When Peter and Sondra Welles decided to throw a bash to celebrate many of their friends' 50th birthdays, they wanted to host more than a basic cocktail party. So instead of asking their friends to juggle a drink in one hand and a plate of food in the other, they invited them to drop their inhibitions and climb aboard a Gyrogym.
Its national distributor, Space Station U.S.A., describes Gyrogym as "a multi-axis machine that affords 360 degrees movement on any plane," but more simply it's a piece of three-ringed playground equipment. Riders stand in the middle and spin, cartwheel, somersault and turn upside down with little effort.
"We wanted to surprise people," said Mrs. Welles. "Even though nobody had ever seen one before, there was a line to use it all night. The first thing that happens when you get on is that you go upside down and sideways, but then you move your head or shoulders and suddenly you're spinning in all directions."
Two Gyrogyms have been available in the Baltimore area since April, through Chesapeake Recreation Rentals. Joel D. Abramson, founder of the rental company, said they are popular attractions at private parties, company picnics and fairs. The adult version, which can be used by people between 5 feet and 6-foot-3, rents for $50 an hour with a three-hour minimum. Children between 3 and 5 feet can spin to their hearts' content on the smaller one. The adult Gyrogym was offered as a ride at this year's City Fair, where it drew nearly as many spectators as riders.
"It's almost as much fun to watch as it is to ride," said Mr. Abramson's daughter, Annette, secretary for the family-owned company. "People remember watching spinning gyroscopes for hours when they were kids."
The Gyrogym is easy to use. Merely step inside a waist-level padded bar, anchor your feet on a central platform, grab hold of the bar above your head, and you're off. The rider can increase speed with small pumping leg movements and stop the motion by sitting down to lower the center of gravity.
At the Welleses' party, many of the women were content to give the Gyrogym a cursory whirl, while the men tried to see how fast they could spin and how many different orbits they could achieve. "It's amazing. Your waist stays constant while you spin vertically, horizontally and angularly," Mr. Welles noted.
Mrs. Welles said that some guests felt dizzy, but most were fine after the ride. According to Stephen Case, vice president of Space Station U.S.A., beginners sometimes feel dizzy until they learn to control the Gyrogym.
He also said he is not aware of any injuries on the Gyrogyms, though the company does not advise use by pregnant women.
Mr. Abramson said he is fully covered by insurance and is happy to show prospective renters a copy of his policy. City Fair officials requested proof of his coverage before he could bring his equipment there.
There are approximately 300 Gyrogyms throughout the country in private homes and available for party rentals, according to Mr. Case. Because the equipment provides full body, involuntary isometric exercise, Mr. Case said Gyrogyms also have been ordered by fitness centers.
"Although the amusement aspect is currently the strongest, we feel the long-range use is in the fitness area," he said. An exercise book and video detailing various maneuvers are currently being prepared for Gyrogym owners.