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Photo: Matt Miller.

Editor’s Note: “The Balance” is a regular column written by Matt Miller. While Matt is a staff writer for Singletracks, any opinions expressed in this column are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.

Every time I turn on Hulu lately, which is usually the one time during the day when I spend an hour not thinking about bikes, an advertisement reels up, and gets me upset about something that has to do with bikes.

The opening sequence has a successful, young professional, pretty or handsome, in their 30s, intensely exercising on an indoor bike. Their brows are dripping with sweat as they pump and sprint, eyes locked on the monitor like a snake about to strike a rabbit. It appears the stress from their daily lives, which are most likely spent at a desk in a high rise urban building, is transferred into the pedals and away from their cluttered minds.

Jay-Z raps about achievement and climbing socio-economic barriers in the background of one ad. In another, a husband and wife sneak off and use the bike before the other awakes, showing that the bike is time-efficient, quiet, and enthralling. A young mother becomes stronger and more attentive in another ad, by way of pedaling indoors.

It’s no coincidence that the marketing for the Peloton is especially heavy this time of year. Gift-giving season just passed and that’s always followed by a season of tuning up the body. Businesses are making their push for sales at the beginning of the year and it feels like a first and last-ditch effort simultaneously.

The Peloton isn’t another fitness gimmick like the Shake Weight, or a fad like the grapefruit diet or plus-size tires. Indoor bikes aren’t a trend, either. They’ve been around for decades and will continue to have their place, along with indoor trainers, in gyms and basements across the world.

Where the Peloton seems to differ in their approach is the sheer amount of money they can throw into ad campaigns thanks to the company’s $4B valuation. This gets weird because mega-companies like Peloton can bring their perception of cycling to mainstream America. Judging by the recent advertisements, Peloton’s presentation is not much different than how cyclists (both road and mountain) are already perceived by the majority of Americans.

That perception is one that holds strong from the Armstrong-era of road biking, where anyone who rides a bike is rich, elitist, and uses a bicycle solely as a means for fitness or to beat other people within a competition. Mountain biking doesn’t have a comparable icon in mainstream America, probably to its benefit.

To dive into the nature of the Peloton a little bit more, it goes like this: For as little as $2,245 — or $58 a month for 39 months — you too can own a Peloton, an indoor exercise bike with a 2’x4′ footprint, that connects to a bottomless page of online content displayed on a 22-inch monitor, which you can start on your own schedule, or plug into a live class, (there are 14 per day), hosted by one of a dozen or so Peloton instructors. A “top DJ” spins records next to the instructor playing every Rihanna x David Guetta song ever made, to energize those in attendance to “pump it, baby!” Their efforts are measured on a live leaderboard so that riders can compete against one another in real-time, like Strava, only in an artificial ride environment. You can sweat, break virtual records, and make virtual friends, all from the comfort of your virtual mountain- er, home.

To me, it comes across as phony, and artificial, and it’s bad for the perception of bikes across the world. That perception, to elaborate a little bit more, is that in mainstream America, when you reach adulthood, real bikes are not for you anymore. As an adult, the only appropriate way to use a bicycle is for fitness, not for fun. Fun is reserved for activities like brunch, board game night, and watching the game with friends.

Photo: Matt Miller.

It is also an incentive to become more isolated. At an astronomical price of close to two-and-a-half-thousand dollars, you can instead get a decent, brand new mountain bike, or a killer, used mountain bike that will challenge you in real environments, humble you, and make you a better person. I know I don’t have to explain this to most readers on Singletracks. But, from a social perspective, it doesn’t really seem like the benefits of the Peloton differ all that much from playing Dance Dance Revolution on the carpet of your living room floor.

This is also a weird sell to those who are already a little too plugged in to social networks and email, considering that the marketing is centered around escaping from daily life. You know how Strava can make you feel good or bad sometimes, but it doesn’t really matter because at least you got outside and felt the sun on your skin, mud on your shins, or dirt in your teeth? Well, take away all those real elements and you’re left with a bike that doesn’t actually go anywhere or seem to add anything, except for results that are based around where you fit in a “leaderboard.”

My beef isn’t with riding indoors, spin classes, Zwift or anything that makes it easier for people to exercise when they don’t have time or it isn’t fun. But, to see such a huge push from a company that’s trying to sell the benefits of riding bikes without the soul, well I guess I’m just a little bit jealous that the rest of the bike industry doesn’t have that kinda dough.

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# Comments

  • rajflyboy

    Peloton also has a monthly fee for using their live streaming. Overall this service ain’t cheap. I’d get the X bike trickster before getting peloton.

  • mcgangi

    You can’t have an article about Peloton without mentioning their pricing increase model. We don’t need more of this in the MTB industry…we need less.

    https://finance.yahoo.com/news/peloton-ceo-says-sales-increased-raised-prices-2245-exercise-bike-132256225.html

    Peloton CEO John Foley tells Yahoo Finance the profitable fitness startup saw sales of its in-home exercise bike actually increase after it raised the price to $2,245.

    “It was interesting psychology that we teased out,” Foley recalls. “In the very, very early days, we charged $1,200 for the Peloton bike for the first couple of months. And what turned out happening is we heard from customers that the bike must be poorly built if you’re charging $1,200 for it. We charged $2,000 dollars for it, and sales increased, because people said, ‘Oh, it must be a quality bike.’” ……

    • Matt Miller

      Wow…a strategy that works well with their target market. Interesting.

  • marvinmartian

    Yeah, for the price of a Peloton “bike” you could buy a reasonable but inexpensive road bike and a Kickr Snap and have a more interesting experience on Zwift, plus the ability to actually go outside and ride your real bike.But, as you mentioned, Peloton has the marketing dollars to convince the masses of its supposed worth; Beats headphones shows what a marketing budget and hype can do to make people think a product is better than it actually is. Zwift is much more fun than what seems to just be similar to a live version of old school Spinervals workouts that I used to do to make indoor riding more interesting.

    • Matt Miller

      Pretty much my thoughts

  • T Dogg

    You forgot the monthly subscription fee for online “spin” classes

    • Matt Miller

      Correct, which is a must if you want access to the entertainment.

  • Sean Gordon

    Indoor cycling on its face bums me out. I’m lucky to live within a couple miles of a park that I can use to ride my road bike, or to cross country ski when it snows. I have access to good country roads, single track, and nordic trails for the weekend. I do the odd spin class, but I listen to the music and use the power meter to do my own interval program

    Not everyone’s so lucky – go into google maps and look at your typical american town. Flat, no green, a suburban street grid stretching for miles in every direction. My brother and sister in Norfolk VA are hardcore cyclists and skiers, and they got a Peloton spin bike to keep them from going insane. I’m happy they have it.

    I think the popularity of Peloton and spin is a good thing – people are interested in cycling. The bad thing, and the reason that people don’t want to ride outside, is that its unsafe or unfun where they live. As cycling infrastructure and bike paths and single trails are built we’ll get some converts. Even if we get a 10% conversion rate from indoor cycling to road and mountain biking, that’s still a big chunk and a big group of people that could potentially add to cycling advocacy.

  • Lonnie Milligan

    Yeah, but….
    Our local YMCA has a pair of peloton bikes. Its rained for weeks and the trails are closed a lot. I can drop my kiddo off at swim practice ans spin on the Peloton (I like the Guns N Roses ride) for an hour. When the trails dry out I haven’t lost any fitness. So for us Peloton is pretty great.

    • Matt Miller

      YMCA membership is certainly cheaper that $2,500 🙂

  • Acecee

    I have been riding the Peloton bike at my gym for over a year and – I will admit – I am a fan. I am an avid Mountain Biker when the weather allows (which living in Colorado means at least March through November), but I love the option of bike training in the winter months when outdoor biking is a mess. I tried Fat Biking too but haven’t gotten hooked on it as much as Peloton. It is an added benefit that I don’t have to own one, or pay monthly subscription fees, and my gym offers all the other exercise options too – so I can mix it up. I also still get outside with Cross-country skiing in the winter, so i don’t get stuck indoors all the time.

  • Jeff Barber

    I don’t read this as a criticism of Peloton necessarily. It’s more like wishful thinking, that a company with lots of $$ like Peloton could spread the message of trails and biking to the masses.

    I have a lot of respect for what Peloton is doing, and clearly a lot of people find value in the bikes and the programming. If the alternative is an old-school exercise bike or indoor trainer, I’ll take a Peloton any day!

    • Matt Miller

      It is definitely an exercise in imagination, haha.

  • Brett Colliton

    I have a Peloton and 4 regular bikes. I live in ND so this time of year biking isn’t an option. I love my peloton and I use it for fitness and I use my other bikes for trail rides or commuting. It’s expensive but if you can swing it it’s definitely a great tool to have. I love getting up in the mornings throwing a chamios and some shorts on and doing a class. Then after work I go for a trail ride in the summer. It’s great and keeps me fit enough.

  • marcfriedman07

    Anything that gets a person’s heart rate up through exercise is an overall benefit. Not everyone is made to shred. Is it a great value?? Who cares.

  • TriggerVol

    Understand the frustration / jealousy. I’m a mountain biker who has spent probably too much money on a peloton. I see value in both. Do I MUCH prefer mountain biking? Of course. However, to mountain bike I have to get my stuff ready, load my bike, drive somewhere (closest place is 15 minutes each way), then ride. To ride an hour, which is about the shortest time I ever do, I need a minimum of 1:45 of time. Plus, sometimes it’s too cold and a lot of times it’s too wet. Having the Peloton in my house, I can jump on for a 45 minute class and be done in about 50 minutes total. It’s more expensive than it should be, but it is a reasonably fun workout that you can do quickly and conveniently and keeps you in better shape for the next time you actually can spend the time to hit the trail. The peloton is so much more accessible if you can handle the cost.

  • Leah Barber

    Frankly, I’m not surprised Peloton is so profitable. They’ve taken an old fashioned stationary bike and revolutionized the way it’s used with modern technology, the internet and social networking. In comparison, it’s way slower to improve/change anything (hard goods-wise) in the bike industry compared to anything digital. Instead of having the profit margin for fancy hulu marketing campaigns, seems like budgets must go towards R+D and production costs.

    The cost for the bike itself is pretty outrageous, considering everytime I attend an encore class there are dozens of people on at all hours of the day – all who are paying some monthly subscription fee (unless you’re at the Y or gym I guess). That’s a lot of money on subscriptions, you would think that would offset the price of the bike. Oh wait, but then they had to go an open showrooms = $$$. Sigh, I feel like I’m in the wrong industry here. Good thing there’s always a Live DJ ride with Robin to cheer me up 😉

    • Matt Miller

      That’s a good point on the R+D in the bike industry compared to where Peloton can spend money!

  • 2LabsMom

    I frankly don’t understand your “beef” at all. In an ideal world would it be better that we’re all outside riding? Well yes, but it’s not realistic. I live in a more urban community, where winter weather is an issue. I hate traffic…and cold….so indoor riding is mainly what I can do. Elitist? Not at all. Yes the bike is expensive, but there are less expensive options. I own a Keiser m3i and use the Peloton app for my rides. The monthly fee for this set up is half the monthly price that Peloton bike owners pay. Granted my particular bike is just as expensive as a Peloton, however, there are spin bikes on Amazon for as little as $300. Finally, the “social perspective” you criticize is vastly different than you describe. Let’s take your average person, who goes to a gym after work every day and gets on a bike or treadmill, does his or her workout, then goes home. How much social interaction has that person had? With Peloton that person is in a community of like-minded, supportive people who connect on both the bike, as well as in the many Facebook groups they can be a part of. I am “humbled and made a better person” daily by competing in Power Zone challenges offered through Peloton, that have me compete against myself, not a leaderboard. I’m a 55 year old woman whose life isn’t “centered around social networks and email”, and I have fully embraced this type of training. I think your surface examination of Peloton deserves a more in-depth look.

    • Matt Miller

      I realize that this is laced with elitism and “I’m better than you because I ride a real bike” (not what I believe). But if selling an indoor bike for $2,500, and marking it up a thousand dollars more than it’s actually worth isn’t elitist also, then I don’t know what is. Also, the marketing is centered on the affluent. I guess the real problem is that I’m fighting fire with fire. I’m sure my perspective would be different in a different set of shoes and I’m glad the Peloton works for you. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • nlm

    I couldn’t disagree more with your assessment of Peloton. Being a part of the Peloton community will both humble you and change you for the better. Last week a Peloton facebook group I participate in raised over $25,000 in 5 hours for members who are battling cancer and need financial help. Every day people post serious issues on the social media Peloton sites and receive incredible support and extremely helpful advise. Every ride is a serious physical challenge if you want it to be. The instructors teach classes in a way that encourages insight about your life. Real friendships are made and deepend. People change their lives for the better by improving their physical and mental health. People describe how riding and being part of the community has imroved their depression and anxiety, allowed them to come off medication, and prevented major illness. Random acts of kindness from one member to another are occuring. There are many reasons people are Peloton addicted. If this isn’t “soul,” I don’t know what is.

  • Cawfeegirl

    You like to mountain bike. So does my husband. I love my Peloton. We both work out. End of story. ????

  • ABD57

    I’ve owned my Peloton for 2 1/2 years and have done more than 500 classes so far. I also own a couple of great road bikes and get out when the weather is nice.

    Personally, I think the Peloton program is both a great value and terrific training.

    Although the Peloton’s power output is determined by an algorithm, it pretty well matches the Stages power meter on my road bike at similar exertion levels. They offer FTP based Power Zone classes where each rider’s personal zones (1-7) are displayed on the monitor, so, rather than saying “increase resistance to 45” the instructor says, “go to your zone 4.” The way they’ve been able to continually upgrade the experience simply by pushing out an upgrade to the monitor is astounding and is a prime reason why most people use their Peloton bikes rather than convert them to coat racks.

    I haven’t even touched on the yoga, full body workouts, etc that come with the $39 monthly fee or that everyone on your house can use the bike and all of the other exercise offerings for the same one charge of $39.

    Finally, the customer service is spectacular. Peloton has replaced my touch screen monitor, replaced my heart rate monitor, replaced my flywheel bearings and credited me for some monthly fees, all at no cost to me since I was under the 3yr extended warranty.

    Look, I own a lugged steel bike with carbon wheels, SRAM Red 22 group, etc. that is an absolute joy to ride alone or with friends outside. However, the convenience of getting a kickass workout in my home on my Peloton, is fantastic.

    And it’s not the least bit lonely. Last Saturday, I did a live 90 minute Power Zone Endurance ride with 2000 other people, 71 of whom I follow. We were encouraging each other throughout the ride via “high-fives” we could send through the touch screen.

    There is a Peloton Facebook group filled with road riders like me who do gran fondos together during the summer/fall and ride our Pelotons together at other times. I’m not sure that your limited experience with the Peloton bike, instructors, and fellow riders is representative of how those of us with a longer history feel about it.

    It’s pretty great.

  • wynelias

    Rain, shine, sleet, snow…
    Traffic, wind, cold temps, etc.
    Just get outside and ride!
    Dress appropriately. Get your hands on a cheap XC bike with all terrain tyres, learn to ride on ice (go slower, be careful when cornering and braking ) and buck up and get outside.
    It won’t be fun at first but after the first few rides you’ll be glad you did.
    Ride or die!

  • Jeff Kleck

    You haven’t really done the math. We have a Peloton and three of us share the subscription for classes. My wife and I ride it at least 4 times a week (8 total) and our daughter a couple times a month. Over two years, that’s less than $140/mo for THREE of us to have a spin class membership (less than $4/class!).

    I don’t know if you’ve priced Soul Cycle lately, but it would be way more than that and we wouldn’t own the bike or have the convenience of riding it whenever we want and without having to drive in snow.

    They also hold their value surprisingly well. If we decided to sell it, we could likely get $1,700+ for it.

    • Jeff Kleck

      We also own two bikes in addition to the Peloton. She often rides hers to work when the weather cooperates.

  • Bacon Fat

    So your bitch is that a company found a market and is making money on it. It obviously isn’t too much money because people are willing to by Pelotons and the company is thriving…sounds like you are anti-capitalism. You don’t’ Peloton because they have money, so instead of promoting other companies, you try to tear them down. Classy

  • Brodierider

    Matt, I have ridden Mountain Bikes since the early 80s when the first were rolling Elk Avenue in Crested Butte. I am sure with my passion for mountain biking and supporting my family, I have spend $40K+ on mountain biking over the last 30+ years. I love Mountain Bike riding, but find it is challenging to ride consistently now I am in my mid 50s living in the Seattle area. The winters in the NW are dark early and frequently wet… most of the time. Thanksgiving 2017 I went riding MTB on a 2500 vertical ft climb near Seattle with my son, his friends and some of his friends parents( my age but in much better shape). I was so slow on the climbs they had to send someone back to check if I was okay on every climbing section. It is much harder from a scheduling perspective for me to ride regularly with my travel and work schedule and it was evident on this ride. My wife got me a Peloton in January 2018. Now with the convenience of a very challenging exercise/cycling workout in my home, I have ridden more than 250 times(Peloton metrics count your rides, output and mileage), and logged more than 2000 miles on my Peloton bike. We did a similar mountain bike ride to the Thanksgiving 2017 ride a few months ago late fall 2018. I was able to stay near the pace of the kids 30 years younger than me all the way to the top of the 3000 vertical foot climb. I’d much rather augment my fitness with a Peloton vs shifting to an eBike, but can see an eBike in my not to distant future.

    Peloton is a high quality, engaging, and socially media driven cycling/fitness experience. I find it far more convenient that a gym spin class, far safer than riding on the road particularly in dark in the NW after working hours, very challenging and very effective.

    Peloton as a brand has been very smart. They have included NBC as an early investor, notice how most of the Peloton ads you see are on NBC? They have created a buzz, experience and community and a pre-IPO valuation that is impressive and material. It is not mountain biking but is very good at what it is.

    Why are you knocking it? There is a Peloton MTB community which is more supportive and encouraging for the demographic the mountain bike industry should be interested in cultivating than IMBA or other groups I have seen. MTB’ing should be inclusive, not exclusive. If Mountain Bikers augment their fitness with a Peloton what is the harm?

    • Matt Miller

      No harm at all, Brodierider 🙂 Not knocking anyone who rides it, and that’s stated. Just think the marketing is a little over the top as well as some of the other nuances. Thanks for sharing your view.

  • rajflyboy

    Get outside and bike has little to do with hating capitalism (and frankly the peloton stuff is very over priced)

    • Brett Colliton

      Supposedly, Peloton breaks about even on their bikes. It’s not a cheap bike. They are making most of their money on the $40/mo fee.

  • Big ragu

    I think you do a solid job of snacking your own wrist with this summary statement, “well I guess I’m just a little bit jealous that the rest of the bike industry doesn’t have that kinda dough.” So, I don’t think it’s necessary for others to bash on you. I get where you are coming from.

    • Matt Miller

      Thanks, I appreciate that.

  • Jeff Barber

    I was talking to a road biker this weekend and he was telling me about a weekday, 6am group ride he does most days. Impressed at his dedication, I asked how many people show up, and he said most days 6 to 8, but that it used to be more… until people in the group started getting Zwift.

    It’s hard to argue with the logic of going that route: save some time, avoid the cold. But it does seem like community suffers a bit.

  • Chuck_D45

    Weird that you don’t have beef with bike companies that feel it necessary to gouge the hell out of us consumers with $2,300, Asian built, “entry level” bikes…

    • Matt Miller

      Hi Chuck. I suppose the difference is that a $2,300 mountain bike is a lot more capable than a bike w/o tires. The R+D and product development at brands is a mainstay in where their money goes every year which is a why mountain bikes are better than ever, even at $2,300. If you want to take your $2,300 bike to the top of Burro pass in Moab and ride it down 5,000ft for the day, you can. Likewise, if you wanted to chain it up to a trainer and pedal indoors for the day, you could also do that. I don’t think because they are “Asian built” you really sacrifice any durability, just American jobs, but I know at least one or two American mountain bike brands that have models under $3,000.

  • meb58

    I do not doubt that riding a Peloton can offer some folks a way into fitness…and perhaps the experience is much better than riding a Cyclops, my indoor winter trainer for my road bike. However, part of cycling includes immersion in an outdoor environment and for me this is a huge part of cycling. I gave up road racing 10 years ago because driver distraction is so rampant. but I’ve been on my mountain bike 2-3 times a week through the fall and winter in NY and there is no way that I can empty my head while riding any trainer indoors.

    I once trained on my road bike while attached to the cyclops while watching all three Lord of The Rings movies…I must have had a screw loose!

  • Darrel Bruns

    if i could afford one i would have one. here in the mountains i get 4 months of freezing weather and snow then mud. i know i should move.

  • Greg Heil

    Hot damn, you are catching some flak on this post, Matt. I’m pretty surprised, to be honest.

    If I am reading your column correctly, your argument is that Peloton is only reinforcing the image that bikes are for exercise instead of visceral enjoyment of the world around you. You argue that Peloton is only reinforcing the belief that bikes are a form of exercise equipment, and that this form of exercise must be fit into the spare moments of your life, as you spend the rest of your time going about the “real” business of living.

    I agree 100% with your assessment that this type of thinking is seriously fucked up. But I don’t take it to be an issue with the bike industry today, or with Peloton as a company. As others have pointed out, they are successfully making money by taking this approach.

    Instead, I take this as just one more indication of how seriously screwed up American culture is today, and how our society could very well be spiraling down into one of any number of dystopian science fiction novels or movies in which the characters live their lives completely in virtual reality.

    To combat this dystopian future, instead of viewing “fitness” as the goal, I have chosen to view “time spent outside” as the goal in my own life. I’ve been conducting a personal experiment called “Outside 365” in which I am active outside every day, without excuse. Today will mark 191 consecutive days of being outside and active. I’ve also been reading the scientific literature (or at least summaries thereof) about how time spent in nature benefits us, and how time spent in indoors damages us. The science is compelling, to say the least.
    So let me try to wrap this comment up.

    In your post, you said, “My beef isn’t with riding indoors, spin classes, Zwift or anything that makes it easier for people to exercise when they don’t have time or it isn’t fun.” Well, I’m going to go there. My beef IS with spending time inside, instead of spending time out in the real world actually experiencing the planet, the trees, the grass, the people, the clear blue sky, and yes… even the cold and the wet. We spend so much time staring at screens whether we want to or not—our jobs all mandate it. Why would we want to sell our soul to yet another screen, when insead we could be having experiences in the REAL world that are now, sadly, only enjoyed by a fraction of the population?

    Parting shot: I’m sick of people saying that they “can’t get outside and ride” in the winter. You can literally buy a fat bike and a headlamp for much less than $1,000, use some warm clothes you already own, and go for a ride any time of the day or night, and in any weather conditions. Will it always be on singletrack? No, but you can always ride.

    There, case closed.

    • Matt Miller

      Yeah, this has been a fun one, Greg! haha. I really dig your idea of getting outside every day. A lot of people, myself included, experience a bit of a mood change in the winter, and it always helps to get outside. If the Peloton helps someone get moving, who won’t do anything else, then I suppose that’s a win, but isolation, and finding more ways to stay indoors, and plugging into a machine is probably not the best way. And totally agree on your last point. Any ride is better than nothing!

  • Sean Wood

    This article almost completely misses the mark by looking only through a financial lens. If you had actually used the Peleton platform for even a week you would have realized the transformational element that is truly unique – Peloton has created a community and a track to run on for busy people that can be calibrated to everyone’s unique needs. It is different and better in so many ways that you did not bother to dig into. Your article is mostly about your own marginally informed biases and false choices.

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