Plenty of people have hopped on the Peloton Bike bandwagon since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but its premium price puts it out of reach for many. If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative, Echelon offers just that with its high-end Connect EX5S bike. Starting at $1,639.98, it’s still a hefty investment, and a class membership costs extra, but it’s around $600 less than Peloton, and offers a similar experience with frequent live classes, motivating leaderboards, and a large and varied library of on-demand workouts on and off the bike. That said, Peloton remains our Editors’ Choice for its massive user community, integration with Apple Music and Spotify, and finer resistance controls.
Design and Price
Echelon makes several different Connect stationary bikes, but the EX5S is its top-of-the-line model. It features a 21.5-inch HD touch screen and 32 levels of magnetic resistance you manually control with a knob. The Peloton Bike has the same size touch screen, but lets you fine-tune the resistance level from zero to 100.
The EX5S undercuts Peloton’s price, though it’s still expensive, and you have to pay extra for a class membership, which is customary for smart workout machines. Echelon offers several pricing options, starting at $1,639.98 for the bike, a one-year warranty, and a one-month membership. The Echelon membership costs $39 per month, the same as Peloton and $10 more than MYX Fitness, an up-and-coming competitor in this space. You can opt to pay for an annual or two-year subscription upfront when you purchase the bike to save $79.89 or $359.77 respectively over the course of the membership. If you purchase the bike with an annual or two-year plan, Echelon waives the $199.99 delivery fee, and offers financing options starting at $65 or $72 a month, respectively.
In comparison, Peloton charges $2,245 for just its bike, a one-year warranty, and delivery/setup. MYX Fitness is the most affordable of the three, starting at $1,199 for the bike and a Polar OH1 heart rate monitor.
The EX5S has a similar black-and-red design to Peloton. I personally like the look of the white MYX bike the best out of the three as it blends in with my home decor, but my boyfriend prefers the EX5S.
The EX5S’s display flips 180 degrees for workouts off the bike, but it doesn’t rotate side to side like the MYX bike’s tablet. As for other features, the EX5S has two handlebar-mounted bottle holders, a rack behind the seat for two dumbbells (sold separately), and power ports in the front or back to give you positioning options.
It measures 54 by 20 by about 59 inches (LWH) and weighs 124 pounds. It’s fairly easy to move around and find space for, thanks to its relatively compact design. The bike is recommended for riders 4 feet, 11 inches to 6 feet, 4 inches (though Echelon says it has riders ranging from 4 feet, 5 inches to 6 feet, 8 inches using its bikes) and up to 300 pounds. The Peloton Bike also supports up to 300 pounds, while MYX Fitness supports up to 350.
Like the MYX Fitness bike, the EX5S features SPD-compatible pedals with adjustable toe cages. Echelon recommends wearing cycling shoes with the EX5S as they help evenly distribute forces across the bottom of your foot, but they’re not necessary. The Peloton Bike, meanwhile, requires Look Delta-compatible clip-in shoes.
Assembly and Setup
Echelon typically includes assembly along with delivery but has temporarily suspended it due to COVID-19 precautions. Fortunately, assembling the EX5S bike isn’t too difficult. Echelon provides one of the best manuals I’ve seen, with color photos and written instructions for every step of the assembly process. My boyfriend did most of the assembly for me and was able to do it in about two hours.
When I first got on the EX5S, it rocked side to side as I pedaled and didn’t feel sturdy, an issue Peloton users have also faced. My boyfriend and I moved it to a different room to make sure the floor wasn’t uneven, but it still wobbled. We initially fixed the problem by placing an area rug under one side of the bike, but that’s obviously not an ideal solution. After some online research, we realized that one of the front feet wasn’t fully screwed in. We turned the bike on its side, screwed in the offending foot all the way, and that thankfully fixed the problem. After that, the bike was completely sturdy.
Once you get it set up, you simply plug it in and follow the instructions on the screen to connect it to your Wi-Fi. I already had an Echelon account from when I reviewed the Reflect workout mirror, so all I had to do was enter those credentials using the tablet’s on-screen keyboard.
If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to download the Echelon Fit mobile app (available for Android and iOS) and sign up for one. When signing up for an account, you can enter your gender (female or male) and weight. I suggest adding your weight to your profile as it increases the accuracy of calorie burn estimates when you’re working out. You can also add a nickname, your location, and a photo that will appear on the leaderboard.
I had no issues connecting the bike to the app. In the app, you navigate to More > Select Equipment, press the plus sign and select Connect Bike. The app asks you to scan the serial number on the bike’s display mount, after which it should appear in the app; just select it and you’re good to go. When connected, the bike will beep and the light below its handlebars will change from flashing to solid blue.
Working Out With the EX5S
When taking a class on the EX5S, you see your cadence (revolutions per minute), resistance level (one to 32), and output on the screen, just like on the Peloton Bike. Measured in Watts, output is a combination of your resistance and cadence. If you increase your resistance and/or cadence, your output will rise, and vice versa. During Echelon (and Peloton) bike workouts, the instructors tell you to aim for a specific cadence and resistance level. Both companies rank their leaderboards based on your output.
On the screen, it also shows your average and best output, distance, speed (mph), calories burned, heart rate (if you have a heart rate monitor connected to the bike), how long you’ve been working out, and how much time you have left. It doesn’t show the name of the song that’s playing, one advantage Peloton offers. On Peloton, you can even save tracks you discover during classes and sync them to your Apple Music or Spotify profile.
The Echelon Connect interface has five tabs on the bottom: Featured, OnDemand, Schedule, Progress, and More. Atop the Featured screen is a carousel of upcoming live classes. Under that are sections for Challenges, new classes, popular rides, 20-minute rides, rides with arm workouts, virtual rides in places like Spain and Hawaii, nutrition videos, and 30-minute and longer rides.
In the Challenges section within the Featured tab, Echelon has a very good Bike Basics series that I recommend checking out if you’re new to indoor cycling. There are three videos in the series, the first of which shows you how to adjust the seat and handlebars for your proportions. The second video goes over proper cycling posture and the metrics you see on the screen when working out. The third video is a beginner-friendly ride.
In the OnDemand tab, you can browse studio classes, scenic rides all around the world, and FitPass workouts. In the FitPass section, there’s a wide range of classes you can do off the bike, including arm weights, Barre, core, HIIT, kickboxing, Pilates, strength, stretching, and yoga. You can browse OnDemand classes by level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), length (five minutes to two hours), instructor, type, and music genre.
In the Schedule tab, you can browse upcoming live classes and filter them by type (cycling, strength, tone, and stretch). On weekdays, Echelon offers a steady stream of live cycling classes in the morning and evening, and a few in the middle of the day, so there’s a good chance you’ll find one when you want to work out. I counted around 20 live classes on the schedule Monday through Friday, and around seven to 10 on weekends.
In the Progress tab, you can see your weekly stats, including how many times you worked out, your total workout duration, and calories burned, as well as a list of the workouts you’ve done.
In the More tab, you can update your preferences (volume, brightness level, Wi-Fi network, time zone, and screen sleep timeout duration), switch user accounts or sign out, check for updates, and connect your Echelon Fit account to Fitbit and/or Strava.
The Echelon Fit mobile app mirrors the Connect interface, so you can browse upcoming live and on-demand classes and stream the workouts on your phone wherever you are. In the app, you can also view a history of your workouts, then click into each one for your stats.
My Experience With the EX5S
I’ve been testing the EX5S over the last several weeks, and have never felt bored when working out on it, which is saying a lot because cardio typically bores me pretty quickly. Keeping an eye on my metrics and trying to edge out other people on the leaderboard helps to pass the time.
It also helps that Echelon’s instructors are engaging and motivating, and the music is good. The instructors do the workout with you and push you to give it your all. I always leave cycling sessions dripping in sweat, even if the workout was just 20 minutes. I really enjoy Echelon’s Fusion 30 classes, in particular, which incorporate strength, power, and speed drills.
I usually work out in the morning and have been able to jump into a few live classes on the EX5S. The live classes are high-energy and fun. One of my favorites so far was a 30-minute ’60s and ’70s rock music-themed ride; the music was good, and I got a shout-out from the instructor. During that class, I ranked 49 out of 80 on the leaderboard and burned 193 calories.
Before adding my weight to my profile in the Echelon Fit app, I found the EX5S’s calorie burn calculations to be overestimated. During one 20-minute ride, for instance, the EX5S estimated I burned around 700 calories, while my Apple Watch Series 5 said it was less than 200. When I updated my weight in the app, the calorie burn estimates were a lot more accurate.
As someone new to indoor cycling, I found Echelon’s Bike Basics series very helpful. Most importantly, it taught me proper form: Your elbows should be slightly bent and tucked in, and your knees should be in line with your body, not bowing out to the sides. If your knees are tracking out to the sides, it’s an indication your seat may be too low.
I also learned that you should position the bike pedal on the ball of your foot, which means your foot may not come to the end of the cage. The handlebars are meant to help you balance, not to support your weight. And the hardest part of cycling is getting used to the seat, the instructor said. I found the EX5S’s sea to be pretty comfortable, especially compared with the MYX bike, which is firmer.
If you’re new to indoor cycling, you may feel a little sore at first regardless of which bike you go with. Over time, you’ll get used to it. Padded bike shorts can help.
I had no problem connecting the EX5S with my Apple AirPods and Polar OH1+ heart rate monitor. When you start a workout, you’ll see heart and headphone icons on the side of the screen. Just tap them to connect your accessories. The bike is pretty much soundless, so I can use it with Bluetooth headphones first thing in the morning without waking up my boyfriend in the adjacent room.
The Fitbit integration also works as expected. After connecting my account via the More tab on the bike’s screen, my Echelon workouts showed up in the Fitbit app and counted toward my weekly exercise goal.
One issue I will note is that workout streams on the EX5S can buffer. This has only happened a few times in testing, so it was likely due to my internet connection. Echelon recommends download speeds of at least 5Mbps for HD-quality streams, which shouldn’t be an issue for the vast majority of households.
It’s nice that the EX5S’s screen can tilt 180 degrees, especially since Peloton’s can only move up and down a few inches, but it would be better if it could also rotate side to side. To see the screen during floor-based workouts, you need to place the EX5S in a spot with empty floor space in front or behind the bike. I positioned mine against a wall with empty space beside the bike, but no extra room in front or back of it, so I can’t always see the screen when working out on the floor.
In comparison, the MYX bike’s tablet can both tilt up and down and rotate a full 360 degrees, so you can easily move it around for the perfect viewing angle when you’re doing workouts on and off the bike.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Peloton has amassed legions of devoted users for good reason—it brings the experience of an indoor cycling class to your home with sleek hardware, streaming live classes, and integration with your favorite fitness and music apps. But the Peloton Bike is expensive, and many people who want one simply can’t afford it. Fortunately, lower-cost competitors are giving Peloton a run for its money.
The Echelon Connect EX5S offers a similar experience to the Peloton Bike with live classes and leaderboards for $600 less. The Peloton Bike offers a few advantages, including the ability to more finely tune your resistance and save songs to your Apple Music or Spotify account, and thus remains our Editors’ Choice, but the EX5S is an excellent alternative worth considering.
Meanwhile, if you’re not particularly competitive, we highly recommend the MYX Fitness bike, which shares our Editors’ Choice in this category with the Peloton Bike. It doesn’t feature live classes or leaderboards, but it starts at just $1,199 (almost half the price of Peloton and $500 less than the EX5S) and keeps you engaged with a focus on personalized heart rate zone training.