Pros: Highest quality standards. Wonderful running experience.
I bought the Sole F80 in January of this year (2008). Mine is the 2008 edition. I have been using it regularly since I received it. I bought it from a merchant called Mercantila for $1,404.25 (after a $20 rebate from PriceGrabber).
Prior to making the purchase, I did a fair amount of research. I looked at models on the Web, read reviews by professional trade publications, read reviews from end users at places like this one. I asked people I knew who had used treadmills. Having been a member at a healthclub for a few years, I knew what I wanted in a treadmill. My workouts are nearly 100% cardio, so I've used a fair amount of different treadmills over the years.
The treadmills in healthclubs - in theory - are of "industrial" quality. From what I have seen, they are certainly of better quality than the average "consumer" machine. Some consumer treadmills feel like they will fall apart at any moment. Most consumer treadmills don't approach the quality of those found in healthclubs. More than anything, I imagine that healthclubs choose better quality treadmills simply because of maintenance issues and not features. Cost of ownership to them is almost certainly the deciding factor.
So when you go out and shop for treadmills, you have many choices. You can choose to cut corners in many areas. There are many different manufacturers of treadmills. It's not like HDTVs where three or four companies worldwide actually make the displays and then just slap different brands on them before showing them in retailers. So it pays to do your research. There are also many different places to buy treadmills. You can buy them new or used. I would say the best way to buy a used treadmill is through Craigslist. Look for available treadmills from your local area and then actually go and look at them before you commit to buying. As for new treadmills, I think you should buy from the lowest priced vendor. That's what I did. It cost me headaches because of logistics and hassles dealing with poor service, but in the end it saved me $95 over buying it directly from the manufacturer.
So how about the F80 by Sole? Probably the first thing I had to do was figure out what price range I wanted to spend while getting a first-class machine. It seemed that $1,500 was about the low-end of what I had to pay to get the machine I wanted. Anything below that range lost quality in a hurry. I didn't much care about features. In fact, on my F80, I only use a handful of buttons and only use a couple of features. A real running freak may use this thing for a really complex cardio workout. Me - I just run.
The next thing I had to do was pick the brand. A few brands had high marks in the trade journals. To be honest (as if everything else I'm saying is dishonest), I don't remember which brands those were. I do know that Sole was ranked pretty much tied with two other brands (or maybe it was one other brand) in terms of quality. So then it just came down to selecting the precise model and then of course, the vendor.
I chose the F80 because I think it's in the sweet spot of Sole's lineup. The F80 is in a class of "folding" treadmills and they have four models in that class. One is below the F80 and two are above it. The one just above it has the same motor and guts, just a slightly bigger deck.
One specification that stood out when doing research was the power of the motor in the treadmill. The F80 has a 3.0 horsepower motor in it. The same model in the 2007 edition has a 2.5 HP motor in it. So for those of us who waited or just happened to buy in 2008 ended up getting a nice boost. Basically, from what I read, having that 3.0 HP motor makes a big difference over smaller motors in terms of the experience you'll get using the treadmill. Supposedly, treadmills that seem like they're working harder make the experience considerably less enjoyable or even less productive and can lead to maintenance issues. I suppose that only makes sense, since if the motor isn't up to the job, it's just going to break down over time.
So how's the machine performing?
Great. I could not be more pleased with this treadmill. It doesn't have as wide of a deck as the ones in the healthclubs, but other than that, being totally honest here, I couldn't care less if I were running on my F80 or some industrial model in a healthclub, at least in terms of the quality of the machine and experience.
Is the deck wide enough? Yeah, it is. I have another one back here on the farm that I got from my sister because she doesn't use it and that thing is a piece of junk compared to my F80. And running on that deck is sort of like running over hot coals. If I'm not careful, I step off the mat and trip. So if you're especially concerned about this factor, go out to the big box sports stores and step onto these things and see if you're comfortable. Compare the decks and see where your sweetspot is. The F80 has enough room for me without worrying about it, and worry is where the threshold is. If you're worried, it's a problem. If you're not, then it's not a problem.
The F80 runs smooth and very quietly. I mean really quiet. It's rather amazing how quiet this thing is. I have neglected the scheduled lube job I need to perform on it, so occasionally I am hearing a little whining, but this has only happened occasionally and not regularly and only in the past two months. I've been running on this thing an average of five days per week - average - for seven months now. Some days I run twice on it - morning and evening. So it has seen use.
One thing I noticed right off the bat was how sturdy and solid this thing is. I won't say "built like a tank," because I think those treadmills in the healthclubs are built like tanks, but this thing doesn't wiggle a bit while I am on it. It requires setup, but even this yutz (me) with tools managed to get it assembled in short order. My father assisted, but long story short, I had to take it back apart and put it together again the first week (had a wire crossed or partially disconnected). Once I put in all of the screws and had everything set up according to the instructions, it was set. Literally. If you want to move this thing, it's tough. It is a foldup treadmill and maybe lots of people use that feature, but I don't. I set it up where I wanted it and it hasn't moved an inch since January. And it won't, unless I find three other guys to help lift it and move it. That or I figure out how to fold it and move it that way. Again quite honestly, I don't even know if it has wheels, but I would guess it does since if it is folded and intended to be stored away, how else would this thing move? I'll publish the full specs on it and maybe there's info there. Otherwise, check out soletreadmills.com for more information.
Here are the full specs:
Motor: 3.0 HP Continuous Duty, DC type
Speed: 0.5 to 11 mph
Incline: 15% maximum, rack and pinion gear design
Weight: 250 lbs.
Deck Size: 33 X 75 - Cushion Flex Shock Absorption Whisper Deck
User Weight: 350 lbs.
Running Surface: 20 X 55
Belt: Double Woven 2 Ply
Rollers: 2 3/4 inches
Folding: Yes, with the Easy Assist folding feature
Heart Rate Control: Yes with wireless chest strap included
Hand Pulse Grips: Yes, and arm rest speed/incline controls
Display Color: One Color - Red
Message Window: Yes - Scrolling Information
Standard Programs: Six
User Defined Programs: Two
Heart Rate Programs: Two
Cooling Fans: Yes
Limited Warranty: Motor, Lifetime -- Deck, Lifetime -- Frame, Lifetime -- Electronics / Belt / Rollers, 5 years - Labor, 2 years, In-Home service.
Sorry about the bold face there. I just copied and pasted and I'm too lazy to go back and de-bold them (these new formatting tools at Epinions are cool, though. About darn time!).
Ah, the fans. That's another thing I like. They don't give out much, but just enough to help out. They're handy, unlike a fan I could buy from Target and just place it nearby. Being built-in, I just push a button.
Drink holders. Awesome. My Propel bottles fit right in there and I use them every time. Good engineering of all the various features and where they're located.
This treadmill has speed buttons on the sidebar of the upright. I use those to control speed instead of the buttons on the main control center. I actually don't even touch the control center except to turn on the fans and start and stop the treadmill. It has a ton of features - different inclines, different programmed speeds, variable speeds, workout plans, etc. I don't use that stuff. Again, just run. I run on a zero incline and from 5.2-6.8 mph. Occasionally into the 7s if I'm really ambitious. Or if I recently watched Forrest Gump.
Appearance? If this is important to you, the F80 is sleek. I think it looks great. It's not gaudy, doesn't appear gadgety. It's mostly black with silver-colored bars parallel to the running mat. The control center is a bit gaudy if you look at it, but you don't see it unless you look straight at it. And it's not lit up, either, unless you're using it. So it's not bad. All in all, this thing looks really good just sitting around as a piece of furniture. And if you've managed to work yourself into shape like I have, the company (visitors) will look at it and marvel and think [I should be doing what he's doing].
Warranty. This was important to me when I bought it and it may be important to me down the line if I have problems, but right now it's the furthest from my mind. The F80 is running like a champ, so what do I care? You can see the warranty terms in the above specs, so I won't cover them. But it's a good warranty and it's piece of mind.
Anything else? Probably, but if I can't remember it right now, it's likely not that important. I'll revise this if I think of something else that is important. It comes with a user manual that gives basic maintenance instructions (when to lube it, basically). I haven't looked at it yet beyond an initial glance. I need to get to that lube job soon, though.
I can't recommend this thing enough. I can't imagine a better consumer-level machine. Maybe somebody makes one just as good, but I can't imagine one being better. Not for the money. Maybe the treadmills with even bigger motors run better, but I probably wouldn't notice. How would I since I can barely hear this thing now and it runs as smooth as an assembly line? It's an awesome machine. I paid for a $1,500 machine, so I should get something good. Or ought to. You don't always get what you pay for, so don't go about this just throwing money around. You're going to be running on this thing a lot, so take the decision seriously.
Oh, and yes, this decision was based in large part on an effort to lose weight. I'm proud to say I have lost 24 pounds since January and it's mainly due to running on this machine an average of five days per week (21 minutes per session, 1.8-2.2 miles per session, 5.2-6.8 mph per session).
I highly recommend the Sole F80 treadmill (2008 edition).