Inspired by COVID. Designed for the future.

Jesper JAS Sørensen

Lockdown caused organisations across the fitness sector to pivot their business models to meet new and emerging needs – but in many cases, the changes are here to stay. We take a look at three initiatives, inspired by COVID but with long-term ambitions, that spotlight the opportunities our sector has seized from the jaws of the crisis.


Event quality in every class 

BikeStreamers, Denmark

Created by Kim Lahn Lindgaard, Jesper ‘JAS’ Sörensen, Rikke Adamsen Kirkegaard and Jesper Skovhave – and now with permanent staff instructors Stephen Rasmussen and Lone Christensen also on-board – BikeStreamers was launched in September 2020 when, in Lindgaard’s words, the founders were “going crazy in lockdown and wanted to do something”.

An online streaming service charging 159 Danish Krone (€21.20) a month, or 25 Danish Krone (€3.33) per class, BikeStreamers provides live streamed and on-demand indoor cycling classes, currently all in Danish.

Some of the BikeStreamers instructors have created green screen areas in their own homes

Between five and nine new classes are streamed every week – summer sits at the lower end of that scale while customers enjoy the great outdoors – with each new class then feeding in to a constantly refreshed back library of around 150 on-demand classes. Special online events are also offered on the occasional Saturday between September and May.

We chat to the founders to find out more…

What’s behind the scenes at BikeStreamers?

All sessions are led by the country’s top talent in the shape of us four founders, our two staff members and the occasional guest instructor.

We don’t have one central studio, because we all live in different parts of Denmark. Instead, the four of us have each spent between €4,000 and €7,000 creating our own green screen areas at home – sometimes on the other side of our bedrooms! – from which we broadcast, with the classes streaming on our Boon.tv/bikestreamers channel. We each have a camera, mixers, screens, microphones, great lighting, a streaming PC and really good internet connections to ensure the best possible delivery of our classes.

Guest instructors don’t tend to have this set-up, so their classes are about personality. But in our classes, the green screen allows us to cycle against the backdrop of a virtual world, courtesy of either Intelligent Cycling or iQniter. It ensures the customer experience is seamless, whichever of us they’re cycling with.

“We’ve each spent between €4,000 and €7,000 creating our own green screen areas at home”

We pay almost 50 per cent of our revenues to Boon, but it negotiates all music usage licences, which means we can play whatever commercial tracks we like in our classes.

How has BikeStreamers done?

We have a strong community of around 800+ people on social media, all of whom have done our classes at some point.

At the moment, we have over 300 monthly subscribers; it was close to 400 before the country’s gyms re-opened. It’s summer here at the moment though [interview conducted 2 July 21] and people want to be outside, so they don’t want to commit to an unlimited monthly package with us. We expect to see monthly subscribers go up again in the colder months, but for now, we have a lot of people paying on a class-by-class basis.

Bikestreamers Classes
Between five and nine new BikeStreamers classes are streamed every week

We also have a few clubs that have bought a BikeStreamers package, so they can run our virtual classes on big screens in their studios. Clubs tend to focus on our on-demand classes for flexibility of scheduling.

We’ve been really pleased by how little our numbers have been affected by gyms re-opening. We have very loyal customers – many of whom also attend our in-person classes at the clubs where we instruct – and we’re finding they’re continuing to train with us as well as going back to the gym. They’re telling us they really appreciate the flexibility of training from home, doing things like 9.00pm classes that they’d never do in-club.

We do have perhaps 10–20 individuals who are only using BikeStreamers, but most of our customers have a gym membership too.

Bikestreamers encourage
BikeStreamers encouraged 800–1,000 of its members to buy BODY BIKES during lockdown

The challenge, of course, is that before people sign up with us, they first need an indoor bike; it’s not like an online yoga class where all you need is a mat and your own bodyweight. However, we’re aware of 800–1,000 people in Denmark who’ve bought a BODY BIKE during lockdown as a response to BikeStreamers’ efforts alone. In a country of 5.5 million population, that’s not bad going!

What’s the secret of your success?

We’re some of Denmark’s most in-demand instructors, well-known for instructing at mass live events as well as classes in our local clubs. We already have very loyal followings.

Then there’s the quality of BikeStreamers’ classes. It’s a high-level experience every time, from music and mixing to coaching and visuals. There’s simply no bad class. The way we view it: each of our classes can have up to 300 participants, which puts them on the same level as a mass event. Our class quality needs to be consistent with that.

“In-club, you can deliver the same class a number of times, but online you can’t sell the same class twice.”

Every single session is new, too. In-club, you can deliver the same class a number of times, but online you can’t sell the same class twice. We have lots of themed classes with fresh music and visuals every time.

The other important point is that we understand how to keep people motivated remotely. Online requires a lot of energy from you as an instructor, as participants don’t get the buzz off each other. You don’t get any feedback from the floor, either. It’s just you and a camera, and you have to learn to perform to it.

BODY BIKE Bikestreamers
Classes are currently offered only in Danish, but may soon be available in English too

We continually work to make the experience even better, too. We get a lot of really good, constructive feedback on chat and through our Facebook group, and we build that in to our programming.

It’s also a fact that, when you see yourself on video, you see a lot you want to change! You realise you say the same things over and over, for example. But it’s a great way to learn – to go back, see how you did, do it better next time. Honestly, every instructor should video themselves at least once a month. They’ll quickly see what they could do better.

What are your plans moving forward?

First of all, we’re going to keep going, continuing to build and serve our fantastic community in Denmark. We’re also building our own website rather than relying on Facebook alone.

“Every instructor should video themselves at least once a month. They’ll quickly see what they could do better.”

We’re also looking at options to expand internationally, taking our high-quality instruction to new markets. In Denmark, we’ve grown mostly by word-of-mouth and people knowing us as instructors, as well as a bit of Facebook marketing, so international growth will be harder. But even if we only serve a fraction of the overseas market, that’s fine with us as delivery will be fairly straightforward: we’ll simply do each class twice, once in Danish and once in English, with each language having its own Boon.tv channel – and possibly a different pricing structure depending on the market.

Finally – and this is one not just for us, but for the whole market – is a need to address the fact that, in Denmark at least, the average age of indoor cycling participants is going up by nine months every year. It going to be a scary future if we can’t find ways to bring younger people in to this discipline, making it fun for them.

 

An opportunity to innovate

BODY BIKE, Denmark

“As a Danish manufacturer, we’ve always had a strong focus on the environmental agenda,” says BODY BIKE CEO Uffe A Olesen. “When we develop our products, it’s always with an eye on what we can do to help create a better world.

 

“Until now, the clearest evidence of this lay in our BODY BIKE SMART®+ OceanIX: the world’s first indoor cycling bike to be built using recycled plastic from commercial fishing nets. These nets might otherwise be discarded in the oceans – part of a broader crisis of plastic pollution that I could no longer sit back and passively watch.

“We have the capacity in our factory to produce BBCARGO as well as BODY BIKE and it just feels like the next ‘right thing to do’”

“OceanIX is therefore something we’re incredibly proud of. It isn’t just a piece of gym equipment. It’s part of a cause – something we created because it was the right thing to do. Having done so without any compromise in the product quality or ride experience, it’s proving to be a popular choice among those wishing to do their bit for the planet.”

Inspiration in challenging times

He continues: “Inspired by this success, and by the growing levels of eco-consciousness across the globe, we had already begun to look at an entirely new market for our company: electric road bikes, and specifically eCargo bikes.

Sabine Højbjerg and Uffe A Olesen at BBCARGO
Sabine Højbjerg and Uffe A Olesen are leading the BBCARGO project and are “so excited by the road ahead”

“This is a market that’s seeing huge growth. Even by 2018, eCargo bike sales in trailblazing Germany had surpassed those of electric cars, growing by 80 per cent that year. Today, everyone from Walmart and IKEA to UPS and Sainsbury’s is using them for shorter-distance deliveries.

“With analysis suggesting that 51 per cent of all motorised trips related to goods transport in EU cities could be done by bike, European eCargo sales are now predicted to hit 1 million bikes for commercial deliveries and a further 1 million family bikes by 2030. Many cities are already adapting their infrastructures accordingly.

“So, we did our research and knew we had an opportunity to create a very special product that would redefine the market. The manufacturing processes were already there in our 12,000sq m Danish factory to support such a product: we’ve long pushed the limits to create the perfect indoor bike, with each still carefully hand-crafted to the highest standards, and we were ready to apply that same precision design and construction quality to eCargo.

“eCargo also fits perfectly with our company’s sustainable approach. It’s a bit of a departure from our usual fitness sector territory, but we have the capacity in our factory to produce BBCARGO as well as BODY BIKE and it just feels like the next ‘right thing to do’.”

He adds: “From a human perspective, it also gave our team something positive to focus on during lockdown – an inspirational project to keep motivation high in what could otherwise have been a very depressing time. When COVID brought the gym sector almost to a standstill in 2020, we saw it as a window in which to accelerate this project.”

Introducing BBCARGO

Olesen continues: “Fast-forward to today and, after rigorous development and testing, we’re hugely excited to unveil the BBCARGO bike.

“We knew we had an opportunity to create a very special product that would redefine the eCargo bike market”

“There’s just so much to say about this bike, from its world-class design and cherry-picked, premium quality components to its flexibility. This isn’t just any cargo bike. We talk about it as a ‘find, keep, love’ product – something you will have done your research on and will be so happy you’ve found.

“With its 150kg payload, it’s one of the strongest three-sheeled eCargo bikes on the market, while 85Nm of torque power from its Shimano motor ensures an easy ride even when fully loaded. There are also two driving modes courtesy of our unique tilt mechanism: Static provides a locked and fully stable position, while Dynamic allows the bike to naturally tilt to the sides.

Michella Huban on BBCARGO
PT Michella Huban loves the branding opportunities on BBCARGO’s cargo box

“And the options for customisation are extensive. The pure aluminium bike frame is available in five colours, while the recyclable plastic cargo box can be created in whatever RAL colour you need for your brand; if you opt for black or grey, bearing in mind the box can also be fully branded, the plastic is recycled as well as recyclable.

“The box is modular too: use it with a cover or a lid, with or without a ‘front door’. Alternatively, use your BBCARGO without the box altogether.

“One bike really does offer infinite possibilities. It’s an honest, authentic, zero-compromise product that truly delivers what it says on the label. We’re so excited by the road ahead.”

Go where your clients are

’’I’m going to be testing BBCARGO as part of a pilot project and I’m thrilled to have been selected,” says Michella Huban, a personal trainer in Aalborg, Denmark.

“During lockdown, I found myself training some of my clients outdoors. It would have been so cool to have been able to travel by BBCARGO, transporting everything I needed for each session in the cargo box.

“That’s why I’m so keen to test drive this beautiful bike. There’s so much space in the cargo box for all my equipment, plus it will help me reduce my carbon footprint as I can leave the car at home and travel by BBCARGO when I train local clients.”

She adds: “It’s a fantastic marketing tool, too, with great options to put my brand on the box. I’m excited about the opportunity to get my name seen and promote my services as I travel between clients.

Michella outside workout with BBCARGO
With BBCARGO, Huban can transport everything she needs for client training

“Then there are all the other benefits beyond the features of the bike itself: no parking restrictions or risk of parking fines, plus an ability to cut through the traffic and even cycle where cars aren’t allowed to go. All the data suggests BBCARGO will make shorter journeys – under 5km – quicker than going by car, too.

“As a personal trainer, I also think it gives a much better impression if you cycle to your clients rather than turning up in the car. It’s about leading by example, isn’t it?”

 

Becoming online enter-trainers

Virtual Fitness Studio, Philippines

“I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been locked down,” says Michael Martinez, co-founder of Virtual Fitness Studio (VFS) in Manila, Philippines. “It’s been close to a permanent state of affairs since March 2020 and, while I hesitate to call this the ‘new normal’, certainly every business has had to find ways to adapt and thrive.

“Our own story, which I hope inspires others, is this. My VFS co-founders Belen Choi and Glenda Evangelista and I are all fitness instructors – we have been for many years – with the common denominator being Les Mills RPM.

“When health clubs across the Philippines closed in March 2020, although there was a fair amount of online fitness, there were hardly any online RPM classes. Chatting with friends, we felt this was a gap in the market so, while none of us had experience of running fitness operations – we all have very different day jobs out of the sector – we decided to create an online group exercise studio.

Virtual Fitness Screen
You need to be able to identify who needs support from a quick scroll over the screen, says Martinez

“We started from the ground up, driven by a love of teaching indoor cycling and a desire to contribute to our communities in lockdown, and launched VFS in November 2020. At that point, it was just RPM and it was free to participate. It was only in December 2020 that we introduced payment – still using Zoom as our platform – and over the months we’ve launched more programmes too.”

Creating human engagement

Martinez continues: “When we created VFS, we wanted to do it properly. In addition to world-class standards, internationally certified instructors and strong quality protocols, we decided that also meant conducting all classes in English.

“95 per cent of our members are in the Manila area, but we also have members in Singapore, Paris, Ireland, Japan and the US”

“As a result, while 95 per cent of our members are in the Manila area, we also have members in Singapore, Paris, Ireland, Japan and the US. That’s heart-warming when you consider how much online content is streamed from locations far closer to home.

“But I think it all comes down to the way we do things. We work hard to make all classes as engaging as if they were face-to-face. We talk about being ‘enter-trainers’, simultaneously training, inspiring and entertaining our members. We help them get the best results they can, but above all we create experiences that make them want to come back.

“And really, there’s no secret to engagement. It’s about going back to basics: logging on to class early to chat with participants, asking why they signed up and what their goals are that day. It’s about calling them out by name in class, correcting form if needed, praising them when they’ve done well, spotting and addressing those who need more encouragement. It sounds simple, but done well it makes a big difference.

Members VFS
Members have invested in their own bikes and want to keep training with VFS

“There are important learnings when instructing online, though. You have to exaggerate your facial expressions and the way you speak. You have to be sharper at giving out cues and better at picking up on visual ones, learning how to quickly identify those who need your support from a class of 70 participants. Sometimes that can be as simple as asking everyone to give a thumbs-up if they’re all good, but other times you might have to work it out from a quick scroll across the screen. You have to see it as a buddy system, learning how to pick up on those who need you.

“In the end, it’s about focusing on customer satisfaction and human connection in everything you do, even though you aren’t in a room together.”

Responding to demand

He continues: “Our timetable currently includes freestyle yoga, Body Combat and freestyle cycling alongside RPM. We have a total of 25 weekly classes at the moment, of which 13 are RPM. [Figures as at 14 July 21].

“Freestyle cycling was only introduced four weeks ago, but it’s already looking very promising. The content is choreographed by the instructor and could be anything from a themed pop music class with upper body work to a power racing session that trains you for outdoor rides.

“And we’re looking to further develop our timetable. We’re busy surveying members to see what new classes they’d like, but over the next three or four months we’re potentially looking to add a strength-based workout and maybe another indoor cycling programme.

“Ultimately, everything has to be about listening to customers. We take all feedback on-board – if members tell us a class is too easy or too hard, for example – and run regular surveys to check how we’re doing from a technical and a teaching perspective. We’re agile and ready to change to ensure we hit the sweet spot for our customers.

“Everyone has their equipment at home now, some even have cycling rooms with neon lighting, and they want to keep training with us”

“We’ve also shaped our future plans around member feedback. We were being asked what would happen with VFS once clubs re-open, and our answer was: ‘We’ll be here for as long as you’re still with us.’ Members were happy with that: everyone has their equipment at home now, some even have cycling rooms set up with neon lighting, and they want to keep training with us.

“Once things have settled down, though – maybe some time in 2022 – we’re also looking to set up a bricks and mortar boutique studio in Manila. This will allow us to serve our members with a face-to-face offer, but we’ll also optimise the productivity of each class by having a camera in the studio to live stream.

“But our online Virtual Fitness Studio will remain at the heart of what we do, hopefully with even more programmes and members over time. We love what we’re doing and want to keep sharing it with our community.”