The pandemic has been a boon for home gyms, and the last year-plus of lockdowns has really changed the game—perhaps no more so than with at-home bikes. Customers have more options now than ever, for just about every budget. So what does an at-home bike have to do to stand out?
Echelon is asking that question with its newest release, the Connect Bike EX-7S. Positioned as the company’s top-of-the-line bike, with a suggested retail price of $ 1999 (plus a monthly FitPass subscription, ranging from $ 11.99 to $ 39.99), it’s aimed at dedicated riders. After several weeks of testing, I can say that the Echelon Connect EX-7S Bike lives up to that billing. A commercial-grade bike that holds its own against other high-end offerings, it’ll work out as hard as you do. And as pleased as I am with the rugged hardware, as something of a gadget-head, that “connect” part of the equation has me even more intrigued about the future of at-home bikes.
Let’s start with the basics. To anyone who’s browsed at-home bikes, Echelon’s offering will feel very familiar—when it comes to hardware, certain features are table stakes. So the EX-7S gives you adjustable handlebars with water-bottle holders at the front, and a pair of dumbbell holders mounted to the back of the (also adjustable) seat. You get 32 levels of indexing resistance controlled via a big, red, Echelon-branded dial, and toe-cage pedals.
The overall look is sleek, matte black that wouldn’t look out of place in your living room. It has a small footprint and is heavy duty without being cumbersome; despite weighing more than 100 pounds, it’s not hard to move. Yet while riding, you never feel like you’re taking a risk standing on the pedals and really going all out.
Of course, at-home biking has taken off lately partly as a substitute for actual, in-person classes—the kind of thing we used to do with a big crowd of strangers. The EZ-7S recreates some of that feeling of camaraderie via a 21.5-inch touchscreen that can stream interactive and on-demand classes, including off-bike options such as meditation, stretching, and yoga. (The screen flips 180 degrees for those classes, or you can follow them on the Echelon app.) There are even scenic rides including the tropical gardens of Singapore, the Normandy countryside, and exotic Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s obviously not the same as sharing real-life space with fellow riders. You can reach out and virtually “high-five” people and gun for a name above you on the leaderboards; an instructor might give you a shout-during a ride. Unless you’ve got a partner riding in the same room, though, it still feels like you’re riding alone, looking at a screen.
For some people, that’s not a problem: a streamed-in trainer is plenty of motivation, and having a bike at home makes it much harder to avoid than if you’re used to trekking to a gym. Plus, $ 2000 equipment isn’t aimed at people who aren’t at least somewhat serious about working out.
Still, I’m curious to see how the “connected” part of at-home bikes—and home gyms more generally—advances. While I was testing the EX-7S, Echelon updated its app to include high-fives and some other more “social” upgrades. Riders can always gather in Facebook groups (and follow their favorite trainers on Instagram), but it will be interesting to see whether software updates can make at-home workouts feel more genuinely social.
The other question, I think, is how workouts can become more personalized. The EX-7S can connect to your FitBit, though it doesn’t do much more than display your heart rate. I’d like to be able to do more with that data. Also, it would be great if the software were able to allow riders to set their own comfort zones based on heart rate, and let the bike encourage you to push a little harder. (In case you hadn’t noticed, artificial intelligence is already making its way into the gym.)
Similarly, I’d like to see classes become more tailored based on your personal feedback. It’s easy enough to jump into a class knowing what you want at the moment—there are often dozens of choices. That can make each class feel disjointed, rather than progress toward a specific goal. It’d be great to open the app, define a goal for, say, the next six weeks, and get recommendations based on how you’ve done in previous classes and feedback from your FitBit.
Personalized, at-home workouts that also feel like social experiences may sound like a pie-in-the-sky dream. But high-end products like the EX-7S suggest a future where at least some workout equipment advances similarly to smart phones: once the hardware reaches a certain level of excellence, there are fewer game-changing advances than slow, incremental improvements, and software differentiation becomes more important. (How many people are already choosing one at-home bike brand over another based on, say, well-known instructors?) That’s intriguing in part because it’s much easier to update an app with new features than to revamp a $ 2000 bike.
Right now, the Echelon Connect Bike EX-7S is a great bike for anyone who’s serious about—or looking to get serious about—their at-home riding. What’s really exciting, though, is the feeling that unlike a lot of gym equipment, it can only get even better in the future.
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