A recent crisis in running led me to rent an ElliptiGO for a day. I’m pretty sure every runner has seen these things. You can’t watch an interview with Meb Keflezighi without him mentioning one (he’s one of their elite sponsors, arguably the most visible). And if you live some place warm, perhaps a tourist destination, you see someone on one of these contraptions pretty regularly. But does an Elliptigo really work? Does it really simulate running? What kind of a workout can you get from riding an Elliptigo? Will you feel stupid on this standup elliptical machine on bike wheels? There’s only one way to figure this out…. spend $24 and ride 15 miles on one of them.
Pretty much anywhere near the beach in south Florida you can rent anything you want, from those 6 person bike pedal “cars” to segways. I called up a place and they said they only had the ElliptiGO 8C available for rent, or the 8 speed bike. I wanted to try the 3C because, if I was going to get one, that seemed the most affordable and there aren’t any hills around that would require the 30% grade capacity of the 8 speed. On the other hand, it would be nice to try their more deluxe model. The cost was $24 to rent it for 4 hours, but since nobody was renting one and they had a bunch still in stock, they said I could have it for the rest of the day if I wanted and to just lock it up at the store when I was finished, if they were closed then.
I chose the Elliptigo 8C that had a pack attached to the handlebars and a bike bell. The bike paths here are always so packed and eventful that I thought a bell couldn’t hurt. Just during this 15 mile trek I ran into a car that was on the bike path because the driver thought that it was a side road! The pack was large and useful to throw in my wallet and phone and to take along the bike lock they provide. They also provide helmets, but I had my own. None of the other bike renters were using helmets, which I think is stupid because in the last week I’ve seen TWO massive bike crashes where the riders were thrown to the ground. Who gets into a bicycle crash right? Well sometimes it’s just a person minding their own business and some idiot rams them off their bike. This ElliptiGO has you riding quite high off the ground so if you are falling to concrete, it’s probably going to be more violent than being thrown off a low cruising bike. They give you a brief tutorial on how to ride the ElliptiGO, which is kind of unnecessary for most people who can see the obvious mechanics of it. But they also explain how the kickstand works, “similar to a motorcycle” is how the guy described it. Then I was off!
It felt pretty awkward at first, especially figuring out how to turn it and shift it while still in an area heavily traveled by cars crossing in front of you. After a quarter mile, I felt pretty in control of the thing. The Elliptigo hand brakes are at the top and they were just as effective as a regular bike’s brakes. It’s difficult to dismount and then hurriedly mount to cross roads so I tried to balance and linger without dismounting so I could get across the road quicker. But starts and stops weren’t too difficult even when you had to dismount and wait for traffic. The good news is that people are still pretty shocked to see you riding one so they forget to be annoyed and instead just want to see you work the ElliptiGO across the street. Now I had open paths to really crank this thing out. I was riding the 8 speed on level 4 resistance. My initial thought was about how loud the ElliptiGO sounded. Full disclosure is that I was looking for something I could put on a trainer inside my house and have something other than a treadmill at home. Good treadmills are around the $3,500 mark starting off but the base ElliptiGO price is around $1,700 for the 3C and $2,500 for the 8C. Still, I don’t think I was being swayed by the indoor consideration here – this thing was loud. It was a WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH sound. The times that I came up behind bicyclists on the trail, they all turned back to look at what monster was gaining on them because they heard that crazy sound approaching. I was slightly self-conscious about my whooshing. I suppose this might make similar sounds to indoor bike trainers, but those are a steady loud sound whereas this is in loop.
You can definitely feel your muscles working when you first get on one of these. In the beginning, I mainly felt it in my lower quads right above the knee. It felt like that burn you get from holding a squat position against the wall. I was pretty happy to think this thing was giving my legs a squat-like workout, since I never do squats during race season out of fear of messing up my legs. But once you get going on the thing and picking up some real speed, that burn in your legs goes away as the bike is propelled by you on a steady flow. My initial speed, according to my Garmin 220, was around a 5:30 pace. It was crazy to think this is how fast the elites run! A few miles in I bumped the resistance to the 6 & 7 level, settling at 7 and now pacing between 4:00 – 4:20. I also tried the 8 speed and it was a bit harder to maintain for the distance and I wanted to make sure I got back ok. But it was good to know there was something left on there that felt difficult, because it was slightly worrisome that level 7 was so easy to do. Also, for the record, I’m a pretty basic runner. I run anywhere from 20-30 miles a week and run my average weekly runs around a 9ish pace. I’ve also run 2 marathons this season. Just letting you know where my fitness level is and why this feels the way it does to me.
I ended up taking a detour after the 15 miles was over to go to my house and have my husband check the thing out. He didn’t want to get on it but I forced him. I wanted to see how the Elliptigo was for tall people or people of various heights. After a lap around, the first thing he said (without knowing why I was making him ride it) was that he was too tall for it and that he couldn’t have a proper long stride for his height. I’m not sure how accurate this was since he’s really quick to judgment. But I will say that I’m fairly tall myself and the ElliptiGO was on the furthest/longest stride setting of the 3 settings offered. It felt ok to me, so it makes sense that what feels ok to me is still too small for him. For the record, he’s 6’1″ and I’m 5’8″. That’s probably why I felt like a giant on this thing. It wasn’t bad but you definitely tower over everybody on a bike and, really, anyone you come in contact with. There is no way someone is missing you on this thing. If I’m honest, it felt like I was on stilts and it was a pretty weird feeling. I also had visions of me flying over the handle bars of this thing and how long it would take me to drop. Also, this is something to consider if you want to put it in your house for indoor workouts. You are really going to need that ceiling space if you are tall.
I liked riding the ElliptiGO. It was fun. If you are headed to the beach, try one of them out. There’s a novelty about it. And if I had unlimited money to buy toys, I’d get this thing for sure. I could easily see visitors coming down and asking to be able to ride this thing when we all head out on bike rides. When I woke up the next day, I missed my new toy. But the fact remains that I’m looking for something to simulate running when I can’t run. Also I have very little time between two young kids, full time job, and grad school. One of the biggest reasons I run is because it’s the best way to get a killer workout in a short amount of time. On the ElliptiGO, after 15 miles, I felt maybe as tired and exercised as I did after a 4 mile run. I don’t mean to sound negative here because I really wanted this to work! But my 6 mile run the other day felt like more of a workout than this ride did. Hey, maybe if I had held it in that 8th speed setting I’d be telling a different story! But after 15 miles and over an hour on this thing, I just wanted more of a workout for my time expenditure. Otherwise, you might as well hit a spin class. Still, it did feel like it mimicked a run stride and you definitely felt that longer stride on this than you do on a regular elliptical machine. You could feel that “kick” they were talking about. And if you are a runner who is rehabbing an injury, I can totally see how this would work for you. It’s a great way to still build up those runner muscles but without the strain of hitting the pavement like on a regular run. And I’m not totally against it for an indoor option that is cheaper than a treadmill. But my gut reaction was: no, this isn’t what I’m looking for. And riding on this thing over my regular run trails just made me long to ditch the ride and get back to running.