I love a hypothesis. Even silly ones. It’s not about the outcome, it’s all about the journey. Just like Strictly Come Dancing. A while back I was trying to explain how my mind works, “basically,” I joked, “I’m Wednesday Addams”.
I am not Wednesday Addams. I’m a middle aged professional from a pleasantly leafy area of rural England. But writers rarely pluck a character out of nowhere. Even Pinky and the Brain were based on real people. Somewhere there might have been a real Wednesday…
Before I go any further I have to add a content warning. This gets really dark, really fast. Right after this kitten picture.
Four months, 67 hours, 2,000km and 55,000kcal after my first article, how am I finding Peloton? Well, the stats are a good hint.
Let’s cover the boring material stuff first;
The bike hasn’t missed a beat.
The pedals aren’t that annoying, actually.
I do want to get a better sound option, but that’s because music has become a big part of the experience.
I have used the wired Ethernet port, but that might just be my Wi-Fi.
That’s it for the bike. It’s a simple machine, built solidly. Most of the moving parts are either standard cycling components or common industrial ones, so it should be easy to fix if I ever did break it.
The tablet is basic, but works fine. There have been a few glitches. I have had to reboot it maybe 3 times since I’ve had it – pretty good for consumer tech. There have been a few quirks, but the updates are frequent and they’re usually fixed quickly.
This isn’t really the point though, is it?
We Ride As One
One of the key concepts that I missed is that it’s “One Peloton”. If you’re happy to ride (or do any of the other classes) side-by-side with others, regardless of their sex, religion, race or any other factor, you’re welcome in Peloton.
The result is that the people who turn out to train with everyone from everywhere are the people you’d expect to want to train with everyone from everywhere. You’re not going to feel like anyone is sneering at you, especially not the instructors.
It doesn’t matter if you’re smashing out 300W averages or if just getting to the end of a ride is a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you’re fully fit or recovering from an injury, or an illness or if you have a disability. None of the things that might make people nervous about going to a gym or a fitness class matter. You clip in, you ride.
Live Classes and That Leaderboard
You can get misled by the advertising. Yes, there is a leaderboard, both for live rides and recorded classes. You can filter it by age, sex, hashtags, just your friends, etc. if that helps, or you can just dismiss it. At the start of many of the rides the instructors tell you “the leaderboard is on your right, if it helps you, use it, if not, get rid of it”.
It’s not a competition unless you want to make it one.
That might be why I haven’t found live classes as useful as I thought I would. The flip side of that is that I’ve found the recorded classes way more useful. There’s always a constant supply, and the “here now” function of the leaderboard means that if you want to compete, you can.
What might be a key factor for many is the social aspect of live rides. You can sign up for a live ride in advance, which is a powerful psychological tool for helping you onto the bike. I’ve also heard of people using hashtags and creating social groups. If you commit to ride with a bunch of other people, again you’re more likely to clip in than if it’s just you.
I’ve always been a lone wolf cyclist however, which is possibly why my biases toward the classes are the way they are.
Some of the Peloton imagery is still rather stereotypical for the health and fitness industry. To me it comes across a bit like those car adverts; you know the ones that don’t tell you about the product but do imply that if you buy one you’ll suddenly start attending posh dinners at swanky hotels with lots of people who appear to have stepped straight off the front page of “Good Looking & Loaded” magazine.
For some people I’m sure that advertising works, but if it doesn’t connect with you, it can have entirely the reverse effect. Don’t judge a book by its cover. I was worried at the start, turns out that Peloton is pretty much the most accessible and least scary fitness thing I’ve ever signed up to.
It’s Not Just Spinning
Yoga, Pilates, Barre, floor cardio, running, strength, meditation; Peloton offers a lot of different classes, all with the same ethos.
For me the driving force is the bike, but cycling has been a constant in my life since I was 3. I do use the other classes, but I kind of view them as the bonus section. That said, if you are a person who likes floor classes, then taking the bike out of the equation the maths of a Peloton subscription still work. For me, without the bike, I’m not so sure it would.
If you’re already a cyclist with a turbo trainer or other home setup, you can hook your own bike up to Peloton (Google will tell you how). You don’t get all the features of the bike, but if you want to add some variety over Zwift, that might be another reason to take a look at Peloton.
Echelon & The Competition
This is starting to sound like an advert, so it’s a good time to mention that Peloton is not the only player in this market. When my partner and I looked at it over summer 2020, we thought it was best for us. Really, I’ve become a huge fan of the model and I can only speak from experience – which means Peloton.
I know Echelon are offering a similar model of operation; bike, spin & other classes. It might have a similar ethos; the classes might be as good. If you were thinking about Peloton it’d be silly not to devote some time looking into Echelon.
Similarly, if you’re a already a cyclist and you weren’t previously aware of Zwift, you should look into that and the other, similar platforms.
Another option for cyclists is Sufferfest. Appealing name, I know, but it gets good reports.
Don’t get too hung up on the idea of cycling however, Peloton isn’t really a cycle training system – it’s a gym replacement based around spin training.
You’d think that Peloton would have scoured all the best gyms and personal trainers, trying to tempt away the top instructors.
Certainly there is that, Christine D’Ercole, for instance, is a global track cycling champion. What might surprise you, however, is that you’ll also find her over at IMDB. That’s her on the left, in Dead Poet’s Society.
The Peloton instructors are a mix, some directly from the fitness industry but many from the world of entertainment – dancers and other physical performers that rely on their fitness.
Unlike a local gym instructor, the Peloton team don’t have to keep grinding out class after class. They can take time to really think about the music, what they’re going to say and do, how they’re going to put together a show that will not just help you achieve your fitness goals but keep you entertained whilst doing it.
Sure, if you want a pure fitness instructor experience you can find that, and maybe those classes might be very slightly more effective. You can certainly follow a climbs track or HIIT or Power Zones or pure Tabata if you want.
Or you can take a music ride or a live DJ ride or a themed ride…
This is what surprised me, because, considering my history, I’d rather assumed that I’d be HIITing myself into a gibbering wreck 5 times a week.
That’s not what’s happened. Music has always been a big part of my life – and Peloton has quite a range, from Jamaican Dancehall to Blues, from 1980s to EDM. I don’t need a plan when I clip in, I know there’s always going to be something; that is if I don’t fancy embracing the express route to oblivion via the medium of Tabata.
Or, of course, there’s always the option of a Metal class with Kendall Toole, which qualifies as both a music ride and an express route to oblivion.
That, of course, is why I want to install a proper sound system; because if you want it to be, Peloton is a form of entertainment.
But Does It, You Know, Work?
It’s difficult to say whether something works or not if you’re not sure what you were trying to achieve.
I know a lot of people are interested in their weight, but I’ve never bothered to weigh myself so I can’t tell you. I do now need a belt for a lot of trousers that in October I didn’t – and that I haven’t exactly been dieting between then and now.
Am I fitter? Definitely and Peloton is very good at supplying metrics for that. Here’s the output from a bunch of 30 minute rides from October to now. It’s exactly the curve you’d expect.
Am I stronger? Very noticeably. What’s more it’s useful strength, as I said in my article on staying healthy during COVID, “there’s no point having iron biceps if you’re all wobbly in the middle”. Mixing up pure strength training with cardio and something like Yoga makes a big difference.
None of these are the real question though. It’s easy to look at yourself and think you’d be happier if you lost a few kilogrammes, or you were a size smaller, or if you knocked 10 seconds off your best time. Perhaps, but it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes achieving those goals doesn’t make you happy and sometimes you can be happy without achieving those goals.
Someone at Peloton has been reading their text books, because the entire system is littered with behaviour change techniques to promote a healthier lifestyle. We can be cynical, of course, and say that this is just good business; the healthier your lifestyle the more you’re likely to (continue to) consume their products. We can go further, some supposedly reputable corporations in the gambling industry have been caught using algorithms that identify their most vulnerable customers and actively encourage them to gamble more.
We are right to be wary of behaviour change techniques, but everything I’ve seen in Peloton appears straightforward: it’s giving you the tools to better achieve your own fitness and lifestyle goals.
All of which leaves us with a relatively simple conclusion: mechanically it works. By that I mean that I’m stronger, fitter, I have better posture and I prefer the way I look now. I also don’t resent putting the hours in. It’s tough, but it’s not a slog – in fact a lot of the time it’s the reverse, I actually look forward to getting on the bike.
Am I happier? And if so, can I attribute that to Peloton? That’s a really difficult question for someone with a scientific outlook. None of us are immune to our environment and living on the Coronacoaster can throw us all over the place. I can say that life seems easier now than it did in October, and with restrictions being tighter, Peloton has to be a strong candidate for why.
All things considered then, giving the matter all due consideration, I think the answer is yes; it, you know, works.
Next time I’ll talk more about the socials and Peloton culture.
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’m a Peloton owner, but has my new toy been worth the money? Initial impressions are certainly good.
The First Ride
Climbing aboard for the first time, the bike 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).
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…
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
I did something perhaps a bit surprising for a rural outdoorsy type last month: my partner and I ordered a Peloton.
Naturally Peloton 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.
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.
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.
So far I’m impressed. It’s definitely the best piece of home gym equipment I’ve ever owned – but there again it’s also the most expensive. Will it live up to the price-tag? I’ll let you know in the next update!
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
It will not surprise you to learn, then, that I absolutely have not placed an order for 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.
It seems like the numbers work for us and a first glance at the app looks promising. Will it work out? You’ll have to wait ’til the next update!
Be sure to check out the other articles in the series: