The Peloton Diaries

“That,” I thought, looking at the TV advert, “is a cracking business idea”. Market a swanky bike at the cash rich, time poor urbanites. I bet every subscriber has an Apple watch, suckers!

Peloton? Pah!

Scotch Mist

It will not surprise you to learn, then, that I absolutely have not bought a Peloton bike and I definitely do not have a Peloton subscription. I would also like to point out that the parrot is not dead, it’s resting. Beautiful plumage, the Norwegian Blue.

What on Earth possessed me to get on board this particular train then?

When I was a kid I cycled everywhere. Fitness just happened whilst I was seeing how many of my mates I could jump over. But as I got older my life got bigger and the all beer and pizza diet started to take its toll.

To cut a long story short I joined the gym at the university where I worked – and I loved it. But, it was right on campus and it was incredibly good value.

Then I moved to back the country and the nearest gym was not only a 20 minute drive away, I caught the manager sucking a lemon before he told me the price. It wasn’t very good, either. The economics, both of money and time, switched. It became far more effective to have a home gym.

The problem is that home CV equipment just isn’t made for people like me. I’m a serial killer of exercise bikes, cross trainers and especially treadmills. In order to keep the price down, they have to make economies. I understand that. Actually, if it gets people who would otherwise do nothing up and active, I support that.

Sadly, as you move up the price band, they add features instead of making the machines stronger and more durable – and that really pisses me off.

The only piece of equipment that’s survived is my turbo trainer and I hate it.

Yes, I know, you can get scenic ride apps, you can ride with other people on Zwift and yes, I know, it doesn’t have to be a race. There are even blog articles on how to set up your bike and a turbo trainer to use with the Peloton app.

I was pretty determined to make it work for a while, but cycling magazines explain my problem in a nutshell, “A turbo trainer is a great way,” they say, “to get through the winter”.

That’s not what I’m trying to achieve; you see I was never a cyclist. I didn’t obsess about the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia when I was a kid, I read about people crossing the Sahara, or riding through Nepal. I wasn’t really interested in racing bikes, I wanted to use a bike to do mad things and have crazy adventures.

You do not have crazy adventures on a turbo trainer. Well, not if it’s mounted on a flat surface, anyway.

The advantage of a spin bike is that it’s a very simple piece of equipment. This means it’s possible to build something of professional gym kind of quality at a price that’s accessible to the home market. Something that I really, really hope I’m not going to break.

When I say “accessible”, the up-front cost of Peloton is still a little eye-watering. It’s the main reason why I had initially discounted the idea. The economics of it only work if you think about it long term.

There used to be a dedicated spin gym only a few miles away. They charged £6 a class. At first that sounds cheap, but if you do 4 classes a week that’s £104 a month. A Peloton subscription is £20 a month, but you have to find somewhere in the region of £2000 in set-up costs (or take a finance option). Working on that 4 class basis, that means you break even in about 2 years.

The cheapest local gym subscription I could find was £63 a month for a limited, “off peak” deal. If we equate the restrictions on that account with those of Peloton, then the break even point is 4 years. I know a lot of people who are paying £100+ a month for gym subscriptions they use at most twice a week.

There’s another thing to consider; will other members of your household use it? If you’re prepared to stump up £40 a month you can load them all up. As I’m married to an even bigger spin-bunny than me, it turns out to be a very attractive option.

Now, I have an admission to make. I’ve been writing this article like it it’s my journey. In many ways it is, or it’s my half of the journey, but it wasn’t me that pushed to sign up to Peloton, it was my partner. In fact, I was pretty heavily against it – until I started looking at the longer term economics. For us it just made sense, we never really used much in the gym that we can’t in some way replace with the Peloton bike and other classes from the Peloton App.

Your economics may be different. If you’re a circuits person, or more heavily oriented towards weight and strength training then the comparison will be more difficult and the numbers might not work for you.

Ordering a Peloton

Naturally they make it very easy to sign up. There was a 3 week lead time for delivery, which was a little disappointing, but understandable in the current climate. One surprising thing is that we needed to activate the account directly from the bike, so we were on trial accounts until it arrived.

If you want to save a few quid, don’t buy the official Peloton heart monitor, shoes or other accessories. You can get perfectly adequate equipment cheaper elsewhere.

If you’re new to the whole scene, so called “clipless” pedals are very popular with cyclists. The pedals themselves have a kind of sprung clamp which locks onto a “cleat” on the shoe. So you need special cycling shoes that you can screw the cleats into.

With the shoes, make sure that you buy a pair that have the 3 bolts arranged in a triangle. Lots of shoes have this system or are compatible with this and more. You’ll need to get (Look) Delta cleats, not SPD or any other system. The cleats themselves should cost no more than £10.

For cyclists you’ll be pleased to hear that the pedals on the bike are standard, so if you want to swap them for SPDs or something, you can (although you might want to check the warranty conditions).

The same is true of the seat; it’s the standard dual rail clamp, so if you want to change it for your favourite Selle Italia bum wedge, you can.

Delivery

They call you about 1/2 hour ahead of delivery to sort out the fine detail. There’s a range of options, from dumping it at your door through to carrying to to the correct room and setting it up.

The bike comes pretty much assembled; if you’re even a basic Ikea warrior, you shouldn’t be afraid of assembling it yourself. Be aware of the adjustable feet, however. Mine took a bit of wrestling to move initially.

Do be aware that the bike is very heavy. Unless you’re Hafþór Björnsson I’d recommend at least getting it to the right level. It does have wheels on the front, so once the bubble-wrap is removed it’s a lot easier to shuffle around.

If you are going to self-assemble, look out for the small black screws for the tablet (display); mine were taped to a reddish piece of packaging around the mount (on the bike). I nearly threw them away by accident. There’s also a Velcro strap that, depending on the height you set the handlebars, you may want to use to make absolutely sure that the monitor cable doesn’t rub on the flywheel.

The last physical thing to mention is to check that the existing nuts and bolts are tight. For me, one of the ones in the handlebars was loose.

The tablet is very obviously Android based. Booting it, connecting to WiFi, updating the software and activating the account were straightforward.

Obviously the device will be streaming video, and that takes quite a lot of WiFi bandwidth. On the standard bike there’s a wired Ethernet port, so if you have problems with the WiFi you can plug a cable between it and your router. Apparently this is not there on the Bike+, so you might want to consider this if you’re choosing between the two.

First Impressions

The height of the handlebars and both the height and the horizontal position of the saddle are easily adjustable, with handy guides so if there are more people using the bike settings can be easily remembered and adjusted.

The saddle angle is adjustable, but it’s a bit more tricky and not the kind of thing you would want to do for every ride. The saddle itself is perfectly OK for me, but I’m a male lifelong cyclist with buns of steel. Saddles are such a personal thing; I could easily understand some people wanting to replace it.

One of the advantages of SPD pedal system over Look Delta is that it’s much easier to make dual platform pedals, ones that can be used with out without cleats. Unfortunately you can’t do that with the Peloton pedals, you have to clip in, even for a quick, casual ride. I suspect this will annoy me, in time, and that I’ll change the pedals to dual platform SPDs.

Hopping aboard, the first and most obvious thing is that the mechanism is super-smooth and remarkably quiet. You can wind it up to over 500 Watts and it’s still barely more than a whisper.

As someone who’s used plenty of spin bikes in commercial gyms, the flywheel feels a little light. However, the resistance mechanism is very silky and that goes a long way to compensate.,

The tablet boots quickly, but it does get a bit cranky if, say, you attempt an artistic dismount, fail to unclip properly and, in the process of faceplanting into a nearby aspidistra, manage to tear the cable out of the wall socket. If you plan to turn it off at the mains when it’s not in use, you may want to turn it on a minute or two before you plan to use it.

Having backed the tension adjusters on the pedals off a few notches I could look more at the tablet. It works well, its layout is intuitive to any user of smart devices. There’s a live, very clear measurement of cadence (how fast you’re spinning the pedals), resistance and a calculation of output power. If you want, you can fire up the “Just Ride” option and work with it simply as a training bike.

Bluetooth audio is an option, the standard bike has an aux out (3.5mm jack) and you can even cast the video to an external screen. I was surprised how good the onboard audio is though, it’s quite good enough for the purpose. We will see, in a few months, if I still think that, however. My finger’s already twitching over the SuperFi web site.
There’s no need to cast the screen (for regular use), the onboard is plenty good enough. Of course, you could run non-spin classes cast from the bike itself, but wouldn’t you just use your phone/tablet for that?

My (Garmin) Heart monitor connects easily and works flawlessly. It doesn’t complain if I don’t hook a heart monitor up, which is good because the things annoy me. I only use one to get a baseline every so often.

The First Ride

The bike initially suggests some beginner classes. In fact there’s a whole 6 week beginner programme you can take, if you want. I thought it worth starting with a beginner class just to make sure I wasn’t missing something vital. As a cyclist however, the advanced beginner would have been a perfectly adequate place to start.
If you’re not a cyclist or haven’t ridden for a while, the beginner classes may be very useful.

The instructors are unforgivingly outgoing and positive. If you want drill sergeant style instruction, I don’t think you’ll find it on Peloton. They are all very encouraging and very welcoming, it can be a little irritating at times but it does make the whole thing much more accessible :- for many people the idea of going to a spin class is quite threatening, it has a reputation as a bit of a headbanger activity. Peloton busts that myth, you find your level. Nobody is going to judge you if this is your 200th beginner ride.

Every class has bands of cadence and bands of resistance, “increase by 3!” says the instructor, but that could be 40 to 43 or 55 to 58, depending on where your level is. The bands themselves are wide, the difference between 40 and 58 resistance is a lot – approximately double the power output. The upshot is that you can steadily work up each range. If you can get through a beginner class at the top of the difficulty, then you’ll be right in the middle of an Advanced Beginner and the same moving into the standard classes.

After One Week

OK, I love it, but that’s not surprising; it’s my new toy. I am slightly concerned that I may have joined a cult however. The instructors leave you in no doubt, no doubt at all that you’ve definitely “got this” without ever revealing what “this” is. Do I need to attain a higher level to find out?

The incessant positivity is a little saccharine to an overly sarcastic Brit like me, but I’d rather they erred that way than the other; “Work your butt off and you might die slightly less soon” is not effective motivation for most people.

One thing that does work is the high-five system. It’s actually quite encouraging to know that there are other people out there with you.

There really are classes for every variety of spin you could want to do. I’ve picked up a few. I’m not sure about the strength based stuff yet, I might give that a swerve for a few weeks, until I’m confident I have the core strength.

At the moment, to me at least, it seems as if there aren’t enough live classes. I don’t know; right now I don’t feel comfortable enough with the system to join one. That’s the target for next Wednesday.

I’m finding the scenic rides really useful at the moment. I can do a 20 minute or 30 minute class and still want more, but I don’t really know where my level is at, so I don’t want to join another class and then flake out half way through. A scenic ride is perfect because you’re in control. You can even replace the music with your own, if you want. I recommend DevilDriver (I do not recommend DevilDriver).

Initial Conclusion

Is it doing any good, though? Yes, definitely. I can see from the numbers that I am fitter than I was 10 days ago, sure. I can also feel it in what I do; every morning I take a short walk to the local Baptist Chapel, not out of any religious devotion, it’s just that it’s up a hill and I like to make sure that I’ve done something active before I open the office. That hill doesn’t even register any more. I don’t even notice that it’s a hill.

What rather surprised me, though, was the improvement in core strength. Yesterday I was cutting a mortice slot in some studwork in a really tricky place. I was in a really awkward position, but unlike when I started this project a few weeks ago, I wasn’t looking for things to brace myself against, I just seemed a lot more stable and in control.

Is it worth the outlay? Will the subscription prove worthwhile? Right now I feel very positive. I’ll update in a couple of months and we’ll see…

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