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This week at CES, Peloton raised the stakes and announced their long awaited treadmill – simply called Tread. For those not familiar, Peloton is the indoor cycling studio that’s transplanted into your living room via their swanky (and expensive) indoor cycling bike. The key driver of success on the platform is that you’re not just watching recorded sessions with an instructor from 5 years ago. Instead, there’s live classes dozens of times per day, where you’re watching and interacting with not just a live instructor but an entire class of people in a studio in NYC. It’s incredibly compelling (and really hard to find people who have bought it and dislike it).
Up till this week the company has solely focused on their indoor bike, but now, things have changed and their plans seem more ambitious – even more so than just the treadmill they’ve announced. First though, let’s talk details.
Tread is a beast, in every possible way. Most notably would be the price – some $4,000USD. And that doesn’t include either shipping/setup fees (nor taxes where applicable). On the Peloton bike that fee is a flat-rate $250, and I can’t imagine it’d be any lower here. Nor does it include the $39/month subscription/service fee, though most users of that are content with said fee.
But that $4,250+ buys you one heck of a system. We’ll start with the base of the treadmill, and then talk about the more tech-driven pieces up top. The main portion of the treadmill is the 59 rubber coated aluminum slats. Unlike a traditional treadmill, there is no belt here, at least not by conventional means. Instead, the interconnected slats form something akin to a bicycle chain, which the company says give you a bit of a softer feel during running (more on that in a moment).
On the side of a treadmill you’ll notice a zipper, that’s actually for storage of accessories – like weights and such. At this point they wouldn’t unzip it for me to check out what’s inside (perhaps it was their 50 Shades of Grey accessory collection, who knows), but the concept is pretty cool.
And this gets to a really important part here – a fair chunk (perhaps the majority?) of the Tread workouts are not just run-only. They’re designed to be full body. As such, it’s highly encouraged to purchase the additional collection of weights and such, which form the complete system.
Moving up the treadmill we’ve got handrails on the side as you’d expect, but unlike most other treadmills that have specific buttons for speed and incline, this has two giant rotating dials. On the left side is incline (0-15%), and on the right side is speed (0-12.5MPH).
In the middle of each is a button, which acts like a quick-set option to toggle instantly between defined speeds/inclines, like in an interval. Allowing you to go from say 2MPH to 10MPH with one touch. Other treadmills have similar quick-set button concepts, though the dial concept is less common (if at all out there).
Around that same area you’ll find the tray, which holds two water bottles and a bunch of your random junk. Along the front bar is a removable emergency release system (that you connect to yourself in case you fall). The company noted that the removable nature would be useful for households with kids – acting effectively as a lock.
That little ‘M’ you see there? That’s for manual mode, whereby you have to make the treadmill go forward by pushing against the handlebars like so:
Finally, up top we’ve got the 32” 1080P display. This is the center of everything Peloton is about, both on the bikes as well as on the treadmills. Below it sits a 20w sound bar, and below the sound bar is a single USB port as well as a single audio jack.
And inside the internals somewhere is the ability for it to connect to your ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart heart rate sensors, allowing you to get your HR up on the screen. Essentially the same functionality they had on the bike.
Doing A Long Run:
Now, anytime I talk about devices – I like to get hands on. And in this case, that means feet-on. Of course, getting them to agree to take one of two prototype devices for a spin around the block wasn’t so easy. But I did get them to allow me to take it for a bit of a walk, at which point I obviously had to test reaction speed getting up to higher paces.
So, in that sense, I was able to complete a long run – assuming you’re Usain Bolt, whereby anything over 100m is considered a long run.
But let’s back up a second.
The core to Peloton is their structured workouts led by an instructor in a live studio in NYC surrounded by real-life people. It’s what makes Peloton…Peloton. The company says they’ll be starting off with 10 live treadmill classes per day. But you can always access any previously recorded ones anytime. Some of those classes may be by celebrities (fitness celebrities likely), or involve something unique about them. All of which are accessible from the menu system:
Once you’re loaded up, you’ll see your main metric stats along the bottom. On the right-hand side you’ll see the names of others in your class (live). In some cases pre-recorded classes are re-played live at a specific time, enabling others to join in, thus increasing the group feeling.
Along the bottom those stats include: Incline, Pace (Speed), Heart Rate, Time, Calories, Distance, Total Elevation, Kilojoules, and Watts. Yes…running power. Shown in Watts.
It’s interesting to see them carry this metric over from the cycling side – and even more interesting will be to see what they’re doing with it in terms of structured workouts. But that’ll have to wait a bit.
You can also quick-tap the speed button to change the speed to predefined favorites:
With those quick basics out of the way, I jumped on and started at an easy walking pace, just to get the hang of things. The two dials were super easy to use, and a million times better than traditional treadmills with lots of button pressing (I had just done a treadmill workout on a crappy hotel gym treadmill the night before).
And then it was time to ramp it up. I oscillated a bit between 2-3MPH, before jumping to 6MPH. The treadmill reacted quickly, which was nice. Then I went back to about 3MPH before jumping up to 8MPH. Again, very clean and smooth acceleration. Certainly treadmill reaction time will vary by brand, but this just felt clean and efficient – no lag. I topped out around 9MPH or so, merely because the goal was not to draw too much attention to oneself. If it had been my way, I’d have seen what 12.5MPH felt like, a pace I ran the previous night doing intervals (thus I had fresh comparisons in mind).
But here’s the thing I quickly realized: Walking on it at 2-3MPH was very different than running on it at 8MPH. At 2-3MPH it mostly felt like a normal treadmill. Whereas at 8MPH it felt like running on broken tiles. It was a bizarre sensation. With the slat-design, each of the 59 individual slats is going to move slightly differently, so it doesn’t feel like running on a cohesive road.
I wouldn’t really describe any part of the running speed portion as desirable, at least for the short few hundred meters I ran. Perhaps like anything else, I’d get used to it over time. That’s 110% a possibility. But it was just a bizarre sensation, which again, the closest I can compare it to is like running across broken bathroom tiles. It certainly didn’t feel anything like running outdoors.
Of course, treadmills already don’t feel much like running outdoors. So in some ways, this is just a different feeling from what’s already a different feeling. It may be inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. And if I did a 40-minute workout, it’s entirely likely I’d stop noticing it.
Finally, after your workout, your run is uploaded to not only their platform but 3rd party ones like Strava.
There’s a few ways to look at the price of the Peloton Tread, all of which require some level of financial justification. The first way is to justify the higher price by assuming the components put it on-par with a higher end treadmill. Some might try and compare it to commercial gym treadmills which can run upwards of $10,000 or more. But, this isn’t designed as a commercial gym treadmill, it’s designed as a consumer treadmill. And most consumer treadmills of reputable build quality can be had in the $1,400-$2,000 range. Anything beyond that is mostly just fancy features and overkill (nothing wrong with overkill, but just stating a reality).
And in that line of thinking, the question gets to build quality of Tread, which isn’t something we’ll know for probably a year (since they don’t start shipping till fall). Their Peloton bike is well known in cycling industry circles as being of poor build quality compared to most indoor cycles. Cheap components primarily. But that actually doesn’t matter (mostly), because the stresses put on an indoor cycle in a home setting are incredibly low. There’s very few moving parts on such a bike, and it doesn’t need to withstand a commercial setting. So while the cheap components might annoy designers, from a business and consumer standpoint they’re perfectly functional.
So instead, one justifies the $4,000 price by including things like Tread’s display in there, and of course an element of rather pretty design compared to existing treadmills on the market. But one can’t include the service/platform as a justification of the treadmill price, because that’s separate – at $39/month. And, most that have used the platform would say it’s easily worth that cost.
“It’s called ‘fitness as a service.’ Everyone is going to pay $100 or $200 a month to have the best fitness equipment in their home. And whatever combination of devices you have, we’ll always be upgrading them. We’ll come in and swap out the latest bike or the latest treadmill or the latest something else to make sure you always have 10-out-of-10 equipment.”
And here’s the thing: He’s 110% right.
Except on the ‘everyone’ part. But the gist of what he’s saying is correct, even if it’ll be a wee bit less inclusive than the literal ‘everyone’.
Right now countless people pay easily that much for gym memberships each month, and that often ignores things like classes, and has you using the same old crappy equipment that I used the night before. In CEO John Foley’s vision, they’re getting you evergreen fitness equipment in your own home, and extending instructors to your home. They know from their 150,000 paying customers on Peloton bikes, that experience is incredibly addictive. Far more than convincing people to go to (and pay for) the gym every month for years. If they can indeed tweak the model to whereby you own nothing but still perceive high levels of value, it’ll no doubt be successful. After all, it’s the direction the software industry has taken in recent years. Be it Spotify or Microsoft, Zwift or TrainerRoad, everyone has shifted to the ‘as a service’ model.
And if Foley and his team can figure out the right pricing for that model inclusive of equipment like Tread and the bike, then I suspect we’ll see them become far more popular than they already are.
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