As people return to their pre-pandemic exercise routines, the popularity of the expensive home-exercise bikes is on the wane
“A lmost every industry will be ‘Pelotonized’ in the post-pandemic world,” wrote trend forecaster and lover of buzzwords Ion Valis in a blogpost at the start of last year. “Just as the hot VC phrase of the past decade was ‘Uber for X’, I predict that post-pandemic it will be ‘the Peloton of Y’.”
You can see why Valis wanted to go all-in on the exercise startup. In September 2020, Peloton announced a 172% increase in sales from the year prior and more than 1m new signups for its streaming classes. The company, which sold its first bike on Kickstarter in 2013, became known as one of the small group of “winners” from the pandemic and, along with Netflix and Amazon, its share price rocketed. By the end of 2020 it was valued at $45bn.
Over the last year, however, the enthusiasm for cycling nowhere in your front room has waned. The company reported $1.2bn in losses in the second quarter of 2022, and more than 750 layoffs were announced just prior on top of the 2,800 employees who had been let go in February. The share price has fallen 88% over the last year.
The reason for Peloton’s flop era is obvious: once people could start exercising in gyms and outdoors, the need for an expensive and bulky home exercise bike disappeared.
Peloton was not the only pandemic hobby that turned out to be a fad: in kitchen cupboards across the land, bags of flour are going rancid and kombucha scobies are shrivelling up. But the financial outlay for those pastimes was minimal, whereas most models of the Peloton bike cost upwards of $2,500. Thousands of bikes now appear on Facebook marketplace and Craigslist, but are people able to recoup some of their initial investment? Or are they stuck with what’s become the most expensive clothes rack in history?
Heather logged about 50 rides during the pandemic, while their son, a homeschooled teenager, put in around 350 rides as part of his physical education requirement.
But now gyms in Arizona feel a bit safer and their son is attending school in-person, the Peloton hasn’t been used in about seven months.
Heather’s husband, Aron, is a big believer in the Toyota Production System, a management philosophy that prioritises the elimination of waste. “Part of that training is if you haven’t used something in six months, get rid of it, because all it does is weigh in the back of your mind,” he says. “I don’t really like having things that we don’t use.”
With that in mind, he posted a listing for the bike, which originally cost them $2,250, for $900 about a month ago. They’ve received a few low-ball offers but have yet to get rid of it. “I thought someone else could use it and save some money because it’s practically brand new. But if they’re gonna be so uncool with their offers, it’s not worth selling it and dealing with the hassle,” Aron says.
He has yet to take the listing down. With Peloton recently announcing that they’d be raising prices by $500, he’s hoping selling it might make more sense. “It might be a subconscious thing that I didn’t delete the ad,” he says. “Now that I know the prices are going up, maybe I’ll just keep it on there.”
Before the pandemic, Andy had tried it all: he had a treadmill, went to the gym, did Hiit and Orangetheory classes. Right before his 50th birthday, the Peloton craze hit its peak. “People kept talking about how Peloton is so awesome,” he says. So, for his birthday, he decided to pick one up as his “big present” to himself, for $2,200. He began riding it a lot, trying nearly every type of workout the Peloton program offered. Eventually, though, he realized his hip was beginning to give him trouble.
He discovered he had arthritis in both hips, a problem that the Peloton did not cause. But with the hip pain, he found he was no longer able to push himself as hard in his workouts as he’d like. . “I promised myself if it ever reached the point where clothes were being hung on it, I would just cut my losses and let someone else enjoy it,” he says.
Unfortunately things weren’t that simple. His Craigslist ad has been posted for 20 days, and while there have been some bites, he has not sold it. He’s asking $1,650, a price he knows might be high for a used Peloton. His ad acknowledges that’s a bit pricey but says, “if you want a Peloton assembled and ready-to-ride and don’t want to wait or orchestrate a deal on Peloton’s timeline, it’s a great deal for basically a brand new bike.”
He hasn’t yet stopped paying for the monthly Peloton membership fee, though. “Maybe I just don’t like having 60 bucks in my bank every month. I guess there was a part of me that thinks if I don’t get rid of it, maybe I can start using it again.” At the time of writing, he’s still not sold it.
Jason and his wife, Megan, bought their Peloton when Megan became pregnant in October 2021. “Even though the gyms were reopening, given that she was pregnant and Covid was starting to surge again, we basically made the decision that we needed a good way for my wife to be able to exercise during her pregnancy,” he says.
They bought the basic Peloton bike model for about $1,900, extended warranty and accessories included. Now, just under a year later, Jason is attempting to get rid of it.
Part of the problem, he says, was the cleated cycling shoes you need to ride the bike – Peloton sells their own pairs for about $125. “I think almost immediately, I was stressed out with the shoes and clipping in and clipping out of the bike.”
Most significantly, though, his wife’s pregnancy – the main reason they got the bike in the first place – ended up presenting more of a challenge to using the Peloton than they anticipated. She felt unsafe getting on and off the bike, and soon, they both just stopped using it entirely.
“It’s been most effective as a place for us to throw laundry,” he says.
In mid-August, he and his wife decided to finally just try to get rid of the thing. A little over two weeks after listing, he was able to find a buyer at his asking price, less than half of what he originally bought it for.
Before the pandemic, Erika was an avid SoulCycler. When a Peloton storefront went up right next to her usual SoulCycle studio, she didn’t see the appeal in riding at home. But then the pandemic happened and her usual routine was put on pause. For about a year she considered getting the bike, but remained put off by the cost. “Then as the pandemic just dragged on, I started to consider it more and felt that I really missed that spinning and that high that I get from spinning class.”
In summer 2021, a neighbor was moving and offered to sell their bike to her for cheap, about $850. She took them up on her offer, but it never ended up being worth it.
“I used it all of four times,” she says. “I don’t like it. It was a total pain in the ass to get up into our townhouse. We have a three-story townhouse and we brought it up two flights of stairs, which was the biggest workout that I got from it this whole time.”
She found that what she really loved about Soulcycling was the environment. “It was like the nightclub experience of my 20s,” she says. With the Peloton, she could never mirror the experience of being in a dark, crowded room with music blaring.
Fortunately, after about three days of mixed offers and back-and-forths on Craigslist, she was able to sell hers off for $950, $100 more than she originally bought it for. It sold to a young lawyer who has just moved to the Bay Area from the east coast. He’d previously had a Peloton that he’d sold rather than lug it across the country.
Even with the success of the sale, Erika is still dubious about the future of Peloton. “I just think that people are trying their best to live a pre-pandemic life, and that didn’t include Peloton to begin with,” she says. She has yet to actually return to SoulCycle, either. She prefers to ride a real bike to work, instead.