Waterbiking takes off at resorts
Creator Judah Schiller wants his bicycle-catamaran hybrid offered at every water resort as a leisure sport, writes Adam Erace
The life-jacket snaps lock with a reassuring click, and Eddie, an amused associate at the Viceroy Sugar Beach resort, on the Caribbean’s St Lucia, smiles.
"It’s just like getting on a bicycle," he says, encouragingly.
In the clear shallows of the southwestern coast of the island, one of the Windward Islands in the Caribbean Sea, I’m about to try the next great watersport: waterbiking.
Floating on the water is the Schiller S1, a $4,500 contraption that is part bicycle, part catamaran — with a promise that you can pedal it across any body of water.
If creator Judah Schiller has his way, it will soon be on the amenity list at every great resort. "We’re at the start of new industry, category and sport," he says. "In five years, I think there will be Schiller Bikes on every hotel beach around the world."
Eddie gives the back of the bike a light push, and I’m pedalling into the Caribbean, away from the powdery shores of Sugar Beach and St Lucia’s majestic green Piton mountains.
Riding out is easy. The waterski-like pontoons resemble bumpers at a kid’s bowling alley birthday party, holding the carriage above the frothy surf as the sea’s sandy bottom drops away. Everything is very stable; during the safety briefing there was not even talk of what to do should you fall off, because you will not.
The anodised aluminium bike frame is svelte and lightweight. One rotation of the pedals gives the propeller eight spins, so it takes very little physical effort (and just two minutes) to put me 50m offshore. Before long, I’m skimming along a megayacht anchored in the bay. The thing about riding a bike in the middle of a large body of water is that people stare. Suddenly no one’s looking at the multimillion-dollar yacht: they are all looking at the curious spectacle of a bike doing leisurely loops through the bay. Schiller invented the waterbike in 2014, but it is still a novelty.
"As a spinner, cyclist, and water lover, learning about the Schiller Bike was one of those rare instances when you look at something and simply say ‘of course’," says Bill Walshe, CEO of Viceroy Hotel Group.
Sugar Beach, which now has three S1s, was the first resort in the world to buy in. "I wasted no time e-mailing Judah to let him know how excited I was by his invention," he says.
Other resorts are catching on to the nascent trend: Schiller counts such brands as Four Seasons, JW Marriott and Aman among its hotel clients, placing bikes in fantasy destinations Bora Bora, Costa Rica, Bali and Dubai.
So far three of earth’s four oceans are bike-able. It’s now at 14 resorts worldwide and will top 21 at the end of 2017.
The S1 also sells online to individuals, alongside its hydrodynamically superior brother, the $6,000 S1-C.
Outside the leisure market, a community is growing. Early adopters are creating and recording routes, charting territory through Austin’s Lady Bird Lake and around France’s Cap d’Ail and sharing it on social media.
Other resorts are catching on to the nascent trend: Schiller counts such brands as Four Seasons, JW Marriott and Aman among its hotel clients, placing bikes in fantasy destinations Bora Bora, Costa Rica, Bali and Dubai
"You get a few people riding together and eventually, someone’s going to start racing," Schiller says. "You get athletes to race and you’ve got a sport."
Schiller is in the final stages of organising a waterbike race with a "royal-backed foundation" in the south of France next summer.
After biking the length of the yacht, I stop pedalling, stand up on the pontoons, and just float for a minute. My heart rate’s elevated, partly because I downed a beer immediately before this, partly because waterbiking is one of those sneaky workouts you don’t really feel until you’re halfway through, and partly because of the thrill of being this far out on the water, raised up over it, feeling exposed, rather than down in it, cocooned in a kayak’s polyethylene shell or secure on the surface of a surfboard. Schiller calls it a "glass-bottom viewing experience". The water is too deep and too dark for me to see the rays and turtles and nurse sharks cruising below.
But I see the water. It is right there. It is like the difference between riding a regular roller coaster and a floorless one: the less between you and the elements, the better.
"You don’t have that on a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard. That’s why the Schiller bike is disruptive," Schiller says, ticking off today’s favourite buzzword.
The verdict is pending as to whether investors agree; Schiller is pursuing Series A capital in February with the aim to transform it from global beach resort fitness toy into a true industry.
The ride has definitely disrupted my out-of-shape self. Pedalling back to shore, against the current, requires more effort than I expected or am prepared to exert on holiday. But I make it back.
I trot across the beach to my wife and flop on a fluffy, white lounge chair: "Water," I croak. She side-eyes me, "Are you serious?"