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or…. My trip to the Mothership

Next time you’re in Manhattan, you really need to try out the Peloton studio, located in Chelsea. I headed to the Mothership this summer for my first in-studio ride. If you are anywhere near NYC, I would definitely recommend you give it a try, and if not, well, here’s at least one person’s experience…

I happen to live in the Philadelphia area (Go Birds!), so it was very easy for me to take the Keystone Amtrak train up to Penn Station. From there, it was maybe a 15 minute walk to the Peloton studio. Piece of cake. The funny thing is, when my wife (#ExcellentBird) was doing our advance scouting, she called the studio and was given the impression that it was a rather long walk and that maybe we’d want to get an Uber or cab. I would hope that anyone planning on doing a spin class can walk a half dozen blocks to get there.

The Peloton Studio

The studio is in the Chelsea area of the city, a fairly nice area as cities go, I suppose. I noticed that there is a macaron store and at least two donut shops on the same block as Peloton, so anyone who is interested in practicing self-licensing will have no trouble there.

We arrived about 45 minutes early for the 11:30 ride we planned to take. That’s earlier than anyone should need to come, but it’s just how it worked out with the train. At that time of day (at least, that day, a Monday), the midday rides were walk-in rides. You can’t make a reservation, but then again they didn’t cost anything, either. (In fact, a conversation I had with a fellow rider suggested to me that you don’t need to be a Peloton member to drop in for the walk-in classes. Free spin classes for non-subscribers seems like an incredible deal to me!) And since we were so early, we got the prime bikes to be seen on camera (that’s me, #LeftShark, front and center on Denis’ 11:30am 7/9 ride and again on JJ’s 12:30am ride the same day. #ExcellentBird is to my left).

You enter through a small gift shop, which features the same sort of Peloton merch you see offered on the website. You may wonder how much fashionable workout wear one actually needs considering that we’re all generally alone in our basements while spinning, but considering the prices in the shop (and the frequent emails we get showing off all the new styles) I have to assume that it’s a profit center.

Beyond the gift shop / storefront there is a reception area. This is a short hallway with a something like a concierge station on the right. Ahead of you is the blonde-wood wall with the Peloton logo cut out of it that you see in everyone’s photos (including the one accompanying this post). Turn to the left at the end of this short hall and you are in the waiting area.

On the wall to your left as you enter the waiting area, a flat-screen TV broadcasts the current ride in more or less real time (actually a second or two behind — you can hear the sound coming from the studio, and it’s a bit out of sync). There are few small chrome and black leather sofas in the room, and riders waiting for their classes sit here and there to kill the time. In the far corner is a table where you could set up your laptop and get a little work in as you wait.

The waiting area also has a bar that offers up all sorts of beverages with exotic (and probably caffeinated) ingredients. I did not avail myself of it (and I didn’t see it get much use while I was there, but then again it was mid-morning on a weekday) so I can’t really comment on the dining experience.

Beyond the waiting area is a hallway that leads toward the back of the building. On the left as you walk down are the large double-doors leading to the studio. On the right is the locker room, and at the end of the hall is the “staff only” door leading to, among presumably other things, the “green room” for the instructors.

Overall, the look is New York Modern, with a fair bit of Apple Store-style blonde wood, and everything seems to be well maintained. The locker room, in particular, seems to be fairly new and both clean and well-lit. It doesn’t have terribly high capacity, considering that at the end of class there are conceivably fifty people looking to shower, but it seems that many of the riders show up in their riding clothes and leave that way — perhaps they’re locals.

One thing that struck me when visiting was the number of people on staff at Peloton. I had really expected a much smaller crew: maybe one person in the room to hand out towels, another working the cameras, and the instructor. I didn’t make a count, but there was at least one person in the storefront, two at reception, one barista, and a half-dozen or more people with “staff” t-shirts doing everything from tidying up the locker room to standing watch outside the studio door. Understaffed this place was not.

Setting up… don’t forget, you’ll need your password to log into the bike!

The In-Studio Ride

About ten minutes before the class was to begin, one of the staffers at the studio door invited us in. We made our way into the room, which felt more 3D than I expected. The instructor’s bike is on a podium (I think that’s obvious to the at-home rider) and there are three rows of bikes (about fifty or so in all), with the back two rows also on risers. Again, you can see all of this on the videos, but the multiple levels is more striking in person.

The room is cold, which is no bad thing considering how many people can be in there and that everyone’s working up a sweat. It’s also as loud as a nightclub, and that’s probably the thing about the in-studio ride that surprised me the most.

Well, actually, the thing that surprised me the most is how small all of the Peloton instructors are. They’re teeny! I have taken a lot of Denis’ “beyond the ride” classes, and when he is standing alone in a room there are no reference points to measure size except his body proportions. I figured Denis was going to be a giant, when in fact he’s just about my height (5’8” or so). He’s pretty chiseled, too (and I’m not), so although I came in thinking that he was going to be huge, it turns out that he could probably effectively hide behind me. Strange.

Jennifer Jacobs was even smaller. And near the end of our visit, Jess King walked by me in the hallway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the smallest of all. The way the studio and cameras are set up, it is very difficult to judge such things. I would have bet that all of the instructors were at least my size, but now that I know how tall I am relative to the cutout in the wall in the entryway I can see that at 5’8” I might just be taller than any of them!

One of the larger Peloton employees stood, bouncer-style, in front of the podium, with his back to the instructor. ExcellentBird said to me later she was surprised that it seemed that security was needed for the instructor, but I think what they’re really protecting was the timeline. After all, the instructors meet—unescorted— with riders after class, but in the studio they pretty obviously don’t want you trying to engage the instructors. They have a schedule to keep, and it’s pretty clear that time in the studio drives everything else. There’s more or less 15 minutes scheduled between classes, and that’s just about exactly how long it takes to get the last group out, replenish the towels and water bottles, get the next group in, and get weights handed out, etc. You can hear often in the on-demand rides an instructor talking about taking photos or chatting after class. The key word here is AFTER, once we’re all clear of the studio room.

I rode bike 7, the one you see to the right of the instructor (the instructor’s left). I can tell you that it is not calibrated like my bike at home. I did two rides that day, one was a PR and the other would have been. I don’t know if the bikes loosen up with use, but it was considerably faster than my bike at home.

The stripped-down interface of the in-studio bikes keeps your focus on the instructor and not the display.

The bikes in the studio are like my bike at home, though very well-used. The screens are similar to the ones the instructors used to have, considerably smaller than the ones on the at-home bikes. The screens show you your instantaneous cadence, output and resistance, but no averages, so it’s difficult to gauge your progress against your PR. You also get a leaderboard, but you only see the in-studio riders. I don’t remember if I tried to high-five anyone on the leaderboard, but my guess is that that’s not a feature enabled in-studio. In any case, you have no awareness of your overall leaderboard position or who is riding at home. (The instructor, of course, sees everyone, and can tell who is in studio because in-studio riders are listed in orange instead of white on their display).

Speaking of high-fives, one of the surprises of my trip was actually how little interaction I had with my fellow riders. My Peloton alter ego is a pretty outgoing guy, generous with the high-fives, following and followed by many. Oddly, the “pelo-fam” vibe didn’t really seem to carry into real life. I mean, this is New York, after all.

For one thing, the studio is very loud, as I mentioned before. There is no having a conversation with anyone but maybe the rider next to you. Also, there is no way to know who is who. On my second ride, I was a distant second to the top rider (whose name escapes me), and I looked around the room to see if I could figure out who it was but there are no clues to be had. Also, I didn’t recognize the other riders’ names. That shouldn’t be surprising based on the number of Peloton members I suppose, but I ride a lot, and I see a lot of the same people every day. I got the distinct impression that the in-studio crowd and the at-home crowd are not the same people.

I could be wrong about that, but this impression was reinforced by the one other rider that I did chat up while I was there. I made the acquaintance of Joe who, as far as I could tell, was the only other person doing the morning classes back-to-back. Joe told me he lived fairly close by, and didn’t really seem to me to be into the Peloton culture — he was just there to get some exercise. He did know all of the other gyms and competing exercise venues in the area. All in all a pretty pleasant guy, but not really what I thought I was going to find.

Our first ride was with Denis, and the actual ride experience was pretty much what you’d get at home, except that you really felt like you had to put some effort in (at least if you’re on bike 7 you do) because if you start phoning it in Denis is literally RIGHT THERE to see you do it. So my PR on the ride was due at least to the fact that I was front and center in the room, no doubt.

There’s no talking with the instructor, as you might have guessed, but they definitely can see at least to the first row and there’s more interaction that you might think. The instructors absolutely seemed to gain energy from the riders, which was pretty fun.

After the Ride

After the class was over we all made our way, post haste, out of the studio. Even the instructors seemed to be hustled out of the room — time is money, people! Once back in the lobby everyone could relax a little. We got a photo with Denis and chatted with him a bit, and I noticed that he hung around quite a while after the ride, talking to others in the lobby. Since I think part of the “journey to the mothership” is meeting your favorite instructor(s), it was nice to see that after all that he didn’t rush off to whatever else he was planning to do that day.

We hung around for the fifteen minutes or so and then went back into the studio where we were greeted with fresh towels and new bottles of water (I still have my “Peloton Water” bottle as a souvenir). Next up was Jennifer Jacob’s ride, which went pretty much by the numbers (the way Denis’ did). I was pretty gassed after doing Denis’ ride, and wasn’t able to top my earlier effort (though the second ride would have been a PR for me if it weren’t for the first ride). After our ride with JJ it was back out to the lobby for some photos and a bit of chit-chat.

Mission accomplished, we walked back up to Penn Station (stopping at Whole Foods on the way for something to take with us on the train). We’ve already planned our return trip… in early October, #SaucyDawg and #CrunchyFrog are joining us for a studio invasion.

Speaking of early October, the reason why SaucyDawg and CrunchyFrog are going to be in town is because we are all riding in the Main Line Animal Rescue Gran Fondo on October 6th, and we’re looking for donations to help the dogs, cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, birds, and occasional hamsters there. MLAR is a very highly regarded no-kill animal shelter near us, and I have set a goal of raising $1000 this year. I’m very close to hitting that goal, but I’ve run out of friends and family to hit up, so I’m very hopeful that someone will read these blog posts and feel moved to make a donation. I’m a volunteer at this shelter, and I can tell you that I’ve seen first-hand all the good that even a modest donation can do.

All the information is at RideDogged.org. Please check it out.

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