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I Love This Bike So Much

Illustration for article titled I Love This Bike So Much
Photo: Caitlin McGarry

Peloton is a cult. I say that lovingly and without judgment, because I am now part of it, and if you buy one, you will almost certainly become part of it, too. I didn’t realize how much I loved it until I recently found myself on Peloton Reddit trying to figure out the best combination of classes for the perfect full-body workout. “Self,” I whispered, “You’re addicted.”

So how did I end up hunting for Peloton workout schedules and falling down a Reddit rabbit hole? Well, let me back up. I was already a Peloton fan after using my apartment complex’s communal Bike prior to the pandemic, despite the company’s incredibly weird advertisements. But when covid-19 shut down gyms, I lost access to the bike. I also moved from an apartment to a house, which is when I began considering ways to switch up my workout routine. Gyms and boutique fitness studios remain closed where I live, so I usually run outside five days a week. It’s a free form of exercise I enjoy, but it’s definitely not a full-body workout, and I’m not really motivated to increase my speed or distance. I subscribed to a streaming yoga class service when quarantine began, but wasn’t all that motivated to take more than a couple of classes per month. (You see the theme here: motivation.) I hate to spend money and running is free, so I resisted the urge to splurge on a piece of fitness equipment.

A little over a month ago, Peloton sent me its latest product, Bike+, to test out. It arrived just before Los Angeles headed back into almost total lockdown, and I was ready for a change (and something to keep me sane).

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And, well, it’s not surprising Peloton is seeing such success throughout the pandemic. Bike+ is just as good as I remember the Bike being, but also so much better.

Let me break down the differences between the two: The $2,500 Bike+ feels more premium to ride than the $1,900 base-model bike, with little differences like redesigned handlebars, a knob to adjust the seat height instead of the cheaper version’s handle, a better sound system, and a video camera with privacy cover if you feel like chatting with friends as you work out, which I have not yet tried because I don’t even have enough breath to chug water during a class, let alone hold a conversation. The original Bike also sports a camera but lacks a privacy cover, if that’s important to you. Subtle tweaks aside, the biggest selling point for Bike+ is one major design change: a rotating 24-inch touchscreen that allows you to more easily stream off-bike workouts. The original Bike’s touchscreen is slightly smaller at 22 inches and does not move.

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The larger new screen, which rotates left and right by 180 degrees, offers more flexibility so you can do off-bike classes next to your bike or behind it. Peloton is highlighting its Bike Bootcamp workouts, in which you break up your spin routine with floor exercises and weight-lifting, as a reason to invest in the pricier bike. The Bootcamp classes launched alongside the Bike+, but they’re available for all Bike owners, and while the rotating screen makes it easier to clip out and set up on the floor next to the Bike, it’s not a must. I did a couple of Bootcamps behind the Bike with no issue. But it was nice to be able to choose where to set up my mat and still see the screen from almost any angle in my living room.

Connecting my watch to the Bike+ takes just a split second.
Connecting my watch to the Bike+ takes just a split second.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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The Bike+ feature that has most pleasantly surprised me is actually the Apple GymKit integration, which is new to the Peloton lineup but an old feature on Apple’s side. It allows you to pair your Apple Watch to your Bike+ to track your rides by simply raising your watch face to the Peloton logo on the bike. You tap the command to connect on your watch screen, and then start a ride on the Bike+. You’ll see your heart rate in real-time on-screen, which is useful, but you’ll also see more data on your screen while riding, which you don’t get by tracking a class as a basic indoor cycling workout on the watch. The workout also automatically ends when the class ends. Apple’s Fitness+ streaming service offers similarly seamless Apple Watch integration, but for a wider variety of classes than cycling.

Another new feature is Auto-Follow, in which you let Jesus—er, Peloton—take the wheel and control your resistance. I did not love this, and only used it a few times. I’m sure it’s great if you’re used to riding with the resistance bumped up to the high end of the recommended range, but as a more intermediate-level rider, I usually bike with the resistance solidly in the middle. Auto-Follow is for advanced Peloton users (or people who are fit as hell). It’s easy enough to turn on and off while riding with just a tap on the touchscreen, so you can give it a shot and dip out if it’s too difficult.

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New hardware aside, the best part about Peloton is the classes, which are the same across both bikes. I’ve tested a handful of connected fitness products in the last couple years, and Peloton’s workouts are hands down the best of the bunch. There are dozens of instructors, some of whom you’ll click with more than others, and so many different types of cycling workouts that you’ll never get bored. Feel like dancing? A 30-minute Emma Lovewell or Cody Rigsby pop ride will get you hyped. Want to get your ass kicked? Try a 45-minute Jess Sims upper body bike bootcamp and watch her lie to your face about doing tabata (or what I call “shitty intervals”). Just kidding, Jess, the class was great; I’m just deceased now and my ghost is typing this. You’ll pick up lingo and catchphrases, you’ll start texting your friends who also have Peloton bikes to see if they want to ride together, you’ll stumble onto Reddit, and before you know it...you are me. These workouts have replaced the early quarantine Zoom happy hours of nine months ago, which is probably for the best.

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You can filter classes by length, instructor, music type, or class type, and join in on live classes or stream them later on demand. The timing of the live workouts almost never works for me, but I don’t feel like I’m missing anything by picking one from the library. Peloton is doubling down on themed classes with its artist series, including the much-hyped Beyoncé collaboration, which extends beyond cycling and into strength-training, yoga, and meditation sessions, too. The themes vary; some rides have artist-specific soundtracks, if you want to jam along to Elvis, Prince, Nicki Minaj, or the aforementioned Queen Bey. This month’s holiday-themed content has kept me in the spirit despite not being able to do any of my usual Christmas activities. Classes start to feel like Events, and you can establish a well-rounded—and, most importantly, fun—workout routine without leaving home.

The $2,500 price tag doesn’t include accessories like shoes.
The $2,500 price tag doesn’t include accessories like shoes.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
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All of this does not come cheap. The $2,500 price tag on Bike+ doesn’t include the $40/month subscription for the classes or any of the accessories, like shoes to clip into the pedals, hand weights, or a workout mat for bootcamps. You do have the option to finance Bike+, which spreads the cost out: $64/month for 39 months. If you and a partner or roommates split the cost, $104/month for both bike payment and subscription is almost certainly cheaper than multiple gym memberships. I’ve mathed it out: My husband and I use the bike almost every day, sometimes combining multiple classes for the best workout—which is how I found myself looking up other users’ Peloton calendars—and we’d spend less on a Bike+ than we would on gym memberships or boutique classes.

As I mentioned before, I am cheap. But this hellish year has awakened me to the importance of investing in the place where I now spend most of my time (my home) and the products that will keep me healthy (a good mattress when experiencing debilitating back pain, for instance). There are obviously cheaper stationary bikes out there. You can snag one with a tablet stand for a few hundred bucks, subscribe to the $13/month Peloton app for on-demand spin classes, and call it a day. It’s not quite the same experience—you don’t get the leaderboard and you can’t see your ride metrics—but it does make the Peloton experience more accessible, which is a good thing. I personally have tried cheaper bikes and just don’t like the hardware as much as I do the Bike+, but if that’s not important to you, then dropping $2,500 (or $1,900) on a Peloton might seem wild. To me, replacing a gym membership (since I probably won’t go back to one for quite awhile) with this bike seems like a worthwhile investment in my health since I know I’ll stick with it.

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Pedaling on my bike to nowhere.
Pedaling on my bike to nowhere.
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

For those interested in a Peloton, the question is: Do you need all the bells and whistles that come with the priciest bike? No. The cheaper option gets the job done, and you actually don’t sacrifice much. The premium version has better specs, and the larger rotating screen is wonderful, but you get the same quality workouts and nearly the same experience. If you already own a Bike and want the rotating screen, some Peloton users on the internet recommend retrofitting the base-model Bike with this $60 accessory. (I have not tested this and can’t vouch for it, but it exists!)

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But if you have the cash, Bike+ is worth the splurge. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s one of few things I’ve been excited about in this incredibly awful year.

README

  • The classes are so good.
  • The rotating screen makes it easier to see classes from any angle, which is useful when you’re doing floor exercises during a Bike Bootcamp class or don’t want to use the bike at all.
  • I loved the Apple Watch integration, which makes it feel as seamless to use as an actual Apple product.
  • Bike+ feels more premium to use than the original Bike, which is now $1,900. But if you already have a Bike, you don’t need to upgrade.
  • Bike+ is $2,500, not including the monthly class subscription. That’s expensive, but might math out to less than a gym membership, depending on how many people are in your household.
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Senior editor, consumer tech @ Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

I personally have tried cheaper bikes and just don’t like the hardware as much

This is the prime area to go into WHY you didn’t like cheaper bike hardware. Without details, it seems like you just didn’t like it because it wasn’t Peloton.