H&F Biz Show '05: Some innovative steps forward in cardio

Wow. What else can we say? Cardio equipment often dominates the Health & Fitness Business Show simply because there is more of it, but this year it got a lot of attention since there were a few pieces that showed a fine glimmer of innovation. These are pieces we think retailers should be able to sell.
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Wow.

What else can we say? Cardio equipment often dominates the Health & Fitness Business Show simply because there is more of it, but this year it got a lot of attention since there were a few pieces that showed a fine glimmer of innovation. These are pieces we think retailers should be able to sell.

Not as if cardiovascular equipment dominated the show -- don't get us wrong here; the strength category also showed some wonderful new functional trainers and gyms (To see our Sept. 6, 2005, story on the strength category, click here). Nevertheless, the re-entry of some new features on cardio pieces as well as new-looking pieces should help light a spark for the retail category.

In addition, none of the newer companies with cardio offerings (Fitness Master, Bladez, Lamar, Lifespan, New Balance and Bodycraft) disappeared; in fact, they mostly grew --and were part of the innovation curve to boot. In addition, another new but small company, Lifecore, showed with a couple of ellipticals and a rower, under the oversight of Southern California retailer Roger Bates.

What we perceived as cardio highlights of new pieces at the show? Keys Fitness' centerG elliptical with a center drive instead of a rear or front drive. LeMond's eye-catching recumbent bike. NewBalance's not-seen-before treadmill features. Lamar's air-driven bike called the AirForce. Customized treadmills by Bladez and Vision Fitness -- (pick your frame and choose your console…voila!). Smaller elliptical footprints by Vision and Horizon. Incredible TV panels on Bladez treadmills for an awesome price. Neat sprint programming on Vision product. First Degree Fitness' new Fluid Cycle and UBE. And Accell Fitness' re-introduction of its great-looking Tunturi line.

Comfort seemed to be the story for many companies, from rubberized paint on touch points to EVA on foot platforms to even more adjustability to help make all types of users feel welcome and comfy. That's important if the industry's equipment is to appeal to all walks of life, since most people aren't such workout geeks.

Details on the above highlights that rocked our world, as well as additional products unveiled at the show, are below. Remember, we don't mention every company and every product -- man, could we really do that? -- but instead, we focus on highlights, which this year kept us busy enough.

(Several weeks of show coverage began Aug. 29, so don't miss any of the category reports. Look for the last of the reports Oct. 3 -- we're taking Sept. 26 off from a News Digest! -- as SNEWS® wraps up the best and most detailed show coverage. Nope, you won't find more complete or more accurate reports anywhere else. To round out our detailed line-up of show reports is this week's coverage on cardio and a separate accessories story. In the Oct. 3 News Digest, you will find coverage of the first GearTrends® Forum and panel discussion. Lastly, comes a smattering of pieces on other miscellaneous and perhaps offbeat items at the show.)

Accell Fitness (Tunturi, Bremshey) -- Only a few months after the acquisition of its former North American parent (Wynne) by the Tunturi parent in Europe, the new Accell Fitness NA came out with guns a' blazin'. "Tunturi is back in the marketplace," we were told. Wasting no time, the company became the show's primary sponsor and had the largest booth, sleek in a Euro design intended to impress attendees not only with product but with the company's overall presence. The touch of Euro design trended through to the equipment, too. "We married the European look with North American features," Accell's Dave Neziol told SNEWS®, finally able to take a breath on the last day of the show. Although a bit pricey and totally high-end, the Tunturi Spin E85 caught our eye. What road cyclist, triathlete or fitness enthusiast who has a bit of money wouldn't want this sleek piece? OK, $2,000, but what a creature of beauty! The T60 treadmill impresses in its quiet performance. A patented system called "Position Speed Control" or PSC, on the T60 also allows users to speed up the pace by moving forward or slow it down by moving back. Not new, but we haven't seen this feature lately. Something retailers should make note of is how substantially the suggested retail prices have dropped on all products (as does their cost so it's not just cutting margins). Neziol said prices are lower to make sure the product gets out on the market. Accell also introduced its lower-cost Bremshey line, previously sold in Germany and Europe.

Bladez -- The company officially rolled out its new 700 treadmill line -- three consoles and two frames, interchangeable, with a nifty rotating POP rack to show all the consoles to customers. The TV screens on the consoles are already something to write home about, leaving people stopping in the aisle and gawking at the color and clarity -- one with a smaller 10-inch screen goes for $2,800, the 15-inch screen has a suggested retail of $3,300, and a screen with touch controls goes up to $3,800. That's not to mention the 3.25 HP motor, the cushioned deck system, and a 400-pound user capacity.  

Diamondback -- Also diving in as an associate sponsor of the show, Diamondback is not the Diamondback of yore but one with much classier and sturdier equipment. Its really new thing -- besides still showing and selling its 1250Ef front-drive elliptical, which it introduced last year but didn't get to retail until March 2005 (list, $2,700) -- is the new 1180Er elliptical (list, $2,200) with a feature the company calls "BodyFit Adjustment System." Not only does it have a comfortable 21-inch stride length, but handles allow a user to bring the upper-body arms and console closer or farther (5-inch movement) for a better personal fit. The foot platforms are also lined with a super-cushy EVA material, like in the soles of running shoes, and articulate for less foot and Achilles stress.

Evo Fitness -- Evo introduced two smaller ellipticals with pivoting pedals and a shorter stride length (15.5 inches, and the shortest at the show it seemed), more geared for users who may gravitate toward a shorter walking-like feel (suggested retail prices, $1,200 and $1,400). In addition, all of the ellipticals were stark black before, and now Evo is moving toward softer gray tones

First Degree Fitness -- The fluid trainers by First Degree Fitness were a true highlight of the show, though they were hard to find in a booth listed as Healthcare International that held a mix of brands (Stex, Monark, Prostep). No, the concept itself isn't new. We've all seen the Fluid Rower (list, $1,600) that uses water resistance to increase or decrease the intensity of a user's workout by channeling the water into different chambers. (Can't beat the sound and feel of water for an added dash of relaxation to go with the workout.) New for the company at the show and for North America are the Fluid UBE (upper body ergometer) and the Fluid Cycle XT. Both are nifty, but the Cycle XT is particularly trick, partly because of its adaptability and versatility. You sit on it and put your feet in pedals so it's a recumbent-bike-like workout; you can move the "pedals" higher to transform it into a UBE. And boy do we like this one -- you can sorta flip the pedal mechanism to the opposite side from the seat to make it adaptable to someone in a wheelchair. All this for $2,600 suggested retail. All the Fluid products have such a smooth and soothing motion, sound and feel that we were hooked.

Horizon Fitness -- Horizon, another of many booths that was utterly swamped the entire show, introduced new ellipticals with footprints that are 14-inches shorter than the former models it had. Still, it hasn't chintzed on stride length (18 inches…not bad). How did it get shorter? A stacked fly wheel. They're also lower to the ground to allow them to fit better in homes with lower or even normal-height ceilings. (Two models have suggested retail prices of $1,200 and $1,500. One potentially motivating feature on the higher-end model is a monthly workout "chart," with little LEDs that light up when you've finished a workout. Do three in a week of any length and you "win" the week. The goal being that someone will be motivated to get all six weeks of three lights per week lit up.

Kettler -- The German company introduced part of its new cardiovascular line that it had debuted at the ispo show in Germany in February. To read more about that, click here to see our story from Feb. 7, 2005, "Kettler introduces revamped product lines for multi-channel onslaught." The lineup is a complete revamp and reinvestment in the home market from top to bottom.

Keys Fitness -- One of the more outstanding pieces at the show with some real innovation was the new centerG elliptical by Keys. Funny thing was, the pre-show promotional mailing didn't even mention Keys, nor did the piece LOOK like a Keys piece of literature. You had to cross-check the booth number to figure it out. Basically, this elliptical has a center drive, instead of a front or rear (nobody can sue on this one because it has its own patent!), allowing it to have a compact footprint and a lower profile. The placement of the foot platforms allows, even forces, a user to stand up straighter compared to the slouch over some ellipticals. Despite a smaller footprint, the ride isn't bouncy but quite smooth with a 21-inch stride. Not having the huge front shroud or the huge rear drive also just makes it less intimidating. Plus, its design came out awful sleek and very inviting, with curved full length handrails to allow more people to perhaps feel secure and not tippy or exposed. Yes, there's a list of programs, heart-rate training and the ability to input two user profiles. But basically this was innovation that looked great too. AND it's not just something odd but truly saleable, with a suggested retail of $2,500. www.newcenterg.com

Lamar Health, Fitness & Sport
-- After its launch as a company just one year ago, Kevin Lamar's namesake company also took a big plunge with a large booth that despite its size was still not only jammed with product but also attendees from show start to finish. We really liked the "super recline" feature on the 7450 recumbent bike (list, $2,000) that will accommodate larger-bellied users or even pregnant women. Now that's thinking. One can also move the arm rests closer or farther away to accommodate your personal needs on the bike. Other adjustments include hand rests and seat angle. Another nod to comfort on the step-through design is the use of rubberized paint on all touch points so you never feel cold metal or plastic. Another nifty new product is the AirForce, a bike with wind resistance like the ever-popular-after-all-these-years Airdyne. But this one, at only about $100 more (list, $750) than the typical Airdyne model, has even more comfort features and an updated design. First, the seat is wider and more cushioned (think about the typical user of this!); there is a seat back (!) to help a user feel more comfortable and relieve any back strain; it has really sturdy oval tubing on the moving arms and has larger foot platforms too. Plus, you can eliminate the pedals and make it an upper body ergometer. In other Lamar news -- man, what busy bees! -- the company introduced its Ignite brand, showed its Universal brand of cardiovascular equipment (under license), and showed the first of its Champion Fitness product albeit in a separate room. (Click here to read our Aug. 5, 2005, story about that license agreement, "Lamar inks champ of equipment license with Champion Athleticwear.")

LeMond Fitness -- If nothing else, the looks of the formerly one-product company's new recumbent bike will make you stop and take a hard look. Called the g-force RT (where do companies get these odd names?), the cordless recumbent (list, $2,400) is still in LeMond's signature yellow but is what the company's Bernie Boglioli called a "performance recumbent," which seems like a contradiction in terms. But think again: The seat has a breathable mesh back and a two-layer mesh system to fully cradle your spine. It also has an adjustable seat angle, like an office chair. Plus, it has a much lower profile than many recumbents on the market (although it's not totally step-through). This could attract even non-recumbent users.

Lifespan Fitness by PCE -- Expanding its overall line, Lifespan showed a new treadmill for walkers that will retail for a suggested price of $1,200. Shorter with lower top speeds and a normal incline plus simple programming, it could be quite enticing for someone who truly is just going to walk AND may have tighter space.

New Balance -- Already known for a bunch of tweaky comfort features, thanks to its namesake that specializes in comfort in shoes, New Balance Equipment by Fitness Quest introduced four treadmills at the show with retail prices ranging from $1,200 to $1,800. The company's research showed that caring for a treadmill is one part of ownership that leaves customers a bit baffled, so it installed what it calls the EZcare system. There is an access port in the deck made to slide in a "Lube-N-Walk" treadmill lubricating stick to easily lube whenever needed without any technical savvy whatsoever. It also had a so-called Belt Guide Adjustment System with little lever on the side rails to move the belt one way or the other if it starts to slip. In addition, the company has taken the shoe's well-known Abzorb cushioning technology and added a big red piece of it on the side of the treadmill to show customers where the cushion is coming from.

Quantum -- Known as a commercial strength company, Quantum took the leap (no, we didn't say it was a Quantum leap…. Sheesh…) to add two treadmills to its line -- its first foray into cardio. One treadmill is a home version with a 2.5 HP motor and a suggested retail of $2,000, and one is light commercial with a 3 HP motor and a suggested retail of $2,500. Both have large running surfaces, come fully assembled, and each and every one we were told is put together and tested for quality in its Houston, Texas, facility before it ships. Although some of the parts come from Asia, it remains "made in the USA." One nice feature is the ability for a user, the store or a trainer to set up a personal profile with personally programmed workouts so a user can simply pick one and go. These won't be the only pieces of cardio equipment from Quantum, we were told.

Spirit Fitness -- Looking to find a new tweak on the old, Spirit launched the new XE550 elliptical (list, $1,600) that has foot platforms that adjust in incline, if you will. Three positions allow users to keep their heels down more or higher, partly to change muscle use. It also has a nice long 20-inch stride. Two other ellipticals introduced are the XE350 for $1,300 with slightly downgraded electronics and the XE150, sans adjustable platforms, for $1,100. Oh, Spirit also had a little attitude in a banner in the booth that read: "Improve your Vision, see beyond the Horizon." No word on the reaction.  

Staircycle -- It seems that at every show there is at least one product introduction that leaves you scratching your head. Enter the Staircycle. Yes, it's exactly as you imagine: A bicycle that you stand on (no seat to be had) and pedal like a stepper to make it go. Once we stopped giggling, we must say it looked like a heck of a lot of fun, although testing wasn't available on the show floor. Inventor Craig Ridenhour actually can boast that Virgin Airlines' Sir Richard Branson thinks highly of it. Yup, Ridenhour just won the top award in Yahoo's 2005 "Think Big" contest for new products and got huge national and New York exposure in June. If you figure a good piece of cardio equipment can run upward of $800 -- and a good bike can too -- then the $800 suggested retail ain't so bad. Why did Ridenhour come up with this? Because as he told SNEWS® his butt gets tired sitting on bikes, but he likes scooting around. www.staircycle.com

Trixter -- With the ever-effervescent national sales manager Alec Dinner continuing to beat the drum for the Trixter X-Bike with its relatively new retail model, the company also showed what he said was the first child's indoor cycle. It is sized for elementary and middle-school sized children and offers the same solidity as the adult X-Bike.

Vision Fitness
-- With new stuff popping out of every corner, Vision showed a range of all-new and revised product. First, it added entry-level ellipticals with an 18-inch stride that are not bouncy but quite smooth. It also shortened the total footprint of these products by a whopping 23 inches. Two models have retail prices of $1,300 and $1,000, whereas the lowest price offered before was $1,200. Its treadmills are mix-and-match, meaning there are three consoles offered and three frames that a retailer can customize to suit the needs of a user, i.e. a smaller person who only needs a smaller frame but may want the most-advanced console. The design means a retailer can plug in the console and deliver. The retailer ends up with more models, if you will, but not more inventory. There are also two folding frames with three consoles to mix-or-match. Retail prices range from $1,300 to $1,700. A recumbent bike now offers a step-through option ($1,500) with non-step-through showing a suggested retail price of $1,300. Vision also introduced its own indoor cycle trainer ($1,000) to allow its retailers to carry one from it if they wanted to. The biggest promotional push of the show for Vision was its "Sprint 8" programming on all its retail cardio pieces, a program developed by Phil Campbell touting higher fitness and better training with short-burst intervals. The company ran classes all morning on Friday that were supposed to start about 7 a.m. but some eager beavers wanted to come in at 6:30!

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