The pandemic hit. You bought the spin bike. And come hell or high water, that thing will not collect dust—or so say the numbers. Peloton (leading purveyor of at-home spin bikes) has seen connected subscriptions rise 114 percent year-over-year, according to a 2021 shareholder letter from the brand, indicating that digital spin classes aren’t going anywhere. Couple that with the fact that people’s approach to fitness is becoming increasingly hybrid—a recent survey from the fitness booking platform ClassPass, for instance, indicates that 65 percent of respondents expect to work out both in person and at home—and next year we can expect to see cycling brands race to meet consumers wherever they are.65%
For fitness brands that don’t make bikes themselves, that means creating cycling classes that riders can access at their local gyms, and we’ll see this happen in a couple of innovative ways. In November 2021, Swerve, a New York City-based spin studio that prior to the pandemic had no digital presence, partnered with the big-box gym Crunch to film rides at Swerve HQ that are broadcast to Crunch locations nationwide. The idea is that riders in different Crunch locations can all tune in to the streamed class at the same time. “We're able to bridge that world of digital and physical,” says Swerve co-founder and CEO Eric Posner. “We are going to be the first boutique fitness studio to ever live stream its experience into gyms and studios around the world."
Digital brands that previously didn’t include spinning among their class offerings because they don’t sell bikes have also seen the runaway popularity of indoor cycling in the past year and now want in on the fun. Last year, Apple Fitness+ led the charge by launching its full-service fitness app with cycling classes as a key component, the idea being that spin fans could use the app from the gym or on their own stationary bikes (whatever brand they have). In October of this year, obé, an app with strength, cardio, and restorative instructor-led classes set to candy-colored backdrops, got in on the cycling game as well, without launching a companion bike. “Right now is the perfect time to enter the cycling space as some people are returning to the gym and have access to a bike, or they've invested in a bike for their home gym during the pandemic,” says obé co-founder Ashley Mills. “We don’t expect you to invest in fitness equipment; we want you to invest in yourself.”
“Right now is the perfect time to enter the cycling space as some people are returning to the gym and have access to a bike, or they've invested in a bike for their home gym during the pandemic." Ashley Mills, co-founder of obé
Meanwhile, Retro Fitness, which began as a traditional gym and expanded to digital with a streaming app this year, announced a first-of-its-kind bundling system in November 2021. A purchase of the brand’s digitally connected COBRA bike now comes with a three-year gym membership to the brick-and-mortar franchise as well. And at Equinox, you’ll now find digitally connected fitness bikes from pioneering spin brand SoulCycle—a brand under the Equinox umbrella—so that members can take advantage of the connected fitness platform while at the gym.
To keep people engaged at home and to compete in this increasingly competitive sector, legacy cycling brands are also innovating to create new features for their platforms. “Some of why we continue to explore new programming is to engage members differently, to keep them engaged as consistently as they have been, and to welcome new people into Peloton,” says Jen Cotter, chief content officer at Peloton and a Well+Good Wellness Trends Advisor. “What we were doing [with our programming]—as much as we love it—we knew it's not enough for everybody. So we keep iterating.”
Replicating the connectedness you feel when working out in person is key for digital brands, and as such they’re pouring their attention and resources into getting it right. "Knowing that community is so important to both our in-person and remote riders via digital offerings, we accelerated our community features on the SoulCycle at-home bike [this year],” says Melanie Griffith, senior director of brand experiences at SoulCycle. In the last quarter of 2021, SoulCycle launched “Hypemojis” and post-ride social share features to connect fellow riders with one another when using their bike. Similarly, the digital spin bike brand MYX Fitness launched a technology called "BODi" in October, which cues riders to turn on their cameras (which are built into the bike) so that their efforts can be projected onto a digital screen that plays behind the instructor during live classes. This enables the instructors to form-correct and encourage riders in real time, and allows riders to feed off the energy of one another.
“Some of why we continue to explore new programming is to engage members differently, to keep them engaged as consistently as they have been, and to welcome new people into Peloton.” Jen Cotter, chief content officer at Peloton
As we look to the year ahead, one more way that cycling will speed into the future is by rolling out game-ified experiences that make people feel like they’re playing a video game while riding. In July, Peloton teased its first video game fitness offering called Lanebreak, expected to launch in 2022.
“People love this kind of experience. You feel like you're working with a group, you're working as a team together, and it's fun,” says Mohommad Iqbal, CEO of the tech agency Sweatworks (it’s responsible for many of the interactive platforms that we experience when we use fitness technology, including Equinox) and a Well+Good Wellness Trends Advisor. “It's like Mario Kart on your Switch, but you’re on a bike.” In fact, a recent poll from the fitness software and coaching company Freeletics indicated that nearly three-fourths of respondents would exercise more if it felt like a game.
The industry is responding: Two companies at the head of the pack in this gamification of indoor cycling are Rouvy (est. 2006) and Zwift (est. 2014). Both are virtual training apps that seek to replicate the experience of cycling with a club or in a road race for the types of riders who participate in and avidly watch sporting events like the Tour de France. In the year ahead, both have big features planned to roll out. Zwift, for one, plans to launch a Club feature, which allows riders to band together and form their own road-race events, while Rouvy signed a three-year partnership with LaVuelta—a road race in Spain—for riders to take part in certain segments virtually. Additionally, two new game-ified smart bikes from the digital technology companies Capti and Freebeat have launched in the back half of this year, and we suspect these won’t be the last.
“This side of the industry right now is in its infancy,” says Iqbal. “But it is absolutely a trend you're going to see come out with almost every single major player out there.” So be glad you bought the bike because, in the year to come, it’s game on.
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