Peloton sales are up 66% in the pandemic, but is a $2,200 bike worth it? Here's what users say

Source: Peloton

While Gold's Gym files for bankruptcy and Planet Fitness furloughs most of its employees due to the coronavirus, at-home workout gear has seen a boost in sales. Free weights sales grew 181% and yoga mat sales grew 146%, according to data from the NPD group

Consumers are also buying pricier items, like stationary bikes, which have experienced a 170% rise in sales. One of the most talked about, and costly, stationary bikes is the Peloton, an indoor bike that also offers live-streaming classes. Peloton sales during the first quarter of the year increased 66% over last year. 

At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the economy, a piece of luxury workout equipment seems like an odd purchase. The bike itself is $2,245, and the riders must also pay a monthly fee of $39 to access classes. For the first year, the Peloton package including the classes and bike costs at least $2,725. In subsequent years, if you've paid off your bike, it will cost $480 annually to access classes. 

Here's what experts and users have to say about when or whether a Peloton is a worthwhile investment. 

More time at home means more time to form a new routine

Shoppers who weren't thinking about buying a Peloton probably weren't driven to buy one just because of shelter-in-place guidelines, says Robbie Kellman Baxter, author of "The Forever Transaction" and a Peloton user. The uptick in sales is more likely from shoppers who had been eyeing the machine already. 

"For enough people, it accelerates the [buying] process," says Baxter. A stay-at-home order "was enough to push them over the edge."

Plus, in times of crisis, people are forced to change their habits, Baxter says. In quarantine, people are more willing to spend time figuring out how to make an at-home fitness routine work for them. "My mom, for example, has gone to the same yoga studio for years," she says. "She would have never switched to streaming content in a million years, but now she's forced to."

For enough people, [the pandemic] accelerates the [buying] process. This was enough to push them over the edge.
Robbie Kellman Baxter
Author of 'The Forever Transaction'

Now, Baxter says, her mom streams classes, steams up her bathroom by running hot shower water, and places an electric blanket beneath her yoga mat to keep it warm. "Now that she's figured it out, she loves it so much. She said, 'I'm not sure if I'm going to go back to the studio. This is great. I'm not going to go back to what I did before.'" 

Riders also have more time in lockdown to use some of Peloton's lesser-known offerings. Instead of just taking advantage of cycling classes, user have time to explore meditation options, for example. 

"One of the problems companies have is getting subscribers to use their full range of products," Baxter says. "I never used it for yoga classes before, and now I'm trying it."

At-home cycling was already easier than the gym, some say

Baxter has had her Peloton for three years and uses it even more during quarantine. "I'm not traveling so I'm home every day, and I have no alternative," she says. 

But even those who say they are using their Peloton less, like Siobhan Carrera, who works in cybersecurity tech sales in New Jersey, says the bike is worth it. 

Carrera, 40, bought her bike just before Black Friday, at which time she discontinued her gym membership. Prepandemic during the winter, she was using it about four times per week. "There was no way I was waking up in the dark, freezing cold and trekking myself to the gym." 

Having to parent during lockdown has disrupted how much she is able to use the bike. She's "probably used it three times in the past two weeks," she says. "My kids are not even 2 and 4, so they are so needy. That's why I've been working out less, because they are home. It's exhausting all day, and then I don't feel like working out." 

Still, she says, she believes the bike is a good investment. Her husband is able to use it five times a week and her mom stops by sometimes to take a class.

"I wouldn't be doing anything if I didn't have it," she says. 

The bike's value will last past the pandemic, and it's 'self-care'

Ivonne G. Ramirez-DeBlois, 32, bought a Peloton in February, a couple weeks before she was asked to work remotely at her job as an associate director of student involvement and leadership at Mount Holyoke College.

Being in quarantine means she can actually use the machine more than when she was working on campus. Postpandemic, she still plans to exclusively use the machine. Before buying a Peloton, Ramirez-DeBlois went to workout classes available in her area, some of which didn't work with her schedule and were costly. 

"Some only had 11 a.m. classes, which is not doable if I'm working from an office," she says. 

I wouldn't be doing anything if I didn't have it.
Siobhan Carrera
Peloton user

Since February, she has done 55 classes on her Peloton and her husband has done 50. The spinning class she used to attend cost $150 per month, so she says the bike will end up being cheaper for her in the long term. 

"Financially, I feel like I will continue doing this, because the options weren't the same quality," she says.

She also sees the bike as an investment in her mental health. During quarantine, lots of people are dubbing things "self care" that are actually just "self soothing," she says. "Self-soothing is putting on a face mask and drinking wine. Self-care is putting in the work to create a system to take care of yourself," she says. "With the Peloton, I'm able to create systems of taking care of myself, long term."  

How Peloton stack ups to competitors 

Peloton is not the only stationary bike on the market. The Myx Fitness system, which dubs itself the "un-Peloton," is an option, too: The bike costs $1,199 and the class package is $34 per month. For the first year, Myx Fitness will cost approximately $1,600, more than a $1,000 less than the first-year cost of having a Peloton ($2,725).

Zwift, an app that offers community at-home training for running and cycling, costs $14.99 per month. If you already have a stationary bike at home to pair it with, the app could be a more affordable way to get a Peloton-like experience. You could also pay for the Peloton app digital membership, which is $13 per month, and use it with any bike. The app offers access to classes that don't require a bike or a treadmill, including yoga and strength classes. To see instructors, you'll have to use the app on a tablet, phone, or television. 

Ramirez-DeBlois says the competitor she considered was an offering from SoulCycle. But the SoulCycle bike was only sold in major cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, Dallas, and Houston, and she didn't want to wait for one to get to Western Massachusetts. 

She also saw how unsuccessful the Flywheel stationary bike was, which made her skeptical about buying one from SoulCyle. She feared the company might discontinue classes. "When you buy a bike tied to a company you can only buy classes for that company," she says. "I have the confidence Peloton will be around for the next five years. It has already existed for five years. I didn't think they were going to fail, so the machine would be worth it." 

Kellman likened her choice to buy a Peloton to her choice to buy Apple products: "The experience is so much better."

How to know if it's worth the money to buy a Peloton 

If you just want it for lockdown and see yourself purchasing a gym membership or class passes again once you can, then the purchase of a high-end stationary bike like a Peloton probably is not worth it, says Baxter: "If you're not going to stick with it for three years, then don't buy it."

The longer you use the Peloton, though, the more value you will get out of it. Your first year costs $2,725 and the two years after cost $480 each, so the Peloton ends up being about $100 per month for the bike and unlimited classes.

At Orangetheory, unlimited classes are at least $159 per month (price varies based on where you live), and SoulCycle costs $36 per class

"Depending on the size of their investment in the new normal, some people will keep it as one tool among many, and some people won't go back to the gym," Baxter says. 

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Disclosure: CNBC parent Comcast-NBCUniversal is an investor in Peloton.