When the coronavirus pandemic was declared in early 2020, many gyms and fitness studios around the country were forced to shut down operations in an effort to curb transmission of the highly contagious virus. This means that people who’d normally head to the gym every morning for a spin class with their favorite instructor suddenly had to investigate other options.
Luckily, there’s a rich marketplace of at-home exercise equipment out there, and this industry has seen an enormous influx of customers since the start of the pandemic. If you’re among them and looking to replace your in-person spin class with an at-home option, train for a triathlon or just get fitter in the comfort of your own home, you’ve probably come across two of the most popular: Peloton and Echelon.
At-Home Exercise Bikes Bring the Gym to You
At-home exercise bikes have long been a fitness staple, but streaming technology advances have recently made it possible to bring the gym to your home in ways that have really changed the landscape of fitness.
Lana Burl, founder of LB Endurance Lab, an Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible training center in South Knoxville, Tennessee, that offers endurance sports coaching in triathlon swimming, cycling and running, says that the explosion in popularity of at-home cycling products like Peloton and Echelon is no surprise. “I think these programs have really struck a cord, and one of the reasons they’re so popular is because it’s convenient. It’s there. It’s ready to go and it meets you where you’re at, in the privacy of your own home.”
This can help people reach a variety of goals, whether it’s to build general fitness or compete in their first triathlon. “They’ve done a great job resonating with people and reaching people that otherwise might not feel comfortable going to a gym — whether that’s because of COVID or maybe they just don’t want other people seeing them in their workout clothes. These products have been really great for adding a social aspect while allowing people to still be private.”
Burl, who’s a certified triathlon and cycling coach, says both Peloton and Echelon bikes and their associated workout programs can be a useful tool for people looking to start out in triathlon or improve their standings. It’s also a great way for people looking to build general fitness to create a consistent workout routine.
“The Peloton or Echelon environment provides a lot of motivation and a lot of immediate feedback. You feel like you’re interacting with someone right there in real time, which can be very motivational. And because there are so many classes available, it can make for some very consistent training, which is often a hallmark for success. The more consistently someone trains, the more likely they are to meet their goals for a triathlon or any endurance sport.”
Peloton vs. Echelon: What Are They?
Peloton: an Overview
Peloton launched in 2012 to provide a boutique fitness experience at home using high-quality technology and exercise equipment superior to what might be found in many gyms. From there, Peloton has built a reputation for high-end, at-home spinning bike equipment, live and on-demand streaming classes and a thriving community of fitness enthusiasts.
Users can access live classes at scheduled times where the instructor can give shoutouts to individuals on the leaderboard to motivate riders. In addition, members can access on-demand offerings to ride when it’s most convenient. Riders can choose the type of music they want to ride to and are encouraged to find a favorite instructor to work with.
In addition to its bike-specific offerings, the company also provides a wide range of fitness classes in other modalities. There’s a whole library of yoga, meditation stretching, strength training, cardio, boot camp, running and walking classes. The digital membership also offers access to challenges and achievement goals to help keep you motivated.
Despite challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a highly publicized recall of treadmill equipment in summer 2021, the company has been on a growth tear. According to its first quarter fiscal year 2022 shareholder report, total membership had grown to 6.2 million members in the Peloton community. Of them, some 2.49 million are connected fitness subscribers who pay to synchronize workout classes with their at-home equipment. That figure represents an 87% increase over the previous year.
Peloton features 55 instructors across all the various types of classes offered. The company broadcasts 14 live cycling classes a day and has an on-demand catalog of some 10,000 workouts.
Echelon: an Overview
Echelon Fitness Multimedia also offers a heart-thumping ride-at-home experience not dissimilar to what Peloton offers. Headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the company was created in 2017 when founder Lou Lentine developed a more affordable stationary bike with the tracking and interactive features of other, higher-priced rivals.
The company has 25 instructors offering cycling classes and films “over 2,000 classes a month from our two studios” in Chattanooga and Miami, Lentine says. The company streams over a million classes each month, and rider members work out more than three times per week on average. At any given time of the day, some 10,000 members are taking classes, according to Lentine.
Lentine notes that because there’s such a heavy emphasis on developing new and exciting classes, “we’re as much a media company as a fitness company. We have to entertain, and we’re always working on ways to keep our members entertained,” with new class offerings and options.
Since the pandemic hit, Echelon’s business has expanded more than 700%. “It’s been overwhelming to say the least,” Lentine says. But he says the company has ramped up to meet the challenge and is “prepared to grow” at home and abroad, especially through strategic partnerships, such as a summer 2021-announced deal with rapper Pitbull.
Equipment Breakdown of Peloton vs. Echelon
Both companies make sleek, steel-construction stationary bicycles that use flywheel technology. The flywheel is a heavy weighted (usually metal) disc that’s typically located at the front of the bike, in place of where the wheel would be on a road bike. The flywheel provides enough resistance for an intensive workout. Both bikes can support users of up to about 300 pounds. Both companies also provide the content and technology you need to connect these at-home workout machines to the outside world.
Peloton: Equipment Options
The Peloton Bike weighs 135 pounds and features carbon steel construction. It boasts a “near-silent” belt drive to ride quietly and 0-100 levels of manually controlled magnetic resistance. It includes a 21.5-inch HD touchscreen that offers a real-time leaderboard that lets you track your progress against other riders and your own personal bests. Its footprint is 4 feet by 2 feet. All-access membership offers access to a range of other workouts and fitness classes.
In addition to the original Peloton Bike, Peloton also offers a treadmill and a more expensive Peloton Bike+ option, which features both on- and off-bike exercises.
The higher-end Peloton Bike+ is designed to make it easier to incorporate strength, yoga, stretching and meditation classes into your daily workouts. That bike is also 4 feet by 2 feet and weighs 140 pounds. It boasts a larger, 23.8-inch HD touchscreen that offers 360 degrees of rotation to make it easier to transition from cycling to floor-based workouts. The Bike+ also integrates with fitness apps and offers Apple GymKit Integration to measure heart rate and other metrics.
No matter which product you select, Peloton riders need to use special Peloton-designed shoes that clip into the company’s proprietary pedals that are different from regular road bike riding or spinning shoes.
Echelon: Equipment Options
Echelon makes six styles of bikes (four for at-home use and two intended for use in gyms or commercial settings) and many other pieces of gym equipment, all at various price points to “make fitness more accessible. Inclusivity is big for us,” Lentine says. The company offers an online quiz to help you select the right piece of fitness equipment for your needs.
The least expensive bike option, the Echelon GT+ Connect Bike, features 32 levels of magnetic resistance and an adjustable seat. The tablet device is not included in the purchase price, so you’ll have to supply your own. The bike weighs 88 pounds and measures 54 inches long, 24 inches wide and 57 inches high.
The most expensive Echelon bike model intended for home use is the Echelon Connect Bike EX-5s-22. It comes with a 22-inch HD touchscreen display tablet that flips 180 degrees for off-equipment cross-training. The seat and handlebars are adjustable, and the bike offers 32 levels of magnetic resistance for varied workout intensity. It weighs 124 pounds and measures 58 inches long, 21.5 inches wide and 61 inches high.
In addition to bikes, Echelon also sells:
— Two touchscreen mirrors called Echelon Reflect.
— Three connected rowing machines.
— Two smart treadmills.
— Apps and a library of live and on-demand classes.
Pricing of Peloton vs. Echelon
The original Peloton Bike starts at $1,495, which can be financed with a 0% interest rate for $39 per month for 39 months. That’s just for the bike itself — gaining access to classes and other connected features requires a separate monthly membership fee. The Peloton Bike+ option starts at $2,145 (down from $2,495) and can be financed for $50 per month for 39 months.
Both the original and Bike+ options charge an all-access membership fee of $39 per month separately to connect the bike to course offerings. Without that membership, you can’t access classes or competition features.
The company also offers a Peloton Digital Membership that does not require any Peloton hardware that anyone can purchase for $12.99 per month. That digital membership provides access to a library of live and on-demands fitness classes that don’t require a bike and can be performed at home with other fitness equipment you might already have.
Pricing for Echelon bikes varies by style, and qualified buyers may be able to access 0% interest-rate financing options.
— The Echelon GT+ starts at $899.99, which can be financed for as low as $20 per month.
— The Echelon Connect Bike EX-5 starts at $999.99, or $22 per month.
— The Echelon Connect Bike EX-5s-10 starts at $1,199.99, or $26 per month.
— The Echelon Connect Bike EX-5s-22 starts at $1,499.99, or $33 per month.
The company offers Echelon FitPass, which is a $11.99 per month membership pass that doesn’t require hardware for anyone to access off-equipment workouts like yoga and strength training classes.
Lentine notes that while the company may have started as a less-expensive approach to spinning, they have evolved. “We’re not trying to be a low-price point Peloton. We’re trying to create a product line that offers something for everybody,” Lentine says.
Other Differences Between Peloton and Echelon
It seems that in addition to budgetary considerations and fitness class options, there’s a less tangible comparison to be made between Peloton and Echelon with regard to some of the other add-ons and frills that can be accessed based on preference and interest level. These additional elements include:
— Community and instructor interaction.
— Competitive leaderboard features.
— Cost and personal preference.
Community and Instructor Interaction
For example, Lentine points to the robust online community that Echelon hosts (via Facebook) as being a big selling point for some buyers because it provides a fun, social way to stay connected with others, even while working out at home.
“People post all about their rides and accomplishments. We have people traveling to our studios from all over the country,” and they often become friends, he says. “Members are really able to connect with our instructors and become friends. Our instructors are real and very approachable. People can relate to them.”
These connections can span more than just a couple time zones, Lentine says. “It’s a global community.”
Competitive Leaderboard Features
Like Peloton, Echelon also hosts a Leaderboard panel that allows you to compare your workouts to others in real time. Some folks love this competitive element and really thrive with the social sharing of rides.
For some riders, however, they don’t need this sort of comparison to strangers, and would prefer to compare themselves to their own previous rides. Pam O’Neill, an avid spinner based in Wayland, Massachusetts, is one of them. O’Neill has been spinning five days a week at the gym for the past 15 years and says she gets a more efficient workout at home on her Peloton because she’s only racing herself.
“As a professional spinner,” she says tongue-in-cheek, “a 30-minute Peloton class is equal to a 45-minute live class because you’re working against yourself. The bike gives you constant feedback so you can see exactly where you are, relative to your personal best.”
This is highly motivating for O’Neill and lets her get an intense workout in less time than she might in an in-class setting where she doesn’t have the constant digital reminders to stay on pace.
O’Neill bought her Peloton Bike in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shut down her local gym. She says she’s used the bike every single day since it arrived and has found it to be a good replacement for the gym-based workouts she needs to stay healthy and moving.
Cost and Personal Preferences
O’Neill says she selected the Peloton because she preferred the class options offered. Another factor was because “several of my friends have one and we can ride together and share classes. I’m a gym person and have only worked out in classes my entire life. The Peloton classes most resembled the gym spin class” experience she’s accustomed to, she explains.
Though she says she did look at other at-home spinning bike options, ultimately, she went with Peloton because, for her, the name mattered, and for the money she was going to invest, she wanted to go with the version she saw as the “market leader.”
For other folks, that might not be as big a consideration, and having a lower-cost option might be preferable. Lentine says that the entry-level bike model made by Echelon, which retails for about $400, is available in Wal-Mart, Costco and other budget-friendly retailers around the country.
Like Peloton, Echelon equipment also provides constant feedback to users, so a lot of the selection between the two companies comes down to personal preference related to the types and range of classes, the personalities of the instructors who host them and your budget.
The two companies offer a wide variety of options so that consumers are bound to find the right mix of options for their specific exercise needs, preferences and budget.
At the end of the day, whichever equipment you’ll use consistently is the best option for establishing and maintaining a regular fitness routine.
Indoor Cycling Is Different from Outdoor Racing
Lastly, Burl notes that while the Peloton and Echelon programs can be awesome for keeping you consistent with your workout routine and moving toward your goals, if you’re training specifically for a triathlon or a bike race, there are some key differences.
“One of the biggest pitfalls (of training for a triathlon on an indoor bike) is that it doesn’t help you at all with bike handling or wind or terrain management. Or even how to operate your bike with shifting, braking or changing flat tires.” Riding in your basement with a video screen in front of you is an entirely different affair than riding on the roads with cars and other hazards.
In addition, it’s entirely possible to overdo it when starting a new fitness or workout routine, so Burl recommends ramping up slowly. “If you’re just trying to do general fitness and looking for a way to be active, then I think hopping in and saying, ‘I’m going to do something every day.’ Or ‘I’m going to do something six days a week,’ can be really good. But the danger is doing too much too fast.” Instead, ease into it to make your new routine as sustainable as possible.
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Update 03/16/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.