Hacking a Peloton
Updated: Jul 24
A lot of people don't understand why I would ever want to hack a Peloton bike. After all, there are a lot of people who love the bike and are addicted to positive reinforcement from the classes. I am not one of those people. I describe my bad experience with the device and need to hack it here, but if you are interested in the hack itself, you can skip to "The Hack" below.
I believe a lot in the importance of efficiency, and one way to streamline my life was to make exercise waste as little time as possible. For me, this meant bringing the gym to my apartment and incorporating it into my morning routine.
I decided to buy a Peloton. They had great reviews, a fanatical community, and most importantly, logged your workouts and synced them to apple health, and thus, virtually any other health data app. As a quantified-self nerd, this last feature was the most important to me because I like to record and monitor my fitness as it changes. One app in particular, Strava, provides positive reinforcement for working out through peer pressure and "kudos", and I found it a great motivator to continue working out. I've never really been excited by spinning but thought I would give it a try because so many people swear by it as cardio exercise.
I was immediately disappointed. The Peloton was designed for short or normal-sized people and is difficult for a 6'4" person like me to fit in, even at largest configuration. You need to wear special shoes that lock-in to the bike pedals, and are not the uniform standard used by hardcore bikers. The resistance needs to be MANUALLY changed by reaching down and spinning a knob, eliminating half the point of the guided workout classes. These are features that spin class veterans may enjoy, since it makes the peloton feel more familiar, but for a newbie, it just felt backwards. All the instructors were just telling me to "believe in myself" and "you can do it" and "good job" even though they didn't actually have any data on how I was doing. I instead wanted to hear "you are starting to slow down, speed up!" "Bump up your resistance more!" "Stop slacking". To me, Peloton's positive encouragement without data is useless, and it is difficult to see how this is different than just a dumb bike with a tablet playing videos.
I persisted, however, believing that if I could make biking a morning habit, I would grow to like it, eventually finding an instructor I liked. Unfortunately, Peloton decided to stop filming new classes with her, so I settled on watching her old content (It's not as though there was any real-time feedback anyway). Finally, Peloton did something that really made me upset: They deleted my favorite instructor's old content without warning. Without an instructor that I liked, I would exercise using the "just bike" feature instead - basically a blank screen. Since all I really wanted from the platform was the analytics on how I was doing, this felt too expensive at $30/month.
I decided something needed to change. If I wasn't using that big touchscreen for Peloton's content, perhaps I could use it to watch movies or TV to make the exercise less monotonous. The Peloton's screen is just a big Android tablet, after all.
Peloton has a hidden app launcher designed for servicing and troubleshooting. Inquisitive users can access it by repeatedly touching the bottom right corner of the "About" window in settings. From here, I launched the built-in Android web browser and downloaded and installed the APK for the Amazon App Store.
Although Amazon's App store has a wide variety of different apps, it was missing a few key ones that I wanted, so I would need to side-load them through USB. The Peloton has a micro-B USB port in the back, but with an inexpensive adapter dongle, it can be used to connect a standard thumb drive with a USB-A port. After downloading a file browser from the Amazon App store, I began installing media player apps via the file browser and USB thumb drive.
Plex is my media player of choice. Unfortunately, the Peloton became unstable after installing the app, and I had to do a factory reset through ADB recovery.
However, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix worked flawlessly. And, in fact, watching on a big 22-inch screen felt great. Before I knew it, I was biking for an hour at a time while watching Black Mirror.
This would be a perfect solution, except for one big problem, and the primary reason I chose a peloton over just a cheap bike with an iPad strapped-on: analytics on my performance. For some reason, Peloton will not record any biking data unless the peloton interface app is in the foreground. Any video app that pushes the peloton UI to the background will stop data recording. Even starting a "just ride" activity and swapping to a movie app would immediately pause and zero-out any time or distance recordings. Whether this is an accident of questionable engineering, or an intentional business decision to drive people towards habit formation with their content (and thus their subscription) is unclear. All I cared about was that my dream of recording my workouts while catching up on TV wasn't possible.
The Setup Today
Yes, I could just mount another big screen in front of the Peloton and watch what I wanted from there, but that would be extremely inelegant given the existing large screen on the bike would be left completely unused. Eventually, I decided that enough was enough, and I factory reset and sold my Peloton. Instead of a new bike, I upgraded to a connected rowing machine from Hydrow. Rowing activates many more muscles than biking, including the core and upper body (which is more important to me personally). Further, rowing workouts are much more intense. 20 minutes on a rower feels like an hour on a bike, and so I can get a better workout in less time every morning.
I haven't bothered hacking the rower yet. I enjoy repeatedly using the "journeys" features and rowing down famous rivers and lakes of the world, listening to the water, waves, and occasional dogs barking as the boat glides by. I don't feel like I am wasting as much time when rowing 15 minutes in beautiful scenery versus spending 45 minutes spinning and looking at a blank screen and therefore don't feel as strong of an urge to hack the machine. But who knows, maybe I'll hack some way to watch the morning news on the rower next.