What price fitness? That's the question facing anyone considering a Peloton bike. The Plus model starts at $2,495 (£2,295 or approximately AU$4,080), with bundles fetching as much as $2,945. Then there's the $39-a-month All Access Membership, without which the bike is functional but limited, and the special clip-in shoes ($125 if purchased directly from Peloton). At least delivery and assembly are included in the price, which wasn't always the case. There are financing options available, too.
- Great design paired with a big, beautiful screen that rotates
- Tons of class options, both on-bike and off
- Sweet new auto-follow and GymKit features
- Still prohibitively expensive for most
- Clip-in shoes add cost and complexity
- Lame scenery rides
There are, in some cases considerably less. I've tested a number of those cheaper alternatives, so I was excited to sample the premium Kool-Aid. Because, let's face it, Peloton bikes are insanely popular; people who own them seem almost cult-like in their devotion. But are the bikes worth it?
How the Peloton Bike Plus compares with the original Peloton
A little over two years ago, CNET's Megan Wollerton(which now starts at $1,895). I'm not going to rehash the core features she outlined there, as I expect most potential buyers know the scoop by now. Put simply, the Bike Plus is an attractive, streamlined indoor cycle with a big screen and access to thousands of classes, including live ones.
But what does the extra $600 get you? For starters, a larger touchscreen (23.8 inches diagonally, versus 21.5 on the original), one that can rotate 360 degrees. That's helpful if you want to take off-bike classes, which range from HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and weightlifting to yoga and meditation.
The screen incorporates a better, more powerful sound system as well, with front-facing speakers and rear woofers. You can also plug in wired headphones or pair a Bluetooth set.
The two Bike Plus perks I like best: Auto-Follow, which automatically adjusts resistance during recorded classes so you're not constantly fiddling with the resistance knob, and Apple GymKit integration. The latter allows me to pair my Apple Watch just by touching it to the top of the screen, then track my heart rate alongside the bike's various onscreen metrics. That's really cool, but I wish Peloton would support other wearables as well.
There are various under-the-hood improvements, including a faster processor, more RAM, Bluetooth 5.0 and a USB-C charging port. But I can't say there's a single can't-live-without feature here. The Bike Plus makes incremental improvements over the original, but for $600 less you can still get a perfectly good "Peloton experience" with that model.
Don't shoe the messenger
My least favorite aspect of that experience is, by far, the shoes -- and not just because of the added, all-but-mandatory expense. Many, if not most, competing bikes come with toe-cage pedals you can use with regular athletic shoes, and some of those flip over to reveal a clip-in option. But Peloton requires Delta-compatible bike shoes, which effectively lock your feet onto the pedals.
I understand why: When you're clipped in, your legs aren't just pushing down while pedaling; they can participate in the full 360-degree range of motion, giving you a better workout overall. It also keeps your feet from slipping off when you're pushing maximum cadence or pedaling out of the saddle.
But there's a learning curve. Clipping in -- which is similar to locking a ski boot into a binding -- requires no small amount of force and takes practice to do correctly. Clipping out -- which requires pivoting your heel outward -- can be difficult, as my wife and I both discovered. After our initial test-rides, neither of us could get our feet unclipped. It was frustrating, to say the least; the amount of force eventually required to free our feet seemed downright ludicrous. Weeks later, we're still not entirely comfortable with the process.
There's some potential danger here, too. If you need to get off the bike in a hurry, whatever the reason, you could legitimately find yourself stuck. Struggle too much and you could tweak a knee or even fall off, bringing the bike over with you. Certainly you could just pop your feet out of the shoes (assuming you've learned to use the locking strap, which also takes a bit of practice), but I can't help imagining worst-case scenarios.
There are, but that's one more thing to buy. It would be nice if Peloton offered a toe-cage option for those who want it.
The proof is in the pedaling
As noted above, I've tried lots of different bikes and lots of different "exercise ecosystems." To be honest, I usually don't enjoy spin classes. They bore me. So what makes Peloton better? Put simply: the instructors. It's not just that they all fit the central casting bill for "fit, attractive trainer," it's the enthusiasm and encouragement they bring to the experience. You get on the bike because it's fun spending time with these people.
Me, I'm an afternoon-workout guy, but after a long day of sitting at the keyboard, I'm tired. Normally I have to talk myself into exercising. With the Peloton, though, I think, "Eh, it's just 20 minutes. I can do that." (There are classes ranging from 5 to 90 minutes, easily filtered by length.) And it certainly helps to know that happy, bubbly Leann Hainsby is waiting to cheer me on.
My wife feels likewise about it (her instructor-crush is Cody Rigsby), but she's more enamored of doing rides with friends, which Peloton makes easy thanks to a new feature called Sessions. After her ride, she usually moves onto an off-bike weightlifting class.
For those who want a break from classes, Peloton offers various "scenery rides" -- but honestly they're not great. The locations are certainly appealing -- cities, mountains, deserts and the like -- but the rides themselves aren't contiguous; every so often there's a skip in the video, which detracts from the experience. (Some aren't even rides; they look like low-flying drone footage.) The real issue, though? They're boring. There's no instructor along for the ride to keep you motivated. I greatly prefer iFit's virtual rides, which are accompanied by a trainer.
Meanwhile, it irritates me no end that Peloton charges Peloton Bike owners $39 a month for a subscription, while non-bike owners can subscribe to the virtually identical service for $13. That seems backward to me, like a penalty for having spent so much money on the hardware.
A rich riding experience -- for the rich
I suppose if you can afford to spend upwards of $3,000 on an exercise bike, a $39 monthly fee won't bother you too much. Honestly, that's less than what you'd pay for membership at many cycling studios.
But I can't help thinking it's a smarter move to buy a less-expensive bike to use with a tablet or park in front of a TV. (The Peloton app is available for Apple TV, Android, iOS, Fire TV and Roku.) You can still enjoy Peloton cycling classes, but at one-third of the monthly cost. And I feel like those classes are the secret sauce, more so than the bikes themselves.
That said, there's no question the Peloton Bike Plus is a sweet ride, and I'll be sorry to see it go.
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