What To Look For In A Treadmill This Year
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2013 Review Comparison
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2013 Treadmill Doctor Treadmill Reviews- For more information about any brand listed below please click on the name of the brand. Please support the 14th Annual Treadmill Doctor Treadmill & Elliptical Reviews by clicking on our sponsored links. To learn more about the Treadmill Doctor Doctor Sponsored Link program click here!
Treadmill Doctor has produced treadmill reviews for the last 15 years and we like to believe that we have the best treadmill reviewers in the country. Beginning in 1998 we decided to harness the power of the internet to help provide consumers our perspective on how treadmills would last over time. We never had any idea how popular our reviews would become with consumers. Including our Best Buy awards we have over 3 million unique visitors per year. Unlike other websites we try to create a comprehensive collection of every significant player in the fitness and treadmill manufacturing industry. This process includes researching online resources, functionality reviews, durability testing, conversations with retailers, feature testing, visiting manufacturing and engineering facilities, and personally testing and evaluating hundreds of machines each year. During the average year Treadmill Doctor spends over $250,000 producing our reviews.
This year we have reviews for NordicTrack, Sole, Weslo, Image, Gold’s Gym, and Horizon. These companies have various levels of distribution and placement, but are all the key players in the industry. From these brands, we find all of the different benefits to help find the best treadmill for your needs.
We do not provide Sears treadmill reviews because Sears doesn’t make any treadmills for themselves, except under the FreeSpirit brand name in Sears Canada. We do provide provide Proform because Proform is probably the most widely distributed brand name in the U.S. other than NordicTrack, and possibly Sole now that they are distributed through Dick’s Sporting Goods and Sears stores.
Treadmill Doctor does not limit our reviews, however, to just the mass market brand names like those mentioned previously. We also include specialty brand names and ultra high quality brands like Precor. We have True, Precor , and Lifefitness treadmill reviews to name three. All three of the brands are primarily commercial fitness equipment manufacturers, but also have limited lines of high end machines for consumer use. If you have the money, these give you the best quality.
One of the really interesting things about writing our reviews over the years has been watching how once vaunted brands that had good retail presence have fallen, and unheard of brands 13 years ago, have grown up and dominated certain distribution channels. In some cases we have seen brands rise and fall during that time as well! Our reviewers spend all of their time following the industry so they are able to provide the most up-to-date and insightful treadmill reviews possible.
We produce reviews for all different varieties of treadmills so that we can aid the customer satisfaction of our visitors in finding the right treadmill for any purpose – whether it be high-speed or space saver. Additionally, we also provide an overall “Best Buy” category with awards. We also go beyond a straight product review and look at the companies behind the product to make sure the company is stable and that you will have top quality service for years to come.
All in all we believe that we, at Treadmill Doctor, provide the most comprehensive treadmill reviews on the Internet. Please read on to see how we stack up against the other notable reviews that are available to consumers.
How our reviews stack up with Other Treadmill Ranking Services
When we started doing reviews in 1999, we felt that the other available options were subpar. The reviews we found reminded us of Car & Driver reviews, except they only gave opinions on 5-10 cars a year. This lack of comprehensive coverage was a major failure that completely neglected the need to obtain a perspective on the market as a whole. We set out to reverse this trend. When Treadmill Doctor started, we began visiting as many factories as possible. We’ve traveled the world and visited all of the major treadmill and elliptical manufacturers. In the last year and a half alone, we have made trips to Asia and Europe to sharpen our focus on the overall world fitness market. Originally, we planned to inspire other publications to get better and then stop doing reviews ourselves, but now that we’ve become the authority on reviews, it doesn’t make sense to stop doing them.
One fitness company president, who coincidentally lost his job a few years ago, encouraged consumers to compare reviews with many sources. What he neglected to mention was that most of the treadmill and elliptical review sites on the web are affiliate sites. Whenever you purchased one of his company’s products due to a good review, the review site got paid. We NEVER accept any monetary encouragement for ratings, and we do NOT accept affiliate compensation from advertising on our website. We do receive a small fee for the clickthrough, but not from the purchase. For more information read our advertising note.
We also encourage you to look at other treadmill and elliptical reviews, but you should only read useful information. The best sources are Consumersearch.com, About.com, and Consumer Reports. Below you will find our thoughts on ratings that are published either in print or online.
Consumer Reports- They were considered the standard when we started reviewing fitness equipment, but it quickly became apparent that their testing method did not have real-world application. CR has started doing a better job with their reviews, but their perspective is still limited due to the small number of models they cover. It’s our understanding that beginning 4 years ago, they sent out questionnaires to factories to make sure they didn’t buy discontinued machines. Unfortunately, this lead them to miss out on several great new models, such as those from NordicTrack and others. Also, they recently reviewed a treadmill from Keys, a company that went out of business. They had to make a last minute change once they realized their error. Perhaps the best example of one of their common missteps is when they named the Lifefitness Essential FT6 as a best buy when Lifefitness was trying to get rid of them on eBay for half the price. It wasn’t exactly a high quality machine. One customer from Anchorage emailed us asking for help dealing with the company because they weren’t receiving adequate assistance after a blue flame shot out of the motor when it was first plugged in. Many Diamondback customers experienced the same problem with the 1200T, which was made in the same factory in Taiwan that made Lifefitness’s Essential line. This is information a treadmill review company should be privy to. Still, this isn’t a bad source for information. They’ve really put forth effort to improve.
Runner’s World- Their most recent ratings were an enigma because they reduced the number of models tested. It helped that they asked for our guidance in picking models for a few years. We would have like to see them continue to review a variety of models, but we had to stop offering help. It was interesting that they requested assistance in selecting models but refused help with their ratings system, which could use some tweaking. There are a couple of components of their reviews that immediately struck us as odd. The first was the use of acceleration as a means to rate the treadmills. Acceleration is a component of software programming, and many companies choose slow acceleration in order to promote safety. Anyone who knows treadmills knows that if you jump the speed input circuit on most machines, you can get the treadmill to full output and belt speed in a second or two. The other issue is that they let amateur treadmill enthusiasts contribute to the rankings. Most of us drive a car every day, and we can even change our own oil, but that doesn’t make us qualified to determine the quality of the parts or the vehicle in general.
Consumer Guide- They take whatever bait various companies throw at them. They rated one company’s model as a best buy because the inflated MSRP made the actual selling price look like a great deal. In reality, there were several other brands, owned by the same private-label manufacturer, which offered similar treadmills at a lower price.
Epinions- This site is certainly an amusing one. In general, the ratings are from people who have just bought the machine and, for whatever reason, want to convince other people to buy the same model, maybe its buyer’s remorse or the need for confirmation. Other times, the ratings are written by salespeople. Some admit their jobs, but it’s still hard to trust them. We’ve even seem some people rave about a treadmill when we know the sales would help them make money. The concept is interesting, but you should be careful. There are some people on this site who will say anything. As a result, the content suffers.
The Fitness Official, Monster Ratings, and other treadmill seller review sites- Luckily, companies like these are losing popularity. People have caught on to the fact that the company selling the treadmill or elliptical controls the reviews. You’d probably expect their fitness equipment to rate as the best, and you’d be right.
Affiliate and Blogger Sites- The unsavory practice of review sites being paid for contributing to manufacturer’s sales began a couple of years ago. If you were only getting paid when you helped a company make a sale, would you mention its unfavorable qualities? It’s doubtful, at best. Our understanding is that Icon, Smooth, and Sole offer the most per sale at around 8%, which is about $120 commission for an average sale. It’s no coincidence that so many sites have favorable reviews for these models. We wish factories would focus on building quality machines rather than tricking consumers. Fortunately, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) recently ruled that these sources can be punished if they don’t disclose that they are making money off their recommendations, up to $11,000 per incident. If you think you have been tricked by one of these affiliate sites, you can report them by visiting www.ftc.gov or by calling the FTC at 877-FTC-HELP. We actually had a blogger attack us a few years ago, and in our settlement, we took over the site and sold it to a guy in Utah that now runs the affiliate site under the name www.treadmillsensei.com. Fortunately, he is disclosing that he is an affiliate site and many of his links are clearly product advertisements. Obviously, when you compare our reviews, we don’t agree with him all the time, but at least he is telling the public that he gets paid for his opinions. and that’s the way it should be.
What to Look for in a Treadmill or Elliptical This Year
The fitness equipment industry continues to evolve as more transactions are being made online. Many purchases are still made in person at a store, but when you consider that only a few years ago there were over 1,100 fitness specialty store locations and today there are less than 400, it’s easy to see that the dynamics of the treadmill and elliptical purchasing experience is changing rapidly.
Within market divisions, we have seen a shift in the way dollars are spent. This mirrors much of what has been reported in the broader economy. The very high end of the market has done well and actually expanded. On the more economical side, more and more purchases that were once at the $2500 level are now in the $1000 to $1500 range. Likewise, many purchases that were being made at $1500 are now being made at $1000. Places like Amazon.com, Sears, and Dick’s Sporting Goods commonly sell machines that are in the $1500 price point or higher today, but just a few years ago, it was uncommon for these retailers to sell anything above $1000.
What does all of this mean for you? You’ll find better quality in the mass market. Runners on treadmills and heavy users of ellipticals are now able to rely on a machine as low as $1000 without significant problems. The one caveat is that most treadmills in this price range have ¾” decks, and those can break with a runner since they pound the deck. That’s why we’ve developed a deck reinforcement kit. We recommend runners use this kit or simply buy a machine with a 1” deck. The ellipticals in this range typically use bushings instead of bearings on the major load points, so you will have less life engineered into the machine, but the savings are significant.
For about $1500, you can get a durable machine. This year, Sole punched back at the big boys and really improved the quality of their less expensive machines. As we pointed out last year, Precor and Lifefitness have become aggressive on price and really made a splash at lower price points.
With all of the turbulence, some matters that were not terribly important before are incredibly important today. In the past, manufacturers and distributors had leeway in operations since there were only a few companies and missteps could be easily corrected the following year. Competition is now so cutthroat, in all price ranges, that a small misstep could mean your company won’t be around next year to service your treadmill or elliptical. Never fear! We are here to help you make sense of this mess.
The point is that you should pay as much attention to your distributor and manufacturer as you do the model. In our overview of companies, we give our opinions and thoughts about the stability of various companies. Check the local BBB (Better Business Bureau) to see how the retailer treats their customers. Since product support is very important with fitness equipment, pay careful attention to our outlook for the brands and consider our comments in regard to their long-term prospects. After all, they can’t provide you with assistance if they’re no longer in business.
Many people email us each year asking about specific components, most notably motors and rollers in relation to treadmills. Front-drive and rear-drive is also a concern for ellipticals. Purchasing based on components is very tricky because this area of the industry has been muddied over the last 10 to 15 years. The motor situation is almost laughable. Since there is no accepted standard for rating treadmill motors, it’s easy for a company to put virtually any rating they want on their motor. With some fear and trembling, we launched a new motor standard two years ago. At first, we had some big players who wanted to help out, but this fell apart when they realized we were going to tell the truth. When we rate the motor, we do so based on the size of the windings in the armature in relation to permanent magnets. It’s the only good way to determine the actual horsepower of a treadmill motor, and that’s why our power ratings may vary significantly from a manufacturer’s stated ratings. In other words, don’t buy a treadmill based on the factory HP rating.
Another issue is roller size. Factories claim a bigger roller is better. In theory, the larger the roller, the slower it will turn causing less wear on the bearings and less stress on the walking belt since the belt can operate at a lower tension. The truth is many larger rollers have just as many problems as smaller rollers, and some larger rollers have more problems than smaller rollers because companies skimp on the quality of the parts used to make the rollers. The overall quality is much more important than the size of the roller, so pay attention in the reviews to the quality ratings.
In conclusion, the market has improved again this year, especially for the consumer because you can get more quality for your money. Some of the mass-market brands still have a ways to go in regards to their customer service, but the quality of their products has improved so much that, in most cases, poor service is a moot point. We suggest selecting carefully and choosing a company that is likely to be around for a long time, so you can get the elliptical and treadmill parts you need in 10 years. If you are buying from a specialty retailer in order to receive a higher level of service, double-check with an organization like the BBB to ensure they will take care of you because if you are buying a high priced treadmill or elliptical, you deserve the best service.
2013 Treadmill Doctor Basics & Tips for Home Treadmills
1. Remember when you are buying a home treadmill or elliptical that, in most cases, a specialty dealer will have more flexibility on price than a mass market store. With places like Sears, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, etc., you will have to wait on a coupon, sale, or closeout if you want a discount.
2. When buying exercise equipment, make sure to consider where you will put the machine before you buy it. If you plan to keep the equipment in a garage, porch, or other area that is not climate controlled, expect problems. Most models use lubricants that can freeze or lose their ability to properly lubricate in high heat or extreme cold, so you can run into problems at either extreme. Another issue you will experience in open air is exposure to dust and dirt. This is the #1 reason for failure. You also have to worry about corrosion and other problems associated with areas that have high humidity. Additionally, arid climates quickly evaporate some belt lubricants for treadmills and joint lubricants for ellipticals.
3. Buy machines that are sturdy enough to handle the workload that you plan to give them. Usually the higher the original list price, the better the engineering, quality of components, and overall machine you will get for your money. Conversely, if your budget is tight, don’t pay for more than you need. Our grandmother had a cheap $500 treadmill that received very light use every weekday. Since it was lubricated and cleaned, it didn’t have a single problem in over 10 years.
1. For treadmills, we are starting to temper our view on orthopedic belts somewhat because the manufacturers of these belts have thinned them a bit, which makes them weigh less, and the backings have become much more friction-free on many models, which has lessened the stress the belt places on the system. With that said, we still don’t recommend them for the following reasons: 1) A good pair of running shoes provides more cushioning. 2) They hold in heat which shortens belt life, motor life, and electronics life. 3) The increased weight of the belt shortens bearing life in the rollers. The best way for the average person to see the effect of the belt is to stand on the treadmill without any power and manually walk the belt to see how much friction it has and compare that with a regular belt.
2. Do your research and get several price quotes from several different stores. Typically, the more you deal with the various companies, the better deals they will come up with such as discounts, free accessories, financing specials, etc.
3. Tread carefully when buying over the Internet. Some companies, like Landice, will void your warranty if bought over the Internet, and some have restrictions on delivery distances from an authorized dealer. As more factories face the reality of the Internet, this is becoming less of a problem. If in doubt, call or email the factory. Another issue related to Internet buying is delivery. Many of us in the business know how difficult it is to ship a single treadmill or elliptical without having it damaged so deal with a company that has been doing it a long time and has already learned how it’s done. Another issue to keep in mind is what you are going to do if you don’t like the machine. Most companies accept returns, but the cost to ship the treadmill or elliptical back to the factory can easily cost hundreds of dollars. It’s quite an expensive trial test if the machine is returned. Also, curbside delivery literally means what it says. The trucking company will set it on the curb, and it’s your job to get it into the house. You’ll need to either purchase inside delivery or have help ready. Service can also be a problem. Some have good service networks and others don’t, but remember that you probably won’t get the type of personalized service you would expect from a local dealer. The best in the Internet business in our opinion are Icon- makers of the Epic, Gold's Gym, Healthrider, Image, NordicTrack, Proform, Reebok, and Weslo brands; Lifespan; Precor; Smooth; Sole; and True (listed in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference).
Another issue is service…some have good service networks and others don’t but remember that you probably won’t get the type of personalized service you should expect from a local dealer. The best in the Internet business in our opinion are Icon- makers of the Epic... Gold's Gym... Healthrider... Image... Nordictrack... Proform... Reebok... and Weslo brands, Lifespan, Precor, Smooth, Sole, and True (listed in alphabetical order, not in any order of preference)
4. Do take care of your treadmill or elliptical. Whether they require quite a bit or little maintenance, keeping the treadmill or elliptical clean and the walking belt lubricated on the treadmill can be the difference between having a great machine and having a money pit. Refer to our Treadmill or Elliptical Care Pamphlet for maintenance instructions.
5. If you are considering used machines, really do your homework, then do it again. We do rebuilding jobs for local health clubs all the time. Occasionally we’ll do this for people who are buying health club models for the home, but to do it right costs quite a bit. If someone is telling you they have a used or rebuilt treadmill at an amazing price, you probably aren't getting the entire story.
6. Since buying a treadmill or elliptical is a huge investment for most people, choose your dealer and factory carefully. As with any product, a brand new company may not be around in a few years. Parts can be very specific to machines, and spares may not be available if the factory isn’t around. A dealer with a reputation for high quality and personalized service is necessary for some people. Other people feel confident servicing their own equipment, so figure out which category you fit into and buy accordingly. If you know one end of a wrench from the other, you might want to save a few dollars with an Internet or warehouse club or department store purchase. Others may need to pay for the full-service price from a local dealer, but if you pay the higher price, demand the higher service level. Many of the Internet shippers are now offering an additional installation service to try to mimic the style of personalized installation you get from a local small specialty store.
7. Treadmills and ellipticals are different than many other home appliances. Remember, we rate a treadmill average if it has a breakdown only once every 5 years. That’s average! Extended warranties can make sense if the manufacturer has a short warranty and if you get it from a reputable extended warranty company. Remember the dealer is typically not the warranty provider, and many have gone out of business over the years. Others are hard to deal with. For instance, UTS (Icon’s warranty company) is one of the best on the market. If you get an Icon machine, buy the UTS warranty. It will be well worth it. UTS’s number is 800-677-3838. Also, Sears has a good extended warranty program, and it typically pays for itself if you use the machine. On the other hand, we have had problems with the company called N.E.W. Do your research on your warranty company, if you have never heard of them. We now also have our own extended service program, so it is available for any purchase you make up to 90 days past the date of purchase.
8. A great final tip if you want to save a bit of money. Since treadmills and ellipticals are becoming more commoditized, they are getting better and better while the prices are dropping. The machines being made today in the $1000 range are much better than the $1000 machines made 10 years ago. If you need to save a few bucks, and your doctor says it is OK, use a few degrees of incline each time you use your machine. If the machine is well maintained, and if you use a bit of incline (on the treadmill), you can get by with a cheaper machine than you might need otherwise. The incline allows gravity to take over much of the workload from the drive system. We are able to measure this by using a simple AC/DC ammeter. The amp load, the load on the electrical system, is reduced when using even a degree or two of incline. A treadmill used with just a slight incline will last much longer than a comparably cared for treadmill that is used at an even level. Plus, if you are going green, you use fewer amps, and that translates into less electricity. If you keep it clean and keep the walking belt well lubricated, that keeps the amp load lower too.
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