When schools, non-essential businesses, and travel borders around the world began to shutter in March 2020, people desperately searched for ways to adapt to an unexpected quarantine lifestyle. Some coped with coronavirus anxiety by hunkering down in their kitchens to bake bread or cuddling on the couch to binge obscene amounts of television. And others, like Nikki Little and her husband Mike, finally hopped on the Peloton bandwagon.
The Michigan couple had been mulling over a Peloton purchase for quite some time, but fitness studio and gym memberships, coupled with the expense of Little’s personal trainer, made it difficult to justify buying a bike that cost more than $1,800 and an all-access membership that costs $39 per month. With regular fitness expenses on hold during coronavirus lockdown, however, the couple reconsidered.
“We were like, ‘Oh my gosh if we’re gonna do this we should do it now. Who knows how long [quarantine] is going to last?'” the 36-year-old said in a phone interview. “In hindsight, we did it at the exact right time… It has been such a lifesaver during this very difficult year.”
For those who aren’t familiar with the Peloton craze, the company, which was founded in 2012, aims to give at-home hardware an in-studio feel by using technology to bring instructors, workouts, music, and a sense of community right to users’ screens. Classes can be livestreamed, and the app allows users to select from a massive backlog of past workouts. While Peloton does offer quite the fitness setup, it’s worth noting that its pricey machines and memberships aren’t financially feasible options for everyone. The basic bike and treadmill (sans monthly memberships) cost $1,895 ($49 per month) and $2,495 ($64 per month) respectively.
However, if you’re looking the Peloton feel at a lower cost, the Peloton app — which includes a 30-day free trial before requiring a $12.99 monthly membership fee — can be used with non-Peloton fitness equipment and can be accessed with a phone, tablet, or smart TV. The experience will be similar, but you’ll have to improvise a bit as the Peloton bike offers features that a regular workout bike wont, such as precise resistance and output.
For people like Nikki Little, who cherished routine workouts, the luxury high-tech fitness companions were well worth the money in quarantine.
Matt Walton, a 37-year-old development manager in Hull, UK, started using the Peloton app back in June 2020 because he missed his gym’s yoga classes. After trying Peloton’s yoga, meditation, and running classes (on his regular treadmill) he was hooked.
“It has been such a lifesaver during this very difficult year.”
“Before the end of the 30-day free trial, I’d decided to order the bike,” Walton explained via email. The equipment arrived in August 2020, and Walton says it’s the best purchase he’s ever made.
The pandemic also convinced 32-year-old Pamela Aquino, who lives in New York City and attended weekly Peloton studio classes for years, to spring for her own bike. When quarantine started she tried weekly yoga Zoom calls with her friends, but they weren’t challenging enough, so she ordered a bike. She’s been obsessed with it since the day it arrived.
The unpredictability of the virus forced many regular gym-goers to abandon fitness regimens in pursuit of safer, at-home alternatives like Peloton. But it also gave existing members a newfound appreciation for their machines. More than a year after COVID-19 became a widespread threat, new and longtime members alike feel Peloton has been a physical, mental, and emotional savior during the pandemic.
We spoke with five members, along with fan-favorite instructor Cody Rigsby, to hear why Peloton was such a bright light in a deeply dark time.
At-home workouts that exceeded expectations
Turning your living space into a 24/7 gym might not sound ideal, but nearly everyone we spoke with had Peloton quarantine experiences that exceeded their expectations.
“Having it at your house is such a game-changer,” Aquino said. “At first I thought, ‘There’s no way [the at-home workouts] are ever going to feel the same as the studio.’ But it’s actually very similar. Once you have your headphones on and hear the amazing music you forget that you’re home.”
Aside from the convenience factor, working out at home also offers an added level of comfort. Like Aquino, John Phillips, a 46-year-old civil rights attorney who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, was a fan of in-person studio classes. But he likes that at-home Peloton classes eliminate the pressure of working out in front of others.
“You can be all shapes and sizes and be at home and not worry about what you look like when you’re sweating droplets on the floor,” Phillips, who lost 44 pounds using Peloton between August 2019 and August 2020, said in a phone interview.
Peloton classes also add order to unstructured WFH days, and the benefits of physical exercise helped members better care for their mental health in quarantine.
Little, who ordered her bike back in March, feels every Peloton class is a therapy session and a workout combined. “The instructors are so good at — especially during the pandemic — taking what’s happening in the world and applying it to how you self-care and how you use exercise for therapeutic purposes,” she explained.
Walton agreed, saying, “Despite the fact that we’re all scattered all over the world and we can’t interact with each other beyond a [virtual] high five [in the app,] knowing that there are thousands of people all on their bikes at the same time, doing the same class as you, feels like a shared experience.”
Aquino’s bike has had such an influence on her well-being in quarantine that she’s even discussed it with her therapist.
“I told him my Peloton has been such a game changer… I can be having the shittiest day, but I get on my bike for 20 to 30 minutes and I come out of there a different person,” she said. “If I have to stay home for the next six months or whatever, it’s fine. At least I’m going to have my bike.”
There’s a lot to love about Peloton, but the unanimous draw — what really sets Peloton apart from the competition — is its group of 35+ instructors.
Instructors who feel like friends
Peloton’s instructors teach everything from strength and cardio classes to yoga, meditation, cycling, stretching, walking, and more. Anyone who’s attended a class knows that those leading strive to bring elevated levels of human connection, intimacy, and vulnerability to the workouts. And in quarantine, those instructors became friendly, familiar faces whose virtual presence made isolation feel a bit less isolating.
Peloton’s intimate coaching methods leave members feeling seen, related to, and in many cases, like they have close friends on the other side of their screens — even if they’re one of thousands of people in a workout.
“I don’t know [the instructors] personally, but they’re kind of like part of my family. It’s a weird thing where I talk about them like I know them,” Kafi Hauser, a 42-year-old in Oakland, California, said. “During the pandemic I’ve kind of substituted the instructors for my real-life friends who I couldn’t see. So Alex [Toussaint] became my motivating gym buddy type, and Cody [Rigsby] subbed in for my brunch friend — because you know Cody will occupy you with his hatred of grape jelly and talk about ‘hoe energy.'”
On and off the mat, bike, or treadmill, the instructors share pieces of their own stories, which fosters a deeper sense of trust among members.
Phillips, who got his bike in September 2019 and enjoyed studio classes before COVID-19, confirmed that the instructors go the extra mile in person, too.
“It’s easy to fake this… But both Alex and Ally [Love] remembered me when I was there from class one to class two,” he said. “Alex goes, ‘You’re the lawyer right?’ And that makes you feel good, like you’re not just a name on the screen. They really get it. They really walk the talk… If Peloton changed out their instructors commonly it wouldn’t be the same.”
Aditi Shah, Adrian Williams, Alex Toussaint, Ally Love, Emma Lovewell, Jess King, and Tunde Oyeneyin were several instructors who members gushed about in interviews, and fan-favorite cycling director Cody Rigsby came up in nearly every conversation.
What Peloton meant to Cody Rigsby during the pandemic
Rigsby, a former professional dancer, first thought of Peloton as just another gig.
“I was like, ‘I’m just here to make some money, and this seems cool and fun, and other people teach cycling classes, so let me get my coin and figure it out from there,'” the 33-year-old cycling director recalled over the phone. “Then, once I settled into the job I started to see [Peloton founder and CEO] John Foley’s vision, and what this could mean as a game-changing piece of hardware and content for the fitness space and for the world in general.”
Rigsby believes authenticity is the “secret sauce” of Peloton, and he takes his role at the company “with so much humility and so much responsibility.” Whether he’s cranking hot throwback playlists, ranting about restaurant chain bread and ’90s cartoon characters, going on about his love of Britney Spears and boy bands, or sharing anecdotes about his mom, Rigbsy strives to be true to himself.
“I am very much an open book. I’ve never been scared to really share my story — no matter if it’s really serious or really silly and funny. I think when you open yourself up, don’t hold back, and tell your story, people really connect to that,” he said. “Even in sharing my love — my dying devotion — for Britney Spears, so many people relate to that, because Britney was such a cultural phenomenon that we all related to. We all have these nostalgic memories of the TRL era, and it just brings back this sense of happiness, and safety, and a time when we didn’t have to think about how complicated the world was.”
On a more serious note, Rigsby feels opening up about his personal experiences, failures, and flaws, and acknowledging that it’s OK to be imperfect, is crucial to being a good instructor.
To illustrate just how much Peloton has grown since its founding in 2012, Rigsby recalled his early days of instructing, when he went to teach a Saturday class at 8 a.m. and there was only one person in the room. There were maybe 100 people on the leaderboard in that class, but one of his recent live rides had nearly 28,000 attendees.
Today, Peloton has more than 4.4 million members, and a rep shared that more than 164 million workouts were completed by All Access Subscribers in FY2020. When asked why he thinks Peloton became such an important part of people’s lives during quarantine, Rigsby credited the community aspect.
“This was a medium for people to connect and to feel like they’re a part of something,” he explained. “Collectively, as a society and a world right now, we’re all grieving, we’re all adapting, we’re all frustrated, we all feel these sorts of things. So to have this space where you can find joy and happiness, and you can laugh and let out your frustrations — it creates this sense of community.”
Peloton and its instructors may have helped members get through quarantine, but Rigsby — who took three weeks off in February after testing positive for COVID-19 — says the platform and community helped him stay strong as well.
“When I had COVID I had so many members reaching out to me and wanting to make sure I was OK. It was really sweet,” he explained. “Obviously I have my mom, but I feel like I also have a bunch of other Peloton moms, and dads, and aunts, and sisters, and cousins who are all checking on me.”
Peloton people get each other
Whether members are bonding with friends, partaking in fitness challenges, hashtags, or related Facebook groups or subreddits, Peloton acts as a uniting conversation starter.
“It’s kind of a weird — I’m not gonna use the word cult — it’s an interesting icebreaker to get to know people that you never thought you’d have anything in common with,” Hauser said.
“I do feel part of a community, despite not having any friends or family members who are members or having a lot of Peloton friends,” Walton explained. “I use the tags feature a lot, and like to filter my leaderboard to see who else is there from #PelotonPride, and I like giving people high-fives when they hit their milestones.”
Though members were physically isolated from friends and loved ones in quarantine, Peloton gave them the opportunity to connect with people around the world who shared their common interest in fitness. For many people, those connections are found on Facebook.
John Marshall and his wife are also fans of the Peloton Facebook group. “There’s so much content there — some of it’s positive, sometimes it’s negative, some of it’s crazy — but it’s definitely a fraternity that isn’t full of your typical gym rat types. It’s normal people,” he said, noting it’s a great way to make friends and follow people on your bike.
While the groups are full of entertaining content, they also feature serious, inspirational posts.
“Every week people post their weight loss journeys, and there are people who will post, ‘I have cancer and I’m still gonna show up,’ and you’re like, ‘There’s no excuse for the rest of us, this lady has cancer,'” Aquino shared. “Someone was recently like ‘My mom died, but I’m going to ride and then I’m going to take care of everything else.'”
Stanning a company that takes a stand
In addition to pandemic-fueled stress and heartbreak, , the year transformed into a reckoning with racism and police brutality in America. Rather than shy away from discussing real-world events and communities in need of allyship, Peloton’s instructors often address them directly, and members are grateful for those efforts.
“During the protests we had last year after the George Floyd incident… [the instructors] really made me feel like I wasn’t alone.”
“During the protests we had last year after the George Floyd incident, taking Alex’s classes where he talked about the things that were happening and coming together — not only him, but Tunde and some of the other instructors — they really made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” Hauser, who’s been a member since 2016, said.
In June 2020, which included a promise “to invest $100 million over the next four years to fight racial injustice and inequity in our world and to promote health and well-being for all.” He also announced that starting July 1, 2020, hourly team members began receiving an increasedminimum wage of $19 per hour. In January 2021, Foley , and shared exactly how the company would be using the money.
Rigsby also shared that in fall of 2020 he and his fellow Peloton instructors began a helpful one-year anti-racism training program that’s pushed him to be a better ally.
Peloton makes an effort to celebrate diversity with themed classes, too — including ones centered around Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and Pride Month. And as a gay man, Rigsby uses his platform to support and represent the LGBTQ community on a daily basis.
“I take that responsibility super, super seriously,” Rigsby said. “I think of myself as like, a Trojan Horse almost, in the sense that people can fall in love with my classes, and then they might start to shift their thoughts of what a gay person or a queer person looks like.”
Will pandemic Peloton memberships last?
All this love for Peloton is not to say that the company is without its criticisms. Aside from its high, laughably isolating prices, the company’s culture has also come into question on more than one occasion over the past decade.
Remember Peloton’s 2019 holiday ad, which featured a man buying a woman a Peloton bike? That commercial came under fire and went viral after viewers accused Peloton of sexist messaging. Though many members are enamored with Peloton’s pump-up playlists and eccentric instructors, some have also called out visible issues within workouts, such as all-white ’80s playlists and white instructors using Black vernacular during classes.
Peloton certainly isn’t perfect, but it classes, instructors, and community have been undoubtedly impactful for many members during the pandemic. The question is, will love for the machines remain when gyms fully reopen and we can safely return to the outside world?
Matt Walton, who frequented a gym before the pandemic hit, is looking forward to his facility reopening. But he expects he’ll mostly use it for swimming and possibly some weight-lifting. The rest of his workout will be all Peloton.
“I’m really excited to see how people water these seeds that they’ve planted throughout 2020 and quarantine in a post-COVID world.”
“I doubt I’ll do any classes back at the gym, because I can do most of the things I enjoy on the bike or the app from the comfort of my own home — where I can control everything from lighting and temperature to the time and duration of the class,” he said.
Similarly, while Nikki Little does miss the unmatched individualized experience of working one-on-one with her personal trainer, she has no desire to return to in-person classes. “I don’t miss being in the gym at all,” she said. “I would definitely never go to group spin classes anymore. I mean, [Peloton] certainly replaced that.”
Only time will tell if Peloton continues to thrive after the pandemic, but Cody Rigsby is hopeful that the community will only grow stronger.
“I’m really excited to see how people water these seeds that they’ve planted throughout 2020 and quarantine in a post-COVID world,” Rigsby mused.