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Water bikes could make a ripple in exercise tech

When Judah Schiller goes for a bike ride, he might pedal alongside dolphins instead of trees. Perched on a frame that floats on 11-foot inflatable pontoons, he's seen a group of sea lions poke their heads out of water, inquisitive about the device drifting next to them.

Schiller's company, Schiller Sports, on Friday will publicly unveil its X1 water bicycle, which glides on a 45-pound aluminum and stainless steel frame and pontoons that contract to about three cubic feet when disassembled. As a San Francisco resident, Schiller wanted to create a sustainable, human-powered mode of transportation that used the area's water more efficiently than currently marketed motorized or manual craft.

Judah Schiller floats on Schiller Sports’ X1 water bike.
Source: Schiller Sports
Judah Schiller floats on Schiller Sports’ X1 water bike.

He sees biking that isn't confined to lanes or paths, allowing users to cycle onto the world's shorelines. For Schiller, biking can become more feasible on water than kayaking or boating.

"There are 1 billion bikes built on land for a planet that's two-thirds water," Schiller said.

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Schiller enters a market with few commercial producers and even fewer distributors.

The lack of significant presence could make marketing the product, which carries a $6,495 price tag, difficult when it goes on sale Friday. The company will offer the standard X1 as well as 250 units of the "Founder's Edition," which will come in at $8,775.

Though its price more than triples some other models on the market, Schiller believes the X1's design, size and convenience make it a reasonable buy. He touts the bike as the most advanced model ever created, as it "converts the maximum amount of human energy."

Designed to be compact, the bike is tailored to urban exercise enthusiasts who live close to water, Schiller said. Users can break the bike down to a manageable size in fewer than 10 minutes, allowing them to store it in a bag or car trunk, he said.

"It's a design decision. It's tough to have a kayak in a Soho apartment," Schiller said.

A rider pedals on the Schiller Sports X1 bicycle.
Source: Shiller Sports
A rider pedals on the Schiller Sports X1 bicycle.

Schiller's foray into production began last year, when he constructed a water bicycle using a road bike frame. He rode the machine across both the San Francisco Bay and Hudson River last fall, receiving enough interest that he decided to make a commercial model.

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Analysts say water bicycles haven't yet made a significant dent in bicycle or water sports markets. Fred Clements, executive director of the National Bicycle Dealers Association, said road bikes and mountain bikes average about $1,600 and $2,000, respectively, which would make the X1 expensive as an alternative.

Although bicycle stores have started to carry more alternative models, such as electronic bikes, he said he didn't know of any dealers carrying water bikes. However, he noted that the bicycle industry has room to change.

"There are so many different uses for bicycles potentially," Clements said.

Ray Buresch, creator of the "Hydrobike," has stayed in the water bike business since he sold his first product in 1991. Two Hydrobike models currently sell respectively for $1,999 and $3,799.

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Though he would "certainly wish for greater sales," Buresch said customer reaction to riding water bikes has kept him in the business. Buresch noted that "there's always room for competition," adding that "it's good for the niche market."

"I've seen a lot of different designs come and go. Usually there's some sort of design flaw that shows up," Buresch said.

Schiller is confident that his model is built to stick around. He noted that water bikes haven't become widely known as most models have come from "weekend tinkerers." With more commercial production, Schiller believes the product will gradually become more viable.

"Time will tell," Schiller said. "It's like any new form of transportation."

— By Jacob Pramuk, Special to CNBC.com