The Outside Prognosticator: Be All That You Can’t Be

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Outside magazine, January 1996

The Outside Prognosticator: Be All That You Can’t Be

It lets you move freely and enjoy the sights,” says Michael Sneath, an underwater trainer for Belaqua, which manufactures the Breathing Observation Bubble, a $10,000 submersible motor scooter fitted with a Jetsons-style breathing helmet.

Yes, it does. It also lets you enjoy scuba–BOB can take you 40 feet down–without performing any physical work, thus making it a prime example of a new class of outdoor gear that might be called “desperation toys”: gadgets, in the tradition of “no slice” golf clubs, that provide a mechanical leg up for a faux-mightier you. Other hot items include Z-Tech’s new Recoil Trainer, a
$110 running shoe with a stride-aiding spring coil built into its sole, and Elan’s SCX skis, $500 downhill sticks with an hourglass shape so extreme that, as the company’s Bill Irwin puts it, “You could have a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette and still make your turns.”

Desperation toys aren’t all bad–Icarus sure could have used ’em–but items like the electric bicycle, a rage in Japan, do make you wonder whether too many calories are being spared. Running off a rechargeable battery-and-motor combo, the bike can zrrrrtz you along at 20 miles per hour with scant pedaling.

“Performance tapers on steep grades,” says Steve Christ, a product engineer who’s worked with power-assisted bike prototypes for the U.S. market. “But at least you won’t stall out on the big climb.”

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