My Hero's Journey to Peloton

First they laugh at you, then they want to buy you

Early last year, the face of an extremely terrified woman looked at me through the small window of the YouTube app on my phone. “Help me,” she said with her eyes. “I’m a little nervous but excited,” she said with her mouth as she got ready to use her new Peloton bike. 

The ad immediately caught flack in the media. “Unintentionally horrifying,” said Vox. Sexist and dystopian, said the New York Times. 

“I didn’t realize how much this would change me,” Grace from Boston says in the video, while the present-day couple smiles at the “changes” the Peloton has brought them. The Peloton looms in their open-plan dining area. 

Blanketed with ricidule, Peloton, a publicly-traded company, faced a steep stock fall. From last year: 

Peloton said Wednesday it is “disappointed” by the wildly negative response to a new holiday TV commercial for its exercise bikes that coincided with a 13% drop in the fledgling public company’s stock price since Monday.

I laughed right along with everyone else. It’s ridiculous, this desperate advertisement for a $2,000 piece of exercise equipment that’s the fitness junkie equivalent of the Snoo

In a Normcore universe, a number of questions loom. Why does a bike need to cost $2,000, plus monthly fees? Why does an exercise bike need an app or a data engineering team (presumably the existence of the data engineering team implies that the $2k cost covers part of the assuredly-existing Kafka cluster)? And why do you need to buy a whole new house whose sole purpose is looking good around the Peloton? 

As you can imagine, there is nothing about the Peloton, including the pricetag, the data tracking, or the connectivity,  for which I am a target audience.  

And so for months I disregarded the Peloton. The machine itself, the hype around it, the happy users with their multimillion dollar Peloton rooms, it was all not for me. 

But humankind, as you may know from reading this newsletter, is a multifaceted creature, a being of contradictions, a master of the cross-hatch. And something that humans particularly love is stories. Our whole ethos is built around stories, sharing stories, and sharing common experiences. Without stories, we are nothing. Many others have realized this throughout history, but the one man who really solidified this theory was Joseph Campbell in his work on the Hero’s Journey. He posits that there is one extremely common story throughout time, 

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Marketers understand this better than anyone, which is why they’ve come up with something called the “customer journey.” 

The customer journey is very much like the hero’s journey, except at the end, instead of slaying the Gorgon, you’re supposed to be exposed to so much hype about the Peloton that you buy a bike. 

And reader, I almost did. 

My Peloton Customer Journey started with the commercial, which I laughed at. Then, for many months I ignored Peloton because I was too busy trying not to have an anxiety attack in the early months of 2020.  But, as the pandemic wore on, I started focusing less on existential threats, and more on the fact that both my husband and I were working side-by-side from our basement. And, most of our days consisted (and still do) of two hours of childcare, followed by eight hours of silent work side-by-side in the basement, swiftly transitioning back into 3 more hours of childcare before collapsing numbly in front of the television, to wake up at 5 in the morning and do it all over again. And these are the good days when we have childcare for both kids. 

In this numbness, I realized that what I really needed was time and space for myself to work out. 

I started reading more and more stories about people buying Peletons. Gyms were closed. Its stock price was soaring. People like me started repenting and shamefacedly making their way down the customer journey map.

In May, I used money I’d saved to buy a Peloton bike — which starts at $2,245, plus $39 a month for the app — as a quarantine purchase for myself. Over the past few months, I’ve taken around 85 or so classes with multiple instructors. I can’t recommend that for everyone — fitness was and is a priority in my life, and your mileage may vary about the amount that you’re willing to spend. But I’m here to report that while Peloton and I can agree the commercial was a little off, I can also admit I was a little wrong about Peloton. 

I myself never envisioned that the bike was for me. And then I read Edith’s series of comics about how she got a Peloton. Edith, who used to run the wonderful women’s site The Hairpin (RIP), usually draws about pandemic life in New York City, knitting and going to farms, thinking about her life, a very reflective sort of comic. 

She wrote one comic about how she cried during a Peloton ride, and coming from anyone else, it would have seemed corny. But, I got it. For her, the bike was a form of connection in an immediately hostile world

For me, that one thing overcame the data collection (what are they doing with all that data, anyway?), the price tag, and my own personal embarrassment at suddenly wanting the very thing I laughed at all through the first couple months of 2020. 

But now, I was ready to buy a Peloton. 

I went on the website, and was immediately intimidated by the aggressively enthusiastic instructors there. 

Eastern Europeans are not happy in the best of circumstances, and, even more so, no one who sweats for an hour at a time in public can possibly be this exuberant, and is therefore suspect. 

I was not ready for this level of confidence, and I was also not ready to pay $2k for a machine I didn’t even know if I had time to use. So, I signed up for the Peloton app, which you can use without the bike. If I could do this, then I’d have time, after the kids went to bed, to do the Peloton, I thought. 

I could be like one of those people, in their happy Peloton room, wearing $100 workout pants, being aggressively happy. 

That did not go well.  Strike two. 

Finally, now battling myself,  I used the very fancy AR app that is embedded in the Peloton site to try to visualize the machine in my house.  It’s a very good app. And what I realized is that, in a house that we bought with my husband for two people ten years ago, and one that is now for four people and rapidly being taken over by toys, we have no Peloton nook, no single spare inch for a Peloton, let alone a Peloton palace. 

That’s three strikes. 

If you’re wondering how this particular hero’s journey ends, it ends in my living room, doing free YouTube low-impact aerobics videos and avoiding the baby’s toys while my daughter walks in halfway through, demanding yogurt. 

So much for Space and Sexiness. 

I still think about the Peloton sometimes, and how I almost became a Peloton person, but this is honestly probably just as good as it can get for me in 2020, and, as always, just as normcore. 

What I’m reading lately

  1. Good guy Russian hacker

  2. This thread on immigrant kids hits me 

  3. The engineering puzzle from hell

  4. ML datasets 2020

The Newsletter:

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The Author:

I’m a machine learning engineer. Most of my free time is spent wrangling a kindergartner and a toddler, reading, and writing bad tweets. Find out more here or follow me on Twitter.