Indoor Fitness Bikes Purchasing Guide

The continued merging of technology apps with fitness equipment has given birth to a new generation of indoor fitness bikes that are currently the talk of the town. You can interact with thousands of virtual courses and classes from recognizable names like Schwinn, Lemond, Life Fitness and others. It seems like you can’t turn on the television without seeing a Peloton commercial, making it sound like the answer to all of your healthy lifestyle prayers.

Outfitting your personal living room with one of these techno-connected marvels is hard enough, with premium bikes priced in the $3000+ range, but consider the daunting task of apartment building managers and hotel fitness programmers who are considering the purchase of several pieces of this equipment. Is it worth it? Are these bikes commercial quality? What’s the buzz all about? How do I cut through the hype to figure out what to buy? Personal use equipment doesn’t always make the jump to commercial success, no matter how popular certain trends may be. Thoughts of Total Gym, Nordic Track, Bow Flex and other trendy products come to mind, all of which were (or are) retail successes with consumers through infomercials and direct marketing efforts, but failed when it came to commercial use.

In the commercial fitness bike world, durability matters. When dozens of people each day, thousands each year, are pounding the pedals, adjusting the settings, and tapping the touchscreen to maximize their own personal experience, you need a versatile and durable piece of equipment equal to those demands. Brands like Keiser, ICG/Life Fitness, Lemond and Stages are the most competitive in this space, but when it comes to internet-connected indoor stationary bikes with live-stream classes and integrated apps, the field narrows to an elite few choices.

We’ll start with the Life Fitness ICG bike, which came on the market by storm as the creation powered by the Indoor Cycling Group (ICG®). With a micro adjusting knob that opens up more than 100 individual settings, and the ultra slim 155mm frame (taking up the least amount of floor space possible), innovative bike is not to be underestimated. When ICG joined Life Fitness in 2016, pushing the bike boundaries further with premium quality commercial equipment became reality. ICG was born as a commercial bike, combining all of the hot personal nuances into a durable, versatile commercial bike resulted in the success of the ICG5, 6 and now 7 bike models, found in group training facilities across the country. Indoor Cycling’s two-stage drivetrain powers the ICG7 bike, and the patent-pending Coach By Color training console is an easily understandable dashboard that tracks performance. The bike has a 5-year frame warranty, with the mechanical components covered for 3 years.

On top of the bike itself, is the “exertainment” technology applications that are driving so many workout experiences and fans. In addition to the free APP that works with the ICG Coach By Color console, the bike also has an optional Myride screen and content package that provides results-oriented coaching along with stunning footage from around the world for an immersive user experience. As with the other virtual training video plugins, there are thousands of hours of programming that you can customize to your own preferences, including over 500 classes available on the MyRide console and access to MyRide Studio Coach classes, MyRide World View and Tour Coach views. These are available without any subscription and can be tracked and saved using the free MyRide App.

Another top option when you’re looking for a bike with a mounted screen that can virtually connect users to video workouts, is the Expresso. With the best warranty amongst top commercial bikes, covering all parts and labor for three years, Expresso offers what they call “exergaming cardio” in addition to roads and studio programming with computer controlled resistance and steering through the bike. Claiming to be the “gold standard in indoor cycling”, the Expresso GO offers a solid studio bike experience allowing the user to turn slightly as they follow their video screen pathway. Riders can control and steer their avatar for a more immersive experience and, as with the other competitors in this category, an on-screen leader board lets riders see their results, create goals and contests, and virtually ride with others remotely or in the same facility. The Expresso bike itself is a bit more costly than others, but the programming subscription is less than half of what Peloton charges, so across a five year cost comparison Expresso is an attractive option. The Expresso GO warranty covers three years for parts, labor and “computer”, which connects to the Expresso online programming called eLive Plus, which is a required subscription.

It’s the programming subscriptions that seem to be sticky with both the Expresso and the Peloton options, though customers who want new and refreshed content receive it continually with these subscription-based services. They’re both required and expensive, and without the programming the bike itself is just another piece of equipment, though the Peloton bike is much more limited than others without the accompanying programming. The Life Fitness ICG7 does not have an ongoing programming subscription requirement.

However, it seems to be the programming that has people talking, at least about Peloton. People often use words like “craze” and “cult” when referring to Peloton riders and instructors, and when the CEO of the company talks more about being in the television business than in the fitness equipment business, it leads one to wonder about the actual quality of the bikes themselves, especially since they’ve never before offered a commercial product.

The home-use Peloton bikes are hugely popular, even when the investment tops $2000-$3000 to get started. The commercial Peloton option just emerged in the Spring of 2017 with few alterations from the home bike to update some settings and software and switch out the pedals for commercial use. All the internal components and construction of the commercial bike is the same as the home unit, and the jury’s still out as to how this untested commercial entry will hold up. With roughly 500,000 bike owners, mobile app users and in-studio riders using Peloton, the company probably figures “if it ain’t broke…”

Well, that makes things even more interesting, especially when the premise of this discussion is to compare bikes for commercial use. Peloton bikes are expensive, but the services and content that is required on top of the bike purchase is even more so, especially for a bike that’s fairly limited to an indoor “spinning” experience. The Peloton content subscription can add $600 to as much as $2400 per year to the tab for a single bike. The Expresso also has a required programming subscription, but it’s about half this amount. Also, despite its overwhelming buzz factor, Peloton’s home bike doesn’t have many fans when it comes to equipment maintenance. Peloton has its own service company, so it can be difficult to reach an accessible technician in your area when you need them. With the commercial bike Peloton has created a competitive warranty to the Life Fitness ICG bike, covering 5 years on the frame and 3 years on the parts. As a new-on-the-market product up against commercial bike builders with established quality histories, time will tell how the Peloton stands up.

However, Peloton itself admits that they’re primary focus is not building and selling a quality fitness bike. Founders and followers alike have trouble classifying Peloton as a fitness company, as they’re much more focused on video production and an “America’s Got Talent” search for charismatic hosts that call out riders to motivate them. While there are dozens of free fitness apps that cater to biking experiences and leader boards, according to the Verge it’s the content services that make money for Peloton, eluding to the fact that Peloton’s bike fades to average or worse without the “services” that fuel the brand’s cult-like following.

The leader board, music, culture and community that Peloton relies on are its primary claim to fame. Instructors have been profiled in the New York Times, Richard Branson is said to be a fan, and the studio where the classes are held is described by founder and chief executive John Foley as a “television streaming facility filming fitness content.” Now, it is possible to get the Peloton app for use on any bike for $13 per month, but it’s said to be a “lesser experience”, and the app lives among several other bike training/coaching/virtual environment apps like CycleCast, Beat Burn, ACTIVEx, Zwift or even the free Fitness Builder option profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and that’s just naming the top few in the space.

So, back to the bike equation, there are a number of trends and non-equipment “fad factors” that are driving interest to brands like Peloton, which is competing with established experts like Life Fitness ICG, Expresso and others who base their businesses on superior quality commercial equipment. If you’re looking for an adaptable, lasting, interactive, technology-integrated stationary commercial bike with a solid warranty and available service team, make sure you look at more than compelling advertising and soap-opera-like fan followings before you decide to invest thousands of dollars. For most, this is not an impulse buy.