Giving Peloton the gears

Originally published in The Sault Star May 25, 2021

I was getting exercised about Peloton even before the news broke that their treadmills allegedly gobble up small children and pets.

A useful Peloton

Peloton, dubbed the Netflix of fitness, sells exercise bikes and treadmills with touch screens that provide access to live-streamed and on-demand exercise classes, “so users can enjoy the intensity and excitement of classes taught by the world’s best instructors without leaving the house.”

That quote from a Peloton press release, along with COVID closures of fitness centres, should make them an easy sell.

But don’t let your kids or dogs join the fun, warns the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, after one tot died and almost 40 others sustained injuries such as fractures.

It posted a video showing a child being pulled under a treadmill. 

Peloton responded May 5 with a voluntary recall of its Tread and Tread+ devices.

Now, a person with a macabre sense of humour (well, you’re the one reading this column) might wonder if a lockdown-and-online-learning-crazed parent would, in a fleeting dark moment, see child-culling as a selling point for a treadmill.

But should Peloton be blamed for these incidents, any more than Tide should be blamed if someone stores laundry pods in a candy dish?

Would there be table saw recalls if parents left them plugged in in the playroom?

It’s a poor parent who blames his or her tools or exercise equipment.

Anyway, this recall controversy just put some muscle on the bones of my instinctive distaste for the whole Peloton concept. 

To say I haven’t been sucked in like a puppy into a treadmill by Peloton ads is an understatement. Their equipment might never raise my heart rate, but the ads certainly do.

Ironically, the only time I see them is when I turn on a TV news network to give my mind something to do while my body does its morning stretches.

In one way I’m grateful for them, because Peloton ads are among very few on the news network that suggest my fellow viewers and I might be capable of even moderate physical activity. 

Judging by the normal ad fare you’d think our fitness levels limit us to reverse-mortgaging our houses, shopping for health insurance, strapping ourselves to foot vibrators so we can walk around the block again, eating grass-fed beef, suffering intestinal disorders and celebrating that Tim’s is now “For Good” instead of whatever evil it used to be for.

But Peloton thinks news network watchers can still work up a good sweat, and not just when we check our bank balances after spending up to $3,845 for a treadmill and $49 per month for access to more than 10,000 classes.

The ad that gets my pulse pounding shows a youngish woman (at my age that’s a huge demographic) who hops on her exercise machine and gets yelled at by a bunch of well-toned fitness gurus who refer to her as “Peloton.” (We never learn her real name.)

This seems to take place first thing in the morning. Isn’t she worried all the shouting will wake her teenagers? 

(Clearly it’s been a while since I had teenagers in my house or I would remember that it takes something registering 7.0 on the Richter scale to rouse one.)

Apparently this woman doesn’t share my opinion that she is being verbally abused, because she smiles and dutifully sweats.

(In my youth I was told that horses sweat, men perspire and women “glow.” It took until 2017 for psychologists to determine that sex differences in thermoeffector responses are primarily explained by morphology, not physiology. So yes, she sweats, albeit as daintily as possible.)

Peloton is a $4-billion company, so I guess a lot of people think this is a great way to exercise.

But as my TV-watching-while-stretching regimen suggests, I want whatever’s on the screen to distract me from the tedium and mindless repetition of exercise, not to focus my attention on the task. 

At worst I’d want my exercise bike screen to display a scenic ride, perhaps with Rottweilers lunging at me from time to time or oncoming logging trucks passing each other in my lane to make it seem realistic.

People shouting at you doesn’t improve athletic performance. If it did, Auston Matthews would have scored zero, not 41, goals this season because there was no fan in the arena to tell him when to shoot. And no, Leaf fans, he can’t hear you through the TV.

Of course, Peloton users are never going to win the Stanley Cup. Or perhaps Tour de France would be a more appropriate target. 

In fact, the very brand name of their high-priced exercise package dooms them to mediocrity.

In road racing a peloton is the main pack of riders. It’s the place you hang out to conserve your energy by drafting and slipstreaming and sneakily elbowing your opponents or surreptitiously ingesting illegal stimulants.

If you’re still in the peloton near the end of the race, you’ll be lucky not to end up in one of those multi-bike pileups. No yellow jacket for the peloton also-rans.

A rider who wants to exert him- or her- or them-self to the fullest, who wants to win, leaves the peloton behind and joins the breakaway group.

Take my advice, even if as a racer I’d get my spandex bib shorts caught in the bicycle chain. 

If fitness is your goal, leave the peloton behind. 

Try a news network instead. Nothing makes you exercised like the news.

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