New Tech-Smart Exercise Trainers Take Away The Tedium

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stationary exercise bike

Stationary exercise bikes are a noble idea (in the abstract) that often goes sour for buyers in the cold light of day. “I found a great use for mine,” comedian Robert Klein likes to grumble. “My sports coat hangs perfectly from the handlebars.”

But he might cease and desist with the putdowns if he’d invested in a Flexispot Deskcise Pro-V9, a motivating (and “motor-vating“?) new hybrid product billed by the maker as an “All in one exercise workstation – part exercise bike, part standing desk.” So long to exercise tedium and the curse of sitting all day? It’s two-two-two rewards in one.

We’ve also been sniffing out some other new-age stationary exercise bikes that can pump you up with their high-tech distractions.

MAKING TIME TO DESKCISE

stationary exercise bikeAn Innovation Awards Honoree in the Computer Accessories product category at the 2018 CES  tech show, the Flexispot Deskcise Pro-V9 won the hearts of judges for its modernistic design and multi-tasking abilities.

Currently priced at $499.99 direct on their site or on Amazon, the system has a contemporary office furnishing look, not far removed from the height-adjustable standing desk converters and workstations also produced by its maker. It helps that the Deskcise is creamy white and hides most of the exercise gearing inside a sleek, closed compartment base. The only exposed pieces are the pedals (with slide-on cushy silicon covers for barefootin’ it), plus the hub-mounted 8-speed pedal resistance adjustment knob, small non-illuminated LCD display screen (that calculates time spent on the bike, speed, distance traveled, calories burned) and a shallow well for a cup or water bottle.

Of course, there’s a pneumatic height adjustable seat and, out front where the handlebars might otherwise be, a spacious desktop that adjusts up, down, forward and backward. A nicely padded wrist rest is fitted across the inside edge of the Deskcise’s tabletop, good for leaning on or gripping. And the platform is large and sturdy enough to accommodate my 17-inch screen Asus laptop, or a smart tablet, phone and notepad, or any manner of reading matter –  even an opened-up newspaper such as The New York Times. (Just try to avoid the temptation to plop down a tub of KFC or a half gallon of ice cream, OK?)

At the unit’s base, four caster wheels sitting at the ends of flip-out and locked-in-place legs make it easy to move this 77-pound thing around your room. It’s a big advantage over conventional exercise bikes and desks, especially if your living/work space is tight. But don’t worry about the Deskcise slipping and sliding. Those wheels lock down stably when you sit on the seat (holds up to 300 lbs.) And I should mention that assembly couldn’t be easier. My review unit was out of the box and ready to use in less than ten minutes, with just a couple pieces to slip on and one bolt to tighten with the supplied wrench.

For non-exercising desk-only use, it’s possible just to stand above the seat, straddling the hub and pedals and toil at the table. But I found it more comfortable to work standing up from the outside open end of the Deskcise desktop, twirling my computer around and sacrificing use of the wrist rest.

As compact elliptical trainers go, this one’s quite polished and likable. And aptly suited for the sort of casual health seeker who would take cheer in a new Duke University School of Medicine Study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers found that even short bursts of “moderate or vigorous” exercise – like bounding up and down stairs – for a cumulative 20 to 60 minutes a day – greatly reduce a subject’s risk of death. Moderate exercise is defined as brisk walking at a pace that makes it hard to carry on a conversation. Study author Willam Kraus says boosting that pace to a jog would qualify as vigorous exercise for most folks.

Pedaling for 20-30 minutes at an upper moderate speed on the Deskcise, with pedal resistance set at 4, it’s rewarding to see my heart rate (measured on an Apple Watch) crank up past 100 beats per minute. (My standing rate hovers around 60 bpm). No, I’m not burning a whole lot of calories at this rate – just 300 per hour – but am definitely working the blood flow, heart and muscles in a non-stressful fashion. The big tell – knees that felt stiff and painful at the start of the ride have de-kinked by the end. Prior anxieties have melted away, too. And I’m definitely sleeping better after an evening ride to nowhere.

The exercise bike’s magnetically “braked” resistance pedaling mechanism runs smoothly and quietly in both forward and reverse. This slim 5 foot 8 incher was able to lift the seat high enough to fully extend my lower leg on the down pedal, ideally what cyclists want to do. At the same time, I could lift the desktop high enough so upward pumping knees didn’t knock the table bottom. But getting myself up onto the elevated seat – now raised to its maximum height – required either hopping up on one of the pedals and then carefully swinging the other leg over the center console, or else keeping an Ikea step stool by the side of the exerciser for an easier up, over and on.

Shorter people should have it easier. With the seat dropped to its lowest spot, even my petite 8-year-old granddaughter could straddle the hub and ALMOST reach the pedals while seated. The maker says the Deskcise accommodates riders from 5’ 1” to 6’ 1” in height, but I fear that tall boys and girls will have to deal with a moderately bent lower leg, harkening back to that childhood bike you’d kinda outgrown but could still take for a spin.

Clearly, it would improve matters if the product’s next V10 iteration offered a seat that’s also slid backward/forward. That would extend the maximum pedal reach. And while at it, tweak the seat shape and padding, will ‘ya? While the foam filled seat initially feels comfy, my butt starts complaining after a half hour of pedaling and by the time I hit the 60-minute mark has pretty much had it.

Being able to simultaneously read email or watch a streaming TV show on your tablet or laptop while exercising does distract SIGNIFICANTLY from the tedium. Also, it seems that the speedier the action on screen, the faster you find yourself pedaling to keep up, though the harder it then becomes to simultaneously type on a keyboard. This multi-tasking premise can only play out so far.

OTHER NEW OPTIONS 

Been excited by TV commercials for those pricey interactive Peloton exercise bikes which show riders participating in remote classes and taking virtual bike trips to exotic locales? All that costs dearly for the bikes ($1,995 and up), special shoes ($100+) and the classes/workouts (think $40 a month to go interactive on the Peloton’s built-in 22” screen.)

But given all that available counter space for your computer/tablet display on a Flexispot and the free bike trip videos available on YouTube, it’s not costly to be touring the world on this ride, too. Or you could get a taste of the good life by signing up for the non-interactive iOS app offering from Peloton, priced at $5.99 a week, $12.99 a month.

stationary exercise bikeReally craving to be whipped into shape from afar?  Exercise bike maker Echelon has just introduced its well featured Echelon Connect ride-on for $999.99. Offers Bluetooth connection to smartphones and tablets to participate in their more affordable interactive Echelon Fit classes and rides ($20-$30 a month) and track /share your progress with Facebook friends, Fitbit and Strava accounts.

 

 

stationary exercise bikeThe same maker’s folding Fitnation Flex Bike Ultra (at $229) also enables downloads of subscription Echelon apps, though lacking in feedback and social community sharing. This newly finessed model packs adjustable upper body resistance bands (tug the grips as you pedal), a spiffy pulse monitor built into the fixed handlebars and a much more readable LCD display with five fitness modes. Echelon Flex also boasts a better seat (with back) than the Flexispot, though this 40-pound cardio trainer didn’t seem nearly as stable in a recent test ride on a carpeted floor.

stationary exercise bikeRipe for the playroom is the new Schwinn Classic Cruiser from the same folks who make Nautilus gym gear. Priced at $799 it harkens to a vintage city bike with a two-tone paint job, spinning white wall tire, chrome handlebars, speedo, handbrakes and even a bell. But this sturdy 77 pounder does tote some teched-up touches too, like Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in media rack large enough to mount your phone or tablet. Use both to participate in free workouts and games from the official Schwinn Classic Cruiser app for iOS and Android. (In one paperboy style game you pedal through a neighborhood and apply the handbrakes to toss the papers at homes, garden gnomes and mailboxes to rack up points. But don’t break a window! And steer clear of that barking pooch chasing you!)

Need more serious and scenic motivation? The Schwinn offers connectivity to the globally minded riding apps Zwift (costs $15 a month) and RideSocial (free.)

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