Every morning at 4:30AM, Shani Maxwell would throw on her Flywheel T-shirt and hop on her Fly Anywhere bike. An avid fan who’s been riding with Flywheel since 2013, she’d leapt at the chance to own the company’s branded bike when the company released its Peloton competitor in 2017.
“I was doing five classes a week,” Maxwell says. “With the bike, I started my day riding, then doubled up with a [strength training class] in the afternoon.” On the weekends, she also goes into the studio for a live class with friends who she met from the Flywheel studios in Miami. “It was truly a community.”
So it came as a surprise when she received an email from Peloton, not Flywheel, informing her that her $1,999 bike would no longer function by the end of next month. Flywheel settled a patent dispute with Peloton earlier in February and decided after the lawsuit to discontinue the at-home bike product.
“It shocked me,” Maxwell says. “We knew the lawsuit was in progress and we heard the settlement had been reached — we just didn’t realize they would shut down. ”
Flywheel users Jared Podnos and Courtnay Oddman also learned about their bikes’ demise from Peloton’s email offering to trade in their bike for a refurbished Peloton. Users had been tweeting, emailing, and calling Flywheel about the fate of their bikes after the Peloton settlement but were met with days of silence.
“The communication from Flywheel has been pretty poor,” Podnos says. After the email, he tried reaching out to Flywheel to check if his bike would be eligible for a swap as it was still being financed through Affirm. “I called their customer service line couldn’t get through, I left a voicemail and haven’t received a return call. I actually went to a physical Flywheel location [and] called the Lincoln Square studio where they film the classes.” But no one had answers. (Flywheel has not responded to The Verge’s request for comment. At the time of publish, Flywheel’s product page for its bike is still live with a nonfunctioning buy button.)
I’ve been trying to call Flywheel today. Unfortunately my sentiments from 2018 do not ring true today, as I was shocked to hear this news from Peloton and not Flywheel. I feel confused and in the dark. Waiting to hear back— Courtnay Oddman (@ohcourtnay) February 19, 2020
The death of the Flywheel at-home bike isn’t a rare instance of Internet of Things companies suddenly bricking devices after a product sunset — but it is the first notable case for a piece of streaming fitness equipment. Ever since Peloton released its bike in 2014, many companies have been attempting to replicate the model, including Echelon, SoulCycle, NordicTrack, and Flywheel. But so far, Peloton remains the market leader, despite offering the most expensive option.
“Flywheel is the second largest cycling studio chain in North America. The Flywheel Home Bike was considered a real threat to Peloton when it entered into the home-cycle market,” Wedbush analyst James Hardiman wrote in a report shared with The Verge. “In reality, however, its subscription service was quite lacking compared to that from both Peloton and even Echelon with half to a third as many live classes per day and a much smaller backlog of recorded classes.”
Podnos agrees. In 2018, when he and his wife were contemplating whether to buy a Peloton or Flywheel bike, they decided to invest in the latter, despite the smaller platform. “I personally found the Peloton instructors to be too much like motivational speakers,” he says. “I didn’t want life lessons about pushing through the challenges and finding our inner strength, I just wanted to get a good workout.”
Flywheel bike owner Chris from San Francisco also hoped the company would scale well, given how big of a following Flywheel already had in its studios. “At the time, we thought Flywheel would grow their user base and content to the point where there wasn’t much of a difference between them and Peloton,” he says. “Obviously [we were] incorrect.”
All of the Flywheel bike owners The Verge spoke to said they would take Peloton up on the offer to trade in their bikes. Chris and Podnos say they will miss their favorite Flywheel instructors, but they see it as a win to essentially receive a Peloton for a lower cost. Maxwell, however, says she was left with no choice.
“It wasn’t like Flywheel gave us any option if you decide not to take the Peloton,” she says. “Basically it was like: take it or lose your money. They didn’t even attempt to fix it with their loyal riders. It felt like a sting.”
Still, she says she will continue to support Flywheel by visiting the studios on the weekends, just like she had before, as she feared the at-home bike may have hurt the physical locations. “I don’t think they should have gotten into the bike thing in the first place,” Maxwell says. “When you have the at home bike, you take half the riders out of the studio and now I feel like the studio might be in trouble.” Last August, Flywheel shuttered 11 out of the 42 studios it operates nationally.
For Podnos, the Flywheel experience was just another lesson in taking a chance with the Internet of Things. “It’s the risk you take when signing up for a platform that is still in development. It was a risk factor that we weighed from the onset, and were comfortable with,” he said. “I don’t think it will dissuade me from trying new IoT services, but it’s certainly a cautionary tale that consumers should be aware of.”