Runner's World, Consumer Reports' reviews to bring usual raving, whining

With the New Year comes also two consumer magazine issues that the fitness industry looks forward to with hope, albeit also with a bit of dread -- the annual exercise equipment reviews by the Big Two of consumer-read magazines: Runner's World and Consumer Reports.
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With the New Year comes also two consumer magazine issues that the fitness industry looks forward to with hope, albeit also with a bit of dread -- the annual exercise equipment reviews by the Big Two of consumer-read magazines: Runner's World and Consumer Reports.

This year won't be any different from those of yore: Some companies will dance a jig, while others will curse the paper the review is printed on. We hear our share of whining and ranting at SNEWS® about these reviews, but we also know that no matter whether a company thinks it even deserves to be at the top -- or not -- every single manufacturer/supplier mentioned will use and perhaps abuse the ratings to help it and its dealers sell more equipment. That's the way of business, is it not?

So, brace yourself…

Runner's World
The Runner's World "review" -- Running in Place: 10 top treadmills to keep you going year-round -- is not truly a rating system as it has been in the past. Thank goodness. No charts. No haggling over why Brand X came in one point ahead of Brand Y. So instead of rating treadmills from No. 1 on down, it simply had a bank of runners use them and give feedback, and the magazine wrote up a summary of comments. Each summary also has a short list of key features for that model.

The magazine's February issue includes eight models, while a note at the bottom adds that two additional models are included in the online reprint at www.runnersworld.com/treadmills.

The eight companies and treadmill models that are listed in alphabetical order in the magazine are: Horizon Fitness Elite 5.2T, Landice L8 Cardio, Life Fitness T7-0, Nautilus T7.18 Pro Series, PaceMaster Platinum Pro, Precor M9.35i, True Z5.4 HRC, and Vision Fitness T9600 Premier. (It pays to have a company name starting with a letter lower in the alphabet….)

The two that are listed at the top on the magazine's website are: Evo 2 and the SportsArt 3110.

"Just remember, as with running shoes, one size doesn't fit all," the magazine wrote. The text said it had a panel of its experts pick favorites, then the magazine had 150 runners at the Michigan Athletic Club in East Lansing "put those picks through their paces." The Runner's World-selected experts were Clark and Jon Stevenson, owners of TreadmillDoctor.com; Gregory Florez, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise; and Lynn Allen, former lecturer for the President's Council on Physical Fitness and consultant to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.

We won't ruin the suspense by telling you more if you haven't picked up your copy yet or gone to the website.     

Consumer Reports
This magazine, run by a non-profit association out of New York that refuses to talk to manufacturers or let them get involved in any reviewing process, sticks with its rating system of 0 to 100 percent with the rather infamous colored-in circles.

Of course, just as companies love to point out they were in X place, if you look closely, it is possible that it still has the same percent rating as one above or below it, or that only one meager percent separates a couple of pieces. Still, retailers love to tout this rating as the one for the people, pointing out their treadmill's ranking with a closed eye to the fine points.

This year, the magazine separated non-folding from folding types, picking two in each as "best buys." Non-folding best buys were two from Vision Fitness -- the T9500 Deluxe (No. 6 overall on the list) and the T9200 Simple, which was No. 8 on the list of 11. Folding best buys were Bowflex (No. 1 on that list overall) and Horizon Fitness Performance Series PST8 (No. 2 on the folding list of 13 models). Overall best in the non-folding category was the Landice L7.

Picked as best for "avid runners" were Landice, NordicTrack, SportsArt and True. Picked as "fine" for most running and walking were the four best buys listed above and also the Horizon Fitness CST4.5. Said to be fine for walking was the Image 19.0 R, which also happened to be the lowest-rated model of folding units reviewed.

In fact, for the second year in a row, Consumer Reports pointed out that the brands (Image, NordicTrack and Proform) by Icon Health & Fitness "had the greatest tendency to develop problems," noting that "not every less expensive treadmill is necessarily a good deal." However, the magazine also pointed out that the problems showed up during lengthy testing compared to last year when it called the Icon units "lemons" when three arrived and quickly developed serious issues even before durability testing.

Responding to once again getting a bit of a slap by the magazine, Icon's marketing director Colleen Logan told SNEWS® the company was nonetheless pleased that its NordicTrack was No. 2 overall. Still, she expressed a desire, as other companies have in the past, to know more about the testing and reviewing process as well as to find out more about the reasons for certain rankings "to learn from their critique."

"We'd be interested for example in knowing the difference between a 'very good' and an 'excellent,'" she said. "It's a little bit of a mystery."

I wanna ride my bike - Consumer Reports also for the first time in a decade did a short review of stationary bikes. It noted in those 10 years they had become easier and safer to use, with the best home versions rivaling health club models. A best buy among three upright models tested was the Schwinn 113, and best buys of recumbents were the Schwinn 213 and the NordicTrack SL728. Top in both categories were two Life Fitness models, the C3-5 and the R3-5.

Although a membership organization, often a summary of the ratings is on the company's website for a short time without a password required -- www.consumerreports.org.

SNEWS® View: Let the whining, leaping in joy, ranting and raving begin. And we can just hear the whirr as copy machines are warmed up as retailers prepare copies to hand to customers, and suppliers rev up the motors to churn out reprints to have them readily available to potential buyers. What does this all mean? Not a heck of a lot really. We've actually heard from suppliers in the past who behind closed doors were laughing at their own good rating since the piece either was so old or actually was being ditched because of things that weren't quite right. But who won't use the news if it will sell a few more pieces? We can always hope that consumers will be smart enough to try a few out and pick one that fits their needs and limitations, and not just rely on these numbers. We know also, however, that if it comes down to two or three picks, that same consumer will choose the one that CR (or other consumer magazines) rated the best. Happy New Year.

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