In this post I’m going to provide my completely amateur opinion on indoor cycling apps and bikes. I’m not a professional trainer and everything that follows is just the opinion of a 40-something guy who did a whole lot of bike riding last year.
This morning on Instagram I answered the following question from a follower about the Peloton app.
“I didn’t buy a Peloton but just got a Schwinn. Do you still recommend the Peloton subscription? Or there’s plenty of free rides? “
My short answer was that the Peloton app is good if you’re a person who needs or likes having someone coaching them through a workout. Otherwise, depending on the bike and trainer I’d look into a program like Zwift or Sufferfest.
Peloton vs. Peloton App
If you live in the U.S. you have probably seen the Peloton indoor bike advertised on television and online. Their ads all have perfect-looking people who get into even more perfect shape by riding the expensive Peloton bike. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is also a Peloton mobile app that you can use even if you don’t have one of the bikes.
The Peloton mobile app requires a subscription to the Peloton service at a minimum cost of $12.95/month (first 30 days are free). The app gives you access to all of the classes that Peloton offers. You just have to follow along on the stationary bike you’re riding or the treadmill that you’re running on. The app won’t track your power output, heart rate, or speed like you could if you were on a Peloton bike or treadmill. But you can sync your workout time to other apps like Strava or Garmin Connect.
One of the things that you might not know about the Peloton mobile app unless you tried it is that in addition to cycling and running workouts the app offers guided stretching routines, yoga sessions, and strength training workouts.
About the Peloton Bike
They’re very expensive compared to the rest of the indoor bike market. So I was skeptical of it when my partner bought one last July. She loves it and in December I finally tried it one day instead of riding my bike on a stationary trainer.
I’ve done 22 sessions on the Peloton bike in the last month. My favorite workouts are the ones that I’ve planned myself and executed while using the “scenic rides” in Peloton. Scenic Rides are simply street level views of interesting places around the world. The scenes move while you pedal.
I’ve also taken a handful of complete structured workouts on the Peloton bike. I haven’t enjoyed them as much as other people do. That’s probably because I generally prefer silence to someone trying to encourage or coach me through a workout. Most of the instructors I’ve tried to follow are a bit too “rah rah” or overly enthusiastic for my taste. But if you’re the type of person who likes that style, then the Peloton structured workouts are for you.
Affordable Alternatives to the Peloton Bike
Prior to the arrival of the Peloton bike our house, I did lots and lots of workouts on one of my older road bikes that was hooked up to an inexpensive Travel Trac stationary trainer. I use it for at least half of my workouts. To the right of my bike I have an old Chromebook on a small table. From the Chromebook I play YouTube videos. Usually, I follow along to a Global Cycling Network training video (I’m partial to the ones led by Matt Stephens and Dan Lloyd). The Wahoo Elmnt computer that I use on all of my bikes displays my cadence, time, and speed throughout the ride.
I tried using Zwift with my current stationary bike set-up. I was able to make it work through a series of steps that seemed more complicated than necessary. Since I didn’t have a smart trainer that automatically adjusts resistance I had to manually adjust resistance by shifting up or down. Doing that took away some of the perceived benefits of using Zwift. But the real reason that I didn’t stick with it was that I prefer to look at real landscapes and people than Second Life-like scenes and people. The bottom line was that at $14.99/month I didn’t think it was worth it to me without a smart trainer.
A friend of mine gave me a promotional code to try Sufferfest so I gave it a try. Like Zwift, Sufferfest works best if you have a smart trainer. Since I don’t have a smart trainer I had to hook up my bike computer to my Windows 10 laptop through a Bluetooth dongle (worth noting that I couldn’t get it work at all on my Chromebook). Again, this was cumbersome and glitchy. I did a few workouts with Sufferfest then went back to old method of non-smart trainer and YouTube videos.
Admittedly, my attempts at using Zwift and Sufferfest were limited because of the equipment that I have. That said, both companies do advertise that you can use their services without a smart trainer. The reality is that you really do need a smart trainer to get the full benefits of Zwift or Sufferfest.
My partner, Jess, tells me that I’m unique in that I like to suffer in silence on the bike and that I can stick to a workout plan without someone coaching me through it. That’s probably why I enjoy Peloton’s scenic rides and why I like riding my stationary trainer with or without YouTube on. If that doesn’t sound like you, then the Peloton app might be what you need to keep yourself motivated throughout a workout.