AVALON - Leon Garofalo worked two years ago at Hollywood Bicycle Center and saw a bike that didn't resemble a typical two-wheeler with pedals. It looked like a bicycle, except it didn't have a seat and the pedals were replaced with boards.
"Wow," Garofalo said, "what is that?"
Garofalo, who lives here, started using the bicycle to run errands for the shop. He was hooked. A regular bicycle mostly works a person's legs, but the stepper bike provides a full-body workout, Garofalo said.
"It's an ingenious piece of exercise equipment," said Garofalo, who put 1,600 miles on a stepper bike in less than a year.
The stepper bicycle is one of a few alternative bicycles either new to the market or recently upgraded. The stepper is joined, among others, by electric-assist and fully-electric bicycles, recumbent and semi-recumbent bikes and the kickbike, which is a bicycle-scooter hybrid.
And those who think these odd gizmos are just flashes in the pan had better think again.
Those familiar with the bicycle market say sales of alternatives bicycles will likely grow, making them more visible in the future.
The reason is most of them fall into one of three categories:
•The bikes geared toward providing more exercise, such as the stepper, the StreetStrider or the kickbike.
•The vehicles that address comfort and ease for baby boomers.
•Bikes for the environmentally conscious rider.
"It (the stepper) gives you a little bit more of a workout than a regular bicycle," said Robert Ossichak, owner of Hollywood Bicycle Center, who added the stepper bike has been on the market for at least three years. "It's like transferring the gym to the street."
Steppers cost from $399 to $1,500. Buyers are all over the board age-wise, and more women than men buy them, Ossichak said.
One version of the stepper bike is the Randy Ross Stepper, marketed as the 3G Stepper in Europe. The bicycle has been written about in Popular Mechanics and the Los Angeles Times.
The new generation of the stepper, available in August, is better than the first generation, said Gary Silva, owner of 3G Bikes.
"We will be introducing a model called the Jackhammer and Da Money," Silva said. This next generation of stepper bike will allow a person to shift without pedaling or stepping, and the shifting will be more precise. "The Jackhammer is faster than what is in the market now. We use lighter weight components... For Da Money, we are using the best components that you can put on a bike."
"A five-minute ride on the stepper gets a person's heart rate up, and the bike is being sold all over Europe," Silva said. Silva, who grew up in Bayonne, Hudson County, spent 20 years in the bicycle retail business before designing the 3G Stepper.
"If properly marketed (in this country), it has incredible potential," Silva said.
The stepper's target audience would be people looking for an effective exercise tool. Riders who want to keep riding as they age, commute on two wheels or extend their efforts at being green to their transportation, may want to look at electric-assist or fully-electric bicycles and various types of recumbent bikes.
A few years ago, Jim Handy of Stone Harbor, and his wife, Susan, were in China. Everyone in China rides bicycles, and a lot of them are electric. It peaked Handy's interest.
"We came back, and we found we didn't really have a lot of choices over here (in electric-assist bikes). I went online and found that Giant made one. It's really neat. It's a hybrid. You have to pedal, as long as you pedal, it helps you. It seemed to me like a really neat concept because when you are a riding a bike, you want to pedal too. You don't want to sit and have a motor take you," said Handy, 70.
Handy's wife gave him the Giant Twist Freedom DX with hybrid-cycling technology last June, which cost about $2,100.
"It enables you to ride further and faster, and it's a lot easier. It's really good, especially when you reach my age, or have health problems, like I do," Handy said.
Harbor Bike & Beach Shop in Stone Harbor sells the electric-assisted Giant bicycles.
Several reasons lead a person to purchase an electric-assist bike, including cyclists who want to commute by bicycle, but don't feel physically fit enough to pull it off. The electric-assist bike helps those who find riding a regular bicycle too tiring, or who live in a place where they face strong winds, said Bob Shensky, co-owner of the Harbor Bike & Beach Shop.
"You can use the pedals to go and the electric to get back. You don't have to use the electric," said Shensky, who sells three models of Giant's electric-assist bicycle.
Giant has been making electric-powered bicycles for more than 10 years. The new models with hybrid-cycling technology have been on the market for only two years. The latest version of the electric-assist bike is the most advanced edition ever made by the company, said Eric Doyne, spokesman for Giant Bicycle, based out of California.
"There is definitely growth in this market among baby boomers and those older," Doyne said.
Along with pedal-assist bicycles, fully electric bicycles also are an option. With an electric bicycle, you decide how much power you need by twisting the throttle as opposed to relying on the preset designations of the electric-assist bike.
Generally, electric bicycles range in price from $1,000 to $3,500.
"Most of the people who get our bike ... they cannot ride a bicycle because of the traditional skinny seat, bent over the handle bars, and unsafe riding position," said Kelly Hutson, sales and design for DreamE and Day 6 bicycles. "They can't ride a bike, but when they get ours, they are thrilled. Not only are they comfortable, but they have the power to go where they could never go before."
Day 6, a company based out of Montana, also makes a semi-recumbent bicycle along with an electric bicycle.
A recumbent bike is a bicycle that places a rider in a laid-back reclining position. The rider's weight is distributed more comfortably over several square feet of the back and the behind as opposed to a few square inches of the butt, the feet and the hands. Harbor Bike sells a semi-recumbent bicycle made by the Day 6, which sells for about $800.
The problems with a full recumbent bike include poor balance because of a person's position and small tires, Hutson said.
"It has a very wide seat and a back rest that you actually sit on, like a chair, and the pedals are more out in front of you," Shensky said. "A lot of people find it more comfortable. Some people have back issues. They can't ride a regular bike, and this allows them to do that in a lot of cases."
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