. We wonder for what happened to the days of specializing and are not convinced that being everything is the best way to go. Still, the competition means better prices for consumers, and a real push to create new and niftier features that can help differentiate product. We like that. We're sure consumers will too.

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