When gyms were closed by the Prime Minister more than a year ago, locked-down Britain split into two tribes: those of us who used the assurance that we’d not be heading into the office and would only be seen from the shoulders up as permission to binge on biscuits and Netflix, and those who sought the path of self-improvement.
Enter the Peloton – a bike or treadmill priced from £1,750 to £2,745 (plus a monthly fee of £12.99 to £39 for its optional pre-recorded or live classes with instructors). Beloved already by David Beckham and President Joe Biden, Leonardo DiCaprio, Miley Cyrus and Rishi Sunak, its valuation peaked at $49 billion in January, with 2020 revenue hitting $1.8 billion, thanks to its more than 4.4 million worldwide users.
This week, the shine seems to have worn off the toy of choice for the one per cent: 125,000 of its treadmills are being recalled in the US following reports linking the machines to the death of a three-year-old child. At least 70 other incidents have been cited, with an agreement that Peloton will stop selling and distributing its Tread+ machines in the US immediately, as well as providing refunds to any existing customers who might now want to return theirs.
Is Peloton about to go from must have to must hate?
For those of us with a £79.99 exercise bike from Argos collecting dust in the spare room, the idea of forking out such sums on a piece of exercise equipment might seem like madness. But the publicly-traded company, founded in New York in 2012 by former book shop executive John Foley, has captured the zeitgeist like no other in this lockdown year – and comes with a healthy dose of Silicon Valley tech elite coolness. The original product it designed – a smart exercise bike with a screen attached that beamed a live-streamed exercise class to your front room – was listed on crowdfunding website Kickstarter in 2013. Just shy of 300 people pledged $307,332 to make the concept a reality, with the first bikes installed in living rooms in 2014. It unveiled its treadmills four years later.
“I think it came about at just the right time, when people felt energised by a sense of community and group camaraderie with exercise – which Peloton was the first to really capture outside of a classroom or spin studio with its virtual leaderboards, as well as instructors who would call out participants’ names,” says Eileen Burbidge, partner at venture capitalist company Passion Capital. Burbidge has seen Peloton shift from something the tech and Hollywood elites would use as a status symbol to something more egalitarian. “For a certain demographic it was certainly very popular well before the pandemic,” she says.
Early growth was fuelled by the sense of an elite service that came from the moment you received the product. Peloton bikes aren’t simply plonked down on your front step by the postie: they’re delivered by Peloton staff who help set up the bike. “That gives a sense of concierge service to it, which wouldn’t be the case with ordering any other exercise bike online,” says Burbidge. It also helps justify the cost.
“Peloton is the symbol of that entire trend because of its price point,” says Burbidge. And it’s something people have bought into – literally and figuratively.
Clare Friel, 36, managing director of an Ipswich marketing company, had yearned for a Peloton throughout the first two lockdowns in the UK. She and her family were avid gym users and missed the opportunity to visit when doors shut. Over the first two national lockdowns, Friel and her family made do with biking and running outdoors. “Lockdown three had a different vibe because of the weather, and I was really struggling,” she says. She put on two stone, but couldn’t justify the expense of a Peloton.
Too many drinks on New Year’s Eve put paid to that, when her partner drunkenly ordered a Peloton bike. “He woke up with a big hangover but I was so happy,” says Friel. She admits most of this was driven by good marketing, but she’s kept the bike – and continued paying the £39.99 a month membership – because of the quality. “The beauty is you don’t have the time constraints you have at the gym and it’s readily available, and also the technology that comes with it does make it seem like you’re in a class,” she says.
Darryl Sparey, managing director of marketing consultancy Hard Numbers, is another convert. “Before I got it I was as sceptical as others,” the 42-year-old from Bournemouth says. When considering whether to buy the bike in the autumn, he canvassed his Twitter followers, asking them whether he was “about to buy the world’s most expensive clothes horse – but they responded in droves to say, ‘No, it’s brilliant’ – with the enthusiastic zeal I have now.”
Like Friel, Sparey had been thinking of buying a Peloton for a while. “During lockdown one and two, I sat on the sofa, ate biscuits and watched Netflix,” he admits. “I was drinking too much as well.” Stuck at home and with more spare time – pre-pandemic he split his time between London and Bournemouth – he recognised the opportunity to change. In 2021, he’s lost 36lbs. “It’s partly the cost,” he says. “Having something that costs £1,500, and that you’re paying £40 a month on for the subscription, makes you want to get your money’s worth.” Sparey uses his Peloton four or five times a week – about average for a Peloton user, who typically partakes in around 21 classes a month.
Many lockdown Pelotoners rationalised that the money they saved from not going out could justify the high cost of the bike itself. And now they’re among the masses building social circles through the app – Friel has friends across the country with whom she rides along virtually – they’re likely to stay. “We’ve even talked about cancelling our gym memberships,” she says – which, at a cost of £200 per month for four, would equate to more than the cost of a Peloton over a year.
Even the brand’s recent safety scares haven’t dented its proponents’ enthusiasm – although it did knock $4 billion off the company’s share price in a single day. Sparey is still considering buying the treadmill, too: “They’re a good business, they produce good products, they’ll work it out.”
More than that, he hopes, Peloton will begin developing a rowing machine so the Sparey family can hone their upper body strength: “If they came out with [one] next month, we’d buy it,” he admits. Safety concerns may have given the brand a setback, but the cult of Peloton remains dedicated to the last.
The chasing pack on Peloton’s tail
When its six UK studios went virtual during lockdown, Digme began selling its spin bikes for £1,999, inclusive of a 12-month subscription to its home workout classes. Rental begins at £69 per month.
At a similar price point to Peloton – and in some instances, more expensive – Technogym’s bikes also offer a subscription to live classes for £29 a month.
Offers a range of different gym equipment, with monthly membership to classes costing between £24.99 and £39.99.
ProForm Smart Power
The ProForm Smart Power bike (£999-£1,399) includes a 12-month free subscription to iFIT, a live-streamed training platform.