Inside the Peloverse
Peloton’s internet is vast, but easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. God knows I found myself alone through many sprints before I discovered the Facebook group that first sucked me up.
Like thousands of other cyclists, I had bought my bike for $ 1,900 at the height of the pandemic, hoping to stop my quarantine slide into laziness. But in the bike I also found an unexpected ticket to a strange virtual universe – a universe where upbeat, attractive and ambitious people punctuate each of their sentences with exclamation marks and build elaborate, hand-crafted shrines to Peloton. in the basements and playrooms of their sun-drenched suburban homes.
By my calculations, there are at least 300 Facebook groups dedicated to Peloton, some with hundreds of thousands of members. Peloton can also claim a 165,000-person subreddit, at least one unofficial podcast, news aggregator, endurance training forum, and a small battalion of TikTok fan accounts and Etsy stores. Hundreds of Pinterest users have boards dedicated to the design and decoration of Peloton’s home studios, for those who have the extra square footage to give the bike its own room. Meanwhile, an Instagram account with 3,700 followers is asking for photos of the toned buttocks of runners (mostly female), often clad in Peloton-branded spandex, which start at $ 68.
All the cult fitness brands have online followings, but Peloton’s is more than a fandom: it’s an essential part of the company’s corporate identity, a lifeline for thousands of cyclists and, increasingly, the secret sauce that separates Peloton from a booming internet domain. connected competitors. “This brand has really become integrated into the lifestyles of individuals,” said Dr. Jenna Jacobson, assistant professor of retail management at Ryerson University, who has an upcoming study on the social communities around them. fitness brands. “Peloton’s sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic, in part because of consumers’ commitment to fitness, yes, but also because of that sense of community and the connectivity it offers to users. who are left home alone, unable to connect. ”
‘Connection’ has always been one of Peloton’s main buzzwords, dating back to the 2013 show where founder and CEO John Foley made his debut with the bike under the slightly maudlin slogan ‘you’ll never ride alone’. Two years later, in 2015, the company launched an official Facebook group, which now has over 405,000 members.
But don’t bother with the official pages, managed by Peloton, which runners regularly browse for their unprovoked gut dramas and their fixation on the personal lives of Peloton instructors. The real action takes place away from the brilliant glow of official groups, where users have had a blast in a rapidly expanding universe of volunteer-run – and often fantastically niche – affinity pages. On Facebook, in particular, there are groups for Peloton clergy, Peloton horse girls, and Peloton nurse anesthetists. Peloton Boujee Bs – short for “bourgeois bitches” – serves as the Internet home for those very close female Peloton owners who would also like to solicit luxury car recommendations and debate the merits of real diamonds versus lab-grown diamonds. The tone of these groups is generally upbeat, much like Peloton itself: reports of broken personal bests (called PRs) and defeated rides, punctuated with mirror selfies, #pelopups, and screenshots of the app. Platoon.
On Reddit, meanwhile, a slightly more serious crowd – “we seek to embody the very spirit of the sport,” sings its description – swap training tips, resolve common hardware issues, and broadcast a constant stream of information and gossip about Peloton. the apparent worsening of the mother vessel. On Instagram, fan accounts with names like @pelotonmemes_ overlay all-caps jokes about tough classes on stills from Schitt Creek and Bridgerton. On Etsy – which counts only weakly as an online community, but whose deals are so wonderfully on the nose – at least 50 stores sell T-shirts screened with a variation of the phrase “Peloton / Wine / Repeat” , while a store in Texas sells honest-to-goodness Cody Rigsby prayer candles.
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Mega-instructors like Rigsby – who, with over half a million Instagram followers, has become an influencer in their own right – have also come to Peloton’s internet regularly, showing up to AMAs in Facebook groups or sending to repetitive students of DM and -five. For Meghan Valvano, the chief moderator of the 82,000-member Peloton women’s page, this kind of surprisingly personal instructor engagement was her initiation into this world. Since then, she has met friends from her Facebook group for dinner or a drink, and now counts her four fellow “mods” among her best friends. They talk “constantly, every day” – but have never met in person.
It all sounds like a lot, I admit. And it’s. I now belong to dozens of Peloton fan groups, and my desire to capture the cringey posts of America’s rich white class and cul-de-sac led me to join at least half of them. them. But like in any online space, fandom researcher and theorist Casey Fiesler told me, like-minded people are required to forge deep and lasting connections that have little to do with the topic they’re on. drew online initially. Such is the Peloton Internet, where conversations can start with Alex Touissant’s latest hip-hop tour playlist, then turn to extremely intimate topics: miscarriages and menopause, cancer diagnoses and bullied children, anxiety disorders, unemployment and racial justice.
The riders met on the pages of the Peloton and got married. Others have revealed secrets to distant Lycra-clad strangers that they would never divulge in person. Away from Pelowinos and Boujee Bs, there are also Facebook groups dedicated to cyclists with alcoholism, eating disorders and children with special needs. “The Peloton community has been a savior to me, honestly,” said Kimberly Abild, 36, who described the pain of her husband’s recent infidelity and her father’s serious illness, in a message to the official Peloton group. . last December. The post quickly racked up over 6,000 likes; Platoon even sent flowers. “Everyone is so positive, so encouraging – at first it was really impressive, but in a great way,” said Abild. “Honestly, I’ve never experienced anything like this.”
As The Stunt With The Flowers might suggest, Peloton strives to exploit the connections between their fans online for their own benefit. Many of them, after all, are essentially providing the brand’s free marketing and customer service at a time when thousands of new runners face maddening expectations just to receive their gear. Last April, for example, Peloton launched ranking hashtags – an integrated way for users to work with off-platform groups – in response to the rapid growth of grassroots communities on social media. Peloton also regularly sends cards and gifts to runners like Abild, said Jayvee Nava, vice president of the company’s community, and encourages its instructors to hug their fans online, even helping some of its big-name stars. to manage their social pages.
Here, too, the fandom’s ardor can be intense, acknowledged Matty Maggiacomo, a former bubbling news anchor who teaches running and strength classes on the Peloton platform and serves as director of instructor engagement at the society. “It’s fascinating what people want to tell you,” Maggiacomo said, especially since the start of the pandemic. The runners sent her long, heartfelt Instagram posts about their relationships and their kids. Like many fitness instructors, Maggiacomo misses the moment when he stayed after class to talk with his regulars. “Instead of that person-to-person connection,” he said, “it’s the surrogate.”
But Peloton’s internet faces challenges, as does Peloton itself. If all of these heartfelt messages and cult memes are truly substitutes for face-to-face interaction, then they will go away when normal life resumes. If the alternative is true, however, and Peloton continues to grow – it added nearly a million paying members last year – then the company and its fandom will need to figure out how to evolve their particular brand of privacy. online, which by definition should not evolve.
Already, Peloton fan groups are overflowing with commentary threads strategizing to win over screaming instructors in increasingly crowded classrooms. Many groups have added new moderators over the past year to keep up with the growing membership and weed out trolls and histrionics. In r / pelotoncycle, which has added 130,000 members since the start of the pandemic and now sees more than five million hits each month, four moderators spend hours each day on the subreddit, in addition to the time they spend on the bike itself and their day jobs.
Yet, said moderator Koko Odya, the community keeps them there – and will remain so long after the pandemic is over. Odya doesn’t even own a Peloton bike; she takes lessons on a television or tablet mounted on her Keizer M3, a popular DIY alternative. “It’s become bigger than becoming better athletes,” she said. “Last year, more than any other, people really needed that extra connection.” And whether you are a horse rider or an anesthetist, Peloton’s Internet can provide it for you.
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