What’s Really Behind the Spin Bike Backlash
If there’s one thing that makes Americans uncomfortable, it’s successful women
Earlier this month, a Brooklyn woman considering the purchase of a Peloton exercise bike (sorry, “private indoor cycling studio”) posted on Twitter an email from her father in which he exhorted her not to do so. In his missive, the pedantic patriarch made a number of wry observations and assertions, including but not limited to the following:
- Like cocaine, the Peloton phenomenon is “God saying people have too much money;”
- Peloton is ridiculous because you can simply keep yourself engaged on a regular stationary bike by “listening to podcasts or watching tv” instead;
- Riding under the guidance of an instructor on a screen is “preposterous;”
- It is a waste of “precious after-tax income” designed to “encourage social strivers to show they live at a more rarefied level than the proletariat.”
Subsequently, the tweet went viral, and the internet hailed the father as a hero. Tens of thousands of Twitter users hit the heart button. Buzzfeed declared the email “Epic” and remarked that “Many people are thanking Colin for snapping them back to reality and getting their financial priorities on track.” A People headline announced that, with his message, the father “Wins The Internet.” (At least I think that’s what it says under all the pop-up ads.) And presumably it’s only a matter of time before Variety reports that Paul Giamatti will play the irascible, Peloton-averse father in the story of his life.
It’s completely understandable that so many people rallied behind the father’s advice. A Peloton costs over $2,000, and it’s a bike that goes nowhere. But what if—and hear me out on this—everybody’s wrong and dad is being kind of an asshole?
Now, before I continue, I should disclose that I’m a SoulCycle convert. Oh, I don’t actually do SoulCycle; I’ve never thrown a leg over a spin bike in my life, and in fact I refuse to even ride indoors. My wife, however, is a SoulCycle devotee. At first, like any “serious cyclist,” I scoffed at the idea of paying to take a spin class. But I now stand before you as a believer. I mean, I’m still not interested in trying it myself, but when someone you care about finds meaning in something, you’re a real schmuck if you don’t embrace that thing too.
Peloton and SoulCycle are both facets of the same massive indoor cycling fitness phenomenon, and they’re both competing for the same customer. Furthermore, spinning in general, whether it’s a class or a bike you keep in your living room, seems to inspire media takes that range from bemusement to outright ridicule. Spinning has been parodied all over the place, and there have been enough “skeptical and/or bewildered dude gives this spin class thing a try and—hey, would you look at that!—it’s actually pretty hard” stories that it’s practically its own subgenre. (Here’s one. And here’s one. And here’s another!) And of course Peloton was the subject of that hugely popular and savagely funny Twitter thread lampooning the rarefied lifestyle of rich people savoring lactic acid like fine wine in the privacy of their luxury homes.
Like everybody else, I found the Peloton parody hilarious. At the same time, looking back at it now, it’s hard not to notice that most of the ridiculed images are of women. Of the few that aren’t, one features a man reading on the couch while a woman rides a Peloton, and it is captioned thusly:
Sometimes I’ll move the Peloton bike into our gallery so I can spend time with my half gay husband while he reads Architectural Digest wearing combat boots
Clearly what’s behind a lot of the spinning derision and ridicule is that it comes off as just one more way for rich people to indulge themselves. But in the more venomous takes, it’s hard not to suspect that there’s something more to it than that. Could it also be the common perception that the typical spinner is a driven, competitive, and successful woman, and that our culture, according to research in the Harvard Business Review, still can’t seem to reconcile women with these attributes?
…women leaders often get conflicting feedback—told on the one hand that they’re too bossy or aggressive, but on the other that they should be more confident and assertive. A huge body of work has found that when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic “double bind.”
Few things make American men more uncomfortable than successful women. We’ve got major emasculation hangups. It’s all in that tweet: first she starts making more money than you, then she buys a Peloton, and before you know if you’ve turned “half gay” and are reading interior design magazines instead of watching the game.
Now let’s go back to dad’s email. I’d certainly never suggest he resents his daughter for being a successful woman who lives in Brooklyn. We can only assume he’s very proud of her and is merely the sort of middle-aged blowhard who tends to reject new things out right, especially when they’re expensive.
However, the fact that the father’s email went viral—or, more specifically, the manner in which people reacted to it—implies that plenty of other people do resent her, or at least what she represents. She’s a busy adult with a demanding job who’s considering buying a piece of fitness equipment with her own money. If this were a father dressing down his son for wanting to buy a nice set of golf clubs, the story might still have gotten some traction, but you can be fairly sure there wouldn’t be headlines on pretty much every media outlet high-fiving him for putting his impudent son in his place. If anything, it would probably be the other way around.
On top of it all, dad’s just wrong. Peloton isn’t God saying people have too much money; it’s Captain Obvious reminding you of two things:
- There’s a market for focused, structured workouts because people have to work themselves silly in this country;
- Our addiction to cars has made the streets so dangerous that a lot of people would rather ride indoors.
And even if you love to ride bicycles outside and do so every day, intense workouts are something else entirely, and not everyone has the time or inclination to go out there on a road bike and do intervals and hill repeats. As for riding a regular stationary bike while listening to podcasts, that doesn’t work, which is why anyone who ever bought one is now using it to hang their laundry. Spinning on the other hand is clearly addictive, so at least these people are getting their money’s worth. If a Peloton or a spin class or any of these other 21st century workouts helps you stay fit and keep kicking ass at your job, then it’s a good investment.
But perhaps where he’s most wrong is in his assertion that this is a waste of “precious after-tax income,” because now that this has gone viral she can write about how she bought a Peloton and then itemized it as a tax deduction.