Almanac

News - March 30, 2011

A bicycle for would-be runners

by Dave Boyce

Atherton resident, athlete and former Marine officer Bryan Pate is a stand-up guy. Indeed, when he's riding the bike he and his friend Brent Teal built, he just can't sit down.

Mr. Pate and Mr. Teal, an ultra-marathoner, co-founded and are co-presidents of ElliptiGO, a four-year-old Solano Beach company that markets a bicycle/mobile running machine. It has no seat; to make forward progress, you must be upright and running, more or less.

For former long-distance runners like Mr. Pate, 38, who hasn't run since 2007 due to exercise-related injuries, the ElliptiGO is something of a reprieve. He's out there again, upright in the wind and the rain and moving forward quickly, albeit more quickly than a runner and more smoothly.

The bike will do 30 mph and climb Woodside's steep and winding Old La Honda Road "with no problem," Mr. Pate said in a recent interview at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park. And a trail-running version? "I think that's a ways off," Mr. Pate said.

He has taken the ElliptiGO on the infamous Death Ride, a grueling one-day, 130-mile contest through five mountain passes in the Sierra. "It's like doing Old La Honda Road 15 times," he said. "We're serious endurance athletes. We wanted to deliver an experience to our customers that is close to running."

It is because Mr. Pate is a serious athlete and was sidelined by injuries that the ElliptiGO came to be. "It was awful, it was awful," he said of his inability to run. He said he hated using elliptical workout machines in a gym and could not find the bike he imagined he wanted.

"Hey Dude, I want you to build me an elliptical bike," he recalled saying to Mr. Teal, who in addition to running ultra marathons is a consulting mechanical engineer.

"OK, I can do that," Mr. Teal reportedly replied.

"Six years later and here we are," Mr. Pate said.

"He's truly an elite guy within running," Mr. Pate said of Mr. Teal, who is also 38. "A lot of why this (bike) feels so much like running is because of him."

Evolution of a machine

"No one has ever tried to emulate the outdoor experience of running," Mr. Pate said.

Asked how many hours of thinking had gone into this bike, Mr. Pate estimated 1,000 initial hours by Mr. Teal, another 2,000 hours by both of them leading up to the day they quit their jobs to work on it fulltime, and about 7,000 hours altogether.

Their first paycheck was in January 2009. Now, with 10 employees, retailers across the country and $2.5 million in revenue over the last 12 months, they expect to make a profit in 2011, Mr. Pate said. About 40 people, most of them customers, have invested in the company.

The bikes are manufactured in Taiwan, "where the best bikes in the world are built," he said.

Why not in the United States? "I'm a former Marine," Mr. Pate said. "We wanted to build them in the United States, but we'd have trouble selling them at (the current price of) $2,500. At $4,500, it's not going to fly." For the five bikes built here, the frames were $3,000 apiece, and even at $1,500 it would not have worked, he said.

Taiwan and China are where 80 percent of the spokes, tubes, wheels, tires and brakes are made, he said. "I think we have the manufacturing expertise here but not the component parts."

The frame is aircraft-grade aluminum to make it light and stiff, he said. The ski-like drive arms are carbon fiber and the eight-gear rear wheel hub can be shifted from the handlebars, including when stopped.

A twist loosens the collar on the handlebar column and the 40-pound bike folds in on itself. It fits on a bike roof rack, trunk rack or hitch rack, and three can fit in an SUV, Mr. Pate said.

The adjustable stride length on the bike can be set to focus on exercising the muscles on the front of the thigh, or calves and the muscles on the back of the thigh, he said.

Of the patents involved, two are licensed from elliptical-motion running machine inventor Larry D. Miller and 14 credited to ElliptiGO, Mr. Pate said.

Go to elliptigo.com for more information.

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