Peloton Review: What to Know Before You Buy
Photo: Michael Hession
  1. Health & Fitness
  2. Cycling

Peloton Review: What to Know Before You Buy

  • Peloton this month launched the Bike+ ($2,495). We plan to test it soon. The company also dropped the base price of its original bike to $1,895 (including shipping and setup, excluding tax).

If you thrive on the competition and camaraderie of studio cycling classes and are intrigued by the idea of replicating that experience at home—where many people have moved their workouts these days—a Peloton indoor bike could be for you. Becoming a member of the Peloton pack is an investment: roughly $2,500 for the first year and nearly $500 each year thereafter. But for a set of indoor-cycling devotees, these recurring costs for live-streaming and on-demand classes make financial sense. Namely, those who typically take four or more Peloton-like studio classes a week may find the at-home bike and classes a superior value in as few as six months.

If you have never considered a Peloton but are unsure whether an indoor-cycling class at the gym or a studio is a safe or appealing option as the pandemic continues, you may be weighing all your at-home options. People who love the Peloton love the Peloton. But it’s no longer the only connected indoor-cycling bike in town. We also tested six Peloton alternatives that promise a similar overall experience, plus an alternative way to use the Peloton app (or any indoor-cycling app).

After assessing those bikes, taking dozens of classes, observing even more, and absorbing myriad motivational mantras, we believe that if you have your heart set on a Peloton bike and all that comes with it, you’ll be happiest with a Peloton. It is excellent equipment overall, and for the devotee of indoor cycling, it is possibly a good value or even a bargain. (Still, you have to make and enforce your own good habits, and the bike becomes a shadow of its former self if you stop paying the $39 monthly membership fee.)

There are other options that may better fit your budget, style, and goals. But you need to know yourself, what you want out of your bike and your workouts, and—perhaps most important—what you’re willing to go without.

Peloton Bike

Peloton Bike

A pricey, top-notch indoor cycle

Boutique-cycling fanatics will find their people and their workout vibe with Peloton. Everyone else will feel the burn mainly in their budget.

Buying Options

Thanks to well-produced live-streaming and on-demand classes starring self-made celebrity instructors, the Peloton bike has a devoted following. Is it worth the investment? Maybe, if you’re accustomed to handing over lots of money to spin studios week in and week out and want something more convenient at home. Many people, however, will be spun out by the Peloton bike’s significant up-front cost and ongoing expense. Once you purchase the bike itself, you need to keep paying a $39 monthly subscription fee, or you’re left with just three classes and a free-ride mode that displays only real-time data on the screen, with no leaderboard-inspired competition or any record of your efforts. Peloton is an evolving company (it went public late last year), and it will continue to attract competitors. The company seems healthy, yet it’s worth noting that the bike stays useful only as long as Peloton continues supporting the content at the high level it does today.

The research

The Peloton bike from the side, with clip-in shoes on the floor, in someone's living room.
Photo: Michael Hession

If you’re reading this guide, you probably already know this machine by name. For the uninitiated: The Peloton bike is a high-end indoor bicycle rigged with a Wi-Fi–enabled, 22-inch touchscreen tablet that streams live and on-demand classes and allows the rider to compete with other participants (by way of a live leaderboard that ranks riders based on “output,” or the total wattage of energy expended) and get a strenuous cardio workout in the process. Until very recently, it was the only game in town, with a devoted following. According to Peloton’s IPO prospectus, the company had 511,000 connected-fitness subscribers in late 2019 and a 95% retention rate. It has sold more than 550,000 machines—a number that includes its bike and its treadmill, the Tread. The most popular on-demand classes have tens of thousands of rides completed; special live rides have been known to pull in nearly 20,000 live riders at one time.

The idea, hatched in 2012 and launched in 2014, was to bring the boutique indoor-cycling experience (such as what you can get from SoulCycle and Flywheel) into the home, making it convenient for the likes of time-strapped businesspeople, stay-at-home parents, and far-flung suburbanites to get in a challenging, competitive, high-tech pedaling session whenever they like. The brand also offers off-the-bike exercise classes, like running, yoga, strength training, and meditation. It all comes with a boutique-fitness-class price tag, with the bike alone costing $1,895 including delivery (minus tax), plus a $39-per-month membership fee for the streaming content and iOS or Android app, obligatory for the first year (more on that later too).

A note on nomenclature: Mad Dogg Athletics Inc. trademarked the word “Spin” (along with “Spinning” and “Spinner”) in the early 1990s; the company is protective of its usage. We use the generic term “indoor cycling” frequently throughout this review, even though most people who are into this type of workout use “Spin” or “Spinning” to describe it—and call the equipment Spin bikes.

Close up of spin bikes side by side.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

Amy is Wirecutter’s former fitness writer and wrote the original version of this guide. She has written more than a dozen Wirecutter reviews of various fitness gear, including fitness trackers, folding bikes, yoga mats, and the Peloton Tread. She’s a personal trainer and group fitness instructor who bikes mostly recreationally, though she trained for and completed an Olympic-length triathlon too. She’s taken hundreds of indoor-cycling classes over the past decade.

Ingrid is Wirecutter’s current fitness writer and authored the updated version of this guide. She is well-versed in exercise equipment; she recently wrote reviews of treadmills and the workout-streaming Mirror. She had a brief but intense dalliance with a road bike while training for and completing a near-Olympic-distance triathlon and has taken more than a hundred indoor-cycling classes since her first, in 2007, including several at the Peloton studio. She is also a certified personal trainer with a particular interest in endurance sports.

In addition to drawing on personal experience, we read up a whole lot on indoor bike training, including numerous articles featuring interviews with Peloton co-founders published in CNBC, Fortune, Bloomberg Businessweek, Inc., and Huffington Post; (mostly rave) reviews of the bike by DC Rainmaker, The Verge, Good Housekeeping, Racked, and NextTribe; and pieces examining its cultural impact and future outlook on The Cut, Vox, and The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company). We scanned owner reviews of the bike on the Peloton site and the complaints and issues raised in its unofficial community board on Reddit, and we joined the official Peloton Riders page on Facebook to see what riders post about it regularly.

Our testers on indoor-cycling bikes side by side.
Photo: Sarah Kobos

For this review, we looked at indoor-cycling bikes that can stream workouts via onboard monitors or can work well when used with another Internet-connected device, like a tablet. We focused on those that, like the Peloton, are primarily aimed at facilitating group fitness classes or interactive cycling workouts via apps.

First, we recruited four fitness-oriented New Yorkers with varying experience with boutique indoor cycling to take the Peloton for a spin: Laura, an active new mom who is just back from a break from exercise, including regular boutique cycling classes and some at the Peloton studio, and has been seriously considering buying a Peloton; Rachel, an avid exerciser who takes a variety of boutique fitness classes weekly, including indoor cycling at SoulCycle, Flywheel, and Cyc; David, a triathlete who frequently uses an indoor trainer with his bike but has never taken a boutique indoor-cycling class; and Brittni, a long-term member of Flywheel, who takes five or six classes a week and preordered its now-defunct bike (the first true Peloton competitor) the day it was announced.

We then rode six other Spin bikes that promise a connected-fitness experience similar to Peloton’s—whether that means onboard, branded classes and workouts and a built-in tablet, or the ability to stream indoor-cycling apps (Peloton included) via Bluetooth and your own tablet. We took numerous classes on each bike and assessed the fit, feel, and function of each machine, noting how that informed our overall experience. We also had a few more casual volunteers—from indoor cycling beginners to aficionados who brought their own shoes—give some of the bikes a spin. (There were, after all, half a dozen of them parked in the basement level of the Wirecutter office. Our colleagues were curious to try the different setups.)

As we tested, we arrived at a major conclusion: When it comes to deciding which bike will fit you and your lifestyle best, know yourself. Ask pertinent questions. Will cycling at home please you, or is a studio environment ultimately more satisfying? If you’re taking a hiatus from a gym or studio setting to work out at home, how long do you envision your break to last? When it comes to classes, do you prefer high production value or a more relaxed, local-gym feel? Are you willing to invest in cycling shoes, or are you okay with pedaling in sneakers? Do you prefer a large, built-in screen, or will your own, smaller tablet do? How often will you really ride your bike? How many members of your household will ride along with you?

If you’re excited about cycling at home, willing to invest in a slick setup and highly produced content, and really committed to using this bike, the Peloton may be worth it for you. If not, fear not: There are other options.

Our tester pedaling the Peloton, looking at the attached screen.
Photo: Michael Hession

In short: This thing is really cool. First, the bike itself is sleek and extremely well-built. It’s easy to adjust to fit nearly any size rider—the bike is built to safely accommodate riders between 4′11″ and 6′5″ who weigh up to 300 pounds—and the smartly designed tightening handles have a secondary adjustment so they can rotate out of the way once the bolts are secure. The pedals and flywheel turn extremely smoothly and near silently, with electromagnetic resistance that is so sensitive, you can adjust it by 1 percentage point at a time. The saddle is comfortable, as far as indoor cycles go, and it adjusts both in height and depth. The handlebars are grippy even when doused in sweat, and they feel secure, with none of the wobbling that lesser bikes produce. The pedal clips, which are Look Delta compatible, hold the Peloton cycling shoes or other appropriate bike shoes securely and aren’t too challenging to clip and unclip (you’ll need to buy your shoes separately). You can listen through the tablet’s built-in speakers or through wired or Bluetooth headphones, though we recommend the latter, as a cord could bounce and tangle during a workout. The bike takes up 4 feet by 2 feet of floor space.

  • The Peloton in a living room.

    The Peloton is a substantial piece of equipment, taking up about 4 feet by 2 feet of floor space and weighing 135 pounds. Photo: Michael Hession

  • A closeup on the Delta bike shoes, clipped into the pedal.

    The pedals are compatible only with Look Delta cleats, so if you have an SPD set, you’ll need new cleats, new shoes, or a conversion kit. Photo: Michael Hession

  • A person's hand adjusting a knob.

    The sensitive resistance knob increases and decreases electromagnetic resistance on the bike’s flywheel. Pushing the knob in locks the flywheel down to bring it (and your pedaling) to a quick stop. Photo: Michael Hession

  • Our tester adjusting the seat's distance from the handlebars.

    You can adjust the bike in three ways—the seatpost height, the seat distance from the handlebars, and the handlebar height (not shown)—for your height and comfort. Photo: Michael Hession

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The sweatproof, touch-sensitive tablet, which streams Peloton’s branded classes, is crisp and responsive (after an initial few seconds of buffering). During a ride, it displays all sorts of stats: ride time (elapsed and remaining); current speed; distance covered; cadence (how fast you’re pedaling, in revolutions per minute); resistance intensity (the percentage of tension of the magnet controlling the flywheel); calories burned, which is informed by your body size, effort level, and heart rate, if you’re wearing a heart-rate chest strap; and your heart rate, if applicable. We used a $70 Garmin HR strap, which connected seamlessly; a Peloton-branded one ($50) is available for purchase. You’ll also see “output” or the wattage of energy you’re expending in the moment, on average, and in total, the last of which determines your place on the leaderboard. This element is what unleashes riders’ competitiveness and is the reason Peloton—and Flywheel, which was first to do this in its studio classes—is so popular, particularly among the Type A personalities of the world.

  • The Peloton's screen displaying vital stats, a leaderboard, and a media player in the middle

    During a class, the screen shows your stats, including time remaining and elapsed, heart rate, cadence, output, resistance, and placement on the leaderboard. Photo: Michael Hession

  • A closeup on the screen showing class options.

    You can filter classes by instructor, length, type, or music genre, as well by popularity and difficulty. Photo: Michael Hession

  • The screen displays a day-by-day tracker of rides, as well as overall stats.

    Your personal rider profile is populated with details about the rides you’ve taken, including date, output, cadence, and personal output record. Photo: Michael Hession

  • The screen displays a graph, as well as numbers reflecting exertion.

    After you’ve completed a ride, you can drill down through the data on how you performed. Photo: Michael Hession

  • The screen displays various videos of scenic bike rides that are viewable.

    Nearly 100 scenic rides provide a noncompetitive option for getting a workout. Photo: Michael Hession

  • A photo of the display during a scenic ride, which shows the video in the middle, which your own stats at the bottom and a leaderboard at the right.

    The scenery is virtual, but still lovely, when viewed on the 22-inch screen. Photo: Michael Hession

  • A closeup on the screen, showing a leaderboard.

    During classes, the leaderboard shows how you rank against all riders, as well as how you’re doing against your own record for that class length. (You can also sort to see how you’re doing against other people of your age and gender.) Photo: Michael Hession

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During a live class, you see the leaderboard populate as riders log in, listing their chosen screen names, gender, age bracket by the decade, and location. In a prerecorded on-demand class, you instead see the names of everyone who has ever taken it. As you pedal, you can watch your rank change, which can be by turns exciting and frustrating. For Amy’s first live class, she quickly decided her goal would be to finish in the top 200 of about 500, and she had to pedal like mad to make that happen—Peloton riders are dedicated! You can also filter your leaderboard view to see only yourself (against your personal record for that length ride, if you choose) or your age and gender bracket, to find out how you rank among your own demographic. You can hide metrics from view individually, and if you want to see nothing but the instructor and the class in the lit-like-a-dance-club Peloton studio, a double tap on the screen clears everything else away. All this customization may seem like overkill, but we really enjoyed being able to decide when we cared about the numbers and when we didn’t.

The instructors of the live classes are a huge selling point, which makes sense, as the classes are Peloton’s bread and butter. Many are famous in their own right, with die-hard fans in the Peloton community and massive Instagram followings outside of it. The most popular—the saucy, six-packed Robin Arzón, who is also Peloton’s VP of fitness programming and head instructor—led a record-setting class of more than 23,000 live riders in April 2020 and has 540,000 Instagram followers. Arzón and the other dozen or so instructors we sampled (or watched while others rode) are indeed really good: poised, clear-spoken, and engaging, with big, unique personalities that truly make the classes feel different from one another. Of course, we didn’t personally love all of them, but we can see how each one is deserving of their own devoted fan base. That’s no small feat, considering the somewhat limited workout programming that can be done when your participants have their feet clipped to pedals.

Some workouts include upper-body exercises, using light dumbbells that you can purchase separately and nestle in a rack behind the saddle; this practice is controversial, but if you fall into the no-weights-on-a-bike camp, you have plenty of options that are pedaling only, and the class descriptions will tell you what you’re in for.

Peloton broadcasts 10 to 14 live cycling classes a day (more than 90 a week) from its studio on 23rd Street in Manhattan, similar to what a busy in-person studio offers. “Encore” classes are re-aired live classes, with new live leaderboards, that fill out the schedule when actual live classes are not available.

Many Peloton rides aren’t taken live. The Peloton library consists of thousands of on-demand cycling classes, in any of 11 class types from low impact to intervals to climbing/strength (a lot of standing up on the pedals), and from five minutes (warm-up, cooldown, and intro rides) to 90 minutes in length; most are 30 or 45 minutes. You can also choose your class based on instructor, difficulty level, music genre, or “sort” (new, trending, popular, top-rated, easiest, hardest). Finally, similar to what you get with some indoor bicycles in gyms, the Peloton library also includes about a hundred timed scenic rides—immersive videos that let you virtually pedal along coastlines, through countrysides, and on city streets at your own pace. Peloton’s repertoire also includes hundreds of off-the-bike workouts in outdoor running (via audio only), yoga, strength training, cardio high-intensity interval training, bootcamp, meditation, and stretching. They are a major selling point—and a way for Peloton members to keep their full fitness strategy within the Peloton fold. All classes, cycling and other, are viewable on the bike’s built-in tablet; on a television via the Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku; or on an iPhone or iPad or Android phone or tablet through the Peloton app.

A closeup on the screen, showing a leaderboard.
All of the live classes move to the archive, for an ever-growing inventory of options. Photo: Michael Hession

Peloton also pushes its social media component, allowing you to follow friends who also own bikes or take studio classes, as well as to link and post rides to your own Facebook, Strava, and/or Fitbit profile. (Beginning in early September 2020, the company says, riders can share their workouts directly from the Peloton app to Instagram stories.) As Strava users, we were happy that our rides seamlessly uploaded within seconds of completing the sessions. When you’re not riding, a few quick taps let you explore your historic stats and your friends’ stats, bookmark classes to take later, and save classes to your favorites list. The tablet is equipped with a camera and a microphone, designed for video chats among Peloton riders. Not many people use this function, from what we can tell—we tried it with a friend who owns a bike, and it was buggy, to say the least—but you can turn it off in the settings.

Finally, as part of the $39-per-month Peloton membership, you gain access to the Peloton app (iOS, Android), which you can buy separately for $13 a month if you don’t own the bike. It allows you to stream the non-cycling classes and the cycling classes at the gym on an iPhone or iPad or Android phone or tablet. (You do not, however, have access to the complete suite of real-time metrics or full leaderboard involvement, which is something to consider if a bike without onboard content is of interest.) During live classes on the app, the display shows a list of app users who are currently riding and a feed announcing notifications like milestone rides; you’re also able to give a fellow rider a virtual high five and follow other people. As of late 2019, the app can be used with the Apple Watch, which will track heart rate. Connect a separate Bluetooth cadence sensor to the app to track cadence, but an output (watts) readout is not supported. We used the app on an iPad and found its organization and navigation exceptionally clear and easy; classes streamed smoothly and with few issues. The off-the-bike workouts are solid, well done, and provide additional value beyond the bike. They also make it easy to mix and match workouts to fulfill a goal or round out a workout calendar (for instance, a post-cycling stretching class or a full-body strength-training session on a non-cycling day). We also like that people who don’t own a Peloton bike may try it free for 30 days and then buy into it if they want.

Our tester riding in a class, with the screen displaying stats and an instructional video.
Photo: Michael Hession

The elephant in the room—aside from the bike, which takes up a not-enormous-but-significant 4 feet by 2 feet of floor space—is that the Peloton is very expensive.

The basic startup costs:

  • $1,895 for the bike (supposedly sold at cost, according to a 2015 Bloomberg Businessweek article), including delivery and setup, but not including sales tax, which in New York adds nearly $200.
  • $125 for Peloton-brand cycling shoes (you will need these if you don’t have cycling shoes with Look Delta cleats, which—if you’re not sure what you own—are big and bulky and compatible with road-style shoes only)
  • $468 for membership ($39/month), required for the first year. If you pay up front for one year, a thirteenth month is included, and for two years, three extra months are added.

That brings the bare-minimum total for the first year to $2,488 (plus tax, if applicable).1

Other nice-to-have extras include:

  • $60 for a bike mat (recommended to protect hardwood floors)
  • $50 for the heart-rate monitor
  • $25 for a pair of 1-, 2-, or 3-pound dumbbells for the upper-body exercises

Peloton also sells an array of headphones, both corded and Bluetooth, but as we haven’t tested those, we recommend that you choose one of our wireless workout headphone picks—if you prefer not to listen to classes out loud through the speaker.

The included limited warranty covers the tablet, mechanics, parts, and service from issues related to normal wear and tear for one year (and five years for the bike frame). If you want an additional year, it’s $175, and if you want to be covered for the full 39-month financing term, it’s $230, which you can add at any time before the first year is up.

So if you’re already a boutique-cycling enthusiast, where do you break even? By our math, the Peloton “pays for itself” in about five months if you’re someone who is committed to taking about four classes a week at an elite studio.2

Peloton offers a 30-day home trial option: delivery and professional installation of the bike followed by a trial period for up to 30 days from the delivery date. If you’re not sold, Peloton will pick up the bike and issue a refund. You are, of course, required to pay for the bike in full up front or, if financing, pay the first installment.

The other big flaw and potential dealbreaker: Without that monthly membership, the bike’s functionality is seriously limited. The Peloton library, which houses thousands of classes—the company says it produces nearly a thousand original workouts a month across its fitness categories—is reduced to just three 45-minute ones. You also get a basic “ride” mode (sans the scenic vistas) that allows you to pedal and adjust resistance at your own whim. And while you do see real-time stats during your rides, neither the classes nor the free-ride option includes a leaderboard or even your own personal best to compete against, and there’s no way to save a record of your ride beyond snapping a smartphone photo of the screen the moment you complete it. The company does allow a membership freeze of up to three months in your first year if, say, you get injured or pregnant or go on an extended vacation, and you may freeze it for as long as you like after the first year. You just don’t get much from the bike if you do so.

And since the tablet is a connected device, there’s nothing stopping Peloton from pushing a software update that even further limits the bike’s offline usability at any point in the future. It’s tempting to think of devices like the Peloton as appliances. But when they are hooked to a network and reliant on software updates, you have no guarantee they will function forever as they do now (consider this example of Logitech remotely bricking customers’ universal remote hubs after seven years).

Another potential annoyance is that you can’t pause any of the rides, either live or on-demand—if you have to get up, they keep running without you. One of the reasons to even have an expensive Spin bike at home is that if something comes up—the phone rings, the baby cries, the dog gets too close to your flywheel for comfort, there’s a knock at the door—you should be able to jump off for a minute or two and come back to pick up where you left off. Instead, your ride continues regardless. You can rejoin it in progress, or (with on-demand rides) you have the option to start over again from the top. Other large, expensive gym equipment offers at least a short pause function. This regularly shows up as a requested feature in the unofficial Reddit forum.

One criticism, raised in particular by The Verge’s reviewer, is the issue of privacy: You can’t make your profile fully private, and you’re handing over a treasure trove of fitness data, including heart-rate data if you use a strap. (You can, however, set up your profile so that the username and location don’t contain any identifying characteristics, and you don’t have to enter your age, weight, or gender.)

The bike ships with the third generation of the tablet. Over the years, original adopters have expressed concern that new tablets will be necessary upgrades, much as you have to replace your smartphone every few years to keep up with the technology. A Peloton customer service representative assured us that, for the moment, the company is still supporting the first-generation tablet.

Speaking of the tablet, several of our testers marked its built-in speakers as their number one problem, finding them tinny in general and distorted at higher volumes, and sometimes experiencing the instructor’s voice as indistinct from the music. (Though one colleague who owns a Peloton reports no issues with its speakers.) Using a quality headset solves that issue, but sometimes you don’t want to exercise with something in or on your ears, particularly if you’re the only person around.

While the system calculates the number of calories you’ve burned using your body size, age, gender, and heart rate, the percentage of resistance is standardized by the bike, not based on body weight or gender. As a result, the leaderboard does not control for those factors, giving larger people an advantage. Two of our test riders struggled with even making the flywheel turn without standing on the pedals at resistances above 50% or 60%, let alone at the instructor’s suggested cadence. That said, it’s certainly possible for someone on the smaller side to build the leg strength to conquer that and much more.

Unlike many studio bikes, the home Peloton bike accepts Look Delta–compatible cycling shoes only, not Shimano SPD-SL, the other common attachment type for road-bike pedals. This is a point of contention for some riders, who consider it another way for Peloton to make more money. If you already own the latter or another type, you need to buy adapters, new pedals, or new shoes. Two test riders brought their own shoes. One managed to ride with his SPD-SL shoes, though they slid around quite a bit; we do not advise trying this.

The bike itself is nearly silent, but our Peloton shoes squeaked a lot when we pedaled while standing (“out of the saddle”).

The handlebar height can be tough to adjust, as the attached tablet is very heavy. That said, handlebar height is more of a preference than an adjustment need for fit, so you may be able to get away with one height for all the riders who use your bike.

In one of the classes we took, the class timer never started, which we didn’t realize meant that we didn’t get credit for the ride. We restarted the class after it was over, and the timer began as expected, so here’s hoping this was a rare glitch.

The honest answer: Pretty much everyone who tries the Peloton likes it, at least on a test ride. Peloton’s customer reviews average 4.8 out of five, across roughly 7,900 reviewers. Every editorial article and blog post is overwhelmingly positive, from the writer who reviewed it for Racked to the experts and testers of The Good Housekeeping Institute to the writer who wrote for NextTribe about her family’s experience owning one to the writer for The Atlantic who didn’t think she’d fall for its charms (but did). And pretty much all of them raise the price question as the biggest concern. There is even a podcast devoted to the brand.

And business is booming, owing in large part to changing workout habits prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. In May 2020, the company reported a 66% revenue growth and a 64% increase in subscribers. In early September 2020, Peloton expanded its fleet: In addition to the original bike (whose base price dropped to $1,895), it now offers the Bike+ ($2,495), which features a rotatable 23.8-inch HD touchscreen and a four-speaker sound system. Original-Peloton owners can trade in their existing bike for a $700 credit toward the Bike+ and complimentary pickup of the old one. (On the treadmill front, a new, less-expensive Peloton Tread is expected in early 2021.)

That’s not to say Peloton hasn’t received its share of criticism. The National Music Publishers Association filed a lawsuit against Peloton in March 2019 for copyright infringement and doubled its original damages request (to $300 million) that fall; a judge struck down Peloton’s countersuit early this year. Peloton went public in September 2019 and its stock fell immediately, prompting questions about its profitability. And a cringe-worthy ad later that year became an instant target (thanks to its tone-deaf depiction of a woman’s first year with a Peloton bike).

The Peloton is well-built, smartly designed and executed, and great fun. The workouts are also highly motivating, which is an essential part of adherence to an exercise program. But the Peloton is very expensive up front and an ongoing monthly expense for as long as you use it.

If you cease your subscription, the bike loses much of what makes it great in the first place. It does seem to have decent resale potential, at least for now. But there’s also no guarantee that a company whose primary product is both expensive to sell and expensive to support and produce will be able to scale and sustain itself long-term, and fitness trends constantly change.

The bottom line: As with any large piece of exercise equipment, if you know you’re going to use it often and, even better, share it with others in your household, it may justify its hefty price tag. Just be really, really realistic as you consider whether to take the plunge.

Peloton is often credited with kick-starting the trend of connected fitness: streamed, on-demand home workouts that aim to replicate a traditional studio experience—including live group workouts, the ability to follow a favorite instructor, and a built-in community, but without the stress of scheduling and commuting.

The benefits are as revered (the future of fitness is here) as they are critiqued (the future of fitness isn’t accessible to all). Connected-fitness equipment is expensive, often requiring a monthly membership on top of an initial investment. Wi-Fi, software, or technological issues can derail workouts. The personal data gathered raises privacy concerns. An out-of-business new brand can leave customers stranded with unuseable equipment.

If you don’t want to spend a small fortune on classes or on a Peloton, you may wonder if you can MacGyver a similar setup for less cash. You can.

In a blog post that went viral in 2016, Michelle Platt, who runs the blog My Purse Strings, explains how she rigged a less expensive bike for Peloton rides for about $550. (Her additions included a tablet holder to stream the Peloton app to an iPad, an add-on cadence sensor, and a second app to record stats.) Updates to the Peloton app over the past couple of years include a “Here Now” list during live rides, which shows the handles of other participating app users, and the ability to follow and give virtual high fives to fellow riders. But her solution still lacks the full competitive social aspect (real-time leaderboard and metrics) that many Peloton riders thrive on.

DIYing aside, more and more Spin bikes aim to deliver connected-fitness experiences to rival (or replicate) Peloton. Four of the six non-Peloton bikes we tested in 2020 eschew built-in tablets and onboard content for Bluetooth connectivity and responsive functionality that allows riders to use their favorite indoor-cycling apps, such as Zwift (iOS, Android), an interactive app that focuses on road-style cycling, or Studio Sweat (iOS, Android), which offers more traditional indoor-cycling classes. The Peloton app can be used with these bikes, but without the live leaderboard and real-time stats.

Two of the bikes we tested are outfitted, respectively, with an integrated touchscreen and a tablet holder to be used with your own tablet. Each streams the company’s own branded indoor-cycling classes and/or supplemental workouts.

Flywheel, a boutique studio that opened its first location in 2010, debuted the first direct Peloton competitor, the Flywheel At Home bike, in November 2017. (At the time, it was called the Flywheel Anywhere.) We reviewed it then, determining that it wasn’t quite ready for prime time.

Peloton CEO John Foley told Inc. he had approached Flywheel about a partnership before his company even launched. Peloton sued Flywheel in 2018 for patent infringement; the suit settled in February 2020. Flywheel subsequently shut down its home-bike business and streaming content (about 30 brick-and-mortar studios remain open). Flywheel Home Bike owners were offered a deal: Trade in their Flywheel for a refurbished Peloton.

Many people consider a Peloton bike because they love studio cycling classes like those offered at Flywheel (founded in 2009), SoulCycle (which opened its first studio in 2006), CycleBar (founded in 2004), and even Peloton itself, which films its typically open-to-the-public live classes at its NYC studio. In short, the Peloton experience is about as good as you can get while not actually being in a physical spin class. The instructor stays front and center and focuses their attention on the camera (and the home audience), not on the participants who fill the filming studio. But unless you have your bike linked to your stereo system (which you could do, via Bluetooth or by streaming to your TV setup), the tablet or headphones just can’t replicate the experience of being engulfed by sound that you get when physically in a class. Flywheel’s studio classes have live leaderboards that let you compete against others in the class who opt in; SoulCycle’s have a much more dance-club vibe and are about pedaling to the music, not for metrics. If you thrive on that live environment, you may not find the at-home bike to be enough. In fact, one tester who ordered Flywheel’s (now-discontinued) bike as soon as it became available admitted that she wanted to keep her membership at its studio too. But if you buy a Peloton for the love of the ride or competition, plus the convenience of having the bike right in your living room, you’ll probably love it.

Diamondback 1260Sc

The Diamondback 1260Sc in a living room setting.
The Diamondback 1260Sc. Photo: Sarah Kobos

If you want the feel of a sturdy studio-style bike at home and are not devoted to the full Peloton experience, you may find the Diamondback 1260Sc suits your needs. (According to the company’s website, the bike is out of stock until November 15, 2020; you can join a waitlist in order to be notified when it returns.) It’s compatible with a host of cycling and activity-tracking apps and devices (and fully functional without any monthly subscription, should you wish to not sync the bike to an app).

We were impressed with the versatility and high-end feel of this bike. Simple levers adjust seat and handlebar height, while easy-to-turn knobs with grips help shift the seat and handlebars forward or back for comfort. The seat, which can also tip up or down, has added spring suspension (we didn’t notice a measurable difference compared with seats without suspension, though we rarely thought about the seat—which is a good thing). The handlebars are a bit wider (roughly a half inch) than those of the other bikes we tried. Unlike the Peloton, which requires Look Delta–compatible cycling shoes, the 1260Sc’s dual-sided pedals accommodate Shimano SPD–compatible shoes or street shoes.

The 1260Sc does not have a built-in tablet or require a monthly subscription fee. The bike powers itself as you pedal, so, unlike the Peloton, there is no need for an outlet. Its 5-inch backlit LCD screen shows output (watts), time, distance, calories, RPM (cadence), load, and heart rate (when linked to a compatible monitor). It promises Bluetooth connectivity with a bunch of cycling apps and the likes of Garmin (as Peloton does), though we couldn’t get our Garmin HR strap to link.

Close up of the the Diamondback 1260Sc's display and tablet holder.
The 1260Sc features a comprehensive display and a tablet holder. Photo: Sarah Kobos

The 1260Sc is functional even when not connected to an app. Though there are no built-in programs, you can pedal manually or enter a wattage goal and have the bike cue you to play with resistance or cadence to hit your goal. A lever adjusts the 16 levels of resistance, which get heavy. Using the lever precisely takes some practice, though once we got a feel for its sensitivity and responsiveness, we were able to control our rides.

We used the Zwift and Peloton apps with the 1260Sc. Zwift, which approximates road cycling on all types of animated courses all over the world, connected seamlessly and we had a lot of fun with it on the bike. Our Peloton rides were also enjoyable, though using the Peloton app with the Diamondback bike doesn’t allow for direct connection, live leaderboard positioning, or real-time stats (by Peloton’s measures, at least). Adjusting the resistance to approximate the effort our Peloton instructors called for required some trial and error with the adjustment lever.

The 1260Sc is 3 inches shorter than the Peloton, but its rider height range is similar, fitting people from 5′2″ to 6′5″; its maximum weight capacity is identical (300 pounds). Its near-silent flywheel is located at the back of the bike—which is meant to keep it out of sweat’s path and in presumably better shape over time. This isn’t completely novel positioning; three of the other bikes we tried had similar setups.

A person on a Diamondback 1260Sc
The 1260Sc has dual-sided pedals (for use with cycling or regular shoes) and 16 levels of resistance that are adjusted with a lever. Photo: Sarah Kobos

There is no white-glove delivery option, as Peloton offers. A YouTube video walks you through the assembly process; ours came together fairly easily. Diamondback’s warranty is five years for frame and brakes, three years for parts and electronics, and one year for labor.

Note: The first test model we received arrived with a malfunctioning sensor that rendered our wattage useless, even after numerous attempts to recalibrate the system. The company sent us a second bike, which operated glitch free, and assured us that the issue was rare and most likely brought on by rough shipping.

List price: $1,500 (plus tax)
Associated fees: A monthly membership fee isn’t offered or required. Diamondback includes an equipment mat (30 inches by 60 inches) with a bike purchase. If you were to choose to ride with Zwift ($15/month), you would add $180 to the first-year cost, bringing the total to $1,680. If you were to ride with the Peloton app ($13/month), you would add $156 to the first-year cost, bringing the total to $1,656.

Bowflex C6

A Bowflex C6 in a living room.
The Bowflex C6. Photo: Sarah Kobos

An even lower-cost option, the Bowflex C6 is worth consideration if a longer warranty period matters most to you. Like the Diamondback 1260Sc, you don’t need to pay for a subscription in order to get full utility from this bike, and it connects (via Bluetooth) to nearly a dozen cycling apps.

The C6 has a traditional stationary bike look and feel. It is not luxe. But if you want something on the simpler side that can be used with or without an app, this might be for you. We like its functionality, smooth ride, and versatility. The handlebars and seat are adjusted via handles that tighten each screw and ratchet the handles out of harm’s way—similar to the Peloton’s. Its tablet holder is solid, though its seat felt a bit plasticky. The angle of the top of the handlebars seemed extreme at first, but a small, paddle-like addition at the tip of each handlebar provided a surprisingly satisfying surface to hold during out-of-the-saddle—standing—riding. The handlebars are, however, rougher than others we encountered; the texture caught fuzz from our workout towels like crazy.

Close up of a tablet in the C6's tablet holder.
The C6 has a sturdy tablet holder for when you’d like to stream workouts from an indoor-cycling or fitness app. Photo: Sarah Kobos

We rode with clip-in cycling shoes with SPD cleats, but this bike also has cage pedals (for use with non-cycling shoes) on the flip side. We liked the robust display and found it useful during rides: RPM (cadence) tracks on a graph at the top of the display, followed by time, calories burned, speed, distance, level (resistance, from 1 to 100), and heart rate. The C6’s included HR armband strap connected easily. 

A knob adjusts the heaviness of the resistance and, when pressed in, brings the flywheel to a halt. During our rides with the Peloton app (which doesn’t connect directly to the bike but is useable with it), we felt the resistance matched well with what our Peloton instructors outlined, and we could track both cadence and resistance with ease on the C6’s display, though there is no watts metric (which measures power output).

The C6’s Bluetooth capabilities allow for connection to (and interaction with) cycling apps like Zwift and activity tracking apps like MyFitnessPal and Strava. 

The C6 comes with two 3-pound dumbbells, which hang on its front, for off-the-bike workouts or in-the-saddle arm work (which, as we mentioned, is controversial). We put the C6 on a mat and it was solid, without wobbles. Its maximum weight capacity is 330 pounds, and it fits people 4′6″ to 6′6″. There is a home assembly option, and 
Bowflex offers a generous warranty: 10 years for frame, three years for parts, and one year for labor.

A person riding the Bowflex C6.
The C6 is a compact stationary bike with Bluetooth capability. Photo: Sarah Kobos

List price: $1,000 (plus tax)
Associated fees: A monthly membership fee isn’t offered or required. Optional in-home assembly costs $130. Bowflex includes a free equipment mat with a bike purchase. If you were to ride with Zwift ($15/month), you would add $180 to the first-year cost, bringing the total to $1,130. If you were to ride with the Peloton app ($13/month), you would add $156 to the first-year cost, bringing the total to $1,106.

In early September 2020, Peloton launched the Peloton Bike+ ($2,495)—a souped-up version of the original, featuring a 23.8-inch HD touchscreen that rotates 180 degrees and a high-fidelity four-speaker sound system, as well as other additional capabilities like the ability to pair the Bike+ with an Apple Watch via Apple GymKit. We plan to test the new offering soon.

MYX Fitness’s The Myx debuted shortly before we began testing and we weren’t able to secure one of its bikes within our timeframe. It promises a variety of indoor-cycling and off-the-bike cross-training workouts via an integrated tablet and seems to be going for a lower-key vibe (“Meet the un-Peloton,” is a tagline on its website). As soon as we’re able, we’ll test it.

Equinox and SoulCycle (which Equinox owns) this year launched a bike and a streaming app featuring SoulCycle workouts. The SoulCycle at-home bike costs $2,500 plus tax. Subscription to the app, called Variis, costs $40 per month. We plan to test the bike as soon as we can.

Bowflex introduced its VeloCore bike in late August 2020. The bike, which allows riders to lean from side to side during a ride (it can also be kept in a locked, stationary position), comes with either a 16-inch ($1,700) or 22-inch ($2,200) console with touchscreen. Subscription to the app, called Jrny, costs $20 per month after a two-month free trial period. We plan to test this bike, too.

  • The Echelon Smart Connect EX5 in a living room.

    The Echelon Smart Connect EX5. Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • The NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle in a living room.

    The NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle. Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • The Keiser M3i in a living room.

    The Keiser M3i. Photo: Sarah Kobos

  • The Horizon Fitness IC7.9 in a living room.

    The Horizon Fitness IC7.9. Photo: Sarah Kobos

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The Echelon Smart Connect EX5 is more similar in look, feel, and app execution to Peloton than most of the bikes we tested. The EX5 operates through your own tablet (set in a simple tablet holder), which connects the bike to the $39-per-month Echelon Fit app (iOS, Android) over Wi-Fi via Bluetooth. It has dual-sided pedals, and the display is very similar to the Peloton’s, including a leaderboard. But the resistance knob felt unpredictable compared with the Peloton’s. We were often unsure if the number we saw on the display matched the resistance we felt as we pedaled. And if the bike isn’t connected to the app and engaged in a class, the resistance isn’t adjustable and you lose a lot of riding potential. The number of daily live classes is on a par with Peloton (and the on-demand library features more than 2,000 cycling classes and about 700 off-the-bike workouts), but the app’s overall organization isn’t as clean as Peloton’s and—though the instructors are enthusiastic and some are very solid—the rides, workouts, and trainers can be hit or miss. Overall, the production value is less polished than Peloton’s. On one ride, an instructor looked like they were in a stark spotlight. On another, it was too dark to see their legs. There is no white-glove delivery service as of yet, though a PR rep told us it is forthcoming.

The NordicTrack Commercial S22i Studio Cycle has a 22-inch tablet that displays studio and scenic rides produced by iFit, NordicTrack’s subscription-based workout-streaming platform. The screen shook noticeably during rides of various intensities, and the screen mount and handlebars felt unsteady. The left pedal on the first model we tested fell off mid-ride shortly after the bike arrived. The company sent us another bike and though the pedal stayed put, we found several complaints on Amazon reporting the same (or a similar) issue. The bike feels large and bulky and was the most difficult to move from place to place. We also found it difficult to adjust the height of the handlebars given the size and weight of the screen.

The Keiser M3i is a beautifully designed bike with V-shaped handlebars, artful lines, and the ability to connect to a variety of cycling and workout apps. The bike connected easily to its Keiser M Series app (iOS, Android), which keeps track of your rides and also syncs to other apps like Strava. Its 24 resistance levels adjusted smoothly with a lever and the bike accommodates one of the widest height ranges (4′10″ to 7′0″) and maximum weight capacities (350 pounds) we’ve seen. The $100 M Series converter, which is sold separately, maximizes the use of apps that typically mesh only with indoor bike trainers and is recommended for getting the most out of dedicated cycling apps like Zwift and The Sufferfest. We enjoyed our time on the M3i, including our classes on the Peloton app. But the M3i may ultimately best serve a serious road cyclist with ambitious training goals.

The Horizon Fitness IC7.9 is meant to be used with fitness and indoor-cycling apps and respond in kind to the demands of their high-intensity interval training (HIIT)-forward workouts. We like what the IC7.9 is going for, but we didn’t love the execution. Among the bikes we tested, it is the only one that is not Bluetooth enabled. We found its “precision” resistance lever, adjustable from 1 to 100 based on tick marks on a sticker, difficult to control. Its pared-down display shows a handful of stats (including cadence, an estimate of calories burned, and distance), but it doesn’t display resistance or watts—a metric measuring effort, which is often referenced in indoor-cycling classes. Though the bike felt solid and sturdy, we wanted more from it.

  1. The company offers three financing plans with zero down payment and 0% APR. All are based on the base price of the bike ($1,895 with delivery) and do not include the monthly membership fee. The first pays off the bike in one year, at $157.92 per month. The second pays off the bike in 24 months at $78.96 per month. The third pays off the bike in 39 months, at $48.59 per month. With all three plans, you also pay $125 plus tax for the shoes and more for any other extras you want.

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  2. The comparison is not apples to apples for a number of reasons, starting with the home-versus-studio aspect, but here’s how we got to that number. Using the grand total of our bare-bones setup (loaned to us by Peloton), including shoes, membership, and New York sales tax but nothing else, our first-year cost would be $2,656.18. As we live in New York City, we used NYC studio prices for comparison; the same or similar classes in different areas may be less expensive. For an unlimited class membership, Flywheel costs $475 a month plus tax for all NYC locations and includes shoe rental, though you can buy Flywheel shoes for $128 plus tax. SoulCycle doesn’t offer monthly memberships but rather class cards; in NYC, 30 classes cost $900 plus tax for use at all city locations, plus $3 for shoe rental, or $215 plus tax to buy SoulCycle shoes. Assuming a modest four classes per week—some Peloton riders do two or three classes per day—or 208 classes per year, and purchase of the studio’s shoes, we’re talking a range of $6,754 (SoulCycle) to $6,095 (Flywheel), including New York sales tax, for a year. Using price-per-week calculations, I determined that the Peloton cost comes to nearly 23 weeks of Flywheel classes or a bit more than 20 weeks of SoulCycle.

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  1. Tom Huddleston Jr., How Peloton Exercise Bikes Became a $4 Billion Fitness Start-Up with a Cult Following, CNBC, February 12, 2019

  2. Leena Rao, Peloton's CEO Talks Big Funding, Expansion, and an IPO, Fortune, May 29, 2017

  3. Rebecca Greenfield, The Most Exclusive Spin Class Is in Your Living Room, Bloomberg Businessweek, December 8, 2015

  4. Kris Frieswick, This Startup Will Keep You From Ever Going to the Gym Again, Inc., May 1, 2016

  5. Damian Bazadona, The Experiential Playbook: A Q&A With the CEO of Peloton, John Foley, Huffington Post, March 10, 2016

  6. Ray Maker, Peloton’s Interesting Indoor Cycling Bike Platform, DC Rainmaker, January 11, 2016

  7. Lauren Goode, My Two-Month Ride With Peloton, the Cultish, Internet-Connected Fitness Bike, The Verge, April 25, 2017

  8. Amy Larocca, Peloton is Spinning Faster Than Ever, The Cut, October 17, 2019

  9. Bethany Biron, Competition has Flywheel and SoulCycle Spiraling into an Identity Crisis, Vox, January 11, 2019

  10. Erin Griffith, Peloton Is a Phenomenon. Can It Last?, The New York Times, August 28, 2019

About your guides

Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts

Ingrid Skjong

Ingrid Skjong

Ingrid Skjong is a staff writer covering fitness at Wirecutter, testing everything from running watches to stationary bikes. Previously an editor at various lifestyle magazines, she has written about fitness and endurance sports throughout her career. She is a certified personal trainer and a runner—both useful when she’s wrangling her two kids.