Editorial: Spin Job

Editor Elsa Lam exercises at work with a LifeSpan Bike Desk paired with a Humanscale QuickStand 
Lite arm.
Editor Elsa Lam exercises at work with a LifeSpan Bike Desk paired with a Humanscale QuickStand 
Lite arm.

This summer, I’ve been keeping healthy by biking to work—and also biking at work. I’ve swapped my chair for an upright bicycle, putting the active workstation to the test.

Back in January 2014, I wrote about the walking desk at my home office. More than two years later, I still use it on a regular basis. We’ve since moved to a house, so there is no neighbour below to complain about the whirring sound. Our stucco ceiling remains free of cracks. I love the rhythm of walking while I write, and the efficiency of integrating exercise with my workday.

If I had a closed room at my regular office, I’d get another treadmill in an instant. But my setup is a more typical workstation in an open office. A walking desk would take up too much room, and its hum would no doubt annoy my colleagues.

So, I’ve been on a quest for an office-friendly active workstation set-up. Over the past year, I’ve tried a cardboard standing desk, under-desk cycle, and some DIY experiments, like a standing workstation made from upturned recycling bins. All of these worked well enough—almost anything is better for your metabolism than plain sitting—but ergonomically, none were quite right.

Finally, I’ve arrived at a configuration that’s been performing optimally for over three months. It has two components: a Bike Desk unit from LifeSpan Fitness that replaces my chair, and a QuickStand Lite arm from Humanscale that mounts at the edge of my desktop. Both are loaners from their respective manufacturers.

Just like a treadmill desk is a simplified treadmill, a bike desk is essentially a simplified exercise bike. It doesn’t have handlebars, and the control console is a unit that can be tucked to the side, rather than sitting directly in front of you. The pedals work with magnetic resistance—the level of difficulty can be changed—so the unit is completely silent.

I would happily pedal away all day, but the one area of friction is the seat. Even as a regular cyclist, after a while I get saddle sore.

In any case, LifeSpan suggests using the bike desk for only two to four hours a day, and most days I hit that before my derrière gets overly tender. That’s enough to burn some 200 to 400 calories, while leaving plenty of energy for my 15-kilometre bike ride home.

The trick with biking at a desk is finding a way to have your monitor and keyboard at the correct heights. Getting a variable height desk would be the simplest solution, but that doesn’t fit our office configuration. That’s where the QuickStand Lite comes in. It’s an articulated arm with a platform for a keyboard and a mount for an existing monitor—the location of these elements relative to each other can be adjusted. A clever counterbalance mechanism lets you effortlessly swivel the unit to any height—from desk height for sitting, to a half-metre higher for standing, and a few centimetres higher still for biking.

At first, my computer monitor jiggled a bit—the inevitable trade-off for any cantilevered design. But with the slight pressure of my wrists at the keyboard and mouse, it’s easily stabilized.

Compared to other sit-stand platforms, which sit directly atop desks, the aesthetic is elegant and minimalist. The white and brushed aluminum finishes are a close match to my iPhone and MacBook. There are channels that thoughtfully hide away cables. It would look good in a designer’s office.

Working at my bike desk sometimes does feel a bit oddball. Each day, someone in our office will come to examine the set-up, and I’ll explain it, and encourage them to give it a spin. Usually, they go away at least a tad envious.

As for me, pedaling at work helps me feel enlivened and engaged. Now, I just need to optimize my workplace snacks to keep my blood sugar and protein levels up. Any ideas?