Posted on Monday 22 November 2010 by Ulster Business


A specialist exercise bike firm run by two Northern Irish ex-pats is picking up speed in the US market

Motivation is often the missing factor in most people's exercise regimes. Whether it's too cold outside, too hot in the gym, too busy in the pool or just too boring to sit on an exercise bike, we can all find excuses not to bother if it is not fun. Trixter, founded by Mick Rice, originally from Ballygowan, Co Down, and co-owned by Patrick Murray, originally from Four Winds, Belfast, aims to beat that malaise with its high-end exercise bikes that use the latest in video technology to create a more interactive experience for users. The Xdream's handlebars simulate the movement of an outdoor mountain bike, demanding coordinated movements to negotiate tight turns, hairpin bends and steep inclines and descents on trails displayed on the screen. The bike's gears and active resistance replicate the sensation of hills and bumpy track surfaces, meaning that rather than watching music or sport channels while they work out, riders get the chance to race through the Arizona Desert or Scottish Highlands. They can race a virtual guide or link up to race against others. Based near Bath in England, the company has really taken off in the past two years since they decided to concentrate on the 5500-strong healthclub and gym market in the UK. Virgin Active, David Lloyd and Fitness First are now all using Trixter bikes and health clubs account for 80% of its business, while 10% comes from pro-sport clubs (clients include Manchester Utd and Chelsea) and 10% from performance enthusiasts. Its bikes are also in 370 schools, where the video game element helped get children to exercise. "We decided we needed to dominate our home market before we distributed to other markets," says Murray. "We've been concentrating on the UK between 2006 and 2009 and we're now the biggest indoor bike supplier in the UK." "It's only from us focusing on our home market, working out what issue the customer is going to have, that we are able to pre-empt that so it doesn't become an issue in another country. Globally what members of health clubs are looking for tends to be very similar." Murray recently moved his family to Boston to run the US end of the business, and in five months there, turnover is up by 340%. New England has proved a fertile market, with purchases from colleges like Yale, Harvard, MIT and Brown, as well as YMCAs and the Four Seasons Hotel. "In the US they are receptive to the product and to be honest being Irish has been really helpful in New England. They have also been very receptive to the fact that I've moved over here with my family," says Murray. "We really want to dominate in New England and then move into New York. A big chunk of the population of the US is around the East Coast - Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia. Once we have our distributors and infrastructure in place, I'd say by June/July next year that we'll be doing something on the West Coast." While there's some competition, Murray says this validates the market and has shown Trixter's products stand out in terms of usability and durability in a market where the bikes may be in use for up to eight hours a day, seven days a week. Cost wise its bikes are at the premium end of the market, but testimonials have not been hard to come by. Trixter is able to boast that 18 world champions across several sporting disciplines – including Formula One driver Fernando Alonso – are using it to help their balance, co-ordination and spatial awareness, while high profile stars such as Mark Wahlberg, Angelina Jolie and Eva Mendes are also fans. The Trixter directors have also chosen the highest calibre of partners, with manufacturing done in Taiwan through Giant bikes and Dell making its computers. They are also partnering with Sony to manufacture a version of its bikes for use with the Playstation that will launch the brand into the consumer market. "Our real growth opportunity is the US, so that's where the majority of our investment will be. We've also got good distribution in Australia and Spain and have good distributors coming on board in Italy and South Africa," says Murray. As for Northern Ireland he adds: "David Lloyd would likely be our first site in Northern Ireland and to have something at home would be great. It is somewhere close to our hearts and we'd love to be there."


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