Peloton: it’s the new status symbol, but is it all just spin?

What do Rishi Sunak, Michelle Obama and Usain Bolt have in common? It has two wheels, costs £1,750 and there’s a waiting list to get one. This week, the Chancellor revealed that he’d joined the stationary bike brigade, a stint on the Peloton bike is part of his morning routine, joining David Beckham, Leonardo DiCaprio and other evangelists (some Pelotoners are so committed they have tattoos of the brand’s logo). So why is it so special?

What’s its USP?

Peloton has been around since 2012. Founder John Foley, a tech executive who ran Barnes & Noble’s e-commerce business, had the idea when he couldn’t find time to go to spin class. He loved SoulCycle but with two children he and his wife found it hard to fit it in so he came up with a bike that would recreate the feeling of being in a studio, with virtual classes featuring upbeat instructors who ride along with you on a screen in front. It was a slow start — 400 investors turned him down — he persevered and raised $300,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, opening shops in New York. By 2018, the company had raised close to $1bn and expanded to the UK. Global membership reached 3.1 million at the end of last June, while revenue jumped 172 per cent to $607 million (£469 million).

When I first tried Peloton I wasn’t convinced the US enthusiasm would translate across the pond, but its instructors — who have become celebrities in their own right — are the very definition of its USP. They sweat (a lot, yet look immaculate) and offer life advice — be warned, if you’re not into inspirational quotes, this might not be your thing. Leading the pack are Ally Love @allymisslove and Robin Arzón @robinnyc, who between them have amassed more than a million Instagram followers and have their own dedicated Facebook groups organised by loyal Pelotoners.

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What’s the workout?

There are thousands of classes – not just involving spinning, the app offers yoga, strength and stretching – ranging from five minutes to 90 minutes. You can supposedly burn up to 800 calories in a single class. There’s a social element too. The app encourages interaction between its “community” via virtual high fives and a new feature allows members to show off their sweat count via Instagram Stories.

While the company doesn’t disclose its membership base geographically, the brand appears to have its sights firmly on the UK. In August 2020 it announced plans to roll out nine Peloton concessions in John Lewis stores across the UK, as well as a new showroom in Birmingham’s Bullring. It now also has four London-based instructors.

But isn’t it still just an exercise bike?

Quarantine Peloton “panic buying,” as reported in the New York Times, was reserved for the few with the funds to do so. The new Bike+ is even pricier, retailing at £2,295, though the brand is quick to point out that its launch has seen the cost of the original drop, albeit slightly. The company justifies the hefty price tag with the fact that it offers interest-free financing on all of its products. It hasn’t been without bumps in the road. Peloton has been embroiled in patent and copyright legal issues related to the use of songs in classes – having the right tunes is crucial to the appeal. Sceptics point to the growing competition Peloton faces from similar (and cheaper) players, like Apex and Echelon, which announced a $500 rival bike similar to the Peloton last month in partnership with Amazon, which caused Peloton’s shares to fall, but then Amazon denied it was involved in the partnership and Peloton’s shares rebounded the following day. And what about if you just get bored of spinning in your living room? The lure of the actual gym will return once the virus is under control. The brand says it’s adapting with new features to offer a more “holistic” fitness experience. However you spin it, in a post-pandemic world Peloton’s going to have to pedal harder for your pounds.

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