For the umpteenth time, Michele Mehl was sitting on the sidelines of her son Jack’s life when it occurred to her that she could burn off some of her excess weight if she had an exercise cycle that she could take anywhere.
Mehl called up her “genius engineer uncle,” Mike Rector, she said, and together, they invented and patented a portable exercise cycle that they call Excy.
“I work a lot. I sit at my desk all day,” said Mehl, an Orangevale native whose public relations work helped startups such as Zulily and OfferUp build their brands. “I had gained weight, and I just started feeling like I needed to do some sort of exercise. ... I was paying for a gym membership that I wasn’t using. I think I went twice.”
This might surprise those who grew up with Mehl. She had played field hockey and baseball at Bella Vista High School and had won athletic scholarships to the University of the Pacific. Then she had a child and founded her own company, Seattle-based Buzz Builders, she said, and she threw herself into being a great mom and business adviser.
Exercise went out the window, she said, and she wanted to reclaim healthy habits but fit them in to her lifestyle. She knew that the 62-year-old Rector had built his own recumbent bicycle and that he had logged more than 150,000 cycling miles over his adult life.
“I called him up, and I was like, ‘Listen, I have this idea. I’m frustrated because I want to be healthy,’ ” Mehl said. “I knew that, if I didn’t do something different, my health was not going to be good. ... We started to do some research: Could it be done? Are there competitive products out there? We didn’t find anything at all.”
Rector came up with a prototype design and shipped it to his niece, Mehl said, and she did everything she could to break it. They made design refinements, and Mehl ended up developing a consistent exercise habit in the process. She would take the bike to her son’s Motocross and track events. She would pedal on it at work as she developed PR campaigns for tech industry startups.
Mehl and Rector then went to a manufacturer and had 12 of their early models produced. In October, they put them up for sale on Kickstarter.
“I wanted to acquire the first customers and have them go to town on them and see maybe things we didn’t think of or what kind of changes they would want,” Mehl said. “Also, I wanted to know how they were going to use it. Where were they going to use it? ... There are so many different ways you can use Excy.”
The 42-year-old Mehl discovered the versatility of Excy when she broke her leg while in-line skating in January 2015. The spiral fracture, and resulting complications, left her in a boot for five months.
“I couldn’t drive for eight weeks,” Mehl said. “It was a disaster, so during that time, I also realized there was nothing I could do for exercise except for using Excy with my arms. I realized that we have the ability to help people who have a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or a torn meniscus. They’ve done something to their legs, but they could use their arms to do their workouts.”
Mehl and Rector successfully funded their Kickstarter campaign and delivered the products this year. One of the Excy buyers was her longtime BFF, Theresa Prestedge, a speech pathologist and mother of two. Prestedge often runs half-marathons with her husband and gets up each morning before 5 a.m. to do fitness tapes by gurus like Tony Horton and Chalene Johnson. She bought Excy, she said, because she spends a lot of her day just sitting.
“I take it to my son’s baseball games and pedal away because baseball is long,” said Roseville’s Prestedge. “I took it to my daughter’s dance class and pedaled away. I’ve done a lot of workouts for an hour while she was dancing. I also work with special-needs kids, and I showed it to a few of my autistic kids, and they absolutely loved not having to move anywhere. They could start riding right from their seats where they were sitting, and I ... sit at my desk and pedal.”
Rector and Mehl are now selling the portable Excy cycles for $557 at shop.excy.com, and she’s developed a free mobile app that includes six workouts, one of which is customizable. While the workouts are optimized for Excy, Mehl said, they can be used for walking, cycling or other workouts.