TL;DR - I'm feeling healthier, happier and more engaged with my fitness - but I've quickly learned to adjust some of my expectations! 🚴♂️
After 18 months of having a membership to a gym which was closed for a year, with autumn and winter fast approaching, and with the desire to kickstart my 40s with a big fitness push, I recently took the plunge and invested in a Peloton bike (a decision which was helped by a recent price reduction, as well as Postman giving employees a sizable rebate on fitness/wellness equipment). Fast-forward just over a fortnight, and I've already notched up over 500 miles in the saddle, and should be hitting my "100 rides" milestone in the next few days!
During the frenzied first couple of weeks, I've slowly learned to slightly adjust what I thought the Peloton experience would be like, versus what it actually has been like. I've had a few people asking for insider tips on social media, so as usual, I've written down more than you could possibly want to know.
If you find the below tips useful, and particularly if you end up purchasing a Peloton product off the back of it, I'd be hugely appreciate if you used my referral code 73U5JX at checkout. It'll give you £100 off any accessories that you purchase at the same time as the bike, and it'll give me a £100 voucher for the Peloton apparel store (and frankly, their clothing ain't the cheapest).
#1: Do your homework before ordering.
There's a bewildering array of packages available on the Peloton store. Firstly, should you go for the Bike or the Bike+? Personally, I was tempted by the recent price reduction on the Bike, and I couldn't find any compelling features which would make me upgrade to the Bike+:
The screen on the original Bike is plenty big enough. You're practically in the screen when you're out of the saddle, so the idea of an even bigger screen didn't appeal to me.
You can tilt/swivel the screen on the Bike+, for instance if you're doing workouts next to the bike. However, there's a great sturdy third-party adapter called The Pivot (which I've recently purchased) which adds the ability to swivel the screen on the original, cheaper bike.
The Bike+ has the option to "auto-follow" the resistance level that the instructors shout-out, but personally I prefer more granular control: the instructors will tend to give you a range, e.g. "25 to 40", and by controlling manually, you can work where you're comfortable within that range (or push harder if that's what you want).
Then you'll be looking at accessory packages. Decide which items matter to you, and then determine the optimal way to price those (there are a couple of bundles where it's actually marginally cheaper to buy some of the items individually). When it comes to shoes, there's a simple piece of advice given by everybody that I'll echo: order half a size higher than you usually would (for me, I was fortunate that they actually offer size 12.5 shoes!)
Delivery times have come down since the peak of the pandemic, and if you're flexible on dates, it shouldn't be more than a week or two before you're able to take receipt of a bike - ours was delivered on my 40th birthday, giving us just about enough time to complete a redecoration beforehand!
#2: You're not going to top the leaderboards.
One of the big selling points of the Peloton is that you're riding live with other people (if you're taking live classes that is; there's a huge catalogue of on-demand rides, where you can effectively ride against the "ghosts" of everyone who's taken the class before). But know this: there are some serious, serious riders on there. And, frankly, there are a good number of cheaters who are posting inhumanly high numbers, even though they're only really cheating themselves.
There are ways to counter this. Number one: if you're not bothered by the leaderboard, you can just slide it off the screen altogether. Alternatively, you can use some of the leaderboard filters: "Friends only" and "Just me" are self-explanatory safe places. Helpfully, you'll always see how you're doing against your previous personal best, so you can chase yourself and measure your own progress, which is the thing that matters most. (There are other ways to make the leaderboard more valuable; see #4.)
#3: You're not going to get shout-outs.
I feel like a lot of the Peloton marketing focuses on the interaction between instructors and riders. ("Keep on going, KnicksFan123!") Maybe in pre-COVID times it might have been like that, but there are so many riders in a live class (ranging from 1k to maybe 15k for special headline classes) that it just doesn't work like that.
Some instructors are chattier than others. From what I can tell, the instructors have a leaderboard similar to our own, which highlights riders who are on "milestone rides" (1500 rides, 1000 rides, 100 rides, etc) as well as riders whose birthday it is. If you're on a milestone ride, and you're on a live class with relatively low attendance and a chatty instructor, you might have a reasonable chance of a shout-out. (A lot of people try to hit a milestone ride on their birthday, to double their odds of a mention.) Just don't get your hopes up, or have them dashed if it doesn't happen.
#4: You WILL find your community.
If you're not getting the endorphins of that feedback from the live instructors, what else is there? Communication with other users during rides is straightforward: there's a simple "high-five" option when you touch any user's avatar. If I'm taking an on-demand class with only a handful of other users, I tend to make sure everyone gets a high-five, just to see who high-fives back (it's a bit like the Poke option from Facebook's early days). Ditto for anyone that I see who's from the same area as me, or if someone's kept pace with me on a particularly challenging ride, expect a high-five!
Each Peloton user can have up to ten Tags (hashtags) associated with their user account. You can create anything that you like, but popular tags tend to include regional ones (such as #PelotonUK), groups expressing their fandom for particular instructors (shout out to my #YesYo colleagues), hobbies (anyone else on the #Podcaster tag gets an automatic high-five from me) and issues (#BlackLivesMatter). You can filter the leaderboard by tags, allowing you to create a much smaller, intimate ride (personally I'd much rather see how I'm doing against the 20 #PelotonUK riders who are currently taking an on-demand class, rather than the 20,000 people on the all-time global leaderboard).
And you'll definitely make connections with the instructors, even if they're not giving you shout-outs! There's something for everybody, in terms of personality, ranging from chilled to high-intensity, and with all sorts of musical tastes. Even your least favourite instructor is probably somebody else's favourite, for all of the same reasons. The bike keeps track of whose classes you take most often, and the home screen will alert you to new classes from your favourite people, helping to shape the experience that's perfect for you.
#5: Focus on challenging yourself.
The bike tracks your PBs (Personal Bests) at all of the different class durations - 5mins, 10mins, 15mins, 20mins, 30mins, etc. As your fitness improves, these PBs will gradually fall by the wayside, and you get a gold badge whenever you improve on your best. There are loads of other badges (such as milestones), and monthly challenges (with bronze/silver/gold criteria) which will keep you coming back for more, and this is really useful for focusing you on your achievements (rather than "how come 50,000 people did better on that ride than I did").
#6: Do the programs.
Programs on Peloton are structured, multiple-week courses with a set syllabus of rides, grouped to help you get better in a particular area. My installation engineer recommended the "Introduction to Cycling" program, which runs for 6 weeks. You're still free to take whatever other classes you want (free or on-demand) but this particular program does a good job of introducing you to the variety of classes that are on offer (especially useful if you've no idea of the difference between a HIIT and a Tabata class).
On top of that program, a huge recommendation from me for "Discover Your Power Zones". Taking part in this class (and taking the Functional Threshold Power test, or FTP Test for short) unlocks an extremely useful additional bar on the dashboard, showing you your personalised Power Zones as you ride. Speaking of which…
#7: Know your zones.
If you've got a heart rate monitor (either a Peloton-branded monitor, or a compatible ANT+ monitor) then your current heart rate (with colour-coded "zones") is displayed on the top-left of the dashboard as you ride. This is incredibly useful if you want to gauge how hard you're pushing. Enabling a heart rate monitor also unlocks the ability to see the current heart rate zone of all other riders - this is useful if you're "racing" against others, as you can get a sense of how hard somebody is pushing to catch you. (Personally, I enjoy lightly trolling people by controlling my breathing to make my heart rate appear green, while they're still pushing in the orange or red zones.)
But the Power Zone bar is SO GOOD. It's unlocked by taking the FTP Test, and shows you the level of output (combination of cadence and resistance) which you would be expected to achieve in each zone. Effectively, zone 3 (known as the "sustainable" zone) will give you a good workout/sweat, but not so much that you'll destroy yourself. Zone 4 ("Challenging") is a bit more of a push, and is designated as the amount of intensity that you could only maintain for an hour at the most. What this means is, having taken the FTP Test and enabled the Power Zone display on my screen, I can now see my exact personal effort required to remain in Zone 4 - so if I'm taking a 60-minute class, this is the zone I should be aiming for if I want to challenge my personal best.
#8: Know why you're doing it.
If you're in the market for a bike, you're probably doing it for a reason. That reason is more important than your leaderboard placement, or whether you managed to beat a PB, or whether your instructor's idea of "hip-hop" or "80s" is very different to your own. Motivation requires focus, so don't lose sight of your goal.
As with all fitness regimes, if you're in it for weight loss, it's important to remember that it won't happen overnight. If anything, for the first couple of weeks you may notice that you gain weight, as fat is transferred into muscle mass rather than being burned away. There are other useful tips for fat burn too (and you should probably consult people fitter than me for the best tips). One useful tip that I learned: if you exercise in the morning, you can benefit from an "after burner" effect (your body keeps burning that fat for some time after you've stopped exercising). This effect is less strong at night, because when you sleep, the metabolism drops and you don't get the benefit of this extra burn. For this reason, I've switched many of my more intense rides to the mornings instead.
#9: Stats, stats, stats!
As anyone who knows me will attest, I'm an absolute stats addict, and Peloton does a pretty good job of surfacing your data. The presentation is best on the bike's touchscreen, where you can tap around all sorts of styles of visualization; your profile page on the Peloton website has a lot of the same data, and frankly the mobile app needs to play catch-up a bit.
But there are other ways to access your data too! One of my favourites comes courtesy of Postman: my colleague Carson Hunter put together a great collection called Peloton Data Playground which combines Peloton's CSV export feature with Postman's ability to parse and reformat data from CSVs, allowing you to generate reports which aren't otherwise easily available from Peloton themselves. For instance, you can easily determine your top instructors by number of classes taken, you can see which classes got your heart rate the highest, and (courtesy of a pull request that I've just submitted) get rich data about your personal bests at each distance. More data means more challenges!
#10: Have fun!
Don't be afraid of trying new styles of classes, or going for an instructor who you've not experienced before. Your new favourite could be just around the corner. Don't tune out of rides, or get distracted by checking your phone. Give it your all, however dumb it may seem. (I recently beat my 20-minute PB with Kendall Toole despite joining in with her rendition of the Macarena as we crossed the finish line.)
But similarly, don't jump on the bike just because you feel like you have to. Make it so that you want to. Bookmark classes by your favourite instructors; search for rides which feature your favourite artists; find friends or other people with similar tags/interests so that you can ride along with them. There's so much gamification in the Peloton system that if you want to ride, the only question becomes: where shall I ride today?
As usual, that's a lot more than I intended to write! If you have any questions, contact me through any of the usual channels (a Twitter DM probably gets to me fastest) and please do use the referral code 73U5JX at checkout if you join the Peloton family. And let me know your username - I'd love to see you on the leaderboards!
Gimme some more Peloton resources!
Big thumbs-up to all of the below:
Pelo Buddy - great website for news and rumours, with an in-depth weekly podcast, Pelo Buddy TV.
YouTube: Steve Julien - creator of loads of helpful hints and tips videos.
Reddit: /r/PelotonCycle - good place for finding answers to questions, and home of the #RedditRiders tag.
Peltrend - if the idea of visualising your data through Postman is too much, this is a great site where you can upload your exported workout CSV file, and it'll instantly graph it all in interesting ways (no need to hand over your login details).