Tech reviews

Peloton Bike+ review: The best at-home workout gets better

The original Peloton Bike brought the spin class into your house, and did it while being the slickest at-home cycling experience there is. The new Bike+ brings the entire gym home too, making that best-in-class experience even better.

And what a time to do it. Peloton says that work on the Bike+ was begun long before the coronavirus outbreak – and that it had actually planned to introduce it earlier, but was delayed as a result of the pandemic – but nonetheless it appears the perfect tool for anyone unable or afraid of heading back to the gym, or simply finding them convinced of there being no need to.

Peloton has already benefited from some of this effect, which appears to have been spurred or at least accelerated by the pandemic but at the same time is likely to last after it. Sales have soared, and so has its share price; the workout-at-home revolution is surely coming if it is not here already, and it has been largely and deservedly led by the Peloton Bike.

There are still some problems, of course: the Bike+ is even more expensive than the already expensive Peloton Bike. And the company is very much the Apple of fitness, locking users into an ecosystem that is hard to escape from.

But the new Bike+ does away with almost all of the more practical, technical problems that anyone could have come up with to criticise the old one. The screen now swivels to let you workout on the floor as well as the bike; new speakers put an end to the occasionally tinny sound; the bike is able to auto-adjust its resistance so that people don’t have to think about how hard they’re working, and instead focus on doing that hard work.

None of the changes are revolutionary. The bike still looks largely the same, made of swooping black metal that appears mostly like other spin bikes, if a particularly elegant version. It still works much the same, too, by piping in workouts over the internet and onto a screen on the bike, which is also able to display metrics and the performance of other people working out at the same time.

The original Bike – which has stayed largely unchanged since it was first revealed in the company’s 2013 Kickstarter – is still available. Its price has dropped by £250, putting it at £1750. (You can read our in-depth review of that here.)

The most spectacular change to the new bike is the swivelling screen, which swoops off to the side, giving space to hop off the bike and do one of the company’s large and growing number of floor workouts, which include yoga and strength. Without this feature, users have had to either crane their necks over the screen of the bike, or use another device such as their phone or tablet – which in practise can prove more irritating than it might seem, adding just enough friction that it can seem like too much at the end of a particularly irritating workout.

The swivelling nature of the display works exactly how it sounds: round it goes, articulated on a joint that feels both easy to move and sturdy, facing into the side of the room. More significant than the technology itself is the kinds of workout that enables, and Peloton has already committed to offering more strength classes, including some specifically designed so that you can jump on the bike and run around to do a strength workout.

What seems like a fairly insignificant change, when used regularly, gives the feel that Peloton is offering not just a replacement for spin classes, but the entire gym. In just a swoop and a swivel the Bike+ might give you a reason to cancel your membership.

The other major change is that Peloton has added support for an “auto-follow” feature, which allows the bike to turn its own resistance up and down, responding to cues from the instructor. (On the normal Bike, this is done with a knob on the bike; that’s still available.) This isn’t quite as dangerous or confusing as it might seem, because the bike learns how hard you’re likely to want to go and gets there slowly, rather than finding your legs flying around dangerously or, at the other extreme, jamming your legs into some unexpected crunch.

There are some minor limits to this feature, especially when compared with more training-focused tech such as bike turbo trainers. Peloton has done a lot to support “power zone” workouts – where instructors’ cues are related to your individual, not absolute, metrics – but there’s no option to have the bike hold to a specific output or to hold you within specific zones. This is a relatively minor problem, and one unlikely to trouble many of Peloton’s users, but it could be another reason for those who scorn Peloton and spinning generally to continue to do so.

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Peloton has also added support for GymKit, which means that an Apple Watch can be tapped on the top of the screen and the metrics will sync instantly. In practice, the iPhone and the Peloton app have always worked fairly reliably, if slowly. But it does have the effect of meaning that the Bike can finally read your heart rate from your Watch, which is another minor annoyance solved.

The final change is not seen but heard: a new sound system, made up of four speakers and included a subwoofer. This is perhaps the biggest and most obvious flaw in the original bike – for some reason, its tablet’s speakers pointed backwards, meaning that it actually sounded better to someone stood off the bike than the person on it – and so it was also a natural fix. But Peloton has gone further than just correcting the problem: the sound is now actively good, both chunky and loud.

It means that the music that is so central to Peloton’s classes sounds better, and works even more effectively to keep you motivated and pedalling hard. Extra clarity as well as heft means that the instructors are much clearer in comparison to the previous bike, where loud songs could occasionally mush together with instructor callouts, leaving them inaudible.

There are still, undoubtedly, criticisms of the Peloton. One is the price: this bike is £250 more expensive than the old one was, before the price drop that has arrived at the same time.  What’s more, you still have to pay £39 a month to actually get any of the content onto it.

It does also compare fairly favourably with other bikes of this kind and quality. The Wattbike Atom might be a little cheaper but doesn’t have a screen of any kind, let alone one that swings around for off-the-bike exercise; the Wahoo Kickr bike costs £2,999, and that doesn’t have a screen either.

The criticism of the bike as cultish is one that continues to hold sway, not least because of one fairly memorable marketing setback by Peloton. But those motivational talks that the instructors pepper their classes with – often functioning as therapy as much as exercise – might seem silly in the abstract, but really do work when you are pushing at your body’s limits. What’s more, the bike does have a strong pedigree of less lifestyle-focused instructors, with power-based classes that aren’t all that different from the most technical cycling training.

Not that you would necessarily know, since perhaps the biggest drawback of the Peloton is that it lives in a fairly closed system: it only works with the company’s own classes, and without that subscription it’s mostly useless. You also can’t use that beautiful screen and chunky speakers to watch anything else, which sometimes feels like a waste; it would be nice to spin the screen around and use it as a TV while you cool down. Peloton’s argument is that it wants to control the whole experience to make sure it is fully integrated – just like other companies who do much the same, such as Apple – and while there is one very important sense in which they would say that, it’s also true.

But there’s no doubting at this point – years on from the company’s successful Kickstarter in 2013 – that these are design choices, not mistakes. If you don’t like them, the bike is not for you, and it’s unlikely that any update will change that.

If you can live with those issues, however, and the rest is appealing, then this bike makes what was already the best all-round home workout even better. The Bike+ is no revolutionary upgrade, but nor was one required; the changes are minor tweaks, but that’s all they needed to be.


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