Like flash mobs, gender reveals with ensuing vehicular skid marks and the public proposal I once saw go horribly wrong in Central Park, clipped-in cycling makes me uncomfortable. Mainly when it’s on the open road, but also when it’s confined to a spin studio.
I can count on one hand the number of spin classes I’ve done. All four were in a central, fishbowl-like room at my former gym, where being ogled by much fitter gym-goers led to some Oscar-worthy performances (aka me pretending to dial up the resistance knob).
So, you’d think when I was fortunate enough to be offered the loan of a Peloton bike – in line with the company’s Aussie launch – I would’ve politely declined. I didn’t. Instead, I used it to test whether it was the environment, not the exercise itself, that I loathed.
Since launching in New York in 2012, Peloton has become a spin-workout sensation, the fitness-tech company developing something of a cult following and attracting celebrities such as Lizzo, Miley Cyrus, Hugh Jackman, Alicia Keys and Venus Williams. Perhaps most notably, Beyoncé has been using a Peloton for years – and she’s even curated a playlist of classes.
For the unacquainted – who until very recently very much included me – the high-tech indoor exercise bikes are loaded with thousands of workouts (both live and on-demand) that include comprehensive instructions and real-time motivation from trainers.
Promising, right? But as the top-of-the-range Bike+ is delivered and installed, my first thought is: will this be the most expensive clothes horse I’ll ever (temporarily) own?
For a week, that is exactly the case; the bike remains unmounted, the cursed cleats unclipped beside it. Then I bite the bullet. Mindlessly scrolling the workouts – which can be filtered by type, length, music genre and more – I ease in with a Scenic Ride in Big Sur, which is about as close as I’m gonna get to the Cali coastline anytime soon. Summer sun lights up the screen as I start pedalling, then I up the ante. Ten kilometres later, I can feel my heartbeat in my ears. But the leaderboard (there’s a leaderboard) tells me I’ve just beaten someone with the username “the Baboon”. Primitive primate.
At this point I’m a cyclist. And when Victoria goes into lockdown 5.0 the following week, I thank the spin spirits for their perfect timing. I start dabbling in trainer-led workouts for a little more conversation, a little more action. Leading Power Zone, a stacks-on of intensity, is this Quadzilla of an instructor, who proceeds to yell out mid-class to a guy with the same name as me. Dripping with sweat, I freeze and frantically check the camera cover is on before realising it’s a pre-recorded class, he’s talking to someone who participated during the live recording and I have not, in fact, been perceived. Phew.
That’s a big part of the beauty of Peloton: absolutely no one is watching. (Except, once, the entirety of the ad agency my housemate works for when I briefly cameoed in the background of a Zoom call.) And it’s not all spin, either. You can also take a judgement-free punt at classes centred around strength, yoga, stretching and meditation. There’s a Peloton app, too, which has all sorts of running, strength and yoga workouts – no equipment required. Acknowledging the fact that most Aussies aren’t in a position to spend thousands of dollars on an exercise bike, it’s a much more affordable alternative.
Optimising on the opportunity, by week three my housemate is in on the action. We become competitive, regularly tag-teaming then each groaning as we navigate the stairs, jelly-legged. It’s a lockdown lifesaver, and a surprisingly fun one at that.
Next, I have a crack at a HIIT & Hills ride that I realise is probably too ambitious when the lean-AF British instructor, who keeps calling me “babe”, says, “You should be starting to feel uncomfortable – lean into that.” She’s sweating, sure, but in an I’ve-just-zoomed-here-from-the-beach way. I’m sweating in a will-I-ever-be-a-comfortable-temperature-again way. “I want all-out, babe.” Babe. Meek Mill’s Ima Boss plays and I’ve never felt less so. But I keep up? And then flush out my legs with a run. Who am I?
More all-out, interval-heavy workouts follow in week four, as I start experimenting with artist-specific sessions; they run the gamut from Billie Eilish and Billy Joel to Blackpink and beyond. But as week five rolls around, Victoria is back in lockdown, rejoining Sydney and parts of Queensland. I decide this is as good a time as any to give the auto-follow option, which I’ve been avoiding, a whirl. It essentially lets the bike control the resistance, so you can focus on feeling the burn. And the burn I feel. For days.
Once I’ve got a reasonable number of workouts under my belt, I notice just how much “C’mon, Peloton!”-esque language the instructors are peddling. You could, as I initially did, construe that cynically; a cult-y, even cringe-y grasp at community cultivation. Or you could see it for what it really is: an inclusivity-first, intimidation-last tactic.
While you whir your legs to oblivion in your living room, it makes you feel part of something more than that. Especially in lockdown. And, for this spin-workout convert, it means turning the resistance knob performatively is a thing of the past. (Hopefully.)
The Peloton Bike and Bike+ cost $2895 and $3695 respectively, plus $59 a month for an all-access membership, which includes the Peloton App. Delivery is available to Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, plus the surrounding metropolitan areas. A standalone digital membership for the app costs $16.99 a month, but a three-month free trial is currently available. Download it here.