Health & Fitness

Peloton works for bigger folks, too—here's my proof

Plus what I use to make it even better.

Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

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I'm a big guy who enjoys fitness but I don't love gyms. So when I discovered Peloton, it was a revelation. Most people consider 2020 the year of the Peloton bike, but for me, Peloton’s year was 2014. As an early adopter of ClassPass, I made it my mission to try out as many indoor cycling studios in New York City as I could. While I appreciated aspects of a couple of the better-established names, Peloton was where I soon felt happiest. The brand was not yet the at-home fitness behemoth it would become, but I became a fan of the bike, the instructors, the studio staff, and the palpable energy coming off the riders in the room.

The IRL studio still exists, now in a bigger space in Manhattan, as well as one in London, though both are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions (at time of publication). But—if you weren't aware by now from the ubiquitous ads, the controversies, and the Instagram meme pages—Peloton isn't focused on selling $30 drop-in passes to studio spinning classes. Its aim: selling you its pricey at-home workout equipment and streaming classes.

In 2017, my then-fiancée and I pulled the trigger and ordered the bike for the then-price of just under $2,000, nicknamed it "Honeymoon" (can you guess which savings account we drained?), and joined Peloton's cadre of home riders.

How the Peloton works

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Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The Peloton lets you take live and on-demand classes with its instructors.

Peloton now sells two home bikes: the original device, simply branded Bike, costs $1,895; the Bike+, which costs $2,495, features a larger, rotating touchscreen, a better sound system, Apple Watch integration, and some other bells and whistles. These prices include a 12-month warranty, delivery, and setup.

Accessories—such as shoes, weights, mat to protect your floor, and much more—are extra. Access to all the live and on-demand classes with full integration of your workout metrics is $39 per month. (If you don’t have the Bike, you can also take classes on the Peloton app for $12.99 a month.)

Both bikes work like this: You get it set up wherever you can in your home, connect it to WiFi, and tune into its live or on-demand classes—which include cycling, boot camp, yoga, HIIT, strength, and more—on its tablet. You can also track your metrics in real time against other people who have taken the class using the bike’s Leaderboard.

What I love about my Peloton

I wish I could say that my experience as a home rider immediately became something amazing and that I rode the bike several times a week, but that just didn't happen. I'm not blaming Peloton for this. I missed the energy of studio classes, then was also dealing with pain from a foot injury that eventually led to surgery. But along the way, I figured out how to make the Bike work for me—and found some ways, post-surgery, to fall in love it with Peloton over again.

An impeccable design

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Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

The bike has a gorgeous, well thought-out design.

First of all, the Bike itself is gorgeous. The black matte finish, orange components and logo, translucent belt cover and bottle holders, rounded edges, wing-like base, and curved LCD mount—I love the design. I also like the Bike's overall ergonomics and comfort, though I've needed to accessorize it to make the ride better for me (more on that coming).

The real test for me is overall comfort and durability. The Bike has a rider weight limit of 297 pounds (that seems… oddly precise) and a height limit of 6 feet 5 inches, according to Peloton's website. I'm 5 feet 11 inches and my weight has hovered in that neighborhood of Peloton’s upper limit post-surgery. But I've had no problems on the Bike so far—and I've been on a lot of indoor cycling bikes. Trust me: Churning out miles on a piece of equipment that's swaying and squeaking frame is disconcerting—and would be a deal-breaker.

But the frame of the Peloton Bike barely moves when I ride, in or out of the saddle. Pedaling is smooth and even at all resistance levels. And the drive is nearly silent, too. (Recently, I've been hearing a faint churning coming from somewhere inside the crank and belt mechanism, but perhaps it finally needs some internal lubrication after four years.)

Classes that break out from the studio model

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Credit: Reviewed / Arun Das

Shorter (but not easier!) and scenic rides are my go-tos.

No matter what the instructors do on the screen, participating in a streaming class at home just doesn't inspire the same motivation for me as riding in the studio. Faced with that reality, I focused on what the platform offers that is unique to the home experience: a variety of shorter classes and scenic rides.

The shorter classes—some just 10 minutes—aren't necessarily easy. I really got into the 15- and 20-minute rides that featured high-intensity intervals (bursts of speed alternating with periods of so-called rest) and climbs (periods of very high resistance usually churned out while standing on the pedals). I pay some attention to the Leaderboard when I ride, mostly to virtually high-five other riders by tapping their profile pic next to their handle. When they high-five back, I appreciate that small measure of encouragement and acknowledgment that I'm not entirely alone. Other than that, the Leaderboard isn't that important to me. I know I can't compete with the fittest and speediest riders, so I don't worry about them. I'm much more interested in my own stats to see how I compare to past rides and what I can aim for down the line.

Jumping on the bike for an intense short class leaves me sweaty, nearly breathless, and feeling accomplished; 20 minutes of HIIT with the colorful and energetic Jess King or hills with the meditative and spiritual Christine D'Ercole are 20 minutes well spent. We may not be in the studio together, but many of the instructors know how to connect with the thousand-plus riders in each class all the same. They're not drill sergeants. They don't lecture about fitness. They don't body-shame. They guide, encourage, and motivate.

The scenic rides, on the other hand, are completely self-paced. These are simulated jaunts through streets and trails in gorgeous places around the world. As you pedal, you enjoy point-of-view video footage of Big Sur in California, Cortina D'Ampezzo in Italy, Grant Park in Chicago, the Pyrenees in France, and much more. I sometimes do these rides while listening to my own music or a podcast.

These scenic rides used to be unsophisticated in terms of the pedaling experience. The video moved at a set speed and what you did on the bike made no difference. More recently, Peloton relaunched this section featuring a few guided rides with an instructor as well as ones with responsive video, in which the scenery moves to match your pace for a set distance. If you just want to pedal immersed in views of beautiful places, not worry about pace or resistance, and listen either to the Peloton's stock instrumental music or your own audio, the non-interactive scenic rides are still available.

A key to my return to some sort of active lifestyle post-surgery—in which I can comfortably hike on trails or even run easy for short distances—depends on strengthening my legs. Therefore, after a long break leading up to and after my operation, I had to get back on the Peloton Bike. It is now an integral part of my recovery, which was an OMG moment for me during a recent ride. I got out of the saddle and pedaled with my full weight on my feet—something I'd mostly avoided for years due to my pre-surgery foot pain and post-surgery foot and leg weakness. My chest heaved. My legs spun. My quads burned. And my foot? It didn't hurt.

I was back.

Things that make riding my Peloton even better

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Credit: Bikeroo / Vornado

An oversized bike seat and fan make my rides much more pleasant.

Peloton sells some bike accessories, such as its own branded cycling shoes, headphones, weights, heart-rate monitor, and more. But I've looked elsewhere to find the gear that tailor the bike for my needs.

A gel seat cover

The Zacro gel bike seat cover, which I have in black, slips right over the Peloton's saddle. This cushion for your tush scored 4.5 stars over an eye-popping 28,099 global ratings. It does the job just fine but sometimes the drawstring can loosen—so I just make sure it’s secured before starting a class.

Get the Zacro gel bike seat cover on Amazon for $15.99

An extra-wide bike seat

A bigger Peloton-quality saddle sold by the company itelf would be awesome—and better than risking a loosened gel cover. But in the absence of that option, you can try mounting an extra-wide and plush bike seat yourself. Bikeroo's comfort seat features a memory foam cushion, a suspension system, and standard mounting rails. It has garnered 4.4 stars over 11,400 ratings on Amazon.

Get the Bikeroo comfort seat on Amazon for $42.99

A powerful fan

Finally, a fan pointed directly at you while you're riding is a game-changer in terms of your comfort and therefore your ability to crank out those miles and ramp up that effort. Any standard fan will help at least a little but I really recommend using something powerful. I love my three-speed Vornado 279T air circulator, which I got on sale at Costco. It's designed to sit on the floor but can tilt up to 90 degrees. My advice is to place it either directly in front of or behind the bike so that the airflow hits your whole body. That really makes a difference.

If that's too much fan for you or your room is cool enough from A/C, another great option is a clip-on fan to place on the bike itself.

Get the Vornado 279T from Walmart for $59.55

Wrist braces

I have mild carpal tunnel syndrome as well as other aches in my right elbow and right shoulder. An orthopedist prescribed wrist braces for me to wear at night and when I do a lot of typing. I've discovered that wearing the same braces on longer Peloton rides supports my wrists and reduces pain and numbness. I bought one brace for each wrist from a brand called Featol. They've held up really well for more than four months and counting. Check with a medical professional before implementing braces into your rides, but if you’ve gotten a prescription like I do, you’ll like this pair.

Get Featol wrist braces on Amazon for $15.35

Things I don't love about the Peloton

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Credit: Reviewed / Jackson Ruckar

Peloton's standard seat leaves much to be desired.

I wish the handlebars were more adjustable. You can raise and lower the column, but the bars themselves aren't tiltable or otherwise movable. I try to keep my weight back so I don't put too much pressure on my hands, but when you have moderate carpal tunnel syndrome and you weigh as much as I do, some wrist compression is unavoidable. Tilting the handlebars up more would help me stay back on the saddle, taking pressure from my arms.

I also wish you could purchase the bike with a wider seat. Yes, you can buy either a gel seat cover or a wider seat from a third-party vendor, but I can't be the only customer who would appreciate having options at the purchase point from Peloton.

Finally and most difficult to rectify: It doesn’t fully replicate the studio experience. Almost immediately after buying the bike, I realized that I missed the immersive energy and intensity of being in a room full of riders breathing hard, grinding out intervals, and (actually) high-fiving each other. Plus, when the class is on a LCD in your living room—and whether you show up or not has no (immediate) bearing on your wallet—it’s easier to skip out on it.

Should you get a Peloton?

pelo
Credit: Reviewed / Arun Das

All in all, there's a lot to love about the Peloton.

Before you decide that, try it out first, if you can.

As pandemic restrictions are lifted, testing out the bike is getting easier. You can book a trial at one of Peloton's many showrooms around the country, hop on a bike at a hotel, or give it a spin for a 30-day home trial. If you try the Bike, you'll probably appreciate how well it is designed and built. And you'll probably be impressed (even overwhelmed) by the selection of live-streamed classes and massive library of other fitness content.

Yes, the cost of the bike and the monthly membership add up. But many gym memberships also eventually run you thousands of dollars over time. If you'd like the convenience and flexibility of working out at home, and you can make either the full cost or the payment plan fit into your budget, and you're convinced you'll use it regularly, then join the pack. Look for me on the leaderboard—I always high-five back.

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