We got the idea to build the ElliptiGO really out of necessity. In 2005, Bryan lost the ability to run for fitness because of hip and knee injuries. Basically, a lifetime of contact sports and endurance athletics had caught up with him and by the age of 32 he was forced to engage in low-impact exercise. As a former cyclist and Ironman triathlete, he seriously considered returning to cycling to stay fit. However, he had always found the bicycle saddle and riding position to be really uncomfortable and cycling workouts to require too much time. As a result, he started using the indoor elliptical trainer. Although he liked the exercise, he hated being locked in a gym. To solve this problem, he decided to buy a low-impact running device he could ride on the street.
What he didn't realize was that there was no such device at the time. Frustrated, he called up Brent to see if he could possibly build such a device. As a degreed mechanical engineer, former Ironman triathlete and competitive ultramarathoner, Brent brought together not only the engineering skill and talent required to build an elliptical bicycle, but, more importantly, a deep understanding of how such a device would need to perform to satisfy current and former runners. In July 2005, Brent and Bryan sat down at a coffee shop in Solana Beach, sketched out a concept drawing on a newspaper, and shook hands. A partnership was born.
After about six months of squeezing in time before and after work, Brent had finished designing Alfa – the initial prototype. We were ready to cut metal. Once he had the pieces cut, Brent set up a table on a couple of sawhorses in his patio and started to braze the pieces together. After a few weeks, he had the frame together. Cromoly steel tubing, some skateboard wheels, and wood boards for pedals, Alfa wasn’t much of a looker – but it worked. The first time Bryan jumped on it, he took it for about 20 miles and was sold.
When Bryan conceived of the elliptical cycle, he thought it was going to be really fast and really unstable. As it turned out, Alfa was really stable, but not as fast as he expected because of the increased drag caused by the standing position. Most importantly, however, Alfa was really fun to ride and the experience felt more like running than anything else he’d done. Because the goal had always been to recreate running without the impact, the Alfa prototype was a huge success.
At about the same time, Brent and Bryan discovered that they weren't the first people to think of the elliptical bicycle. Larry Miller, the inventor of the elliptical trainer, had actually thought of it several years earlier and obtained a patent on the invention. Fortunately, Brent and Bryan were able to secure a license to Miller's patents, which enabled them to continue working on the project.
After a few months of testing Alfa, Brent began designing the next generation prototype. Originally, the new prototype (imaginatively code-named "Beta") was going to be very similar to Alfa, only more rigid. However, once Brent had completed the Beta design, he realized that if he completely changed the frame, he could make a much lighter and stiffer frame. As a result, he jumped straight into designing and building "Charlie". Bringing Charlie into the world took Brent another year or so of putting in time before and after work. As he was wrapping up the construction of Charlie at the end of 2007, we set our sights on a large cycling event to really prove the viability of our concept – the 2008 Rosarito to Ensenada 50-mile Ride.
What a day in our company’s history that was. Charlie performed flawlessly and Bryan finished the race in 3 hours and 16 minutes of ride time, for an average speed of just over 15 miles per hour. Importantly, he finished right in the middle of the pack with the cyclists, proving that this new elliptical bicycle was a viable alternative to the conventional bicycle for transportation and a fantastic substitute for low-impact running.
Of course, at the time we both had full-time jobs. Now that we had proven the concept was viable, the question became – “Now what?” After talking with several cycling and elliptical trainer manufacturers and showing them our Charlie design, it was clear that most of them were interested in the concept, but none wanted to take the idea and run with it. At the same time, we were getting thousands of hits on the ElliptiGO website and numerous emails from people who were asking how they could buy one. We realized that we were facing a kind of moment of truth. There appeared to be a lot of people interested in an elliptical bicycle and we seemed to have developed the very first one, but we were just a couple of guys without any connection to the cycling or fitness industries who had no clear idea of how we would develop a product and take it to market. Fortunately, we decided to take a leap into the unknown and see whether we could turn this functional concept into a product. In the spring of 2008, we both quit our jobs and began working on "the project” full time.
Brent finished designing Delta, the next prototype, in the early summer of 2008. Delta was our first foray into an aluminum frame. Brent had taught himself how to braze steel when constructing Alfa, but the complexities of welding aluminum led him to seek out support from his good friend Neil. Neil did a fantastic job fabricating and welding Delta and the aluminum frame proved to be a much more manufacturable solution than Charlie’s steel truss system. Neil and Brent finished building up Delta just in time for Interbike - the big cycling show in Las Vegas – and we took both Charlie and Delta to Vegas in search of a manufacturer.
The Delta design was a huge leap forward in terms of making the entire system smaller and easier to ride. Delta was also a lot faster than Charlie and much easier to manufacture. Although we got a lot of interest and had some good discussions, again no one was willing to take the ball and run with it. At this point, we realized that we needed to raise some money if we were going to get this product to market, turn this project into a real business, and still feed ourselves.
As you can imagine, in the fall of 2008 there was not a lot of investment going on, but the continued interest we received wherever we took Delta and Charlie carried us through and kept our hopes up. In January 2009, we were able to put together enough money from friends and family to get the real business going. Shortly thereafter, things really started to go our way. We got connected with several great mentors, including Tony Ellsworth, a premier mountain bike builder. Brent finished designing our next generation prototype and we started working on getting a manufacturer onboard.
By the end of January we had our first “Echo” cycle delivered. We ended up having five frames built by Tony’s professional fabricators who are located outside of Portland, Oregon. By March we had a manufacturer lined up and a production design almost finished. It was at that point that we decided to really make a statement about the capabilities of the elliptical bicycle. We already knew that the best thing our elliptical bikes do is climb, so we sought out the most challenging cycling event in California that included as much climbing as possible. When we came across “The Death Ride” – a 129-mile course in the Sierras, all of it at altitudes ranging from 5,500’ to 9,000’ that includes more than 15,000’ of climbing – we knew we’d found our event. Read about our Death Ride experience on our Epic Rides page. Without spoiling too much of the story, it was a fantastic day for us and really solidified the elliptical bicycle as a legitimate fitness and traveling system.
It’s been full speed ahead ever since the 2009 Death Ride. That year we rented a research and development space in Solana Beach, California. We could think of no better place to launch a new sport than from San Diego, the home of triathlon and the locus of the action sports industry.
In late February of 2010, we delivered our first product to our first customer in San Diego. We're now delivering ElliptiGOs through retailers across the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and throughout Europe. We are building up a fantastic global customer base and expanding our availability to other countries.
As you can probably guess, it’s been quite a ride. When we stop and think about it, we can’t believe how far we’ve come over the past seven years, especially since the Rosarito to Ensenada ride in April 2008. We’re looking forward to uncovering what lies ahead as we establish the sport of elliptical biking. Thanks for being part of our journey.
Brent and Bryan