When I was a kid, my grandfather had an exercise bike in his basement. I remember it being a sort of burnt orange color, and it wasn't much more than some metal tubing bent vaguely in the shape of a bicycle with a seat, handlebars and a single knob for adjusting pedal resistance.
These days, exercise bikes are expected to do much more, and some of the most advanced exercise bikes are made by a company called Cybex based on Trotter Drive in Medway. Cybex treadmills were once known as Trotter Treadmills, but the companies merged about 11 years ago and only the Cybex name survived.
Its world headquarters are in a modest industrial park along Trotter Drive, Alder Street and Lost Hill Drive just to the east of Interstate 495 near the Milford border.
Slightly fewer than 200 of Cybex's nearly 600 employees work at the Medway corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility. The company also does a great deal of manufacturing in Minnesota and ships its products to 85 countries around the world.
In Medway, the company makes about 20,000 exercise bikes and treadmills every year, about 40 percent of the company's total sales, according to Arthur Hicks, the company's president. Hicks said about 70 percent of what the company makes is sold in North America, about 55 percent of it in the U.S. The rest is shipped to every corner of the globe, where its strongest markets include the U.K., the Middle East, Japan, Korea and South America.
"The emerging market is a great target for us, too," Hicks said. "Poland could be a $1 million region for us."
Part of that is because these aren't the basic bikes or the noisy, bulky treadmills of old. The bikes and treadmills Cybex makes are commercial equipment like that you'd find in a gym or a professional sports team's training facility. And while they tout them as being suitable for "those who never rode a bike before to those who are preparing for the Olympics," they certainly look like they mean business.
Trotter Treadmills got its start in the late 1970s. "In the '70s, a treadmill was a piece of equipment for medical health. They were really basic, really durable and really ugly," Hicks said.
And even though they're probably lighter than my grandfather's old exercise bike, Cybex bikes pack in a huge amount of technology to track heart rates and to keep tabs on things like how far you would've gone if you were on a real bike or actually walking or running. They can also be had with an "entertainment option." You guessed it: A TV complete with a headphone jack and a touch screen, so you don't lose your balance while trying to work a remote control, I presume.
That's a sign of exercise equipment's change from being something you'd find in a physical therapist's office or a cardiac rehabilitation center to "more of a lifestyle," Hicks said.
"I never thought I would be in the TV business. But there's a broad base of users and to reach that audience, you have to keep things interesting."