How Virtual Fitness Craze Peloton Is Killing It IRL

At the studio for special Home Rider Invasion classes. (Photo: Peloton)
To an outsider, the party at trendy New York City rooftop bar Catch on a recent Friday night looked and felt like a reunion. Everyone dressed to impressed, reading each other's name tags from across the room and then exclaiming with recognition—hugs, excited conversation, and group photos ensuing soon after.

Actually, it was the kick-off to Peloton's Home Rider Invasion weekend, meaning the room was packed with people who had traveled from 21 states across the country to spend time with others who regularly ride the snazzy, tech-savvy exercise bike at home, alone—but virtually, together.

"We were reacting to their desire to meet each other, meet the instructors, come see the studio, come interact," says CEO John Foley, explaining that a less official weekend had been organized by Peloton bike owners themselves in February via a Facebook page that connects riders. The page has become a vibrant, active community and has even sprouted sub-groups like "Peloton Mom Page" and "Peloton Triathlete Page."

Foley addressing the crowd at Catch. Photo: Peloton

Foley says that when the company asked the community on the page if they'd be interested in an official homecoming weekend, 1,800 people initially said yes, so that Peloton had to restrict attendance to 600 people, since the IRL studio wouldn't be able to accommodate that many riders, even with a schedule of 10 rides per day, plus workshops and meet-and-greets with instructors at the Eventi hotel, and social events like the Catch happy hour.

Peloton has managed to create a network of people so enthusiastic about the workout that they're motivated to fly across the country to bond.

It's a story of fitness community that rings of a phenomenon. After debuting its mega-upgrade to the at-home spin bike in 2013 and its home-base workout studio in NYC in 2014, which allowed riders from all over to show up, online, for live classes via their living room, Peloton has managed to create a network of people so enthusiastic about the workout model that they're motivated to fly across the country to bond.

"I had never taken a spin class before in my life," said Tina Marshell, a rider from Frisco, TX, who eagerly boasted about the fact that she had completed 300 rides since she got her bike in July by riding every day and was excitedly chatting with her favorite instructor, Steven Little, for the first time without a screen. "He was the one I first started with, he taught me proper technique, posture, everything," she gushed.

At the studio for the special Home Rider Invasion classes. Photo: Peloton

Ashok Rai came from Green Bay, WI, with his girlfriend and had been riding his Peloton bike since late January. "I don’t have time to go to the gym...and I’m also a geek, so I love the interconnectivity, the tech," he said, adding that he was motivated to attend the weekend to meet the many friends he'd made on the bike, and via Facebook, in person. "It’s amazing, we talk about everything," he said. "It’s a socially motivating group. That’s the best way I can put it."

And while many came from far-flung locales, even locals who could have shown up at the studio for weekly classes had instead been bitten by the online community bug. Emma and Eric Castro, a married couple who live in Morningside Heights in northern Manhattan, said they ditched their oft-ignored Equinox memberships after getting the Peloton bike in February. "I used to go to the gym twice, maybe three times a month. A month!" Emma said, "and this month so far I’ve ridden every single day in May. I’m on track to ride every day the whole month."

Photo: Peloton

Despite their proximity, Emma and Eric had never taken an in-person class at Peloton's New York City studio and were set to do so the next morning, mainly so they could ride alongside the friends they had made via the Facebook page.

All of the riders expressed a sense of motivation that came from being a part of the national tribe. "It’s the weirdest kind of accountability I’ve ever had in my life," said Rai. "People I don’t know hold me accountable."

"Now we just have to take it from 35,000 bikes nationally to 35 million worldwide," Foley says to me, smiling, when I ask about what's next for the brand. Can you imagine that level of accountability?

Get Peloton star Steven Little's advice on how to have perfect form and posture during spin class and here's how to create a two-step ponytail that won't budge on the bike.

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