When Peloton launched its first bike in 2014, many scoffed not only at the price but also the oddity of joining fitness classes remotely, via video, like one of those awkward Skype calls with a friend or colleague.
How things have changed. After seven months of working from home and all the Zoom meetings and drinks that have come with it, not only does it now seem completely normal to join an online fitness class, orders for home exercise gear have surged during the pandemic.
In what appears to be excellent timing, then, Peloton is bringing its treadmill offering to the UK. Tread classes have been up and running in the US for a while now, but next month the UK is getting the cheaper and slightly smaller Tread model, not the existing Tread+ already available in the US.
Who’s it for
Some might say “rich people” – and they’d have a point. Despite this being the cheaper model, Tread costs £2,295 for the treadmill itself – then you have the Peloton app subscription on top of that. However, you can pay £59 a month for 39 months, which is more palatable.
Tread is also for people who exercise just like I do. I am the sort of person who goes to the gym once a week, gets on a treadmill and runs for 30 mins at the same rate every single time. No messing about with inclines or speed bursts or rest periods, thank you very much. I know where I am with my one-pace 30 minute run and I haven’t moved on or pushed myself in years.
Peloton Tread has forced me to change this unadventurous attitude to running. I have started HIIT running, and I like it. I have started to care about whether I come in the top or bottom half of the class competing against thousands of other Peloton users, all being egged on by that professional trainer with an enthusiastic disposition – only now it is not irritating, it is becoming something of a necessity. Well, certainly a preference. There is no way I would be running like this, pushing myself in this manner, were I in my usual gym marking time until the 30-min aerobic portion of my “workout” was over and done with.
Yes, it’s pretty as treadmills go. And reassuringly sturdy, too. Though it should be considering how much it weighs. If you’re going to put all 131kg of the Tread in an upstairs room, do make sure you have sturdy floors and thick plaster on the ceilings below that won’t crack easily.
It’s a good job we get this “smaller” version, too, as measuring 173cm x 84cm x 157cm it takes up a decent amount of floor space, too. Unlike an exercise bike, the Tread will be hard to ignore in the corner of a room.
A 24in 1080p HD touchscreen means that while running you are afforded a clear, large view of the information on display and the virtual trainer giving orders and shout-outs to class members. And the 59in of running space is perfectly sufficient, allowing you a little rearward movement when your legs inevitably tire. An 8-megapixel front-facing camera is at the top of that screen (which tilts up and down 50 degrees), but you get a privacy slider, too, to definitively shut out prying eyes. That tilting screen means you can angle it down for floor exercises and weights or yoga sessions, which are all part of the app.
Speed and incline adjustments are made either on the touchscreen, and can be customised, or via the adjustable knobs on either arm of the Tread. A jump button in the middle of each knob increases speed and incline by either 1 mph or one per cent.
Living with it
You’re going to need large spaces or be willing to give up that spare or box room for the Tread. If you have space at all, that is. Once squeezed into your home, however, setting up the treadmill is simple. One large red button below the screen performs as a wake, stop and sleep control. A few short taps to log in with your Peloton ID and off you go.
It should be noted that you don’t have to do one of the various running classes or combined workouts that include floor exercises and/or weights. If that all seems a bit much on a given day then you can just do a normal treadmill run, of course.
The instructions say you have to keep an eye on the running mat and adjust it if it goes off-centre. This has not happened to me so far, but I don’t look forward to having to take the back end of it apart when it does. As for the running itself, the Tread is sprung enough to save your knees and not pummel the floor too much, but with the four speakers (including rear-facing woofers) in the screen blaring out Peloton’s music mixes and instructor commands this is not a silent machine if you don’t hook up some headphones. Everyone in the house will hear what’s going on, though the plus side is they won’t hear your coughs or wheezes.
You can tweak the speed from 0 to 12.5mph with 0.1mph increments, and the incline from 0 to 12.5 per cent grade with 0.5 per cent increments. There is no “free mode” on this new version of the Tread, though, so you cannot run with it unpowered to work a different set of muscles.
Aside from the obvious quality of the build and nice design (for a treadmill – an important caveat), the best part of the whole experience is the classes. And thanks to the Tread’s large screen that tilts, you can easily use it to watch instruction for both running and floor exercises. I did not think I would be seduced by Peloton’s various zealous trainers, but now I have bought in to the experience I miss being forced to push myself if I opt for just a plain run.
But here is the odd thing about the Tread. If the best part of it is the app, which you can download and use without any of the Peloton hardware, that makes the justification for the £2,295 outlay harder to justify. If you wanted, for instance, you can do the running classes out in the fresh air, increasing and decreasing your pace when told to and approximating your speed. Indeed, the trainers know this and helpfully add in modified instructions for road runners.
You can also run the app on your television through things like Apple TV, making the yoga and floor workouts an even better experience than on that 24in screen on the Tread.
That said, having the imposing presence of the Tread physically there certainly makes you exercise more. It’s all too easy to put off an outdoor run. The sheer convenience of a treadmill is hard to ignore.
Why oh why…
Peloton wants to have its cake and eat it. It wants you to link your music streaming services so it can compile playlists for you to listen to later on. It wants you to cast the app to your TV or watch it on your tablet or phone. But it’s a one-way street. The Tread is perfectly capable of streaming your Spotify or Apple Music of choice, but it won’t let you. It is perfectly capable of streaming Netflix or Prime Video should you wish to binge while you run, but it won’t let you.
I asked Peloton why it restricted such things and the reply was as “there are no distractions, such as advertising or television, when someone is taking a class, Peloton has very high levels of engagement”. That’s understandable if you are taking an instructed class, but why take the option away altogether? Why not let the person who has paid over two grand decide? It also does not explain at all why you must listen to Peloton’s music rather than your own.
So, should I buy it?
If you can afford it and have the space, and, like me, much prefer running indoors, then yes. Say you spend £50 a month of the gym. That’s £600 a year. If you get the Tread and ditch the gym membership it will have paid for itself in four years.
However, if you like running outdoors I’d have to recommend just getting the app and saving yourself the outlay. Or try out Apple’s imminent Fitness+ app and see which you prefer. Now Peloton Tread has rid me of my online fitness class prejudice, I’m looking forward to seeing how Cupertino’s competitor shakes things up.
Jeremy White is WIRED’s executive editor. He tweets from @jeremywired
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