Echelon Fit app and membership: barriers limit its appeal to newbies (thoughts from a casual spinner)

and the barriers aren’t just about cost…

Like many Americans I am chronically over-pressed for time. I have the desire to get in shape but critically lack the sustained motivation needed to ensure that my earnest beginnings solidify into a consistent regimen. When the pinch happens and I have to choose between a required customer teleconference, or needing to leave work early and fight traffic for 1.5 hours to see my child’s choral concert, that 30 minute exercise block I had scheduled is always going to be the first casualty.

I don’t regret this either – in order for an exercise routine to work it has to make a person want to return. In my case that means enough for me to get up earlier, or hyper-optimize my work schedule. Even if you don’t feel immediately “fitter” from a workout routine, you should feel both that it was enjoyable and that you want to come back again and again to it. This is why spin classes seem to have caught on in the US recently; call it a fad but it’s logical to see why some good pumping music and getting shout outs of encouragement from the instructor can motivate you to pedal for 45+ minutes.

This looks at least kinda fun right? (Photo credit: Rich McFadden)

However I am an introvert, and motivating to go any farther than 2 or 3 flights of stairs away to exercise at this moment in my life is not going to happen frequently. I can be honest about this. and it’s important to know and be honest with yourself, to know what things might stick. Thus I started looking for a way to experience spin for myself in a way that worked for me. I had heard all about Peloton from the tech sites, and thought it sounded great, even with the very high price of the bike and that, naturally, I’d get to it eventually

The motivator (AKA the doctor visit)

So when I next had my ‘you need to lose weight’ conversation with my doctor became ‘you’re borderline diabetic’, the motivation was there, and the spin option was a logical place to start. I found a great web page on doing spin on the cheap, and got myself a nice but relatively inexpensive bike. I really like the bike I ended up getting from Amazon (affiliate link), modulo the fact that being out of shape I also needed some inexpensive some padded shorts (affiliate link) to protect my bottom. Otherwise I was all set to go.

There are of course many ways to take a remote spin class, including various Youtube channels, but I liked the idea of an on-demand set of courses. Peloton was the obvious place to start, and I felt like the experience clicked into place well for my setup. Pricing for using the on-demand couses via the Peloton app when using your own (non-Peloton) bike is $20 a month, a nice way to slide into becoming more healthy. The course instructors were universally attractive and positive, had lots of motivational things to say during the workouts, and overall it was just a very enjoyable experience to drop into a previously-recorded (but still recent) course whenever time allowed, and not have to worry about my ‘leaderboard position’.

As I’ve gotten more regular at doing spin, I started to think about buying a better bike and getting the Peloton full membership. That costs $40 instead of 20, but the real concern was the $2500 up-front cost for the bike. Yes there is financing, but taking on (more) debt does not sound appealing. Then I heard about Echelon’s alternative bike and program, and wanted to give it a try before I committed to the Peloton roadmap. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have hoped…

Echelon app and classes and the music – the good

The initial impression I got was not good, because I went to the Google Play store and found the app at a meager 3.2 star rating. Still I pressed on as I am tech savvy. I knew things would not work in the app without the bike connectivity, but I still wanted to see what the classes were like. Would it match up with Peloton?

Let’s talk about the good stuff first, because happily there is a lot of that. Signing up was very easy, there are free trials for some (though not all) of the membership options, and there were lots of recent spin classes to choose from for the interval and style I wanted. Also, the music during my trial sessions was downright amazing. I believe Peloton was sued and has since limited the music diversity; it may be just the classes I’ve happened to choose, but I really preferred the music during my sample Echelon sessions. They even have a course named “Running down a dream”, how can you beat that?

Lots of filter options

I will say the instructors in Echelon did not look quite as much like sculpted objects of perfection as the Adonises in the Peloton classes, but they were certainly in great shape, made lots of shout outs to riders and really seemed to enjoy motivating their remote ‘students’. The Android app surprisingly felt every bit as good as the Peloton in terms of polish, and after each session I got an email of my stats: all 0’s of course, because I don’t have their bike. But I liked what they were going for.

Bike connectivity and app issues – the bad

Now we have to go back to those reviews in the Play Store. I wasn’t worried about setup issues necessarily, I was worried about the fact that the Echelon bike does not come with its own tablet, you have to use your own. You can buy an iPad from them to use with the bike, but I can’t imagine there is anything special about its setup.

Regardless, as I only use Android phones, the Play store reviews matter most to me. And there were lots of complaints about losing connectivity and complete app crashes and unresponsiveness. This was highly concerning to me, thinking back on all the issues I had trying to get my random cadence sensor working with my phone at the same time as the Peloton app. I eventually just gave up on the sensor and guessed my cadence from watching the instructor pedal and the music beat. But forking out $900 for a bike with these same issues as I already have did not sound enticing.

The overall sense I get from the reviews is that the app is OK and improving but it’s not quite yet on par with its iOS sibling. So if you are exclusively an iOS user, you may not have as bad a time with the bike and connectivity that I seemed to be destined for, had I bought the bike.

Also in case you didn’t know your phone wasn’t connected to the bike, you will definitely be reminded of it constantly during your session.

Pricing and uncertainty – the ugly

The hardest aspect of motivating to make the leap to try out the bike is the membership plans for Echelon. There are currently 9 separate subscription options, albeit mostly for the same few options paid over a different interval. But the descriptions are vague, and I didn’t find out until it was too late that the lowest tier option ($20) does not include most of the on-demand classes. In fact I couldn’t find one at all – some of the results which came up were not greyed out, but on clicking them I was still told to upgrade my memvership plan. Ugh. I could take a live class, but I didn’t want a live class, I wanted on-demand.

To confirm this I then signed up for the “UNLIMITED Live Classes Monthly Plan + FitPass” option at the $40 monthy level, and the app did immediately allow me access to the on-demand classes. This is fine, but now we’re back in Peloton-level pricing and I dont even have the bike yet! Also something about the subscription web page reminded me of Movie Pass too much. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me being too sensitive.

At the end of the day, I didn’t get high enough confidence from the app reviews and concerns about consistency between the bike and their app, as well as the website and relative expense for membership in order to take the plunge and order the Echelon bike. If I’m forking out $40 a month for classes, the Peloton seems like the bike which will be around longer and a better investment, even if those rockin’ tunes make me want to give the Echelon a try.

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