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SNEWS Qs: Mark de Grasse, Relay Fitness Group

Relay Fitness Group's Mark de Grasse chats with SNEWS about the evolution of stationary cycles in the past decade and where the company’s products fit in. Plus, he let us know what Relay's goals at IHRSA 2013 were and why specialty fitness retailers should attend.

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Until just a few years ago, a lot of stationary cycles didn’t actually mimic the motion of a real bike – the way it sways and moves with the body instead of just staying in one place. But then companies like RealRyder and Relay Fitness Group launched products that did move more like a real bicycle.


But even though Relay Fitness Group has a product that may sway like a real bicycle, its modern design and frame make it different from others on the market.

SNEWS chats with Relay Fitness Groups Mark de Grasse about the evolution of stationary cycles in the past decade and where the company’s products fit in. Plus, he let us know what Relay’s goals at IHRSA 2013 were and why specialty fitness retailers should attend.

How has Evo Fitness Bike changed since Relay first launched it?
To understand how the bike has changed, it is important to acknowledge its history. We intended the Evo Fitness Bike to be a complete reinvention of the typical indoor cycle. We spent years redeveloping the beltless, chainless drive system, the single-point cantilever sway frame and even the adjustment knobs. We attempted to fix all the common maintenance and use issues that most indoor cycles face – especially in the commercial setting. Even so, we maintain close contact with our customers to find out how we can improve the design further. Using their input, we’ve refined the resistance mechanism and overall adjustability of the bike. We’ve also released the Evo CX, our full commercial variation, in October 2012. This new addition to the product line enables users to switch between a fixed frame (the type you’ll find on the majority of indoor cycles) and the sway frame configuration that allows users to balance and rock the bike like an outdoor cycle.

How has the stationary cycle category grown in the past 10 years?
The stationary cycle category has remained strong over the past decade. As a staple in almost every gym on planet, it remains a cardio-training favorite. What has really changed is the growth of social fitness and group training. Thanks to the high intensity and the new trainee friendliness of indoor cycling, the growth of the market has been in the class setting.

Group cycling was one of the first equipment-based group exercise programs and is now benefiting from decades of feedback. Total participation in group stationary cycling increased 29.2 percent between 2009 and 2011 according to a group stationary cycling study by SGMA [now the Sports and Fitness Industry Association]. In addition, small studios continue to pop up all over the country and many small business owners are combining the effectiveness of indoor cycling with other forms of training like yoga, calisthenics and kickboxing for an even better workout.

What are some major changes that have happened in the stationary cycle category in the past 10 years?
Group training happened. The camaraderie, competitiveness and fun of training with your friends (or advisories) has affected indoor cycling just as it has with many other forms of training. People are tired of failing at the standard diet and exercise programs that they typically adopt on January 1st and quit on January 15th. They have now dropped the apprehension of training in front of others and have realized that they can accomplish more together than they ever did alone.

I believe this reflects a societal trend towards embracing fitness as part of your lifestyle rather than a form of medicine prescribed by doctors. People are starting to recognize that fitness is not just about staying alive, it’s about enhancing your functional longevity and improving your overall life experience.

What is the reason behind some of those changes?
I think the major shift towards group training and a more realistic approach to fitness is the rapid expansion of social media and Web 2.0. The enhanced capabilities of the Internet, through both social platforms and mobile applications, has greatly increased the exposure of regular people to their friends/family and the ability of fitness professionals to spread training methodologies and advice quickly and easily. This exposure to information and constant personal appraisal has helped people realize the importance of both activity and personal appearance. While feeling embarrassed about pictures appearing online may seem somewhat shallow, the effect is the same: people get motivated to change and are encouraged by their friends/family/enemy that are doing so themselves.

What is Relay Fitness Group hoping to accomplish at IHRSA 2013?
We’re looking to further establish ourselves in commercial and vertical markets. The Evo Fitness Bike is ideally suited for high-use environments thanks to the Orb Gear System – no belts and no chains means no adjustments. The single biggest drain on most large gyms, in terms of maintenance issues, is the indoor cycle. Our drive system avoids this by utilizing a planetary gear drive; a series of three gears rotating around a central axis driving a 45-pound flywheel. The assembly is completely enclosed, avoiding exposure to dust, grime, and sweat found in most training facilities.

We’re also preparing to launch the official training program for the Evo Fitness Bike: TriCore Indoor Cycling. This program, created by Iron Man and trainer Jack Nunn, utilizes the unique sway frame for enhanced, functional benefits. The program is specifically designed to increase outdoor cycling performance; unlike fixed frame indoor cycles, the Evo allows just enough movement to simulate the core and upper body strength and endurance used outdoors, as well as allowing cyclists to maintain a proper pedal stroke. Jack Nunn will be demonstrating several classes a day and will be presenting his personal experience using the Evo to prepare for triathlons. He recently won a 1,000 person reverse sprint triathlon in Southern California and credits the Evo with his improved performance.

Why would IHRSA be a good trade show for fitness retailers to attend, even though it’s geared toward fitness clubs?
When it comes to making a thousand-dollar purchasing decision, people like to go with products they know and trust. This experience starts in the commercial market through indoor cycling group classes, hotel gyms and athletic centers. It’s then a natural progression to aiding in a personal buying decision at a fitness retail location. If fitness retailers want to see what the next sought-after product will be, then IHRSA is an excellent place to start. Of course they’ll get to see the products, but more importantly, they’ll get to see people’s reactions to those products.

What is your favorite part about working in the fitness industry?
The fitness industry is a very interesting environment; while it’s an ever-growing, worldwide, multi-billion dollar space, it’s also a surprising small group of dedicated professionals committed to providing a relatively new “necessity” to the global population. This has created a community that unites the passion of personal trainers, drive of coaches and athletes, ambition of entrepreneurs, intelligence of engineers and vision of designers. They are all working together to deal with a dynamic and unpredictable industry that is fully at the mercy of societal trends that spread as fast as people can type (or take pictures of themselves). The job requires a multitude of skills and the ability to adapt quickly to change, especially in small businesses where you must wear many hats. The excitement is my favorite part of the job.

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–Compiled by Ana Trujillo