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I Joined a Cult Called Peloton

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

By Rachel Levy Lesser

Spoiler alert: I love it.

Last March when the world shut down, I found myself in my basement, alone, on my yoga mat. I know that sounds pleasant to some, but the quiet time was quite fleeting, as I was summoned up the basement stairs countless times to help fix the internet, the printer, or a grilled cheese sandwich to whichever kid was demanding it. (These kids are, incidentally, teenagers and should be able to fix their own grilled cheese sandwiches, but I indulge them.)

Like everyone else, I found myself out of sorts, missing my pre-pandemic life. I missed seeing my friends; I missed leaving my house, going to my local coffee shop to write, and attending classes at my local yoga studio. When real-life yoga classes were no longer viable, one of my friends suggested I download the yoga app from Peloton, the iconic exercise bike that has developed a fanatical following. It was free and they had amazing yoga classes, or so she said.

I downloaded the app and practiced yoga nearly every morning, in my basement, before the printer (and my inbox) got jammed. The instructors kept me company. They seemed as proficient as my “real” teachers, and almost like my real friends.

After the free trial was up, I was roped into a paying contract. And then I started listening to the cycling classes on my phone during long walks through my neighborhood and the local park. The weather was warming up, and I needed to be outside. I know it sounds strange to listen to the audio of hardcore cycling classes as I walked alone in nature, but I am not the hardcore-cycling-class type. I am not really hardcore anything. In fact, I might be the least competitive person on the planet. This must be why I prefer yoga, taking long walks by myself, and playing tennis with my daughter without keeping score.

As I told friends about my new love for the Peloton app and my walks with my new cycling instructors, they told me I had to get the bike.

“It will change your life.”

“It’s the best thing ever.”

“I am obsessed.”

Or so they said.

I didn’t want to change my life, and I definitely did not want to get obsessed with something, especially “a bike that goes nowhere,” which is the quaint description of the magical bike, as Peloton devotees often say.

As the weather turned colder, and impending snowstorms loomed in the forecast, I realized that I couldn’t walk outside all winter long. I caved. I ordered a bike (ahem, the bike) as a holiday, you-almost-made-it-through-2020 present to myself.

I know it sounds strange to listen to the audio of hardcore cycling classes as I walked alone in nature, but I am not the hardcore-cycling-class type. I am not really hardcore anything.

The bike arrived late one Friday afternoon. I took my first real Peloton ride (that’s what they call it) early Saturday morning. I hopped on the bike sluggishly, only prepared to break a light sweat, and listen to some good music. But, after nearly spraining my left ankle trying to clip into the pedals with the special shoes, I was already sweating. I told myself that I would take it easy. I didn’t have to do exactly what the teacher told me, and I certainly wouldn’t acquiesce to any shout-outs, motivational speeches, or fancy hill-climbing goals.

By the end of the 30-minute, classic-rock ride, my arms were raised high in the air as I proclaimed my love and gratitude for my teacher/fearless leader Denis Morton. I brought my hands down, clasped in front of my chest, and said a prayer (to whom, I am not sure), and then recited the hashtags that I’d heard my Peloton-obsessed friends say — the phrases I used to secretly make fun of.

“We can do hard things!”

“Together we go far!”

“We can! We do!”

It’s been two months since I’ve had the bike that goes nowhere in my basement. Spoiler alert: I am obsessed. I love it. It hasn’t changed my life yet, but that’s okay.

I have never been to a Grateful Dead concert, but I feel like I have after experiencing Jenn Sherman’s 45-minute Grateful Dead ride. I was told that I was tone deaf as a child, and yet somehow I sounded amazing while belting out “Box of Rain” (and nailing the harmonies). I sounded just as good later in the week, singing along to the Hamilton and Wicked soundtracks on those Broadway-themed rides. I couldn’t help but feel like a star on Broadway (in my basement).

I’ve gotten to know a few of my favorite Peloton teachers. Admittedly, a mild obsession has formed. I think Jenn Sherman would actually make it as my real-life friend. Emma Lovewell seems to just get me, as she stares encouragingly, her long hair cascading down her shoulders. Ally Love is basically my spiritual leader. I would love to go out dancing with Cody Rigsby when the world opens up again. Sam Yo makes me feel like I am a part of his own special tribe.

Being averse to competition, I don’t pay too much attention to the leaderboard. I am often too lost in the music, and my own mechanics, to worry about what other riders are doing. I am a rule-follower; as such, I stay in the resistance and cadence ranges that my instructors/new BFFs advise. But it is fun to see my real-life friends’ names on the screen when they drop into the same class as me. Every now and then we high five (virtually). I’ll even get an occasional high five from a stranger when I have a streak going. That felt a little creepy at first, but now I am joyously embracing strangers named RidesForWine and SweatyMamaTwo.

I can no longer make fun of my Peloton-obsessed friends, because I have become one of them. I feel as though I have joined a cult, and that doesn’t surprise me, as I have been known to adhere to other cult-like settings, i.e. camps, sororities, book clubs, and yoga classes. (I have to remind myself to stay vigilant for the crazy, nefarious cults that are turned into Netflix documentaries, because I might be a prime target.)

For now, I am elated to be in my basement, by myself, singing out loud, on a bike — a bike that truly goes nowhere. But, guess what? Together, we go far! Oh, and also, we can do hard things!


Rachel Levy Lesser is the author of Life’s Accessories, A Memoir (And Fashion Guide). Her work has appeared in the Huffington Post, Glamour, Parenting, Modern Loss, Kveller and more. When not writing, Rachel can be found baking, as she hosts a show on A Mighty Blaze where she interviews cookbook authors and bakes along with them in her home kitchen. (She still lets her teenage kids lick the bowl.) Rachel is also forever practicing yoga, knitting scarves and wearing them, indoors.