Expresso pulls in $14M for interactive cardio equipment

Is it just me or is one of the best things to hit the gym the mini TV screens now built into treadmills and ellipticals? For all those who now depend on a good episode of CSI to get them through their workout, there’s good news today out of Expresso Fitness, a company that markets exercise bikes to gyms with a media twist. It just raised $14 million in a round of venture debt and private equity for equipment that uses customizable interactive software (in addition to standard TV and internet music) to give customers a unique premium workout.

The Sunnyvale, Calif. company offers two different products (recently updated in October) — an upright bike and a recumbent bike — each outfitted with an LCD screen. But it takes gym entertainment one step further with what it calls its “tours” and “chases,” programs that create virtual biking experiences tailored to each user’s goals and interests. Within the tours application, exercisers can choose to bike along the California coast, or through the Peruvian Mountains (rendered artistically on the screen). They can then feel the hills and dips and curves in how the machine responds.

The chase option sets up an elaborate obstacle course where points can be earned for collecting different items at higher speeds. This allows users to compete against themselves, the computer, or real-life competitors for higher scores and milestone trophies with more intense workouts. The goal is to engage people so intensely that they tire less easily and push themselves more without even necessarily realizing it. At the same time, each machine keeps track of standards like distance covered, time, calories and heart rate.

Expresso Fitness is considered to be part of a gradual trend toward virtual fitness, popularized most recently by the Wii Fit. Personal training video games first emerged in 2006 with the EyeToy: Kinetic for Sony’s Playstation 2, and Yourself!Fitness for the XBox and PC. But Expresso is the first company to gain substantial traction with commercial equipment designed for actual gyms.

The new round of funding will be used to further expand Expresso’s software offerings and to increase market penetration. So far, its bikes have been used to “travel” 20 million miles and burn 700 million calories. $7 million came from Silicon Valley Bank, with the rest coming from existing investors Sierra Ventures, Physic Ventures, and Enterprise Partners Venture Capital. Expresso last raised funds in May, closing a $21 million third-round of funding.

[Images from Expresso.com]