TIME Exercise

Spinning Classes: Coming Soon to a Living Room Near You

How Peloton makes it easy—and fun—to cycle at home

Like many other Americans, Nicole Valentine, an author and mom of one from outside Philadelphia, is a sucker for spin class. Several times a week she grabs her cycling shoes, joins up with classmates and sweats it out to the sounds of ’80s and Top 40 tracks–and her instructor shouting commands like “Harder, Nicole! You can do it!”

Except Valentine, 42, never actually leaves her house–at least not physically. She’s crushing it on a stationary bike specially rigged with a high-definition touchscreen. In the center, there’s a tight shot of her instructor, who’s live-streaming from a posh studio in Manhattan; on one side, a chart ranks her fellow spinners–looped into the workout via Facebook Connect–according to their progress. “As I’m riding and my ranking is shifting between 8 and 9, I really want to beat No. 9,” she says. “I love that.”

This futuristic workout comes courtesy of Peloton, a New York City–based startup attempting to blow the dust off the “old, busted, nonsexy” exercise bike, as co-founder John Foley puts it, with fun, engaging technology. Beyond the streaming classes–which cost $39 a month, a little more than one class at Flywheel or SoulCycle, the high-end spin chains that Peloton is aiming to unseat–the Peloton bike offers a sweat-resistant interface and the ability to track riders’ vitals and give them feedback in real time. “Not very many companies have the hardware and the software and the retail and the media,” says Foley. “We do.”

Of course, Peloton isn’t the first company to attempt to streamline how we exercise. In recent years, wearable step trackers and heart-rate monitors from companies like Fitbit and Jawbone were hailed as the next big thing for fitness enthusiasts but failed to catch on in a major way. In fact, according to research by Endeavor Partners, one-third of those wearables end up in a drawer six months after purchase, in part because the feedback they offer, like “walk more,” isn’t very constructive.

Smart equipment, by contrast, can actually improve its users’ form. While people spin, the Peloton bike is monitoring their cadence, wattage and more, so they can pinpoint areas they need to work on. That kind of data is “much more valuable and useful than general-purpose wearables,” says Ben Bajarin, a consumer-tech analyst at Creative Strategies. And the human feedback–Peloton instructors can see a rider’s stats and command him or her accordingly–is usually an even bigger asset.

But Peloton has a way to go before it pedals into the mainstream. It currently has eight retail stores (mostly in high-end shopping centers) and has sold more than 2,000 bikes at $2,000 a pop. It’s also planning to expand its streaming and on-demand classes. But some spinners, like Anna Kohanski Mason, aren’t convinced. “I felt like I was watching a video more than being in a class,” she says of her Peloton ride.

Then again, for Valentine, the convenience trumps all. She no longer has to drive 30 minutes to the gym, pay a pricey membership fee or even chitchat before class. “It’s quick, it’s over, it’s done,” she says. “That’s what really appeals to me.”

This appears in the September 08, 2014 issue of TIME.
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