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Mike Ruffolo experienced the same joys afforded to fellow long-distance runners—cardiovascular fitness to weight control, friendship to achievement. But running’s connection to well-being isn’t always ideal.

After years of road races including marathons, Ruffolo had worn out a knee from running on hard surfaces, and it required replacement. He read an article about ElliptiGO trainers, tested one on a trip to Central Park in New York and purchased the product to take to his former home in Boston. He bought a second trainer for his wife a month later. It’s been the primary source of his exercise for a decade.

ElliptiGO (elliptigo.com) debuted the first elliptical bicycle in 2006. It’s been refined often, further streamlining a smooth, low-impact aerobic exercise. It’s gentle on ankles, hips, knees and backs. The natural stand-up riding position reduces body stress and eliminates seat pain. Proponents describe the trainer’s handling, speed and long stride motion as “running on air.”

“It’s very popular among current and former runners,” says Ruffolo, who oversees a weekly training group in Naples and is a ElliptiGO brand ambassador. “It’s the closest outdoor equivalent exercise to running.

“Elite athletes use it as cross-training. It’s not the quantity of miles; it’s the quality of your workouts. Too many miles on the road will cause you to have problems like I did—I was running on hard surfaces, and it’s what stopped me from running marathons.”

The original outdoor elliptical bike hatched a niche fitness market. StreetStrider (streetstrider.com) offers a three-wheel elliptical trainer. Halfbike (halfbikes.com) touts a “light standing bike” and has training/social clubs in several countries. Wingflyer (wingflyer.com) specializes in fitness scooters for children and adults. 

StreetStrider’s popularity first spiked more than a decade ago. Ty Burrell, an actor on the sitcom “Modern Family,” fancies the three-wheeler. In an episode titled “Yard Sale,” Burrell’s character says, “I’m not a rider, I’m a strider.” His mode of elliptical training has a recurring role.

Emphasizing a full-body workout, StreetStrider bike’s advertising says: “Pulling and pushing the strider poles works your biceps, chest shoulders and back muscles. The lower body motion of the stride motion works your quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes.”

Despite variations on the theme, ElliptiGO dominates the marketplace. Comfortable and ergonomic, the trainers burn as much as 33% more calories than traditional bicycling or running. They’re used on the same paved trails or roads suitable for running, walking and cycling and have a brief learning curve.

Some ElliptiGO models are compatible with indoor stationary trainers. They can also fit inside most vehicles and on a variety of roofs, as well as trunk and hitch racks. Wearing a helmet is recommended, but ElliptiGO’s safety is also enhanced by its high riding position. Users can see and be seen.

With the steering height and pedaling motion adjustable, the bikes accommodate riders from 4’10” to 6’10” and have a weight capacity of 250 pounds. The adjustable stride length is 16 to 25 inches. An elongated foot platform allows adjustment to target different muscle groups, and the handlebar has extensions to determine preferred riding positions. 

Ruffolo has ridden his ElliptiGO as far as 100 miles in one session. Weekly rides, which can include a few dozen participants, begin at 8:30 a.m. Fridays at Pelican Bay. An extra ElliptiGO bike is available for a local newbie or someone visiting the area on vacation who didn’t bring their bike. 

“Most people, if they are a runner or someone used to riding or using an indoor elliptical trainer, it’s the exact same motion,” he says. “If you have that familiarity, the learning curve is typically three or four pedal strokes.” 

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