As far as life’s challenges go, I’m convinced that trying to book onto a spin class at my local gym is among the greatest I’ll ever face. No matter what time of day I check the app, I’m greeted with a greyed out slot and the word ‘unavailable’ – or, worse, I’ll be be forced onto a waiting list.
As a result, I’m left with three options: roll along to a 6:30am class (who knew there was a 6:30am?), skip the gym altogether or find an alternative. Of course, none of those are ideal, and it leaves me trying to fit my daily workout in at an inconvenient time, whether that’s a rushed lunch hour or after work.
But fitness is changing, working to your schedule instead of the other way around, and home fitness platforms are bringing the intensity and experience of a real class to your living room. We’ve already tried out Fiit, the London startup which integrates rep counting and heart rate monitoring into home floor classes, and, now, established cycling platform Peloton is expanding outside the US for the first time, reaching the UK and Canada this October.
"The main concept of Peloton is trying to bring the energy and excitement of instructor-led studio classes into the convenience and comfort of your home,” Peloton’s managing director Kevin Cornils told us.
"So, the core of it is the carbon steel bike, 22-inch display and headphones, and from here you can tap into the 14 live classes per day. If you’re in the US, they run from 6am to 10pm, and if you can’t make a live class there’s over 4,000 on demand to launch into.”
The platform has found popularity with around one million users so far, a group that also includes the likes of Hugh Jackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Barack and Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and Richard Branson. Perhaps they can't find a space at their local gym, either?
A class above
For Peloton, it means there's an impressive foundation to build from. And the message is clear: this is something you can easily set up in your home and gain back some control of your fitness. In the company’s makeshift London studio, there are areas showing off this very premise: two stations set up around a home office, as shown above, and another pair in a pretend bedroom.
And as Cornils takes us through the interface on the sweat-proof screen before our spin, it’s easy to see how intuitive it is. Users are able to select classes by instructor, intensity, music genre (which, if you’re wondering, even includes folk music) or the length of the class, ranging from 30-120 minutes. It’s not just cycling, either, with some dedicated to strength, stretching and other forms of cardio training.
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After the walkthrough, I’m left to play with the system and get set up on my own class. There’s an intimidating amount of choice on offer, but I keep things simple, opting for a 30-minute disco workout from Cody Rigsby – Cornils tells me he creates a “party on a bike”. Before you start a class, you’re given a run-down of what it entails, the playlist, the difficulty, the rating and how many members are currently taking part.
I click my shoes into the pedals (with some help), adjust the seat and put on the headphones. KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way I Like It is blaring and a vested Rigsby rolls his shoulders into a flurry of seated dance moves. It's at this point I realise I’ve entered a bizarro fitness nightclub, one where a commander sits and orchestrates a worldwide platoon – and, reader, I am here for it.
You’re quickly introduced to the bottom of the screen, where the power, cadence and resistance metrics which dictate the class all live. I’m advised by Rigbsy during individual intervals to keep the three within a certain range, all while classic hits like Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough and Night Fever help dictate the tempo.
It's at this point I realise I’ve entered a bizarro fitness nightclub, one where a commander sits and orchestrates a worldwide platoon – and, reader, I am here for it.
Alone, simply listening along is enough to keep you engaged, but you’re also given an extra motivation push by fellow cyclists.
A live leaderboard will sit on the right of the screen as you ride if you’re taking the class in real-time, while you can also see yourself climb above other riders if joining the class on demand. I’m given virtual high-fives, as I sear through the competition, and what started out as a friendly demo quickly descends into relentless position chasing. I don’t even know Jason582, or any others who have taken the class, but I’m ready to take them out.
Once things wrap up, I'm given a graph of the three key metrics, as well as the achievements and personal bests notched during my one-class Peloton career. Users can even sync workouts over to Apple Health, Strava, or, as shown below, the Fitbit app. From start to finish, the experience is refined, professional and offered one of the most engaging fitness classes I've ever been a part of, live or virtual.
The next leg
For Peloton, the decision to expand is almost certainly based on its recent success. Last year, the company generated $400 million in sales of its proprietary bikes ($2,245) and subscriptions ($39 a month for unlimited classes), as well as its apps, custom shoes and apparel.
As Cornils tells us, the road cycling market is also much more advanced in the UK than in the US. And while this means that adaptation should be strong, the platform also has to compete with the likes of Zwift and Road Grand Tours, which give refuge to hardcore cyclists sweating it out in their garage during the icy winter months.
"I think we have a slightly different kind of appeal [to Zwift and similar platforms]. Those road cyclists who have spent thousands of pounds on their bike, I can see why they’d want to maybe keep that setup. But they’re quite a small percentage of people, and at Peloton I’d say we try to be a little bit broader.
"Our target segment is made up of people who are quite serious about fitness – we’re 50-50 male and female – and they’re generally in their 40s. This is really for people who want fitness to be a part of their lives, but who maybe don’t have the time," he said.
With more and more people set to climb onto the Peloton saddle, the team is also at work to develop the platform further. A chest strap can help improve real-time insights, and integration with the platforms mentioned earlier is a great start, but Cornils also foresees more advancements with wearables.
"I think when we started, we were really focused on one piece of hardware – that was the bike, and then the screen. Since then, we’ve added a Peloton heart rate monitor and the digital app, which is an extension of the bike. As time goes on, I think being able to take Peloton wherever you are will become a bigger part of the experience. We know that people really appreciate getting all their metrics, so I can see a future where wearables become more integrated," he said.
Whatever the future holds for Peloton, it's clear why it's already proven to be a hit in the US. The one clear drawback is the price of entry – even if you pay for the bike in monthly instalments, it still works out much more costly than the typical gym membership – but it does eradicate the problem of gym classes and even furthers the concept with the interactive elements.
For those out there for whom money is no object, or those, like me, who are tired of fitting in their workouts around a gym's availability, this is surely worth the investment.
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