The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Peloton

One of your friends won’t stop talking about it. Maybe you saw it on Good Morning America? Tired of paying for a gym membership you don’t use? You’ve come to the right place.

Note: This is a collection of my answers to the most common Peloton questions; this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive FAQ, but it does cover a lot. The hardware specs of the bike tablet, the right way to mount your cleats, and more technical things are all covered better in places like the Reddit pelotoncycle FAQ.


Introduction

After being a member of the Official Peloton Rider Group on Facebook for about nine months now, the same questions come up all the time. Hopefully this will help you avoid asking those same questions, and get you up and spinning faster.

Yep, this is why we’re here.

The Bike

Yes, it’s incredibly heavy — about 135lbs ready to ride. You can roll it from room to room on hard surfaces, but actually picking it up to move it isn’t trivial. If you’re riding on carpet, you will probably want to put a sheet of plywood down under the bike mat so that there’s a stable surface for the bike to rest on. Workouts are vigorous; you want something that doesn’t rock or move around much when you’re out of the saddle.

Follow the intro videos about setting the seat height and depth, and know that one of the most common setup errors is that people don’t have the seat high enough. To start, raise your handlebars all the way up. They’re hard to adjust (get your arms under them while you stand in front of the bike and rock it back and forth) and probably not something you want to change much between riders. The seat is easy to change between riders.

The Saddle (It’s a seat, we’re just being pedantic)

Your nether regions (undercarriage, man / lady bits, etc.) are going to be sore. Like really sore when you first start out. People sometimes buy gel seat covers or padded bike shorts and a lot of other ‘fixes.’ The real fix is to just ride, and one day it just won’t bother you. In general it seems like 6–10 rides does it for most people. Having dedicated, padded bike shorts may still come in handy, especially if you plan on doing a lot of longer rides. Yes, you can switch the seat out for any standard cycling seat, but don’t go get some super wide seat off Amazon — it won’t do you any favors.

Shoes

The full Peloton experience means riding with ‘clipless’ pedals, which use a cleat on the shoe and a special pedal to attach one to the other. This makes it easier to ‘pull’ on the upstroke, but is a foreign feeling for a lot of people who haven’t done it before. You don’t need to use Peloton brand shoes; any cycling shoe that uses a 3-bolt cleat mount (often listed as SPD-SL or LOOK Delta) will work, and some people with especially wide or narrow feet have found success with brands like Shimano, Giro, Sidi, Time, Lake, and Specialized. The bike uses regular cycling pedals, so if you have road bikes with pedals and cleats and shoes that you already like, it’s trivial to get another set of your preferred pedal and swap them onto the bike. The stock Peloton pedals use LOOK Delta cleats — the red ones.

Heart Rate Monitors

You should probably get one, but it doesn’t have to be the one that Peloton sells. You need any model that does ANT+ connectivity, which rules out a lot of older Polar models. We use a cheap one from Amazon but the most common aftermarket one that people buy is probably the Scosche Rhythm+ armband model. It’s important to have one for two reasons: if you want the most accurate calorie calculations from the bike, it requires your age, weight, and your heart rate while riding. Also, some rides are based on your heart rate zone while riding, which is harder to do if you don’t know your heart rate. Your Apple Watch or Fitbit will not send live HR data to the Peloton.

Leaderboard Names

This one’s simple: you need a leaderboard name so that your metrics can be saved, and so that you can compete (or not!) against people on the leaderboard. Simple is better, at least if you ever want an instructor to call out your name on a live class. You’re much more likely to get a shoutout if your name is “JohnRidesFaster” vs. “xx_John_xx_1975.” Remember that the names are relatively public and will be seen by other people, so try to keep it PG-13.

Instructors

You’ve probably found the Peloton Instructors page by now, and we’ll leave the biographical stuff there. Just know that all the instructors are different, and some people develop strong affinities for one instructor over another. In the beginning it’s great to try them all and see what fits. It’s also highly likely that as you get in better shape your preferences will change over time. All of the instructors are active on Instagram, Facebook, and various other social media outlets. Follow them and reach out!

Your First Live Ride

This is it. Some people never ride live, and some always ride live. There’s no right or wrong, but I found that doing the first live ride was at least a little daunting compared to doing on-demand rides. Generally you can join the live rides about 10 minutes before they start, and with about 5 minutes to go the video stream comes up and you can watch the instructor banter with the people in studio and warm up. And then the lights go down, game faces come out, and off you go. If your name is unique and easy to pronounce and it’s not a crazy crowded ride (i.e. Friday night Robin Arzon DJ Ride) you might get a shoutout.

The Century Shirt

Once you’ve completed your 100th ride (Beyond the Ride workouts don’t count) you’re eligible for a Peloton Century Shirt. Warning: if you try to buy it without a code, it really does cost $100k and you’ll get a surprising charge on your credit card. Once you finish your 100th ride you generally get an email within a week, or you can talk to Support online and they can get you the code. The Century Shirt is free, but you pay shipping.

“Tribes”

Hang around the Facebook groups or Reddit long enough and you’ll hear talk of tribes. These are groups of riders who have coalesced together around a shared interest. There are tribes of doctors, nurses, teachers, as well as tribes based around certain ride times, etc. The #435amTribe are the ‘Mothercluckers.’ As you do more rides you’ll see various hashtags on the leaderboard for groups of riders, one of which may appeal to you. Most of the tribes have their own Facebook groups.

Power Zones

A popular training technique is to focus on ‘power zones’ which are different levels of output based on your calculated capability (in simple terms.) Once you’ve taken an FTP test ride — there are some in the library — you can calculate you zones and then do Power Zone rides with a better understanding of how hard you should be pushing to stay in the correct zone. It’s possible to do those rides without having done the test and knowing your zones, but you’re probably not getting the most out of the program. The Power Zone Pack Facebook group is a great resource for learning more about this training method.

Riding at the Studio

If you’re in or around NYC, you can take a live ride at the studio. It’s not free, and you need to make a login on their booking system to reserve a time. The bikes in-studio don’t use your heart rate monitor, so leave it at home. The studio has refreshments and showers, as well as a store to buy more Peloton swag if that’s your thing. You can bring your own shoes or use their shoes at the studio.

Data

If you’re data driven, you can login to your website profile page and download all of your ride data. From there you can open it in Excel and slice and dice it any way you see fit. I use the Peloton Analytics Tool as well as some other custom stuff. If you use an iPhone, check out the mPaceLine app, written by a member of the Peloton community. It’s a great way to track rides and sync them into Apple Watch’s Activity app as well.

The Pause Button

Short answer: there isn’t a way to pause an on-demand ride. The feature is often talked about, frequently joked about, and new riders ask about it a few times a week. If you drop your bottle or your towel, or your child starts tearing up the house, you’ve got to just get off the bike and let the class keep going. Likewise, there’s no way to rewind a class. If you ‘exit’ a class in progress, the timer keeps running.

Progress Indicators

Some people like knowing exactly how many minutes of pain (ahem…class) are left, but other people would rather just go with the flow. Like anything else on screen, you can tap the timer (top left) or the progress bar (top middle) and make them disappear. Similarly, you can do the same with your metrics or the leaderboard as well. If you tap in the middle of the screen twice, everything goes away but the video feed. If you do it again, it all comes back.

Android

There is no Peloton Android app currently. If you want to stream classes for Beyond the Ride, or schedule your next class, or review your stats from an app, then iOS is your only choice for now.

Your Apple Watch

It doesn’t really work here, or at least not well. Which is especially disconcerting, since the Peloton app is iOS-only for now. The Watch won’t send HR data to the bike, but you can have your bike send ride data to Strava and then that will come over into Apple Activity / Apple Health if you want. A better solution (written by a Peloton rider) is mPaceLine which can read HR from either your watch or your Bluetooth heart rate strap, and then will combine that with bike data, ride data from Peloton, etc.

Helpful Tips

It’s not a bad idea to order a bunch of small towels. You’re going to sweat a lot. And you should have a mat under your bike, or you’re going to leave puddles on whatever surface the bike is sitting on. The Peloton brand mat is nice (and big) but a yoga mat works just a well for a lot of people.

If you’re the type of person who is going to roll out of bed at 5am and is crunched for time — use the iPhone app to bookmark some on-demand rides. When you get to the bike in the morning you don’t need to peruse or browse; filter on bookmarked rides and you’re on your way.

If you ride in a household with more than one rider, make sure you’re logged in as the right person before you start. There is no way to move a ride between users, so if you ride as your spouse, they get the credit. Of course you did the exercise, but if you’re numbers driven — you don’t get this one back. This happens more often than you think.

Types of Rides

If you’re new to Peloton, some of the terminology and slang used will probably be confusing or at least non-obvious. Here are some basic ride types to get you started:

  • Low-Impact — this doesn’t mean low effort, but in general it means that the cadence won’t go over 100, the resistance won’t go over 50, and there will be little or no ‘out of the saddle’ (i.e. standing) sections
  • Groove — less cadence dictated by the instructor, more based on riding to the beat of the music. Can also sometimes include more movement on the bike. When people ask “What ride is more like Soul Cycle” — this is one of the frequent answers.
  • Live DJ — exactly as expected; a live DJ is in studio mixing songs and helping to drive the class. These are fun when the DJ and the instructor have a good rapport.
  • HIIT — high intensity interval training. Intense periods of effort followed by a short rest, and then back on the gas. Don’t do this as your first ride.
  • Tabata — a type of HIIT ride, but it follows a specific pattern. The classic Tabata pattern is 20 seconds of effort followed by a 10 second rest. I think ‘Tabata’ translated means sweaty. Or death.
  • 70’s / 80’s / Y2K / Classic Rock / EDM — all rides based on the associated genre of music. There are a ton more: country, jazz, broadway, etc.
  • Power Zone — based on your calculated Functional Threshold Power, these rides direct you through 7 different zones of output from ‘Very Easy’ to ‘Max Effort.’

Encore Rides

At certain times where it would be hard to fill a live studio class (or maybe even find an instructor) the schedule has ‘Encore’ Rides. These are broadcast as if they were live, but are essentially repeats of popular classes from the prior day. There are two main differences between Encore and On-Demand rides:

  • Encore rides are broadcast at a fixed time, not when you choose
  • Encore rides have a live leaderboard with other people riding at the same time as you. In contrast, if you and a friend are both doing an On-Demand ride at the same time, you will not see each other on the leaderboard. You can compare stats after the ride, and will both show up in the historic leaderboard.
  • When you do an encore ride, the leaderboard is live. You may only see 100 or so people on there doing it with you. Afterward, your results are put in with everyone who has done the ride ever; you may have been 14th place in your group, but you might be 199th once the results are merged with on-demand riders. (Yes, those are my numbers, no I’m not too bitter.)

Leaderboard Photos

Despite the constant improvement to the Peloton iOS app, you can’t currently change or pick your profile photo from the app. To change your leaderboard photo, you need to login to your Peloton profile page.

Multiple Riders, One Bike

The Peloton monthly subscription is per-bike, not per-rider. If you have one bike at home, you can have as many family members as you’d like ride it. Each of you can have your own username for the leaderboard, and when you start up the bike you can select which rider is using it. I know it’s mentioned above, but if you do a ride logged in as the wrong user, it cannot be moved to your account.

Common Problems

While we’re all hopeful that a purchase of this size would be problem-free, there are a few common issues reported by new riders.

  1. Squeaky or clicking pedals, especially when out of the saddle: Use this, or something like it. Also, for a lot of people switching to LOOK brand ‘bi-material’ cleats available at bike shops or on Amazon.
  2. All of your on-screen metrics are reading ‘0’: check the cable from the bike to the screen — it’s probably loose. Happens on a lot of new deliveries
  3. Trouble detaching shoes from the pedals: this one takes practice, and is covered in the intro videos. If needed, you can adjust the pedal tension with an Allen wrench (it’s a 3mm.) If you really get stuck, just undo your shoe velcro and slip out and then figure out the problem.
  4. My bike feels too hard / not hard enough: while it’s possible to recalibrate your bike, it’s almost never a good idea. The bikes are calibrated before they’re shipped and they’re all within a certain spec. They’re not all identical, but messing with it frequently makes things worse for a lot of riders.
  5. You feel like the bars are too far away, even with the seat slid all the way forward. If your handlebars are all the way up, and you’re a shorter person, there are a few common tricks: you can get a wrench and adjust your seat within the rails that it mounts on. Depending on how it was installed this might get you as much as another inch. Some short-stature riders have also put a section of ‘pool noodle’ over the handlebars to shorten the space between the bars and the saddle.

John Abella just finished his first 1,000 miles in nine months of owning a Peloton. You can find him on the leaderboard as Waterhouse. If reading this has convinced you to purchase a bike, use this code for a discount. Last edit: Seat Tips, Riding in Studio. (1/20/2018)

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