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.
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.