Sneak Preview: The New Rebel Desk Treadmill Desk

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Sneak Preview: The New Rebel Desk Treadmill Desk

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[Editors: This sneak preview has since been replaced by the full lab-test review. See the full review with pricing and photos.]

The latest entrant into the treadmill desk arena is Washington, DC-based Rebel Desk, a new company founded by the husband-and-wife team of Kathleen and Jeffrey Hale. Anxious to get word out before the holiday season – the peak time of year for treadmill desk sales – the company has released itsRebel Treadmill 1000 base now, with its mate, the Rebel Crank-up 1000 desk, slated for delivery by December 15th. Why Rebel Desk? Because according to their Office Space parody below, “SITTING SUCKS”

The editorial team of WorkWhileWalking has been promised a sneak peak of the new products the moment they are available. The treadmill is set to arrive at the end of this month, so stay tuned for our full hands-on, laboratory evaluation. In the meantime we can share what we already know about this new player’s entry.

Most of our readers are familiar with the LifeSpan Fitness line of treadmill desks, the TR800, T1200 and TR5000. These units have taken over the field over the past couple of years since their introduction. Brands like TreadDesk and Signature Desk have ceded their early thrones to LifeSpan, and even the granddaddy of all treadmill desk makers, Steelcase, has been dropping their prices with regular frequency to try and maintain a grip on their once dominant market share.

How did LifeSpan do it? As you’d expect, or at least hope, they mostly just built a better product. LifeSpan’s two-year old technology runs circles around competitors who are still selling seven year old, energy-sucking, frail, and comparatively feature-poor treadmill bases. Lifespan also built out a network of dealers to support their assault, and have turned many adjustable-height desk manufacturers into OEM customers for their TR1200 base, the most popular walking treadmill in America today.

While industry insiders have all been waiting for some of the behemoth companies from the fitness equipment or office furniture worlds to step into the walking workstation business, no real blips have crossed our radar screen as yet. LifeSpan is a long-established fitness equipment manufacturer and certainly no start-up, but they’re still tiny when compared to the likes of, say, Precor or Herman Miller, should one of those sleeping giants awake to the opportunity in our little sector at the intersection of the fitness equipment and office furniture industries.

So what exactly, you might ask, is a bootstrapping start-up expecting to accomplish by entering into mano-a-mano combat with LifeSpan? Time will tell whether Rebel Desk will be a giant-slayer or an ankle-biter. Certainly having more choice in the marketplace is a good thing for the consumer, so we are very eagerly waiting to see how the machine actually performs.

The Rebel 1000 Treadmill Base

Made in Taiwan, just like LifeSpan and most every other treadmills these days, the Rebel 1000 borrows parts from existing models of running treadmills with some significant modifications for the walking application. To their credit the Hales obviously spent a lot of time reading through our advice and reviews on WorkWhileWalking.com to find opportunities for product differentiation may. We were flattered to see the treadmill base’s owner’s manual even include a page on proper pacing, taken directly from our staff experts’ advice.

In this case imitation is the sincerest form of good research, and we do have to admit the co-founders of Rebel Desk appear to have done a very good job of studying the market before finalizing their design. While neither has experience in the manufacturing business they’re a highly educated former litigator (Kathleen) and former finance executive (Jeff) who know something about market research. For about six months all anyone could see on their website was a picture of a rectangular box with a red sheet draped over it. It’s unwrapped now, and we’re getting the first look at the product of the Hales’ hard work and direct personal investment.

Without a live product to test and no existing customers in the field to speak with we will do our best here to interpret what has been revealed about the Rebel Desk. We’re going to make numerous references to the LifeSpan line of treadmill bases throughout this report, so you may want to check outour in-depth review of the TR800, TR1200 and TR5000 bases before reading on.

We can’t tell if it was intentional or not, but the “model 1000? designation may well reflect the fact that it appears to sit somewhere in between the direct competitor’s TR800 and TR1200 models, but at a price that is $50 lower than the former, and $250 lower than the larger and most popular LifeSpan model.

Weighing in as a featherweight at 88 lbs., the Rebel Desk is considerably lighter than any other walking treadmill base we’ve seen. So we naturally wondered what being a whopping 34 lbs. slimmer than the baby LifeSpan – the TR800 – would mean in terms of quality. Lightness is great if we’re talking about cell phones, but you’d usually expect a treadmill to require a bit of brawn to pick up and move.

A treadmill’s heaviest parts are its frame, its motor and its deck. Let’s examine the specs and see if we can figure out where they shaved off all that weight:

The Rebel 1000 base has about the same footprint as the TR800, which until now has been the most compact walking treadmill on the market. The Rebel’s 50? x 18? belt area is a couple of inches shorter than the TR800?s, and the same width. We prefer 20? belts but if you’re going for a budget compact model, 18? is what you can usually expect. At an outer dimension of 64? by 24? it is again a couple of inches shorter in length, and an apparent 5? narrower than the published spec for the TR800. The TR800, however, has special plastic adapters for mating with LifeSpan’s DT-5 and DT-7 desks.   These stick out a couple of inches beyond the frame on each side. Ignoring those nubs the true width of the TR800 base is only 24.75?, about the same as the Rebel’s.

Both the Rebel’s and TR800?s phenolic deck are 3/4? thick, compared to the 1? thick decks in the TR1000 and Hummer-class TR5000, so there shouldn’t be much weight difference there.

So they got a little weight out of the frame and deck by being a couple of inches shorter, how about the motor? Rebel Desk boasts a 1.5 HP motor as compared to the TR800?s 2.0 HP motor, which sounds more diminutive but this may not necessarily be the case. This is something we will be thoroughly testing in our labs.

The TR800, like all the LifeSpan treadmill bases has a TOP speed of 4.0 mph, even though the recommended range for treadmill desking is no more than 2.0 mph. Rebel Desk tops out at 2.0 mph, meaning that if correctly geared internally they are getting the full 1.5 HP at their top speed.The TR800, on the other hand, is only getting 50% of its power delivery at the same 2.0 mph speed, or only 1 HP. Ostensibly this may mean that the effective horsepower of the Rebel unit may be 50% greater that the TR800?s despite the size, cost and weight of the smaller motor. The Hales emphasize that the brand of the motor is the same as LifeSpan uses.

The Hales claim that their treadmill base is properly geared to get more oomph out of their smaller motor than the TR800?s, and they back it up with an extra year of warranty coverage on the motor. Of course Rebel Desk is a start-up and has never seen how well their products survive in the field, so reading anything into their warranty periods isn’t prudent; at this point they are obviously basing their warranty terms on hopeful optimism, rather than track record.

With the smaller motor comes a smaller housing and a few other component shrinkages. The Rebel Desk is also only 4.5? high, which is 25% lower than all the LifeSpan models’ 6? height above the ground, so clearly some more frame weight savings right there. Still, 34 lbs. is an awful lot to trim out of a treadmill base and declare its user weight limit to be the same 300 lbs as the TR800 (the Hales admit that they, like everyone else in the business, do not have any scientific basis for their weight ratings).  So we’ll be looking carefully for any signs of the creaking that plagues other light-weight treadmill bases like the TreadDesk. Creaking would be bad as it usually implies more shear stresses on the deck, which can lead to early delamination, increased friction, and higher likelihood of premature motor or electronics burnout, not to mention more frequent lubrication and replacement of parts.

While we like the idea of a lower step-up height of only 4.5? the mechanical engineers on our team do point out that this may also imply smaller rollers have been used, which may result in more wear-and-tear on the belt. We’ll get our measuring sticks out and see how the roller diameters compare between the Rebel and the TR800.

We can’t opine yet on the sound signature of the Rebel since everyone claims their treadmill bases are “ultra quiet.” Only the decibel meter tells the truth, so tune in for the actual lab results. Both manufacturers use a 2-ply belt but Rebel makes a big deal about using 8 variable-density elastomers in theirs versus LifeSpan’s 6 elastomers. We’re not sure if there will be a measurable difference in comfort between the two, but we’ll try to test for it.

The next item is the control console that sits atop the desk. At least in photos the LifeSpan unit still looks more aesthetically pleasing to our eye, and has a few more functions like step counting and calorie counting, Bluetooth data transfer, and a spare USB port for charging phones. The LifeSpan units also come with a free subscription to the LifeSpan Fitness Club software platform, which allows you to record your treadmill desking distances and such; Rebel has no such software value-add. Once we see the control console unit we’ll be able to opine on how easy it is to hit the buttons, how well it sits on the desk, and its overall quality.

So what’s the bottom line on the treadmill base? Photos only reveal so much about the quality of the industrial design and fit-and-finish of the Rebel 1000, so we’ll reserve our judgement until we can poke it with a stick. As we said, the features fall somewhere between the TR800 ($799) and TR1000 ($999) LifeSpan models, at a price of $750. Some features found even in the low-end the TR800 are missing, like Bluetooth synch, step and calorie counting, the USB charger port and the online Fitness Club software. A budget oriented consumer will not really miss those features.

What’s left to determine is whether the 28% weight loss between the TR800?s 120 lb. frame and the Rebel 1000?s will show in structural rigidity or aesthetics, how they compare on noise and power consumption (Rebel’s 1.5 HP motor should use less juice in theory), and how the two differ in real-world weight rating.

The Rebel Crank-up 1000 Desk

Again, it’s hard to tell much from a picture. At $649-$749 depending on whether you choose a teak top or glass top, with or without a (non-ergonomic) under-counter keyboard shelf, the Rebel Crank-Up Desk is a direct competitor to MultiTable’s super-popular Manual ModTable. The ModTable sells for slightly less and is also made overseas (Malaysia versus Rebel’s Taiwan sourcing). Most all of the other crank desk competitors are dramatically more expensive than these two, some costing $1,000 more, so this is an interesting new competitor for MultiTable where they previously had practically none.

This contest is also going to be interesting given the impressively high user ratings that the ModTable consistently gets. At the same time Rebel is gunning for something right in between LifeSpan’s DT-5 “manual” desk ($500) and DT-5 electric desk ($1000), neither of which win any kudos from our ergonomics team but they are nevertheless popular with consumers who want a totally integrated look. Rebel is shooting for the same integrated look appeal by matching paint colors between their treadmill and their desks.

While the Rebel Crank-Up Desk is adjustable from 24? to 48? they do not offer a leg extension option like MultiTable does for the vertically endowed. 48? is a pretty standard top end for a sit-to-stand desk, but adding a treadmill underfoot makes the desktop too low for users over 6’2? to 6’4? to get a proper ergonomic height on the keyboard. Arm lengths vary, and there are keyboard trays that can correct for this height deficiency (don’t try mounting them to a glass top, though) so it’s only going to be an issue for some people.

The Hales state they do plan to add more desk models in the future but for right now they’re competing only with this one form factor of 24?x48 compared to the plethora of tabletop size and color options that MultiTable and others bring to the party.

One very nice feature of the Rebel Desk is a built-in dual-USB and dual-AC plug strip mounted discretely on the left side of the desk. You can never get your cables tidy enough, so this is a promising feature, in photos anyway.

The desk is another couple of months away from being ready to ship so we’ll get out the treadmill base review about six weeks in advance of the desk review. Once the desk does arrive we’ll be putting it through the usual paces, checking for quality of construction and materials, lateral stability, easy of cranking, transit time, easy of assembly, damage resistance and so forth. Their 5 year warranty on the desk speaks volumes of their confidence in the crank mechanism.

So there you have it; the new Rebel Desk is a decidedly low-end competitor, hoping to win on value for the dollar, and not really competing for corporate business where LifeSpan’s TR5000 rules the roost. TreadDesk, still hanging in there as a minor market share player in treadmill bases has already dumped their price in response to Rebel Desk’s arrival, but they’ll have a very hard overcoming their nagging product deficiencies. But that’s not who the Hales are gunning for, or where return fire may likely come. It remains to be seen how effectively they’ll be able to compete with the incumbent leader, LifeSpan.

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