Can’t afford to join the Peloton revolution? Try these cheaper indoor cycling alternatives

Nick Harding puts the Echelon Connect EX3 smart spin bike though its paces – Jeff

Nick Harding puts the Echelon Connect EX3 smart spin bike though its paces - Jeff Gilbert
Nick Harding puts the Echelon Connect EX3 smart spin bike though its paces – Jeff Gilbert

It’s 10am and I’m dripping sweat on the carpet in the spare room to a rock and pop soundtrack. My wife is not impressed. All over the world, in bedrooms, hallways, utility rooms and sheds, men and women just like me are doing the same while our instructor, Amy Hagen, challenges us to “meet me up top”. I know, because I can see their stats on the screen in front of me.

Welcome to the world of indoor cycling, where legions of people mount a dizzying array of contraptions and spin their way to fitness Valhalla. One member of this growing tribe is Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who last week revealed he owned a Peloton, the hip, high-end indoor exercise bike brand with a global following.

Peloton delivers upbeat, motivational live and on-demand classes to subscribers through its bikes’ built-in 21in HD screens. The studio-style spin classes are also complemented by off-bike yoga, stretch and strength training classes. But at up to £2,295 for a bike, plus £39 a month to access the content, just how prudent is the Chancellor’s fiscal fitness policy?

Luckily, there are plenty of lower-priced alternatives, chief among which is the Echelon Connect EX3 smart spin bike, which, apart from the absence of a built-in screen, looks like Peloton (even the logo is similar). This is the machine on which I am trying to keep up with Amy and 180 other riders ranked on the leaderboard.

The Echelon costs up to £500 less than Peloton’s entry-level model, and its £39.99 a month subscription service provides hours of live and on-demand classes, plus virtual rides that can be streamed on your tablet, which will fit into the cradle on the front of the bike.

Although I’m a regular gym user, I’ve never done a spin class and always assumed outdoor cycling was harder. But 45 minutes with Amy proves me wrong. The session I choose includes simulated hill climbs and sprints, plus some arm and shoulder dumbbell exercises. Using a Myzone M3 heart monitor, I record a 540-calorie burn and am exhausted by the end.

"Fitness comes slowly, fatigue comes quickly," advises Nick Harding after a hard workout  -  Jeff Gilbert
“Fitness comes slowly, fatigue comes quickly,” advises Nick Harding after a hard workout – Jeff Gilbert

Home cycling has exploded in the past two years, thanks to a growing range of equipment and apps, such as Zwift, which allow people to compete against one another. Peloton, Echelon and others took the gamification and competitive elements of these apps, and the community group elements of gym spin classes and built a new kind of home exercise system.

The popularity is set to continue as fair-weather Mamils look to maintain their fitness levels during winter when dark, wet roads are less enticing.

Broadly, equipment can be divided into three types. Indoor training bikes for competitive and serious cyclists, spin bikes for keep-fit fanatics, and turbo trainers for those who want to use their existing bicycles. Within these categories, there are “smart” options, which use digital elements and apps to monitor performance, alter effort level and enhance experience.

Wattbike is the most established indoor training brand. It was developed in 2000 in collaboration with British Cycling to create a realistic static cycling experience for off-season training. Classic Wattbikes use fan-like air paddles to replicate resistance. They cost upwards of £2,500. Wattbike also makes a spin-style smart bike called the Atom, starting at £1,599.

Spin bikes, which include Echelon, are more accessible and arguably more fun. They have a fixed gear, a heavy flywheel and steady frictional resistance. Used with the associated online apps and memberships, they enhance the riding experience and hook you up to a virtual community.

Prices vary hugely and it is worth bearing in mind that the market is so competitive that costs change frequently. Generally, for a well-made, full-feature smart spin bike, you should not expect to pay less than £1,000. There is a lot of choice at the lower end of the spectrum, such as XS Sports SB500 Aerobic indoor bike and the Ergo Life spin bike, both available for less than £250, but these offer little in terms of features and functionality.

For those who want to keep cycling on their own bikes but stay indoors, turbo trainers are a good option. These are frames on to which the back wheel of a bike is attached, or, in some cases, the back wheel can be removed completely and the bicycle attached directly to the trainer, which has its own gear cassette. They also vary in price depending on spec.

I tried the Tacx Neo 2T, a top-of-the range smart turbo trainer, which retails at £1,199. After attaching a gear cassette to it, my road bike fitted easily and the front wheel was held stable  with a holder. The motor inside the  trainer provided a very realistic ride feel, especially during climbs and sprints, and even mimicked the action of cycling over cobbles or gravel.

Feeling the burn: "After my 45 minutes in the saddle, I think I’m going to need a cold shower and a lie down"  - Jeff Gilbert
Feeling the burn: “After my 45 minutes in the saddle, I think I’m going to need a cold shower and a lie down” – Jeff Gilbert

The intensity level can be dialled up to gradients up to 25 per cent and, using cycling apps, users can  replicate stages of tours such as the Tour de France. Once the bike is disconnected, the system folds up and packs neatly away.

As with any activity, there are fitness rules to follow, as Paul Roberts, head coach at Tribal Health & Performance explains: “Indoor cycling is much more concentrated than outdoor cycling. An hour on an indoor bike is approximately equivalent to 90 minutes on a road bike.

You need to start comfortably and make relative, appropriate increases in time and intensity of exercise over a period of weeks or months. Fitness comes slowly, fatigue comes quickly.”

A common mistake people make, according to Roberts, is overreaching in most sessions. “Professional athletes don’t push themselves to the max in every training session, they complete eight out of 10 sessions at a conversational intensity.”

He advises static bike users to also do mobility and stability exercises such as Pilates to reduce the risk of positional injuries. Bikes should be fitted properly, placed in cool, well-ventilated rooms and riders should be well hydrated.

For more advice and tips, British Cycling has produced an indoor training e-book, which has been downloaded 23,000 times. The organisation also partnered with Zwift to group training sessions for young riders.

Jason Cattermole, a talent development coach at British Cycling, advises novices to use a trainer that closely mimics their own outdoor ride style and that can be easily adjusted to mirror ride position.

He says: “Don’t forget to include a warm-up and cool down in the session. Indoor sessions should be short and sharp, usually around an hour, which make them great for fitting in around a busy lifestyle. For those new to indoor training, the main thing to expect is intensity.”

He’s not kidding. After my 45 minutes in the saddle, I think I’m going to  need a cold shower and a lie down.

Best bikes to try

For beginners

JTX Cyclo-3. £349
JTX Cyclo-3. £349

JTX Cyclo-3. £349. Spinning-style bike without connectivity, but high-quality components and 20kg flywheel. Ideal for following free spin classes.

For intermediates

Schwinn IC8. £999
Schwinn IC8. £999

Schwinn IC8. £999. Simple design with small digital display showing basic info. Can connect using Bluetooth to smartphone training apps, including Zwift.

For experts

NordicTrack S22i Commercial Studio Cycle
NordicTrack S22i Commercial Studio Cycle

NordicTrack S22i Commercial Studio Cycle. £2,499. Built-in 22in screen. Electric incline and decline. Live and on-demand sessions with trainers who control the incline, decline and resistance.

Which Peloton alternatives would you recommend? Tell us in the comments section below

Source Article