Eleven months ago, critics were ready to count Peloton out of the race for personal fitness. Then working out at home went from one option to, for many, the only option.
No one could have predicted what November 2020 would look like based on the view from January 2020. So I don’t mean to pick on my colleague Eric Meermann, who wrote in this space about the potential dangers to customers he perceived in Peloton’s business model. But it is clear today that Peloton’s product had an unanticipated edge in a year where many of us are unexpectedly spending much more time at home.
Peloton’s flagship product remains its stationary bike. I got my own Peloton in November 2019, well before the pandemic (and before the backlash to the company’s holiday commercial last year). My main initial hesitation was its price. Depending on the accessories, you can expect to spend $2,000 to $2,500 on a Peloton bike. To get access to the equipment’s full array of its features, users also need to subscribe to the company’s monthly workout service. I took advantage of the company’s financing option, but $66 per month plus a $39 monthly subscription is still a large financial commitment.
I considered the benefits and drawbacks before finally deciding to buy in. Yet Peloton was hardly my first investment in my physical health, and I suspect the same is true for many of its customers. Before I bought a Peloton, I was a member of a local Orangetheory gym. Membership ran $159 per month for unlimited use. Before that, I was budgeting for Beachbody, which offered a less expensive workout subscription: $160 for a full year of (limited) online resources. But when you factor in the company’s protein shake subscription – $120 a month – I was still spending a lot on health. Deciding to take the plunge with a Peloton meant shifting my monthly fitness spending, not wildly changing it. The monthly cost for my financed bike and the subscription together came to less than my former gym membership.
Even before the pandemic, the convenience of working out in the comfort of my own home as many times as I liked appealed to me. But many fitness devotes scoffed, claiming that in-home fitness could never match a gym membership’s benefits. Peloton also faced company-specific challenges after critics claimed its 2019 holiday ad was creepy, sexist, or at least tone-deaf. In the ad, a woman documented her progress on her Peloton for her husband, who gave her the bike as a gift. While I personally never got worked up over the spot, many people did. Peloton’s stock price fell during the same period, though the company insisted this had no connection to the controversy. By Jan. 2, 2020, Peloton stock was trading at $28.90 per share.
Then the pandemic arrived in the United States.
Suddenly, gyms across the country were closed. Americans were restricted to their homes by lockdown orders. Even when orders lifted or in places where they were less strict, many people found themselves at home because there was no place open to go. No one could have anticipated this turn, including Peloton. But the fitness company that had long touted the benefits of working out at home found a newly receptive audience. A casual survey of my co-workers at Palisades Hudson found that, as of October, four had Pelotons of their own. Two others mentioned that they likely would have one if the cost weren’t prohibitive.
I had already owned my bike for about four months by the time the lockdowns hit, so my fitness routine remained relatively unchanged. I was lucky. Many Peloton communities on Facebook and Reddit reported long wait times for those hoping to buy a new machine. Former skeptics who were suddenly eager to buy a Peloton of their own found themselves waiting weeks, or longer, for their bikes to arrive. As of this writing, Peloton’s website informs shoppers that most bike delivery times are between four and six weeks.
By mid-October, Peloton stock was selling at more than $130 per share, a huge jump from January. It would appear that those who counted Peloton out were wrong. (Peloton licenses music from some of our firm’s entertainment clients, so we know the company is not the only party benefitting financially from its surging popularity.)
Like any major purchase, a Peloton is not for everyone, but its value to me is clearer than ever these days. I use the bike six times a week, and I enjoy the virtual component for the competition and the community it provides. Peloton has over 1 million subscribers who sync their accounts to the brand’s equipment, and roughly 2 million more who subscribe to the company’s streaming offerings as a standalone service. That means that you often ride alongside thousands of other people. You can compare your performance to theirs and push yourself to improve. At a time we are all more isolated than we were, there is value to not feeling alone.
Many gyms have reopened, but at-home workouts will maintain an edge, especially in the short term. I had five remaining classes at Orangetheory when the gym reopened, and I did not want them to go waste. But using them meant working out wearing a mask, which I knew would be uncomfortable at best. Still, I had already paid for the classes; it made sense to at least give them a try. My experience of working out with a mask was, to put it mildly, not fun. Wearing a mask makes your workout more difficult both physically and mentally. I wound up counting down the minutes until the class ended.
The in-person gym experience will not be the same for quite some time. Even as we progress toward a vaccine and treatment, gym users can expect temperature checks at the door, mask requirements, and restrictions on workouts in order to maintain social distancing. These measures are meant to keep everyone safe, but they make it hard to get excited about staying fit. Working out at home, by contrast, allows me to bike unmasked and enjoy the support of teachers and fellow bikers without putting anyone at risk.
As with any big-ticket purchase, a Peloton is not for everyone. But when viewed as a replacement for a gym membership or other monthly fitness spending, it is not an outrageous expense. Even after the pandemic, at-home workouts will remain convenient, especially for those of us now accustomed to their rhythms. In the meantime, they can help keep us safe while we work to stay healthy.