When I told my partner I was writing about my obsession with my Peloton bike, she texted this in reply:
“Serious journalist who covered the heights of business and politics now talks about her exercise routine. I can just see the tweets now.”
Look, I get it. There’s more important stuff going on in the world. It feels bizarre to me too that I’ve become an evangelist for a piece of home exercise equipment while democracy as we know it implodes.
Peloton, if you’ve never heard of it, is a stationary bike. Yes, an internet-connected, ultra-high-tech piece of hardware that streams live indoor cycling classes into your home. But still, just a stationary bike. Can it really change your life? According to me, yes, it can. It’s helped me to get through a pretty brutal year, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
I’m not one of those people who Instagrams their food or Yelps about restaurants. I think I’ve written one TripAdvisor post — about a truly horrific hotel stay — in my life. My natural state is to be decidedly underwhelmed by most things. Living in England for a long time does that to you. I’m also really cheap.
And yet here I am, tracking my favorite instructors on social media, proudly wearing my 100 rides “Century Club” Peloton T-shirt in places other than my own home, nagging my friends to try it out.
I ride every day when I can. Sometimes I’ll even ride twice — in the morning and at night. I’m taking a break from work right now, so I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, but I’m not alone. Peloton has sold hundreds of thousands of bikes since launching in 2014. (Peloton does not release specific bike sales numbers).
You can read plenty of technical product reviews of the bike elsewhere, but if you’re wondering about Peloton’s secret sauce and why even hardened cynics like me are such fangirls, I think it’s pretty simple: Peloton taps into your inner athlete, even if you’ve never been one.
I bought my bike in December 2014, after moving from London to Washington, D.C., to cover the presidential race. I must have read about it in a magazine, because it wasn’t a thing yet and hardly anybody had one at the time. I hadn’t even taken an indoor cycling class when I bought it. Not Flywheel, not SoulCycle, not a spinning class at a local gym.
Even though I was working all the time and rarely exercising, I still considered myself “fit.” You know, the kind of person who thinks they’d be able to bust out a 10K or a 50-mile cycling race if push came to shove.
The reality is that I was at least 20 pounds overweight, leading a really unhealthy lifestyle (including smoking), and I was unwilling to spend the time or energy to do anything about it.
Peloton, with its fancy touchscreen and super-fit instructors, seemed to offer a quick fix. How could I not ride it if, being as cheap as I am, I had shelled out $2,600 up front for the bike, including accessories, and was now paying a $40 monthly subscription fee? How could I not use it if I could tap into studio-quality classes live from my own basement?
Pretty easily, as it turns out.
Whenever I actually got on the bike, I enjoyed it. But I found the classes hard and rarely finished one. I always found an excuse to stop — it was too hot in my basement, I was tired, or, most often, I just had to respond to that text or email from work. So the bike sat there in the basement and became what most pieces of home fitness equipment become: a very expensive hanger for drying clothes.
So, what changed?
After moving to New York City for a new job as the editor of Bloomberg Businessweek, I started taking SoulCycle classes on a regular basis, like so many other New Yorkers. I, too, used to make fun of people who did SoulCycle. I thought it was a cult. I didn’t like the the inspirational mantras and its touchy feely mumbo jumbo. I was terrible at what they call “the choreography” and fell off the bike face-first onto the floor during my second class.
But I had a stressful job, a malevolent boss, and a personal life that had me shuttling between New York and London every other week in the midst of a divorce. SoulCycle and its rituals became a refuge, something I came to rely on to feel better about myself both physically and mentally. I got better, and I was surprised by how good I felt about that.
I quit my job in New York in January 2018 so I could move back to London to be a more full-time parent. My daughter was only three, and I wasn’t being the kind of mom I wanted to be.
Leaving a gig you love with people you love sucks. It’s especially hard if you’re the kind of person, like me, who has defined yourself largely by your professional success. But you know what sucks more? The number of people who say things like, “I can’t believe you gave it all up.” Or, “What are you doing with yourself all day now?” Or, “When are you coming back to real life?”
It’s strange the things we come to depend on when we no longer quite depend on ourselves, isn’t it? For six months, my apartment in London was essentially a couch, a TV, and that damn Peloton bike, carted across the ocean but still sitting there, unused.
And one day, I looked over and thought, “F**k it, I might as well give this another try.”
And that’s when I “met” Robin Arzon.
If you talk to people who are devotees of Peloton, they almost always have a favorite instructor or two they ride with regularly. For me, that’s Robin. She’s a total badass. And I love a badass. Who doesn’t?
You see, Robin is ripped. She doesn’t give a shit if you’re tired or stressed out or if you’re just riding the bike so you can have a hamburger or a couple glasses of wine later and not feel too guilty about it. She’s dropping F-bombs on your excuses. She’s running ultramarathons in her spare time. She’s at the gym lifting whatever really heavy weights people who lift weights lift. I am simultaneously in awe and terrified of Robin.
But above all, I don’t want to waste her time, and she’s there to stop me from wasting my own. Because if I can’t push myself hard on a stationary bike for 45 minutes when I don’t even have a job, I mean, honestly, what am I doing?
And that’s what makes Peloton different for me and I think for a lot of other riders: It embraces the existential crisis of all home fitness equipment.
Look, I get it. It feels bizarre to me too that I’ve become an evangelist for a piece of home exercise equipment while democracy as we know it implodes.
No one can make you get on the bike. You can choose to let it just sit there in your house, as I did at first, or you can ride it in a half-assed way because it’s something you need to check off your list. Or you can approach it like a real athlete would and use it to get stronger and tougher. We all have our own battles and our own stuff. Robin has helped me reclaim my own inner badass, and I needed that this year.
Yes, most people buy home exercise equipment because they want to lose weight. Get in better shape, sure, but also generally to shed a few pounds. I’m no different. I’ve been mildly to seriously overweight since my late teens. I’ve worked hard to lose weight this year, and Peloton has been a big part of that. But what’s better, and healthier, is that I’m thinking more about getting fitter than getting thinner. I’m getting older, and vanity is nothing if not boring.
Of course, it has to be emphasized that Peloton is really, really expensive. Just the “basics” package costs $2,245 plus the monthly subscription fee, and that doesn’t include the other crap you need, like shoes, weights, a mat, earphones, etc. Over the first two years of ownership, you’re going to be spending more than $3500 — around $300 per month. When compared to other studio cycling classes, that can make sense if you’re going to ride more than 10 times a month.
It absolutely doesn’t make sense if you’re not going to use it or if you’re already disciplined about going to a cheaper gym where you can take part in a similar kind of class.
But for me, it has delivered. It makes me work hard. It keeps me disciplined. It makes me want to be better. Yes, it’s still just a stationary bike. But Peloton is a good thing, and we don’t talk enough about good things these days. And Robin — thanks, Queen. Crown firmly on.
Update: An earlier version of this piece misstated Peloton’s bike sales numbers. Peloton, which does not release specific sales numbers, has sold hundreds of thousands of bikes since launching in 2014.
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