Even Peloton, the Fancy Shmancy Stationary-Bike Company, Is Struggling With the Coronavirus

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04: An instructor is seen on the video display of a Peloton stationary bike at the fitness company's studio on Manhattan's 23rd Street on December 4, 2019 in New York City. Peloton and its model of on-demand video cycling classes has come under fire after the release of a new commercial that has been criticized by some as sexist and classist. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)
Conquer the pandemic. Scott Heins/Getty Images

If the world did crumble, as it feels it might, it sure would be nice to ride things out with a $2,245 stationary bike, an endless supply of aphorism-happy instructors (”some days we feel on top of the world, some days not so much”), and the safe distance of a livestream connection. But it turns out the coronavirus is disrupting even the high-tech workouts of the well-to-do. While Peloton may seem to be incredibly well-suited for the era of social distancing—indeed, stock in the fancy home-bicycling company is up—it is experiencing some hitches.

Peloton still delivers bikes, but with some caveats. It will bring the workout machine just inside your house rather than to a specific spot (Peloton ads are infamous for strange bike placements, like in the middle of your living room). The company now asks that customers who are unwell or unable to move the bike around themselves reschedule, and that all others “please open the door before stepping back at least 3 meters to allow space to move the Bike inside.” And the company canceled all deliveries of Peloton Tread, its running offering, Ad Age reported Thursday, “given the size and weight.”

Then there’s the issue of Peloton classes, which under normal conditions are basically an episode of live television. During a class, an instructor performs a workout and a pep talk to an in-studio audience (also on bikes or treadmills), while a production team—some of whom are TV news veterans—watches a wall of videos in a control room, trying to quickly anticipate which camera angles to feed to bikers on their Peloton screens at home. Like most live productions, in light of the coronavirus, Peloton went audience-free, as the company noted in a March 15 blog post. As of the end of this week, live classes filmed with a skeleton crew were still happening, according to head Peloton instructor Robin Arzón’s Instagram, in a post she captioned with the words, “Our community is a beacon. We persist.” But the directive that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued Friday—that 100 percent of nonessential workers in the state stay home—will probably stymie that. (Peloton’s press team said in an email that “our leadership team will determine what steps we need to take in order to comply with that guidance.”) Peloton has a pretty vast back catalog, but part of the selling point of this massively expensive piece of equipment is tuning into a live broadcast where your favorite instructor might give your username a live shoutout.

Predictably, Peloton is trying to capitalize off the fact that, uh, we’re in “a time in which more and more of us will be turning the kitchen table into our office,” as another recent Peloton blog post pitching the merits of working out at home puts it. (That’s a rather euphemistic way of describing a worldwide pandemic in which we’re all staying home in hopes of reducing the death count!) “We’ve been spending a lot of time sitting,” instructor Hannah Corbin says in a “weekly stretch” video posted to the brand’s Instagram, in which she makes use of a sectional sofa to open up her hips.

To be fair, Peloton is being genuinely helpful, in that it’s offering a 90-day free trial of its app, which is three times as long as the trial period it offered in the Before Times:

If you happen to have gym equipment at home—even a crappy stationary bike or treadmill will do—you can do a surprising amount with just the app, which is normally $13 a month for nonbike owners, or $40-a-month for bike owners (somehow it costs less per month if you don’t own the bike). Aside from a little bit of introduction at the top of each workout on how to use the luxury Peloton gear, Peloton’s classes transfer perfectly over to pretty much any machine, as long as you have somewhere to prop a phone or iPad. Even just a yoga mat will allow you to participate in the yoga portion of the app’s offerings. (Though, if you have interest in doing yoga and the means, you might see if your local studio is offering virtual classes for a small fee. I personally would like to come out the other side of this with my favorite studio able to reopen.)

Peloton devotees might really like Peloton: COVID-19 edition, though. A Medium post titled “How Peloton’s Head Coach Is Powering Me Through the Pandemic” transcribes bon mots from a recent class, like “We’ve done harder shit than this,” “You can’t buy hustle at Whole Foods!” and “You’re not actually in the woods being chased by a bear.” (At least the bear would not be endangering my elderly loved ones and the entire American economy.) I’m tempted to make fun of instructors who, aside from perhaps an acknowledgment that panic “means you care,” seem to be putting on pretty much the same performance as usual. But we’re all having a tough time right now, and you can see the appeal of a sweaty stranger telling you how to straightforwardly conquer the world on a workout bike—even, or perhaps especially, on a $2,245 bike. I won’t pretend I haven’t been eyeing the proportions of my teeny-tiny bedroom and wondering whether it would be too late and too costly to get one.