What to Look for in a Treadmill or Elliptical This Year
The big news for this year is that the 800 lb. gorilla has awakened. We had been seeing signs of life for the last couple of years but wanted to hold off in order to see if they would shoot themselves in the foot again. However, after a reasonable wait, all signs point to the fact that Icon Health & Fitness is not only awake, but is also rumbling through the forest, swinging from the trees with a big appetite for a bunch of bananas. We’ve been warning the other factories about this for several years that due to Icon’s economies of scale, they had the ability to build a better treadmill, have far better engineering, and sell it for less than anyone else. Simply put--that day has arrived! The major hope that some can hold out for is that Icon’s infamous customer service will help drive customers to other brands, but they are telling us that they are working on this shortcoming as well so we shall see. For now, if you want superior customer service, go to a specialty store. Most are very good at service, but now a day has dawned where you can demand a high level of service and should expect it for your hard-earned money.
On the opposing front, there are many companies holding on by their fingernails this year. We predicted that three companies would bite the dust within the next year, one has already done so and we expect a couple more to follow. Combine this with the fact that specialty retail is thinning out and the rise of a buyer’s market in specialty fitness and you have a fairly explosive situation. What does this mean for you? First, you will find better quality in the mass market. Runners on treadmills and heavy users of ellipticals are now able to get 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 put a pounding on a deck. That’s why we have developed a deck reinforcement kit, so if you are a runner and get a machine with a ¾” deck, we would recommend our reinforcement kit.
As fewer retailers are available for the companies offering treadmills, some companies will have to go the mass market route while others will have to start offering treadmills directly to the consumer in order to stay in business or maintain market share. Some matters that were not terribly important in the past 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 next year. Competition is now so cutthroat, especially in the lower price ranges, that a small misstep could mean a company won’t be around next year to service your treadmill. Combine this fact with the multitude of brands flooding the market and you clearly get a market in turmoil. Never fear! We are here to help you make sense of this mess.
The point is that you should consider the retailer that you are buying from and the company that makes your treadmill almost as much as you should consider the model. In our overviews of companies, we give our opinions and thoughts about the stability of the company as well as how we expect them to do over the long run. Since product support is very important with treadmills, pay careful attention to our outlook for the brands and consider our comments in regard to their long-term prospects.
Many people email us each year asking about specific components, most notably motors and rollers in relation to treadmills. Component buying is almost always a trap that you don’t want to fall into and these are two areas of a treadmill that have been muddied over the last 10 to 15 years. First, the motor situation is almost laughable. Since there is no accepted standard for rating treadmill motors, it is easy for a company to put virtually any rating they want on a treadmill motor. When we rate the motor, we attempt to rate it based on the size of the windings in the armature in relation to the permanent magnets. It is the only good way to determine the actual horsepower of a treadmill motor and that is why our power ratings may vary significantly from a manufacturer’s stated ratings. In other words, don’t buy a treadmill based upon what the factory claims in HP rating.
Another related point is roller size. Factories claim a bigger roller is a better roller. 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 that 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, so overall quality is much more important than size of the roller. Pay attention to the quality ratings in our reviews.
In summation, it can be an eerie prospect to buy a treadmill this year, especially if you pick a brand that hasn’t been around very long. We suggest selecting carefully and make sure you pick one from a company that has good prospects to be around for a long time so you can get the parts you need in 10 years.
Treadmill Doctor’s Basics & Tips for Buying Treadmills and Ellipticals in 2008
1. Remember when you are buying a home treadmill or elliptical, that in most instances a specialty dealer will have more ability to work with you on price than a mass market store. Usually at Sears, Sports Authority, etc., you have to wait on a 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. If you are locating the equipment in a garage, porch or other area that is not climate controlled, expect problems. Since most models use lubricants that can freeze or lose their ability to properly lubricate at very high heat or extreme cold, you can run into problems on both extremes. Other problems you will experience in an open area is dust and dirt…these are the #1 reason for failure, not to mention corrosion and other problems associated with areas that have high humidity. Arid climates quickly evaporate some belt lubricants.
3. Be sure to buy machines that are built sturdily enough to handle the workload that you want to give them. Usually the higher the original list price, the better the engineering, the better quality of components, and the better overall machine you will get for your money. Conversely, if your budget is tight, don't buy more machine 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. Stay away from orthopedic belts. We don't recommend them because 1) a good pair of running shoes provide 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.
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 product, financing specials, etc.
3. Tread carefully when buying over the Internet. Some companies, like Landice and True, will void your warranty if bought over the Internet and some have restrictions on delivery distances from an authorized dealer. 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 to do it. 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 back to the factory can easily cost hundreds of dollars so it is quite an expensive trial test if the machine is returned. Also curbside delivery literally means what it says…the trucking company will sit it on the curb and it’s your problem to get it into the house, so either pay for inside delivery or have help ready. Another issue is service…some internet companies 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.
4. Do take care of your treadmills. 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 treadmill or a money pit. Refer to our Treadmill or Elliptical Care Pamphlet for maintenance instructions.
5. If you are considering used machines, really do you homework, and then do it again. We do rebuilding jobs for local health clubs all the time and do this work occasionally for people who are buying health club models for the home but to do it right costs quite a bit and if someone is telling you they have a used or rebuilt at an amazing price, you typically aren't getting the entire story.
6. Since buying a treadmill 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 for a reputation for high quality and personalized service is necessary for some people. Other people feel confident in servicing their own equipment, so figure out which one you are 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 purchase. Others may need to pay for the full-service price you should get from a local dealer but if you pay the higher price, demand the higher service level.
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 and others are hard to deal with. Treadmill Doctor now offers the 360 Degree Guarantee in cover your machine up to four years after the manufacturer warranty expires.
8. A great final tip is if you want to save a bit of money. Due to the influence of Asian parts, the lower end treadmills and ellipticals are getting better and better while the price is holding the line and the ones being made today in the $800 range are much better than the $800 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 always when 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 bit less of a machine than you might otherwise need. The incline allows gravity to take over quite a bit of the workload from the drive system. A treadmill used with just a slight incline will last much longer than a comparably cared for treadmill that is used at a flat level.
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