"Are you ready for the good vibrations?" asks Lars Harms, the UK Academy & Education Manager of Power Plate. It's an unusual question to be asked by a stranger on a Thursday morning, but then I am testing out a rather unusual piece of machinery.
The powerBIKE™, the new baby of Power Plate, claims to be 'the only mechanical stationary bike with integrated vibration technology'.
When I arrive at the studio at Power Plate HQ, I expect a colossus of a machine covered in electrical cables. Instead a rather demure bike that looks just like a static or spinning bike is wheeled over. And for those with an environmental conscience, there isn't a cable in sight - you generate the vibrations with your very own pedal power.
Lars instructs me to start pedalling at 90rpm to warm up and I'm lulled into a false sense of security. Then he leans down and turns two dials; one to increase the resistance and another to start the vibrations. The first few blasts of 30-second intervals on resistance level one don't seem too tough.
Then the length of the vibrations intervals increase, first to 45 seconds and then to 60 seconds, with a 60-second recovery of fast spinning between each interval. By this point beads of sweat are popping up on my forehead, my legs are working hard and my heart rate is on the up. Even if I wanted to slack off, Lars is standing by to make sure my legs are whirling around at 100 rpm to generate the 35 vibrations (in Hz) per minute.
How do the 'good vibrations' feel? Well, certainly not as smooth as the harmonies from Brian Wilson and the gang. Once the vibrations are switched on, the patent-pending pedal and crank system switches to a mechanical zig-zag motion. Imagine cycling at full speed over the most cobbled street you can imagine - then chuck in some more cobbles on top.
Preliminary research suggests the vibrations increase muscular activity in the legs (quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes) up to 167 per cent more than cycling on a regular stationary bike at 90rpm. Perhaps most interesting of all, powerBIKE also claim that the bike's vibrations can help to reduce DOMS, by quickly raising your circulation to more effectively drain toxins.
I'm in good company on the powerBIKE. The Dutch professional cycling team Rabobank and Rebecca Romero, 2008 Individual Pursuit Olympic gold medallist, have both been using the powerBIKE™ in training. Rebecca uses the powerBIKE™ two or three times a week as a warm-up tool and hops on to help promote muscle recovery after long rides.
At a cool £2,995 from selected retailers (John Lewis, Harrods, Selfridges), the powerBIKE™ is a big spend, especially when Lars recommends using it for a maximum of three 30 minute sessions a week.
Could it transform my bike training or is it just all just hype? I was invited to come back and train with the powerBIKE™ twice more before my cycling efforts in the TW Team Relay to find out more.
After two increasingly intense training sessions with Lars, I built up to eight vibration intervals, with the longest interval at two minutes.
Compared to the spinning, Wattbike and road sessions that made up my cycle training regime, the powerBIKE™ session proved to be the one that made me really grit my teeth. Lars suggested that over time you could build up to 30 minutes with vibrations throughout, which based on my experience, would prove a very valuable resistance session.
The claims about DOMS certainly rang true for me. My legs didn't feel heavy or tired, even after their mutinous cries during the final session.
As a tool for triathlon training the powerBIKE™ offers some advantages, but obviously it has its limitations. For long-distance cycling, few things can prepare you as well as hours on the saddle. Shorter, more intense resistance sessions will no doubt condition legs, but it won't replicate race conditions.
Saying that, I can see this product being a big hit when it becomes more widely available in gyms early next year. It offers all the benefits of cycling in a compact training session, as well as presenting an interesting new challenge to inject into your schedule.