Showing a maturity never seen before, the fitness segment at Germany's huge ispo sporting goods show in Munich seemed to have more traffic, more booths and brands with truly legitimate equipment, and fewer cheesy pieces of equipment or cheap-o gimmicks being hawked.
Still, between the likes of Kettler, Horizon, Vision, Hammer, Accell, Everlast and others, one could still find treadmills about the size of your kitchen sink and vibrating fat-jiggler machines. OK, so the show hasn't arrived completely in today's definition of quality fitness and true roads to wellness, but it's on the way, nevertheless.
But the hall remains a bit intimidating since the entire front section is a bit of a fortress: Half the front of the hall or about 50 feet is a booth-fortress from Kettler, and the other half for another 50 feet is a dueling booth-fortress from Icon (known in Europe as Aicon). If you can maneuver the aisles to move beyond the walls and deeper into the hall, you then get to booths that are more open and welcoming with mostly enticing equipment (toward the back the quality trickles down a bit, but what can we say) and a number of launches and rollouts, some of which aren't necessarily coming to North America -- ever or immediately -- but provide provocative perusing.
In past years, the hall dwindled to why-bother about two rows of booths back. Plus, it was so dead silent that one wondered how many of the tens of thousands of ispo attendees actually made it to the hall. This year, there was moderate and steady traffic on most of the four days, Jan. 29 (Sunday) to closing day Feb. 1 (Wednesday). We hear that European consumers are developing more awareness of the quality and durability of more expensive pieces of equipment, meaning the specialty stores that do exist are doing well, as are the very deep discounters. Those in the middle -- who can't decide if they want to offer service and value or the best discounts -- are suffering. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
"The show was totally successful. It's really advanced even since last year," said Ulfert Boehme, Germany's director for the Johnson Fitness brands, which at ispo showed Vision and Horizon products. "Sunday was fantastic, and until Wednesday morning we were fully booked with appointments."
Ispo manages also to blend accessory products into the fitness area or nearby it -- the running and walking hall was next door -- so the fitness hall is more than just rows of big equipment, but also shows for example heart rate monitors, walking poles, and boxing bags or gloves. Some equipment also mixes into the neighboring hall with an emphasis on running and walking.
Of particular interest:
>> A heart-rate monitor watch that is also a pedometer and speed-distance tool by Ciclo Sport (www.ciclosport.de). Yup, it measures steps as well as speed and distance using a newly developed magnetic field sensor meaning it will only measure when you do something that requires full arm swings, such as walking or Nordic walking, but not inline skating, cross-country skiing or running. The sensor field perceives the arm movement and translates that into speed, distance and steps, according to Ewald Hartmann, sales manager. It is also a fully functioning heart-rate monitor. Hartmann said the company is looking to bring it to North America later this year or next. Its current price in Euro is 60 (about USD $71.50).
>> A treadmill called the i-Run in the Reebok Fitness booth that strangely enough was the exact same extremely compact and foldable treadmill that was in the Fassi Sport booth. Reebok called the piece "the coolest, most compact treadmill in the world." It had a large, blue, circular "hinge" (about the size of a medium pizza) at the folding point that allowed the deck to be folded totally vertically and very flat next to the console with a depth of 28 cm (about 11 inches).Â Go to www.fassisport.com, although this treadmill isn't on the site yet nor is it on the Reebok Equipment website (www.reebokfitness.co.uk) where you'll need to look under Germany or the United Kingdom. When it does appear, you'll likely be able to click here to find it.
>> Also in the hall was a Bowflex booth with the TreadClimber and Selectech Dumbbells combined with the Pearl Izumi line of running apparel. The theme for the booth was "Make Room for Fitness."
Back to the fitness hall, there were numerous standouts, with many in both the Horizon/Vision booth and the Tunturi/Bremshey booth:
>> Johnson brands, distributed by Style Fitness, introduced a Ti Entertainment treadmill under the Horizon brand that has an integrated DVD player, as well as a 7-inch TV screen. Nifty is how the screen tilts in its casing to accommodate users of different heights. It also comes with a remote control and has "Air Cell Technology" for adjustable cushioning (Euro 2,000 or USD $2,380), as well as all the other features such as one-touch speed and incline controls. The Horizon Elite brand for specialty had a similar Entertainment treadmill but with a larger screen and more bells and whistles (Euro 2,900 or USD $3,450).
Fascinating was what was called an "Ergo Wheel" speed and incline adjustment on a Horizon Elite 507 treadmill; it is literally aÂ wheel on the front rail of the console that a user while running can reach over and twirl forward or backward with one quick spin automatically adjusting the speed 0.5 up or down (Euro 2,000 or USD $2,380). Also selling well is a Vision indoor cycle that was also introduced in the United States last year, as well as the mix-and-match deck-console system by Vision. One niche product is the Horizon Achiever 607 elliptical that has a foot pad in the foot platform that can be reversed -- one side is a air cell cushion and the other is a reflexology massage pad for those who like to exercise at home in socks or barefoot.
>> Accell Fitness had a huge spread for its Tunturi and Bremshey brands with 13 new products, some of which will come to North America later this year. Most eye-catching and still in prototype state was the Tunturi B60 home gym -- part of the first line of strength products the company will carry -- that is the most compact gym SNEWSÂ® has ever seen. It is shaped a bit like a pyramid and can be folded flat so it can shipped and setup by the consumer, who simply unfolds it like a triangular accordion. Resistance is with a flexible rod system (Euro 1 ,400, or 1,500 with the lat tower -- USD $1,670, or $1,785 with tower).
Also on hand was what Accell Managing Director Martijn Nelissen called "the Coca-Cola Bike." It was a sleek and stylish high-end upright bike that was silver with a red curvy inset. Nelissen said those who want it should be able to get color on equipment that matches their room -- just send a paint chip or swatch and the company will paint your own bike your own color. This comes at a price, of course -- Euro 1,800 (USD $2,145) but add Euro 800 or so (about USD $950) to individualize your color. Also being shown was the Tunturi Executive E85 upright bike (upright bikes are more in demand in Europe because of space demands) that has a built-in MP3 player and will change resistance automatically with programs to simulate going up and down hills while you watch your path through the woods on a TV screen. This will retail for about USD $2,000, we were told.
>> In the Hammer/Finnlo booth, passers-by were stopped in their tracks by the sight of triangular dumbbells. "So they don't roll away," said Export Director Stefan Sillner, who didn't have specs or retail on the piece at the show.
In the BrandNew award area -- on the opposite side of the convention where ispo shows companies with new products that have been dubbed particularly innovative by judges -- fitness was represented by several exhibitors.
>> T-Bow from Switzerland (www.t-bow.ch) was an arch that had multiple uses, according to the inventor Sandra Bonacina. Fascinating it was indeed since the arched product could be turned curve upward to make a step for aerobic, stretching or strength workouts, and turned upside down to be a bit of a rocker for finesse-ful balance routines or additional strength maneuvers. For clubs, it could also be stacked, so dozens could be stored in a very small footprint. Holes and loops on the sides can be used to attach tubes or bands. And the plastic version (Euro 120 or the equivalent of USD $143) weighed a mere 6.5 pounds. Per Bonacina, they are looking for contacts in the United States. This piece has a future.
>> With less of a future but nonetheless showing creativity was the Excycle (www.excycle.de) that transforms a bike into "whole body training," the German brochure proclaims. Basically, the piece has sliding handles on the handlebars so you can pump in and out to work arms, back and shoulders while cycling. Hmmm, watch out for little dogs and bumps in the road.
>> StrideLite (www.stridelite.com) was showing a perfect piece for fitness walking at dusk, dawn or at night: an umbrella that was such a bright fluorescent lime-green it nearly light up the entire hall. But wait, there's more: There IS actually a light under the dome of the umbrella so the entire thing glows. Ian Bouchard, owner and inventor, has his offices in the Seattle area so we'll see this showing up stateside soon.
Next door to the BrandNew area was a booth that was completely out of place since that was where skateboarding and related accessories were housed: The Munich, Germany-based, company that does the Xco Trainer (Click here for a SNEWSÂ® review from Sept. 16, 2005) as well as a product not yet sold in North America called the Flexi-Bar (www.flexi-sports.com). Similar to the U.S.-based Body Blade, it is instead of a blade a long flexible rod with a handle grip in the middle and a small rounded weight at each end. A user holds the grip in various positions with the body in different positions and allows the rod to swing or vibrate. The rounded rod allows the swing to move in various directions and, according to the company, require more body control and develops more body balance and core strength.
On a side note, Precor Fitness was represented slightly in the Amer booth in the snowsports hall. There, a Precor "Team Bike" (on Precor-branded indoor cycles) raced intermittently during the show to demonstrate to onlookers how their heart rate and other parameters could be shown on a screen when the cyclists wore a t6 wrist-top computer by Suunto (another Amer company). That allowed instructors or trainers to monitor students or for students to compete with one another in various arenas.
(USD conversions of suggested retails cited in Euro currency are not necessarily indicative of the current price or any future price in USD, but rather are offered to give U.S. readers some perspective on the price in European currency.)