How to Sell: Recumbent Bikes

Ever since recumbent bikes entered the fitness equipment market some three decades ago, they have maintained their niche. At first only a sub-category of bikes, recumbents have become a category of their own with wide appeal and importance to the fitness retailer who should not ignore them despite being in the shadows of ellipticals and treadmills. That's because recumbents attract a demographic that may not normally be fond of or comfortable on other pieces of exercise equipment.
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A SNEWS® Training Center written by the editors of SNEWS®

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Ever since recumbent bikes entered the fitness equipment market some three decades ago, they have maintained their niche. At first only a sub-category of bikes, recumbents have become a category of their own with wide appeal and importance to the fitness retailer who should not ignore them despite being in the shadows of ellipticals and treadmills. That's because recumbents attract a demographic that may not normally be fond of or comfortable on other pieces of exercise equipment.

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As a fit salesperson or manager, a recumbent bike might not be your chosen piece of equipment. Still, remember that older, out-of-shape, larger, or orthopedically challenged customers will likely view the recumbent as a more secure and comfortable means of starting or maintaining a workout program. Certainly, as baby boomers age, the popularity of recumbents is bound to grow. But even very fit people have discovered that quality recumbent bikes can offer a workout that's tough and effective as well as comfortable.

What is a recumbent bike?

A recumbent bike is not just one style but comes in several builds, meaning a customer's personal fit and feel may vary from bike to bike. Some are semi-recumbent and some are fully recumbent, which basically means the seat may be higher or lower in relationship to the pedals. Manufacturers will normally look at the angles and distance between a user's hips and the bike's crank. There are some bikes on the market that are hybrid-like mixes between the characteristics of a recumbent and those of an upright cycle.

Between models and brands, there are also different types of:

• placements and angles between the seat and console/controls,

• angle, width and shape of the seat,

• angle and adjustability of the seat back,

• shape and placement of handles to adjust the seat, and

• base construction to allow for step-through.

Basic benefits of a recumbent bike

Many of the advantages of a recumbent can also be applied to both the upright and indoor cycling bike equipment categories, for example:

1. Bikes take less space than treadmills, ellipticals or many other equipment types.

2. It's easy to read or watch TV while exercising.

3. They aren't generally as noisy as other types of equipment.

4. Most bikes can cost less than other similar levels of equipment.

5. Everyone can ride a bike.

6. Controls and programs aren't usually as complicated as on other types of equipment.

In addition, recumbent bikes:

• adapt to many levels of users, from beginners to more advanced.

• are suitable for anyone rehabilitating from an injury or living with certain limitations due to past injuries, illness or age.

• tend to be more comfortable for someone who is larger or more out-of-shape because of the seated position.

• can work well for those with back problems because of the back support.

• are less intimidating and more accessible because of the lower seat and position.

Selling a recumbent bike

Is a recumbent right for your customers?

First, determine if a recumbent bike is the best piece of equipment for your customers.

Inquire about:

1. Past exercise experience: What is or has been comfortable and why?

2. Household users: Will there be more than one?

3. Space constraints: Recumbents have smaller footprints and setup and move easily.

4. Injuries or orthopedic limitations: Are there existing or past hip, back or knee problems?

5. Intensity desired: Is the person less conditioned or without a desire or need for high-intensity workouts?

Once you've determined in talking with customers that a recumbent bike may be the preferred category of equipment, start introducing them to different styles of recumbents you have in stock, pointing out differences in features and benefits, and asking them to sit down to get a feel for the build.

Features to point out:

Seat and back size and comfort -- There are different types of seat shapes including those with cutouts under the upper leg, so the seat doesn't interfere with the leg movement when pedaling. Materials include cushions, ventilation or mesh, with some models offering ergonomically designed construction. Some have lumbar supports. Some have higher backs. Some have arm rests. Some seats rotate to allow easier entry for a more challenged user.

Adjustability -- A seat's position in relationship to the console or pedals changes to adapt to a customer's personal needs. Handles to adjust the bike are in different places on different brands and are operated differently on different brands to adjust the bike fit.

Console placement -- Reaching control buttons to change programs or adjust resistance comfortably is important.

Programs and features -- Some bikes will come loaded with programs, which may or may not be advisable for a customer. Monitoring features also can include heart-rate monitoring, calories, watts, speed or mileage. More is not necessarily the merrier for some customers, whereas some may want it all to track progress and help with motivation.

Pedal stroke feel -- Some are smoother than others.

Stability and construction -- Materials used in construction should be sturdy and corrosion-resistant and the base should be wide enough to inhibit wobbling or creaking. Wheels on the base for ease of moving the bike are helpful.

Self-generating or not -- Some users may like to place a bike where an electric outlet may not be convenient, may like to move it at will, or may want to avoid dangling cords that could be hazardous. That could narrow the choice to a self-generated, cordless bike.

Computer downloads -- Depending on the user, some may want either to upload programs from a trainer or to download workout data to track and analyze on a computer or to send to a trainer or physician.

Basic comforts -- Is there a place for a water bottle, cell phone, MP3 player, towel, watch or TV remote?

Price range

Recumbent bikes can go for as low as a couple of hundred dollars for ones someone might find at mass merchants (and may not offer the stability needed or other features desired), while quality recumbents can go for about $700 up to $3,000 for commercial-grade bikes. Don't be shy to show higher-costing bikes and let a customer see how they feel and what they offer compared to other price levels. Many will step up to a higher-end bike if it fits well, feels good and has benefits they decide are good for them.

Key selling points:

1. Comfort and feel are king since there can be so many differences.

2. The space between the pedals (crank width) is also important so a user's hips and knees are aligned for safe, injury-free use.

3. Programs and intensity should be variable enough (both on the high and low ends) to accommodate the user's needs.

4. Service should be easily available.

If a customer walks in and asks for a particular brand, it could be the person is using that brand generically for the entire category and not actually seeking that brand. Inquire if the person knows what they have used before, what they know about the bike, and what he or she did or didn't like. That can also help you narrow the choices for them and allow you the chance to explain the differences and varying benefits of the bikes you carry.

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