Peloton review: the home exercise bike that leaves gyms in a spin
The man in front of me looks ecstatic. He’s leading a spin class – a popular form of cardiovascular workout, where groups of people cycle indoor bikes – while simultaneously doing the exercise on his own bike.
It’s clearly giving him a lot of joy. He keeps grinning at me, even emits the occasional “whoop”, and every time he tells me to cycle harder, he does so with a half shake of the head, as if to say: “I’m so lucky to be doing this.”
The man’s name is Matt Wilpers, and in some ways he is the cliché of a spin instructor: visibly, despicably fit; outgoing; both motivated and motivating; and apparently off his bonce on endorphins. Despite my better judgment, I find myself warming to this sweaty, smiley man who’s encouraging me to hurt my body in the name of fitness.
However, Wilpers doesn’t know that he’s winning me over – that, under his guidance, I’m slogging my heart out on an exercise bike – because he’s not in the same room as me. In fact, he’s not in the same time zone. And in this respect, he is unique: Wilpers is a spin instructor who rarely, if ever, meets his clients.
The missing link here is the bike I’m riding. Created by Peloton, a US-based exercise company, it has a 22in TV screen strapped to its handlebars, on which I’m streaming Wilpers’ energetic spin class.
I’m not alone, either: to the right of the screen, there’s a leader board that displays the names of all the other Peloton riders who are doing the class with me, connected from all corners of the globe via the internet. There’s a couple of hundred of us on this spin class in the sky, and we’re all pedalling away with our eyes fixed on Wilpers. No wonder he’s having fun.
Peloton launched five years ago in the US and now offers more than 10,000 on-demand spin classes, each recorded in the company’s New York studio, as well as 14 “live” sessions a day. The platform boasts more than a million users – including a few recognisable names. David Beckham, Hugh Jackman, and Ellen DeGeneres have all spoken about their Peloton experiences; while the swimmer Michael Phelps is said to regularly feature towards the top of leader boards (he uses an alias, so sadly you won’t know if you happen to beat the most garlanded Olympian of all time).
When the bike becomes available to the UK market next month, it threatens to leave the average gym cycling class in a spin.
Peloton’s appeal is simple: you can ride the bike at home, in your spare room or garage, whenever you have a spare minute or 20. So, no more scheduling in phantom “meetings” in your work calendar to excuse a lunchtime trip to the gym, no more travelling to and from said gym, no more getting changed alongside random naked humans, and – perhaps most importantly – no more forgetting your exercise socks and having to return to work with feet that are as wet as they smell.
The Peloton package is as good as it sounds on paper. Traditionally, home exercise bikes have been both ugly and loud; Peloton is neither. It’s slick and smart to look at, while its use of a belt tread instead of a chain ensures that the ride is eerily quiet.
That’s important, because a lot of hardcore cyclists use home “turbo” trainers over the winter, which involves attaching a big flywheel to the back of their road bicycles. Turbo trainers offer an effective way to stay fit when the weather is off-putting – but they have a habit of making a sound like a jet engine. They’re a fast-track to neighbourly disputes, in other words.
As for downsides, there aren’t many. The price of Peloton is a bit intimidating: a not inconsiderable £1,995 for the bike, plus £39.50 a month subscription to access the video classes – but then gym memberships might cost twice that amount.
My main gripe is more with spinning in general. Spin classes are a brilliant way of working out in a social scenario, but they’re not a laser-focused training tool.
When an instructor says “push it to an eight out of ten”, it’s really up to you to decide whether you’re pushing your body that hard. And since Peloton’s instructors aren’t physically in the room to monitor your workout, it’s perhaps tempting to go easier on yourself than you otherwise would.
Still, Wilpers’ semi-euphoric instructions did the trick during my trial ride. By the end, I was cooked: as sweaty as the man on screen, and almost as high on endorphins. I took off the headphones that had been pumping Wilpers’ voice into my ears and realised that the only sound in the room for the previous 30 minutes had been that of my own panting. What must the neighbours have thought?
Details at global.onepeloton.com