Welcome back to Part III in our four-part Buyer’s Guide to help you find the perfect treadmill for the home!
In Part I we explored the frame and the motor. In Part II, we talked about the deck, belt and the rollers. Now we are going to explore two very critical, and seldom seen components: the lower board and the incline motor.
Also, just to reiterate: The intention here is to be as comprehensive and as thorough as possible. There is no agenda here to sway you toward or away from one brand or manufacturer, and any personal opinions I express are not necessarily reflective of G&G Fitness Equipment or any of its brands or employees. Also, I am not being compensated in any way by any specific company or manufacturer to write this blog.
Part III isn’t the flashiest entry in this four-part Treadmill Buyer’s Guide, but don’t let that fool you. The lower electronics board and the incline motor are two crucial and integral components on the treadmill. I know I might sound repetitive, but the quality of your treadmill is the sum of its components. There are important elements of the treadmill that you are seldom going to see, touch or use directly. Look at it this way, when you are shopping for a new car, do you ask to look under the hood? You should really do the same thing when you are shopping for a treadmill: ask your expert fitness consultant to look under the hood (i.e., the motor compartment) and have them explain to you what is going on under there.
THE LOWER BOARD
The lower electronics board is the “brains” of the treadmill. It is most often going to be found in the motor compartment. Just from a visible inspection, it is easy to overlook the importance of the lower board and disregard what it is doing. Every input the treadmill receives is processed by the lower board: speed & elevation changes, storing program information, and even bio-mechanical operations.
The lower board could be the most common non-wearable part of the treadmill that fails. What’s interesting is you hardly see any information on treadmill review sites where they talk thoroughly and comprehensively about this extremely important component of the treadmill. I wonder why that is?
That isn’t a rhetorical question, and we will come back to it.
Remember, things don’t simply break, they break down over time. Typically, lower board failure is the result of 1) excessive vibration over time, 2) debris such as dust, dirt, carpet fibers, pet hair and lint, or 3) excessive heat. Now remember in Part I, I stated that the roller is the most common component that breaks on the treadmill. This is true; however, the roller is a wear item and the lower board is not. The roller is a moving part, and the lower board is not. A cheap electronics board will drive up your cost of ownership the most, because it won’t be a question of “if” it fails, but when. And the lower board is one of the most expensive components of the treadmill to replace!
Typically speaking, when you look at a lower electronics board on a treadmill, size makes a difference. A good rule of thumb is this: a bigger electronics board will outperform a smaller electronics board. This also includes larger resistors and capacitors. Bigger is better!
DIGITAL vs. ANALOG
Treadmills in a G&G Fitness Equipment showroom are going to have digital speed sensors, as opposed to analog sensors found in lesser-quality treadmills. These sensors are integral in regulating the speed of the belt when a user's load is placed upon it. Analog treadmills are going to have a slower response, and drive the motor to react more often. In addition, only digital treadmills are also capable of adjusting belt speeds upwards to 700 times per second, which is crucial for sheer stress reduction. We will explore this in detail in part four when we talk about bio-mechanics. Regardless, ask your expert fitness consultant if the treadmill you are considering is analog or digital.
The importance of the placement of the electronics board can’t be over-stated; the way it is fixated to the frame as well as its relative position to the motor will have a direct impact on its efficiency and overall life. Decades ago, premium treadmill manufacturers secured the lower electronics board to the frame horizontally, as this was the best option for the time. Securing the board to the frame was essential to combat the wear and tear of vibration, and the loosening of wires, resistors, capacitors, etc.
The problem with this method, which is still used today by some big-box department store brands, is the settling of dust. As dust accumulates on the lower electronics board, it interferes with its performance. Our service department has seen it many times over . . . dust is a treadmill’s worst nightmare!
Since then, premium treadmill manufactures are now securing the board vertically, because dust is much less likely to settle directly onto the electronics board due to gravity:
As you can see, the electronics board of the treadmill in the above image is fixated vertically to the frame, rather than horizontally. This will prevent dust and debris from settling on the board over time. But did you also notice the way it is positioned? First, the board itself is pointing away from the motor. It is also positioned as far away from the motor as possible. In addition, there is an aluminum heat sink (an insulator) attached to the board itself. These three things are all designed around protecting the lower board from the heat generated by the motor. Some cheap treadmill companies place the board directly beside the motor!
When you ask your fitness consultant to remove the motor cover, so you can see the electronics board, make a note of how the components of the board are attached to the board itself. Quality manufacturers such as Precor and Matrix impregnate electrical components to the board. Life Fitness takes it once step further with the application of an industrial heat resistant epoxy for an added measure of vibration protection:
To sum it up and simplify things, here’s a concise breakdown of what to look for in a lower electronics board:
- It should sit vertically (upright), not horizontally (flat)
- It should be as far away from the motor as possible
- It should have a heat sink, or heat shield, attached to it
- The heat sink should ideally act as a barrier between the board and the motor
- The bigger it is, the better it is
- Components should be securely attached to the board
Now let’s go back: why don’t treadmill review sites emphasize the importance of the lower electronics board on treadmills? My hypothesis is this:
- Most treadmill review sites on the internet are overwhelmingly biased, and aren’t even actually real review sites. Affiliate marketing is the practice of disguising the advertisement of products in the form of objective review articles. Take it to the bank: most of them are bought and paid for. Consumers don’t even know that they aren’t reading an unbiased review.
- Accepting #1 to be true, it would be a fair assumption to say that the primary contributors to those treadmill review sites aren’t even treadmill experts. They likely aren’t educated enough to comprehensively write and advise you about them. Even more so, it is extremely unlikely they have used all the treadmills they are reviewing and recommending. Look at it this way: I am a real person you can email or call, and I will talk to you about treadmills! I also manage a store, and you can come chat face to face with me. How many review sites can say the same thing?
THE INCLINE MOTOR
The motor that turns the belt isn’t the only motor on the treadmill. The incline motor is what pushes the user up, so the user can walk or run uphill.
To keep it simple, here is what you need to know: a cheap, lower-quality treadmill is going to have an incline motor with a thrust rating of around 300 pounds. The problem is that the combined weight of the treadmill and a user could commonly exceed 300 pounds!
Using myself as an example again, I weigh about 220 pounds. Let’s say I am using one of my favorite treadmills on the showroom floor: the Precor TRM445. The TRM445 weighs 358 pounds. That’s 578 pounds total that the incline motor must push up, and we aren’t even including the g-forces applied when I am running! Luckily, the incline motor on the Precor TRM445 has 1000 pounds of thrust. It’s one of many reasons why a company like Precor assigns no max user weight rating on their treadmills. Even more importantly though, it is one of the reasons why running on a quality treadmill is a very comfortable, consistent experience, with minimal (if any) vibration.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Look at the location that a premium treadmill manufacturer places the incline motor (and incline bracket). It will be at the center of the treadmill, which is the best place it could possibly be. If the incline motor were off-centered, the deck would move from side-to-side when a person ran on it. Putting it in the center will offer up a much more uniform and stable experience.
Remember our earlier example of a horizontal electronics board? Look at the photo again, but this time look at where the incline motor is positioned. I’ll give you a hint: it’s off-centered.
USE THIS INFORMATION TO GET THE BEST BANG FOR YOUR BUCK
All of these arguments that I present to you in this Buyer’s Guide are tangible design qualities that you yourself are able to go out and investigate and make an informed decision. While you are out shopping, don’t be afraid to ask questions! Expert fitness consultants are happy, eager and enthusiastic to take off the motor cover for you and show you these things in person. They will show you every tiny detail of every treadmill, so you can make an informed decision to ensure your investment is the best thing that works for you and your family. TRY THEM ALL OUT and listen to the feedback your body is giving you!
If you are reading this buyer’s guide and you are taking notes, it is very possible that you now know more about treadmill design than a lot of the big-box department store employees do!. Here’s a test: try asking a big-box department store employee to remove the motor cover for you so you can see everything. Ask them to explain the features to you. Test their knowledge. Test their products. Compare their treadmills and staff to G&G Fitness Equipment.
And don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes.
Stay tuned for Part IV where we will discuss bio-mechanics and electronics. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to chat with us using the button at the bottom of the screen, or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading.
Bryan has been with G&G since 2008. Along with experience as a personal trainer, Bryan has a BS in Education and is licensed to teach. He is an adjunct instructor for Wright State University. He has also taught grades 7-12... more about Bryan