Is It Well worth the Hype?

Peloton has a cult following, with thousands of glowing endorsements of lives changed for the better in ways that were never achievable before. Is the Peloton Bike really this special? Perhaps more importantly, is it worth the money?

Specifications

  • Brand: Peloton
  • Size: 59″ L x 53″ H x 23″ W
  • Display Included: Custom 21.5 Inch Android 7 Tablet
  • Subscription Required: Yes

Pros

  • Engaging coaches and lessons
  • High quality courses
  • Easy to keep track of progress and milestones
  • Just the right level of social interaction

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Closed hardware
  • Nature rides feature Snoop Dog

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Peloton Bike

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Since its inception in 2014, Peloton’s rise has been steady. However, in 2020 it took off in a big way and became the most popular home fitness service in the world. Despite its reputation for being an expensive and overhyped fitness fad, it shows no signs of slowing down.

While it has attracted legions of devoted members, there’s been a growing feeling of cynicism towards the premium home fitness movement in general, with Peloton as a focus. I am, embarrassingly, one of the cynical people. It was with quite some trepidation that I embarked on this review, because frankly – I expected to hate every second.

Peloton Bike

This review covers Bike, the entry-level Peloton exercise bike, along with the service as a whole which provides numerous other strength, yoga, and aerobics classes alongside those taken on the bike.

Peloton now has a cult following with thousands of glowing endorsements of lives changed for the better in ways that were never achievable before. Is Peloton really this special? Perhaps more importantly, is it worth the money?

The Peloton Bike

The Peloton Bike is a flywheel stationary bike that uses magnetic resistance, which is adjusted using a dial on the top tube. It’s entirely mechanical, meaning that the bike functions normally even when it isn’t plugged in.

Peloton Flywheel

These types of bikes are incredibly quiet in operation, and the Bike is no different. If you were on the bike using headphones, your breathing would be the loudest sound anyone else could hear. It’s adjustable to fit pretty much all sizes, and the Bike guides you through setting it up through the tablet touch screen. The frame and flywheel are built out of welded steel and weighs 135 pounds (61kg) making it steady on most floors, but quite challenging to move despite its two rubber wheels.

The bike feels sleek and premium. Other than the drinks holder and back rack for weights, nothing feels flashy or surplus to requirements. Put simply, it’s a good stationary bike.

Peloton shoes

Peloton bikes use the Look Delta cleat system and provide Peloton branded Delta compatible shoes, though these need to be purchased separately from the bike or as part of a bundle. The shoes feel sturdy, and I was advised to go a size up from my regular shoes. Throughout testing, the shoes felt solid and were comfortable. The seat – which has a reputation for being uncomfortable – is a typical mid-width saddle. I found it perfectly comfortable, but padded shorts might be worth investing in for some.

The Peloton Tablet

The Peloton Bike features a 21.5-inch tablet running a customized version of Android 7. It is designed only for use with the Peloton app and there is no supported way of adding your own apps to the device. This is of course a point of contention, and if you are looking for a bike you can watch Netflix on then this isn’t for you.

The screen is a multi-touch 1080p display that is bright, and the quality is good enough for everything Peloton offers, as is the built-in front-facing camera and microphone used for taking classes with friends. The Bike’s sensors feed into the back of the tablet and each workout registers those inputs in real-time giving you your cadence, resistance, and overall power metrics during workouts.

Peloton Tablet

In use, the tablet felt perfectly capable of what it was designed for with no stuttering, and while the two 10-watt rear-facing speakers aren’t much to write home about, they get the job done. That said, I rarely used them as I spent most of my time paired with a set of Bluetooth headphones. You can cast from the tablet via Chromecast and Miracast, and both ANT+ and Bluetooth heart rate monitors are supported.

The App is also available on Android, Android TV, iOS, Apple TV, Roku, Fire TV, and a few others, as well as through the browser giving plenty of options for where and how you take non-bike classes.

There isn’t an awful lot to say about the tablet itself, though it is one of the differences between the Bike and Bike+ so let’s look at that now.

Bike vs Bike+

The Bike+ is an upgraded version of the original Bike. Its base cost is $2495, and the extra $1000 doesn’t get you much. The two largest differences the Bike+ brings are Apple Gymkit integration and a new digital resistance system that can be controlled remotely – replacing the mechanical resistance handle with a digital rotary encoder.

Knob

The auto-following digital resistance dial is a cool idea, but it is only available for on-demand classes, and I really don’t see how changing your own resistance “breaks the immersion.”

One note here: The Peloton bike will always work, even if the system collapses and the app is gone – even if you have a power cut – it’s just a stationary bike. I’m not sure this is also true of the Bike+.

Other differences include a larger touch screen with a swivel mount so you can use it for Yoga and strength work, an improved set of speakers, and a slightly beefier processor with more RAM.

If money is no object, get the Bike+, but with the difference in price now being so high, it’s something I’d find hard to justify.

The Peloton App

The Peloton app runs as a skin on top of the Android operating system. You use it to find and take classes, along with the light social elements of Peloton like adding friends from Facebook, or searching Peloton’s hashtag-like descriptor system.

Tag filter

You could never use the app on any other device and you’d lose nothing in the experience. That said, I found myself using the Android app a lot more for things like Yoga and strength training as it meant I could do that in another part of my house.

Android app

The Peloton app has two access levels. The cheaper digital-only membership does not work with the Peloton Bike, and is a single user experience with no progress tracking. While it certainly is arguably worth the $12.99 per month – as you get quite a lot of content for the price – it’s not relevant to the Bike.

All-Access membership costs $39 per month – which is not cheap. It’s also a requirement for all Peloton hardware. That said, All-Access membership is per household. Every member of your family could have their own individual user profile, track their own progress and store their own favorite music and rides all under a single membership.

So, the app offers everything the service provides, but… what does Peloton actually offer you?

The Peloton Experience

The Peloton experience is slick. It was delivered and installed to my fifth-floor flat with no elevator, and the delivery folks set everything up and gave me a brief introduction to how to get the bike going.

From there, you choose a ride, clip-in, and start the class. A charismatic instructor welcomes you to the session in English, or German, and Spanish language sessions were announced earlier this year. There’ll be some information on what you’ll be doing in terms of intensity, speed, timings, and basic information on how to use the bike. There may be some information on the music choices coming up or any theme the ride might have.

Depending on how you feel you can sign up for an almost militaristic (with encouraging undertones) hardcore no mercy “ride to a better you”, or you can choose a feel-good party theme with tunes to match. Maybe you need a pep talk to drum up confidence for a big day.

Peloton features all of this alongside its regular fitness program, and while not all of it was relevant to me, a surprising amount of it was effective alongside the structure of a spin class.

Most sessions feature a leaderboard, showing who is riding with you. You can tap on people’s names and give virtual high-fives that will show up as notifications on their screen with a prompt to high five back. The leaderboards also let you see where you lie on the overall power output scale – a number generated from the speed you are pedaling against the difficulty applied through the magnets.

Peloton leaderboards

These leaderboards can be filtered by age, gender, location, and tag – Peloton’s hashtagging system for adding identifiers. The social element is small, but enough to make you feel like you are actually doing something as a group, without having to actually be in a group. Alternatively, you can completely disable the social aspect and just follow classes alone.

Alongside the usual spin class elements come the occasional shoutout for riders who are passing a milestone – 100 rides, 500 rides, maybe it’s just their birthday. Knowing this would happen going in I was a bit concerned I’d find it grating, but I didn’t, and I can’t deny that getting a birthday shoutout gave me more of a boost than I had envisioned. Maybe it was just the endorphins.

Music Balancer

Music for Peloton classes is curated and plays automatically, with the option to favorite tracks during rides that show up as a playlist in a linked Spotify account. One nice feature is the option to change the sound balance. If you want to hear less instructor and more music, you can, and vice versa. It’s balanced well enough that you can always hear both, but it gives more flexibility than a simple volume control.

The whole thing feels focused, smooth, and easy to follow. Peloton classes are designed simply to make you work hard and feel good about it, as a virtual group or alone – and in three full months they managed to achieve that with almost every ride I took.

Alongside the general rides, there are focused classes for working in heart rate zones, multi-part classes to learn about key workout concepts – everything from improving your riding technique, to running a marathon or even learning to sleep better.

Where the service deviates is with the nature rides – prerecorded video of various locations that move at your speed. These would have been wonderful, but they have music too – that you cannot turn off. The ride through the beautiful Pūpūkea Forest on Hawai’i is accompanied by… Snoop Dogg.

Peloton Lanebreak Beta

There is also a sort of Rythm Rider game in development, but at the time of making this review, the beta program hasn’t started. It looks like Peloton is at least dipping their toes in gamified workouts, so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes.

Ultimately, the rides I described at the start of this section are the core of the Peloton Bike experience. In short, it’s great if you like the format, and surprisingly I did.

Limitations

The experience is slick, but from a distance, there are some obvious limitations here. As previously mentioned, the Bike is for Peloton and Peloton alone. Depending on who you are that could be seen as a positive – a focused experience in a world of constant distractions. Despite actually being someone who thinks that I still concede that when bikes of a similar value are feature-packed with streaming services and all digital mod cons, it’s a glaring omission.

A much heavier limitation comes from the core design of the Peloton hardware and services. Something this expensive only having one use case is a good focus, but also doesn’t give much in terms of security. If Peloton as a company folded – say due to a poor product launch that resulted in lawsuits – what happens to your hardware?

Is the Peloton Bike Worth the Cost?

At $1495 for the base bike, It’s expensive, there’s no doubt. Other bikes that mechanically do what Peloton does are cheaper, and some similarly priced ones offer extras like simulated hill climbing adjustment and leaning for core workouts. Other bikes also allow you to use media services like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+, but Peloton restricts you to their app alone.

bike essentials

The Bike Essentials package adds shoes, light weights, and headphones for an extra $150, though this is totally optional so long as you have a pair of third-party Look Delta cleat compatible shoes.

When you consider the initial outlay for the bike, along with the $39 per month all-access membership you need to really get the most of it, it can be hard to see why so many people think it’s worth the money. The answer lies in the service itself.

Peloton Feels Authentic

While pricey, Peloton delivers exactly what they advertise. If Peleton has generated hype, it has done so by creating a fitness service people truly engage with, regardless of previous exercise experiences. While there are no statistics to back it up, it certainly seems that people who struggled with discipline to exercise at home or didn’t feel comfortable in public gyms have managed to stick with Peloton for hundreds and sometimes thousands of rides.

Peloton managed this by selecting instructors people bond with, who not only exude personality but structure classes to challenge a wide range of users. People have their favorites, to the point that when two of the most popular Peloton instructors announced their engagement it was treated almost like celebrity news.

They’ve also managed to create a social system that treads the line between everyone being on the same team and each individual being in friendly competition – all while making it very easy to simply dismiss and not take part in if you don’t feel like it.

Regardless of what it looks like from the outside, from within Peloton feels every bit as dynamic as the glowing testimonials make it out to be.

Is Peloton Right For You?

Despite moving from an extremely cynical viewpoint to a positive one, I still maintain that the Peloton Bike and service isn’t anything new, and isn’t quite a special as its die-hard fans would have you believe. If you already have good fitness habits, Peloton probably won’t improve them.

But, If you aren’t someone who feels uncomfortable in the gym, but struggle with motivation to work out at home, Peloton offers a social, structured experience based on self-confidence and personal improvement.

The slick service, premium-feeling hardware, and endless stories of personal transformation seem to answer at least one of the important questions:

Is Peleton worth the hype? Yes. It’s expensive but casts an incredibly wide net, and those who benefit from it are likely to think it’s worth every cent.

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About The Author

Ian Buckley
(216 Articles Published)

Ian Buckley is a freelance journalist, musician, performer and video producer living in Berlin, Germany. When he’s not writing or on stage, he’s tinkering with DIY electronics or code in the hope of becoming a mad scientist.

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