Like many anxiety-ridden Americans, the first thing I do in the morning is roll over and check my email. Today (April 30th), I spotted a message from Peloton announcing three new kinds of scenic rides — the result of a specific licensing deal with Warner Music Group to soundtrack cycling journeys through, say, the Italian Alps, to the tune of tracks like Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.”
Members can now choose their rides based on distance or length of time, and they can also take guided rides with instructors. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to hop on my Peloton and try all three, to see if this news was actually something to be excited about or just the usual PR hype.
Prior to these developments, the scenic ride option felt like the awkward step child of the Peloton world. There were only a smattering of journeys based on time alone, driven by generic background music, and the video quality was sub-par. I can confidently say that they’ve gotten much better, although there’s still room for improvement. (“We’ve heard from you that our scenic experience was due for a refresh,” CEO John Foley said in a Friday morning keynote speech accompanying the news. “Some of the content was getting a bit stale, the constant playback speed felt a bit unrealistic and needed to be more dynamic. And, let’s be honest, the music left something to be desired.”)
I started with a focus on distance, and embarked on a five-kilometer trek through Hawaii’s Pūpūkea Forest. There are 49 songs in the playlist that the bike’s computer puts on shuffle so that the experience varies if and when you decide to revisit it. At the pace I was going, five kilometers took about 12 minutes and I was stuck with remixes of Clean Bandit and Dua Lipa tracks, Kylie Minogue’s “Love at First Sight,” and Ol’ Dirty Bastard feat. Kelis’ “Got Your Money.” I didn’t love this selection as a soundtrack to my setting, which was marked by tropical flora swaying on a dreamily overcast island day. I didn’t hate it either, though: It might be nice if each ride had multiple playlist options based on genre, but again, this is definitely a step up from elevator music.
The other cool upgrade here: The rider has some control over the speed at which the visuals move forward. If your legs aren’t moving, the video does not continue. If you slow down, it slows down. If you speed up, it speeds up — to a degree. One thing I’ve learned is that these rides are not meant for sprinting. The video speed seems to max out around 75 points of cadence. If you want to feel like you’re zooming downhill at any point, you won’t, and the discrepancy between your legs’ movement and your eyes’ sight might trip you out a bit.
For obvious reasons, the visuals for rides based on a fixed amount of time only move forward at one speed. That’s fine too if you know what you’re in for. Variety is nice. My virtual trip to Italy took place in one of these rides, and it was a fabulous mood-booster. The playlist — filled with easy-listening throwbacks like “Hooked on a Feeling,” Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band’s “Last Hope’s Gone” — seemed more cohesive and self-aware. Personally, if I’m out in virtual nature, I don’t want to hear anything that might come on in a club; that’s what the studio classes for. No matter how easy the studio classes are designed to be, the competitive spirit that innately bubbles up in these typically high-energy offerings is hard to ignore. Psychologically, it just feels like a race, especially if you look at the leaderboard. So the scenic rides can be a great alternative if you’re a resistance-lover like me. It’s a different kind of workout, and this music leans into that.
Lastly, the new scenic options offer guided rides. I love this feature. Rolling along through Savannah, Georgia with instructor Adrian Williams — upsettingly charming, by the way — was refreshing, offering TLC, Outkast, and Otis Redding in one ride. Williams curated his own playlist and told stories about spending his summers in the South for family reunions. (Travel documentary fans, this one might be for you.)
Peloton’s head of music Gwen Bethel Riley tells Rolling Stone that all guided ride instructors choose their own music. When asked about Peloton’s curation process for the non-guided rides, she said they are “constantly refreshed and were curated specifically to tap into mood.” The goal with the new curation, she added, was to create “heightened experiential sonic landscapes” that transport riders across the world.
Since content for scenic rides has to be shot on location, it probably won’t be updated as frequently as Peloton’s studio-class section is. But it’s clear that the company is investing in tech improvements — as well as an abundance of new music deals, as evidenced by Peloton’s recent projects with the likes of Beyoncé and the Beatles. Asked if Peloton is having conversations with other music companies on the scenic rides in particular, a representative said that Warner “is our initial launch partner but we will expand the catalogue over time.”