PELOTON BIKE – LONG TERM REVIEW

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PRELUDE

I actually toyed with the idea of Peloton for the best part of a year before taking the plunge. Having been to spin classes on a regular basis at the local leisure centre, the convenience of having a studio-style workout whenever I wanted was very appealing and so after much deliberation and research – or Google and watching the slick TV ad’s – I finally committed and coughed up the dough.

And yes. I will admit it. After hitting that submit order button I think I held my head in my hands in the disbelief that I had just seemingly spent two grand on an exercise bike with a touch-screen stuck to it. “My god what have I done?” were probably the words but after regaining some composure I stuck with my decision and now – a year down the line – I have zero regrets about the investment. The tldr here is that the Peloton bike is an excellent cardio machine and well worth considering if you are thinking seriously about investing in home fitness equipment.

ORDER AND DELIVERY EXPERIENCE

I ordered the “works package” in December 2019 and the total price was just over £2000. This included the original Peloton bike, floormat, weights, shoes, headphones, and heart rate monitor. You have the option to choose both shoe and weight size when ordering. The works package essentially provides everything you need to get going if you have zero pre-existing cycling/fitness gear (assuming you have shorts and a t-shirt!).

The lead time was about thirty days (more on this below but due to high demand and Covid, the delivery times are currently much longer) and delivery in the UK was handled by XPO Logistics who are sub-contracted by Peloton to carry the bike to the room of your choice, assemble it, and then configure basic setup on the touchscreen (this may be different now since Covid).

The whole process lasted about thirty minutes and the two XPO guys removed all packaging and made sure the bike was working before they left. The unofficial Peloton subreddit has a great checklist to make sure everything is as it should be when its delivered which is worth running through if you can. If issues are noted the delivery team may not be able to rectify it but it will at least be recorded for raising with Peloton.

THE HARDWARE

Ignoring the IOT aspect for a moment, the bike itself is a sturdy bit of kit weighing in at just over 61 kg (135 lbs) when assembled. It is a world apart from the wobbly exercise bike your Mum used to keep in the spare room which doubled-up as a clothes hanger and it’s easily comparable to the sort of heavy-duty machine you would find in a commercial gym. The saddle height and depth are adjustable along with the handlebar height (no depth adjustment on the handlebars unfortunately) and on the back of the saddle is a bracket for the weights which you will use in certain classes.

The screen can be angled up and down and then fixed in place with the screws on the back but otherwise is statically mounted to the handlebars via a central bar. The pedals are the clip-in type and so you will require shoes with cleats (these shoes come as part of the “works package”). Resistance is controlled via the big red knob (lol) which adjusts the magnetic break mechanism. Quick note on the resistance – it is completely analogue but the value between 0 and 100 is shown on screen. What this means in practice is that the bike cannot automatically adjust resistance for you (unlike the newer Bike+). Above the resistance knob you have the drink holders. Not long after I ordered, Peloton sent me a complimentary drinks bottle (and baseball cap) but most small-medium sized water bottles should fit without issue.

Before the bike arrives you should consider carefully where you want it as optimally it needs be situated on a hard level floor. I actually have mine upstairs on carpet which meant I had to mitigate unevenness by hand-turning the four feet in each corner to ensure the bike was level and stable on my less than perfect floorboards. If your floor does also happen to be carpeted then one tip I picked up was to place a piece of plywood under the floormat which can help if there is significant wobble, but I haven’t had to do this personally.

The floormat (or any floormat) is highly recommended. Spinning is hard work and you will sweat buckets so protecting what’s below with something easily cleanable is a sensible (not to mention hygienic) idea. For my DIY spin studio I also bought a high-powered fan which I consider another essential if you don’t want to dissolve into a puddle of your own rancid juices. Sorry not sorry for that image. You’ll also want a gym towel to place over the handlebars and gym wipes/spray to keep the bike clean after use. It is recommended to do this after each use as despite its sturdiness, sweat will lead to corrosion over the long term.

THE TOUCHSCREEN

Obviously the big point of the Peloton is the touchscreen and the interactivity it delivers to the rider. The screen itself is a decent size and behaves as responsively as any modern touch-device. It connects to the bike hardware via a single Y-cable and runs a customised version of the Android operating system. The power button is located on the back and on the right-hand side is a 3.5mm audio jack alongside volume control (volume can also be controlled via the touchscreen).

On the back of the screen are some “okay” built in speakers and the bike also has Bluetooth and ANT+ so can pair easily with wireless headphones and heart rate monitors. You also have all the usual other network connectivity you would expect with WIFI and ethernet along with the ability for connecting your Peloton account to Fitbit, Strava, and Facebook for automatic sharing of your workouts directly from the bike. It is also possible to cast content from the bike screen to another display if you have a TV that supports Mirracast. This is pretty much essential for the other non-pedalling activities that are available as the screen cannot be rotated (the screen on the newer Bike+ can do this however).

THE EXPERIENCE

In order to access any of the classes (either live or recorded) you need a Peloton membership which costs around £40 per month. This unlocks all features on the bike but also the whole range of instructor-led activities that exist in the Peloton ecosystem. These can be accessed from the bike or via the web/app on different devices. Worth noting here is that under the one membership, multiple people can utilise the bike with their own separate profile and you can also share the digital element of your membership with three others who can then stream classes at the same time on different devices. All this considered, I personally feel the monthly fee is quite reasonable if you compare it to spinning three times a week at a leisure centre or paying for a family membership.

With the exception of major holidays there is a schedule of live classes every day which follow the London and New York time zones – the two cities where the Peloton studios are based – but you can also take previously broadcast classes on-demand whenever its convenient. So if you fancy doing a quick HIIT and Hills ride at half-eleven when you get back from the pub it should be no problem. In normal times the studios would have members of the public in attendance but in the Covid era its now generally just the instructor and some support staff.

In regards to the instructors, they are quite a mix of diverse personalities but are generally accomplished athletes in their own right. Some are more – how shall I put this – flamboyant – but if you want an exercise class with tons of positive energy you will not be disappointed no matter whose style you tend to gravitate towards. Some are definitely more performance/training oriented whereas others are more positive-lifestyle focussed but you will learn who you like the more you explore the platform.

During a ride all your metrics such as cadence, resistance, heartbeat, FTP zones (see below), calories, and output are fed back to you on the display and whilst the classes are designed to make you work, you often get ranges called out which accommodate for participants of all levels along with guidance that you can modify if you cant hit a certain target which helps to prevent demotivation if you feel like your struggling. Peloton knows that there is a wide range of ability so the classes are generally inclusive and accommodating of this.

Most classes are usually between twenty and sixty minutes and can be based around a theme such as music from a specific decade or a particular artist, or even something happening in the wider world. Alternatively they tend to focus on a particular type of training methodology such as HIIT. There are also plenty of FTP/Power Zone classes which are tailored to your specific effort zones (there is a special test class which sets the bike up for you to get the most out of this) and you also have the classes that involve the free weights which can be nice if you don’t want to be pedalling for the full session and instead give your arms/upper body an opportunity to workout.

If you are new to spinning or feel like taking it a bit easier on a particular day there are many beginner and low impact rides which focus on good form and remaining mostly in the saddle, along with programs that you can take over a number of weeks (think Couch 2 5K etc). Outside of the instructor based classes you have the pre-recorded scenic rides from locations all over the world and you can also just ride as Peloton terms it if you only want your stats whilst you exercise. Which, I have to confess, seems a bit idiotic if you have just spent the best part of two thousand pounds on a bike with a MASSIVE SCREEN attached to it but alas, the option is there if desired.

During the rides there are motivational hooks to keep you engaged primarily of which is the leader board where you can compete with others based on your output, or even just yourself if you are going for a PB. If competition is not your thing – or you possibly get a bit too carried away and lose focus on your steady-pace training goals – then you can hide the leader board by simply tapping on it (this goes for the other UI elements too).

You can interact with with other riders by tapping on their names to give a little motivational boost via the high-five system and there’s a stream on the left-hand side of the display where people who have hit milestones, achievements, and daily/weekly streaks will be featured allowing you to give some recognition/kudos if you choose to do so. There’s also a webcam which allows you to video chat with others although by default this is off for privacy reasons.

Big milestones are often read out by the instructor but with potentially tens of thousands of people in the class you may get missed unfortunately. I’ve read that if its your birthday and you also hit a significant milestone on the same day then this improves your chances but either way you will probably get lots of high-fives from fellow participants if nothing else.

Peloton do also note some milestones outside the virtual world as they recently sent me a free t-shirt for becoming a member of the one-hundred-rides Century Club. You also have the monthly and yearly challenges which you can join and these are similar to the sort of things you find on Strava revolving around completing a set amount of days exercise per month for bronze, silver, or gold along with hitting mileage targets over the course of the year. All in all, plenty to keep you engaged and immersed in the experience.

COMPANY, SUPPORT, AND LONGEVITIY

Peloton Interactive was formed back in 2012 with the original bike going on sale in 2014. Since then the company has experienced rapid growth and expanded its hardware offering with a treadmill and upgraded bike. Revenue stands around $2B per year and as of September 2020 they have 1.09M members with connected fitness (people paying the £40 per month fee to use the bike/tread) and a total of 3M members, the remainder of which are using the digital app. Most analysts seem to think the company still has good growth potential and is likely to remain in a strong position for the future despite strengthening competition.

A common concern is what would happen if Peloton failed and their servers disappeared overnight? You would be left with an exercise bike but probably wouldn’t even be able to log in to see your riding stats. Hopefully if this ever happened the community would come up with some sort of solution to replace the operating system with a freeware solution but personally I think the outlook is good that Peloton are going to be around for a while.

As was to be expected, the pandemic has seen a surge in demand for home fitness related products and Peloton would be daft not to have capitalised on this but in doing so they have faced a lot of criticism for overreaching and consequently slacking with long delivery delays and lacklustre support when things go wrong. Reddit is full of horror stories with people being delivered broken hardware and then waiting months for a resolution.

I had a couple of issues with my bike which I logged in late March 2020. These were that the screen seemed slightly askew, and the baring’s were making a subtle rattling noise. I am not unreasonable and expected delays due to Covid but it took many chase-ups with support before the first issue with the screen was finally resolved in December 2020 and then I had to chase them up again for the baring’s because Peloton didn’t add both issues to the first tech’s work order despite me telling them several times there were two issues. As I write this the baring’s were replaced two days ago.

One positive thing is that the technicians are actually employed by Peloton and not sub-contracted (at least here in the UK) so they did appear to have the depth of knowledge required to competently service the bike on both visits. They were also very courteous and wore masks and carpet protectors before entering the house. The bike itself comes with a one year warranty which I feel is low for such a premium product and although there are service plan options after your warranty expires, this will be an additional cost.

My issues were minor niggles and as the bike was usable I wasn’t really inconvenienced, but some people have had kit delivered where there are serious hardware faults such as cross-threaded pedals or issues with the drivetrain which meant the bike couldn’t be used. In this instance, waiting months on end for a resolution or refund pick-up would undoubtedly leave a sour taste. There is also criticism on Peloton’s support model where the support agents are basically getting exploited. To be fair, it’s not just Peloton adopting this model but as a company that promotes wellness, health, and its ethical values, it feels a tad hypocritical.

SUMMARY

£2000 (its actually around £1800 now following release of the Bike+) and then the monthly fee is a big investment and no doubt requires careful consideration. If you have never done spinning before you can make use of the 30 day trial upon which if you decide its not for you then Peloton will collect the bike and refund you. This should hopefully avoid a sixty kilogram chunk of buyers remorse taking up space in your home.

Personally I think one of the key questions to ask yourself is “am I one of those very disciplined people who can motivate myself during exercise?”. If the answer is yes then instructor-led classes may not be a big appeal to you, and therefore something like this is not worth the money. But for me personally, I find having on-demand motivation is worth its weight in gold.

In case it isn’t obvious yet…..

Yes. Despite the logistical issues, questionable business practices, and price tag – I would recommend the Peloton Bike 🙂

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