Before the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent quarantine, I was an avid group fitness class attendee. I used my Classpass subscription to take all the local barre, yoga, and cycling classes my heart desired. The community, the accountability of signing up for a class, and someone telling you exactly what to do—it all made me a fitness class junkie. When I was forced to work out at home, I found it more difficult to motivate myself when there wasn’t a $15 cancellation fee looming over me.
So when I had the opportunity to test the Echelon Connect Bike, a “connected” stationary bike (very) similar to Peloton, I jumped out of the saddle to do so. I’ve been using the Echelon EX-5 bike for about a month now, and it has seriously upgraded my quarantine workout routine. Here’s what it’s like and how it compares to the competition that’s become a household name.
What is the Echelon Connect Bike?
At first glance, the Echelon bike appears nearly identical to the Peloton, but with less clout (and less of a cult following). It’s a stationary bike with a screen that allows you to take live and on-demand virtual spin classes with Echelon instructors from their studios in Chattanooga and Miami. Echelon offers additional workout classes such as barre, pilates, Zumba, and HIIT that are available through its FitPass membership.
How much is the Echelon bike?
Unlike the Peloton, Echelon has four bikes to choose from at various prices starting at $839.98 and going up to $1,639.98—all cheaper than the Peloton’s $2,245 bike (plus $39 per month for the class subscription).
The four bikes are:
- Connect EX-1 ($839.98), which is the most basic, with a comfortable seat, ergonomic handlebars, and a console that holds your own tablet on which to stream the classes.
- Connect EX-3 ($1,039.98), which has a more comfortable “competition” seat, indexing resistance adjustment that resets to zero after each use, a more powerful motor, and a weight rack on the seat slide, but still no integrated screen.
- Connect EX-5 ($1,239.98), which has an upgraded Aero handlebar system, a built-in 21-inch touchscreen display that flips 180 degrees, two handlebar-mounted bottle holders, and a weight rack behind the seat.
- Connect EX-5s ($1,639.98), is nearly identical to the EX-5, but has a high-definition, 21.5-inch touchscreen display that also flips, kick guards on the frame stabilizer weldments, and power ports at the front and rear for charging your phone while you pedal.
Unlike Peloton’s one membership option that costs $39 a month, Echelon also offers several membership options at different prices:
- Connect Monthly for $34.99 a month, which offers on-bike classes only
- Connect + FitPass Monthly for $39.99, which packages bike classes with additional workouts, such as HIIT, pilates, and more
- Connect Yearly for $399.99, which includes the bike and additional workout classes and averages to about $33 per month, but requires you to pay the total upfront
Echelon also offers its non-equipment classes in a standalone workout app called FitPass Monthly, which costs $19.99 a month. This is not as good a deal as paying $12.99 a month for Peloton’s standalone app, if only because you can still do the Peloton bike classes using the app on a non-Peloton bike if you want.
Echelon bikes may also be purchased using financing through Affirm. The one-year terms have zero interest, but if you opt for a longer pay-off term of 18 months or 36 months, you’ll have to cough up an extra 10 percent in interest. (Peloton’s bikes are still pricier, but its 39-month financing is interest-free.) Additionally, if you don’t pre-pay for your first year of classes, you have to pay a $199.99 “premium delivery” fee (which is Echelon’s fancy term for “shipping”—mine came UPS Ground).
There are some accessories you might want like weights ($15 to $25), cycle shoes ($99.99), heart rate monitors ($79.99), Bluetooth headphones ($200), and a workout mat ($49.99), that can be purchased separately from or at Echelon.
Which Echelon bike should you get?
I tested the Echelon EX-5 model, which costs $1,239.98, plus the class subscription, plus $199.99 for shipping, unless it’s included in the bike-plus-class package that you select. It’s the company’s best-seller, with a 21-inch touchscreen (slightly smaller than Peloton’s 22-inch screen).
All of the bike models work more or less the same, but the EX-1 and EX-3 don’t have included displays, so you’ll need to buy a tablet and install the Echelon app, then connect the bike to your tablet using Bluetooth so your stats are displayed. The actual exercise experience doesn’t differ much between the models, so unless you want the bells and whistles of a bigger screen and other upgrades, you can let your budget be your guide.
What’s it like to set up the Echelon Bike?
One immediate (if fleeting) pain point of the Echelon Bike was that it does not come with “white glove” delivery like some of its competitors—i.e., you need to assemble it yourself. Naturally, I enlisted some help from my mother. Once the Echelon was delivered, the two of us lugged the 100-pound box up to my second-floor apartment and were sufficiently winded after.
Moving the bike was more challenging than assembling it, though. Echelon provides all the tools you need to put the bike together and we easily screwed in the seat, handlebar, and pedals. The only part that gave me pause was attaching the screen, which involved unscrewing a panel to attach a cable, then reattaching the panel. However, the pictures shown didn’t match up with the written directions, so I messed up this step twice before successfully completing it.
My mom was convinced that the heavy bike would break through the floor of my older apartment building, but it has not yet, so it’s safe to say my floors are sturdier than we thought.
What’s it like to work out with the Echelon Bike?
It was easy to get into the swing of making the Echelon a part of my daily workout routine. Each day I would hop on the bike at 7 a.m., and with no commute to a fitness studio, I was able to get some extra sleep. Akin to booking fitness classes, I could set reminders on the Echelon app for specific live classes as well. Also, having a huge bike in your bedroom is a great motivator to actually use it.
The classes are fun and engaging, and I felt the time flying by. I already have my favorite classes (Fusion 45, Power 30) and favorite instructors (Jama, Nicole, Dallas, and Rilde) after using it for a month.
What I like most about the Echelon is all the data you received. On the screen, it shows your cadence (how fast you’re going), resistance (how hard you’ve set the friction on the flywheel), and output (combined cadence and resistance). Throughout classes, instructors suggest the cadence and resistance you should aim for, but more often than not, they say to be at a “moderate,” “challenging,” “hard,” or “all-out” level. Initially, it bothered me that they didn’t say explicitly what number level you should be hitting, but over time I learned to like it as it allowed all skill levels to compete without feeling judged.
You can also look back on your data, which is very motivating to try to challenge yourself to improve with each ride. I can be quite competitive with myself and I’ve already seen a major improvement in my total output after just a few short weeks.
Like Peloton and Flywheel classes, there’s also a leaderboard that ups the ante for competition, but if competition isn’t your style, you have the option to mute the leaderboard. I liked that this gave a sense of community despite technically riding alone, and it was fun to hear everyone’s names called out during live classes, too.
You can also opt to take scenic rides, which I’ve only done once or twice. They’re not as intense or as fun as the classes, but it was a nice escape to imagine I was biking through Maui instead of being stuck in my apartment.
It should be noted that I used the Shimano SPD spin shoes I already owned for all these rides, which I felt made for a more quality ride compared to using sneakers that are looser in the pedals. The Echelon bike pedals are SPD-compatible, so you can purchase your own spin shoes for a smoother ride, but you can also use regular old sneakers and tighten them into the pedals, if you don’t feel like making the investment yet.
What’s the difference between live and on-demand Echelon classes?
Typically, I chose to do on-demand classes because I could pick any class I want on my schedule. Most rides have music themes like emo, alternative, indie, hip-hop, and I even attended one class with a live DJ, which gave it a dance-club vibe that I liked. While the leaderboard isn’t in real-time, you still get the ability to compare your performance against everyone who has ever taken the class before, live or on-demand.
That said, live Echelon classes have a different energy. There’s nothing quite like hearing, “We have Coco in the house!,” (my Echelon screen name) or having an instructor call you out to lead the pack for a sprint. This is also something that would never happen in an in-person studio class, as the instructor usually has no idea who you are unless you’ve made a personal connection to them prior to the class. Depending on what time you take them, classes can range from 20 people to over a 100, though I found most were around 50 participants—a much smaller number than Peloton’s usual hundreds if not thousands of attendees, but also way better odds for getting some personalized instructor love.
What are the downsides of the Echelon Connect Bike?
As much as I’ve loved my experience with the Echelon Connect Bike, I noticed a few issues with it. The water bottle holder on the EX-5 sits directly under the large display, so my tall 25-ounce S’well bottle hit the screen every time I reached for it, or I had to shift it around diagonally to get it out. Either way, the placement made it a less-than-fluid motion to hydrate myself.
Additionally, I found that the resistance lever can be a bit wonky. Sometimes I needed to over-crank it to raise the resistance a point and other times I found twisting it just a little overshot the resistance I was aiming for. I wish it was a little smoother, but this was a minor inconvenience that didn’t ruin my experience of the ride.
Finally, I had the issue once where my WiFi cut out in the middle of a live class, so I had to rejoin, which reset my total output to zero. This problem isn’t specific to Echelon, but it is a pitfall of working out with streaming classes in general.
How do Echelon classes compare to in-person studio spin classes?
I found Echelon classes to be harder and higher quality than most studio cycling classes I’ve taken in the past at SoulCycle and Turnstyle. I feel like a lot of in-person classes focus on pedaling to the beat of the music and bobbing around with “push-ups” and “crunches,” which look cool but aren’t necessarily the best workout. Plus, those classes are always so hot, which has me wondering if I’m sweating because of the workout or because there are so many bodies around me.
And thanks to all the data provided by the Echelon screen (something in-person SoulCycle bikes, for example, don’t have), I can see just how hard I’m working and decide if I can push myself a little bit further to pass one more person on the leaderboard before the end of class. I typically take 45-minute classes, which are on par with the length on an in-studio class, but I’ve found the 20- and 30-minute classes to be equally challenging and push you harder as you have less time to get your sweat on.
How does Echelon’s FitPass work?
I supplemented all the cardio from the cycling classes with other classes using Echelon’s FitPass. There aren’t as many on-demand or live classes featured compared to the hundreds of bike classes available, but there are still dozens of FitPass classes to choose from.
It was nice to pop into a 30-minute HIIT class or a 20-minute yoga class in the morning, and I found that the classes were challenging, restorative, or just good cross-training to add to the mix. My only qualm: When selecting a class, you don’t know what to expect. The descriptions are vague, sometimes only listing the music that’s played. In one case, I hopped into a pilates class expecting some core work, only to have it focused on “spinal strength.” So it can be a bummer to waste time and leave a class when it’s not what you wanted.
You can access the classes via an app on your phone, but I found the workouts difficult to follow because the instructor appears very small on my iPhone screen. But the Echelon bike’s screen has a 180-rotation, meaning it flips around (something the Peloton bike’s display doesn’t do), so you can take FitPass classes on the other side of the bike. This is one of my favorite features and made it so much more enjoyable to take the FitPass classes. I will say, the screen sometimes gets a little wonky when flipped and will appear upside down on select pages. To mitigate this issue, I just selected the class from the bike side and then flipped the screen when the class is playing, which worked fine.
While I prefer the cycling classes, I still think FitPass is worth it for the added cost of just $5 a month.
Is the Echelon bike as good as Peloton?
While I haven’t used a Peloton bike myself, I have seen the one Samantha Matt, Reviewed’s director of commerce content, has in action. The builds are very similar, but I will say the display and video editing of the Peloton classes seem to be higher quality and higher-definition. The Peloton screen will give you suggested ranges for cadence and resistance, which is one qualm I initially had about the Echelon classes. The Peloton’s water bottle holder is also on the side of the bike, so you don’t have to deal with the annoying screen-hitting that I dealt with. Plus, Peloton offers free assembly, which might be worth at least some of the price increase to some.
We already know the Peloton is more expensive than the Echelon, but you’re also paying for a massive community. With approximately 1.4 million users, there are hundreds of people taking live classes on Peloton and 14 live classes to take each day (Echelon only offers 10 a day). There are also 25 instructors listed on the Peloton site compared to the 20 on Echelons, offering a slightly wider variety.
When it comes to warranty, Echelon offers a two-year warranty, which covers most of its longest financing period (36 months), but you can also purchase an extended one-year warranty for $79.99, or for three more years (five total) for an extra $199.
Peloton only offers a 12-month warranty on everything but the bike frame, so if some component breaks before you’ve made all your financing payments, you’re plum out of luck. You can call customer support within your first year to pay for extended warranty, to the tune of $175 for an additional 12 months or $230 for 27 months (to cover the entire financing period).
Personally, I think the Peloton is of higher caliber, but if you want a cheaper bike with a similar experience and growing community, the Echelon is a great choice as well.
Is the Echelon Bike worth it?
Though I received a loaner and a free trial subscription for the Echelon bike, I am considering buying one for myself. It doesn’t have the fanbase or as many users or instructors as Peloton, but I appreciate that it’s much more affordable. For the EX-5 bike, I could pay $52 a month (including finance charges) with a one-year subscription or $59 a month with a two-year subscription for 36 months (after the classes run out, I’d have to either pay $39.99 monthly or $399.99 for annual access). That’s a total of just over $2,500 for the $59 plan plus an additional year of classes paid in full. However, with the Peloton financing, my cost would be $97 each month—$58 for the bike plus $39 for the membership—for 39 months. Peloton’s total cost before paying off the bike comes to nearly $3,800.
The Echelon cost is more feasible for my lifestyle, and over time I will be saving money on purchasing individual cycling classes, which average out to be $30 a class. Taking just two classes a month on the Echelon already offsets this cost—as long as you continue to use it consistently for those 36 months.
If you don’t love the Echelon, you can return it within 30 days of the delivery date, though you’ll have to pay a $100 restocking fee. But if you like cycling as much as I do, I don’t believe a return will be necessary.
All in all, if you’re looking for that cycling-class feel without the pricey cost of the Peloton, I highly recommend taking the Echelon for a spin.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.