Sunday, 3 August 2014

ElliptiGO Review: GOing where no Ultra Runner has gone before

It occurred to me whilst holidaying in Hungary and unable to ride that for the three and half years that I've owned my ElliptiGO I haven't written a product review of this truly unique machine. So let's put that wrong to right here. So many product reviews I read on the web are fairly dull so I want this review to be about both man AND machine, and the influence it has had on me and my training.

My question to you the reader is 'Shouldn't you be a little curious as to why and how the ElliptiGO has had such a positive impact on my training and racing'? ... In my marathons, ultra running, and more recently long distance cycle brevets. So let's try and convey my passion for the ElliptiGO, and it's real training potential, and ultimately let you decide.

We need to start at the beginning because it provides some important context for my story. It was Summer 2010 when I first stumbled upon the ElliptiGO. At the time they weren't even available in the UK and are a US invention. Dean Karnazes (a huge inspiration for my Ultra Running) is endorsed by ElliptiGO but it went beyond pure product sponsorship. This bit of kit isn't some fitness gimmick plugged on Tele-Shopping channels by shiny A list athletes - it's a serious cross-training device that can do wonders for your running. And ultimately as I have found through the last 3 1/2 years moves you way beyond this narrow focus and expands your horizons, goals and adventures. Move to the current day and Meb Keflezighi integrated it into his preparation for the 2014 Boston Marathon and won at age 38 as the underdog against some stiff Kenyan competition. And the latest ElliptiGO ambassador on board is no other than the all time greatest distance runner - Haile Gebrselassie.

Meb Keflezighi and the new ElliptiGO Limited 'Meb' Edition

All Hail Haile!!

However I don't expect a few name drops to convince you. This is suppose to be a product review so let's dive straight in, with a self-styled interview covering both man and machine. The most obvious place to start is -

What the heck is an ElliptiGO?

If you are completely in the dark you can explore the website at for lots of pics and videos. But here's one feature ultra running inspiration Dean Karnazes!

The Official ElliptiGO strap line 'Run Without Impact' nicely sums up both it's purpose and major benefit. When asked I often describe the ElliptiGO as a Cross-Trainer on wheels. A simple concept but that's what it is and why it's so effective. I could never spend more than an hour tops on one in the gym, but with the ElliptiGO you take all the training benefits of a cross-trainer into the great outdoors.

"But I don't like cross-training, I'm a runner and I like to run. If I wanted to be something else I'd take up cycling or swimming"...

Indeed! And this summed up where I was too. As runners we all know we should cross-train more to reduce risk of injury and all those miles pounding the pavements and trails but we don't. We don't because I don't think there was a serious alternative to running that would get you 'run fit' until the ElliptiGO came along. That's a very bold statement I know but I genuinely believe it to be true.

So what are the benefits of the ElliptiGO?

The benefits in my real-world opinion (proven through 3 1/2 yrs of ownership) include truly zero-impact workouts reduced injuries (read: no injuries), greater speed and flexibility than running to GO places, trains ALL the running leg muscles (not just the quads like cycling), provides a great high aerobic workout with high heart rate and lungs pumping again akin to running and not cycling. And surely the biggest benefit of all and the reason I'm still hugely passionate about the GO three years on is that is really really good fun! 

Why did I buy one? 

I'm a sucker for marketing... Haha only joking. And as they weren't even for sale in the UK I actually had to convince myself that I needed one as no one else was telling me I did. The scenario in late 2010 was the imminent birth of our second child in April 2011. I was right in the middle of my crazy love for all things ultra and had '100 mile' fever - A serious infection that leaves the host unable to resist signing up for any ultra in the calendar, and the longer the race the more serious the side affects. These include hours and hours of training away from family in the very early hours every Saturday morning to sneak in a quick 30 miler before breakfast. There is a point to this by the way.... And this was it. With our second child on the way my training time would be severely compromised (and rightly so of course). So the GO provided an answer as to how I could continue to train for ultras by reducing my run mileage and weekend running, and instead integrate the GO into my 22 mile commute to work. That was the plan and the original reason I bought one, well that and the fact that I just love gadgets and anything a bit different. The ElliptiGO certainly fits this description.

What does the ElliptiGO feel like to ride?

I vividly remember my very first ride with Idai (European ElliptiGO Sales Director) back in 2010. Idai lives in Milton Keynes just up the road from me, so we arranged to hook up at his house and take the GO for a spin. I already remember by this point that I had convinced myself I needed/wanted one so a lot was hanging on this one ride not to disappoint. It didn't! The immediate sensation on your first ride is how high up you are because you are standing up on the GO. But unlike many would assume it's not weird having no saddle as it doesn't feel like a bike at all. The feeling and ride sensation is very unique to the GO so once you ride one you don't find yourself making these comparisons. It has a long reaching stride (which can be adjusted for shorter riders), and it REALLY works the leg muscles BUT importantly in a controlled manner with zero-impact. This is where it differs hugely from running which can trash your muscles and lead to injury if you over do it. The upright posture is also great for your back and pelvis with no lower back discomfort and you can look down on most road users! It also works the core muscles really well if you engage them correctly.

Does it have any gears and brakes?

Yes and Yes. When I bought mine back in the 2010 (just after Christmas). There was just one version - the 8S which has the Shimano Alfina 8-speed hub gear. It's a great bit of kit with very smooth gear changeovers and great ratios which are enough to get you up 25% gradient climbs (when trained!) and a top speed of 20-24mph on the flat and unlimited on the downs! It's important to note here that the GO isn't a 'fixie' so it can free-wheel. There are now 3-speed, 8-speed and 11-speed versions available as of this review to suit different riders needs and budgets (August 2014).

Brakes are standard V-brake set-up so nothing unusual here. And whilst we are making bike comparisons the GO has a standard handlebar set up so you don't move your arms forwards and backwards like a gym cross-trainer just in case you were wondering ;-). It sits on two 20 inch rims - the type you would typically see on a city bike.

So how effective is the ElliptiGO as a cross-trainer and does it replicate running?

Now we are getting into why I bought the GO. So the question here is - has it delivered on the promise? Oh yes is the answer! I truly believe (and if anyone wants to offer up an alternative I'm all ears) that there is no better way to cross train for running than the ElliptiGO. And many world elite athletes agree with me. The way I started to train on my ElliptiGO back in 2011 is perhaps not where everyone would start but I was training for ultras at the time so naturally I also wanted to extend this to ElliptiGO riding. My first real target race on the ElliptiGO was the Chiltern 100 which at 110 miles and 10,000 feet on climbing is no small undertaking for a glorified cross-trainer on wheels. But here serves the point and an answer to another key question often asked by cyclists as they ride alongside me...

What's that thing like on the hills?

I completed the Chiltern 100 in 7.5hrs so there's the answer. It can definitely climb hills and even give road bikes a run for their money. And if to further prove the point I very recently completed the Mille Cymru Audax 1020km (635 miles) in under the 75 hour cut off which had an advertised 50,000ft of ascent - that's one and half Everest's! But we digress...

Back to the cross-training affect of the ElliptiGO. I think a couple of key races in May 2014 perfectly demonstrate the ability of the ElliptiGO to get you 'run fit' without actually getting in many run miles. I trained for the Milton Keynes marathon almost exclusively on the GO replacing my speed/tempo sessions, routine runs and long runs with the GO. I ran a 3:11 at MK which is my second fastest marathon time ever on virtually no 'run training'. But I see it very differently these days as for me the ElliptiGO IS run training. It's no longer something I see as just 'cross-training' to supplement my running - it's so effective that it IS running and has completely changed the way I train.

Coming back to the other race I completed in May 2014. I ran the Centurion Running South Downs Way 50 mile ultra run in 8 hours flat - again on virtually no specific run training. So a marathon is only 26.2 miles and can be fluked (perhaps) although I'd argue that point. But running 50 miles non-stop with 10,000ft of gain and no 'run training', no long runs etc, is that even possible? Well yes it seems it is and not only did I run 50 miles I also ran it at an incredibly consistent pace and didn't slow down at all for the entire 8 hours passing half the field in the second half of the race. So the point I'm making here is that ElliptiGO can give you both speed AND endurance in running. Oh and just to add, after I ran the SDW50 I drove straight to Tonbridge, Kent and completed the Castle100 cycle sportive (106 miles) on my ElliptiGO the next day.

So I hope I have emphatically answered the question about the GO's pedigree and cross-training ability. It's perhaps worth noting here that my ElliptiGO mileage in May was consistently around 250 miles per week and I was riding every day. ElliptiGO miles can be easily converted to 'run miles' by dividing by 3 (backed up by scientific research may I add :-). Thus in May I was getting the training benefit of 80 run miles per week. So perhaps my race performances aren't so surprising after all. And another point to note here is that I was putting in these high mileage weeks without the impact which is why on the ElliptiGO you can consistency smash out very high volume weeks without trashing your legs or run the risk of injury (pun intended!). It really is a WIN WIN situation in my eyes.

So Stu do you actually run anymore?

Well this is the one unintended consequence of the ElliptiGO. I bought it to cross-train but now I spend anywhere between 15-20 hours on the GO in a typical week which doesn't leave as much room for running. And in a complete reversal of how it use to be - I now almost view running as cross-training to get 'ElliptiGO fit'. As the two compliment one another very well. Having said this it's worth noting that it took over 3 years to get to this point and naturally things evolve over time. So I'm not saying for one second that what I have described is the typical experience - everyone is different. I think it's also worth noting here that I did integrate the ElliptiGO into some serious run training in the first half of 2013 when I was training for the Western States Endurance Run. As part of this training I completed my fastest half marathon time (1:20) which was 7 minutes quicker than I had previously run, and a marathon time (2:59) which was 18 minutes quicker than my previous best.

So what else haven't you told us about the ElliptiGO that any prospective buyer or reader might be interested in?

A big part of owning an ElliptiGO is being a part of the awesome global ElliptiGO Community. This includes both the AMAZING and unparalleled support and service you receive from ElliptiGO Inc the company, as well as the growing global network of ElliptiGO owners and enthusiasts via the Facebook and Strava Group pages. I do ride from time to time with other riders locally (mainly events) with a few friends who aren't too far from me, but the rest of the time I am immersed in and support folk from across the pond, Europe, and Asia.

Coming back to the support received from ElliptiGO Inc I haven't come across another company that puts their customers right at the centre of everything they do. Their service ethic is superb and they really do make you feel part of something unique and special. They want to see you grow as an ElliptiGO rider and to get the very most from their product and they provide this support in a number of ways. Through a great technical service department on hand to answer all your questions. They have also recently started to arrange special 'Challenges' that riders can sign up to. In May for example was the 'Every Day In May' challenge which explains why I rode every day in May. Plus there is the Get On The Map Initiative which encourages riders to 'log' all official cycle races on the website which attains points for mileage covered. I'm currently leading this :-) and have until the end of September to hang onto top spot. ElliptiGO Inc also host the Annual World Championships in San Diego. I haven't afforded this trip yet but plan to maybe GO one year with the family when my children are a bit older.

Are there any downsides or other things to be aware of to owning an ElliptiGO?

Like any bike it requires maintenance and care to keep it in tip top condition and riding smoothly. So normal stuff like adjusting and replacing brake blocks, checking cables and of course repairing punctures are all part of the course. This last subject is one that stirs lots of debate on the Facebook page in regard to tyre choice to avoid punctures. The reason it's a big deal for some riders is that changing a rear puncture on the ElliptiGO is more involved than a standard bike because of the hub gear and tensioning bracket. After a little practice though it's no big deal. Most parts on the GO are also available in standard bike shops so sourcing parts is not an issue. The rollers and tracks (now we are getting technical) which is the part of the ElliptiGO that the drive arms which you stand on are fixed need regular cleaning. This keeps them moving smoothy and reduces noise. One down side is the noise if you neglect this, and stones do have a habit of jumping into the tracks but this doesn't do any damage and they pop out after a while.

So what's next for the ElliptiGO and running?

Having completed the Mille Cymru Audax ride in June which was a mega long distance adventure I'm now turning my attention to two goals for the remainder of 2014 - having a crack at the ElliptiGO 100 mile world record in September at the Action Medical Research Thruxton 100 event, and whilst training for this also simultaneously train for the Snowdonia Marathon in late October where I would like to run as close to 3hrs as possible (and it's not flat!). My training for both events is uniquely going to follow a proper structured training schedule incorporating both the ElliptiGO and running as planned and structured sessions. The schedule has been prepared by Greg McMillan Running - a US elite marathoner and run coach. Greg has linked up with ElliptiGO to provide ElliptiGO riders with this opportunity to 'train smarter' by incorporating the ElliptiGO into their run training. Of course I've already been doing this but perhaps I actually now need to start running a bit more!

So have I convinced you the reader to try out the ElliptiGO for yourself?

I thoroughly recommend a test ride if you are even the least bit curious! As a new ElliptiGO Affiliate I receive a small gesture of appreciation from ElliptiGO Inc for any successful referrals. Another great example of how ElliptiGO have integrated the customer into what they do. All I ask is that if you do buy one online then please click the 'Buy an ElliptiGO' link at the top of my blog which takes you straight to the Official ElliptiGO Store and tracks my referral. And of course it might take some time to decide so please don't forget where you heard about it first on Ultra Disco Stu's blog and return to this page. Thanks.

If anyone has any questions about the ElliptiGO that I haven't covered here then please do add a comment to this post and I would be more than happy to respond.

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