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Author: Pernille

Ryan Junk

When did Xponential Fitness acquire CycleBar, and why?

Xponential acquired CycleBar on 30 September 2017 and took over the business on 1 October 2017.

Cycling is such an intuitive discipline and so important to health and fitness – you don’t have to educate the consumer. It’s also one of the main modalities in boutique fitness. But while SoulCycle had already done a phenomenal job of putting boutique fitness on the map – it let the world know how different boutique fitness is from the big boxes – nobody other than CycleBar was offering a franchise package for boutique cycling. That made it a clear acquisition prospect for Xponential Fitness.

When and why did you join CycleBar?

The moment I saw the CycleBar branding and programming, I was impressed. It was also a turnaround project rather than a start-up, which was a challenge that appealed to me. However, my number one reason for joining Xponential Fitness was Anthony [Geisler, CEO of Xponential] himself – his exciting vision for the overall business.

I started in my role as president of CycleBar on 1 November 2017, when we brought in the new corporate team.

What’s your background, and how has this shaped your approach to CycleBar?

I’ve always been passionate about fitness and I love helping people get healthy and in shape.
I have a background in franchising, helping franchisees of brands such as Crunch and UFC Gym, so my primary customer has always been the franchisee. I’ve been there to support the people who service the members, helping them grow their careers in the fitness space and make money through franchising.

This experience as a third-party advisor has allowed me to see things from both sides – franchisor and franchisee – and has given me valuable insight into how to speak to franchisees, bridging the gap between them and the franchisor to build a relationship of trust. This has very much shaped the way I approach things at CycleBar.

In what shape was the CycleBar business when you bought it?

The branding and programming were good, as was the overall vision: to create an experience, in a motivational and inspirational environment, that let people escape their everyday.

But operationally the business needed attention. There had never been a national digital campaign, so what we effectively had were hundreds of separate mom and pop studios being marketed across the country. Those studios hadn’t been allowed to sell memberships – just packages – and weren’t even allowed a phone to take enquiries. They had also been instructed to only open for classes, and to close the rest of the time.

75 per cent of the studios weren’t making money when we bought the business

Build-outs had also become too expensive – US$750,000 on average, which we felt was about US$250,000 too expensive. It wasn’t a problem of location. The sites were simply too big.

The outcome was that 75 per cent of the studios weren’t making money when we bought the business, so we had a lot of very worried franchisees.

However, everything that was wrong with the business was what Xponential is good at.

What changes have you brought into the business?

There were two main prongs to our approach: build-out and operation.

In November 2017, we stopped selling franchises for three months – we didn’t want to sell something we knew wasn’t working. We stopped signing leases too, as the sites were too big, and anyone who had already signed a lease was supported in bringing down build and start-up costs.

Then we looked at the studio model in detail. We wanted to keep the same number of bikes – 50 – so we looked at what else we could strip out to make studios smaller and less expensive. The first thing was the large DJ booth. DJs generally only came in once or twice a month, and when they did, they tended to set up next to the instructor, so we took the booth straight out. We changed the flooring – it actually looks and performs better now, as well as being more affordable – and took out the risers and the curved wall at the back of the studio that was designed to make it feel like a theatre. Members weren’t worried about it and it immediately freed up lots of space.

Additionally, showers are now only offered if the market demands them, and we removed the wall that funnelled people through reception. Not only did this free up space, but it also means people going past the studio can now see in – not into the studio itself, but to where people put on their cleats before class. That’s very important, because we know the average person goes past three times before they come into the studio. One of the things they’re looking for are people who look like them. They also want to see somewhere that looks busy.

classes need to be 40 per cent full to break even. That said, we aim for a minimum of 60 per cent

Nowadays, CycleBars are built for under US$500,000, on average – but importantly, we’ve kept the premium feel. We’ve just shrunk the size to 2,000–2,500sq ft.

We’ve also kept customer service levels high, through touchpoints that don’t feel forced. A premium offering, and premium service, have to be in place to earn you the right to ask for a sale.

Studios are also now open all the time, with phones to take enquiries, and franchisees can sell memberships as well as packages so they have recurring income. They also pre-sell memberships. There was some resistance to this, but we’ve gone from pre-selling 77 memberships per location at first, to now averaging 320. That’s already enough to break even – classes need to be 40 per cent full to break even. That said, we aim for a minimum of 60 per cent, and many of our new studios are exceeding that.

In what shape is the business now?

Before we took over, revenue averaged US$300,000 per studio, with high levels of debt. Now our legacy sites – the studios that were open before we took over – are averaging US$433,000 annual revenue. These studios have seen consecutive growth for the last 17 months, with a 19 per cent average growth in revenue.

Meanwhile, our new studios average US$620,000 revenue a year.

We’re still not there yet – we still have 70 sites on the old operating system – so although there’s already been a huge uplift, there’s more to come once all stores are converted and settled into the new systems. We’ll finish that work this year.

Crucially, it’s revenue per store that our team at HQ are compensated on, not how many stores or franchises they sell. We want our franchisees to be successful, and our corporate support team to share in that success.

What do you see as the brand’s USPs?

There are a number of USPs, starting with our choice of programmes. We offer three different styles of class: Connect Ride, which is lower intensity, more spiritual, with a connection between instructor and participant; Classic Ride, which is more about stats and data; and Performance Ride, which centres on racing and competition.

Our director of education, Tevia Celli, designed Performance Ride, but she felt we should do the other two styles of class too. It allows sites to choose what’s right for their community; if they offer all three classes, members can choose the class that feels right for them, so it broadens the appeal.

The way we monetise is another USP, selling memberships as well as packages.

And then there’s our instructor training: we start educating them, at our expense, before they even start working for a franchisee. We help them understand how we instruct, so even if they’ve never taught at a boutique before, they have a chance of passing our audition. If they do, there’s ongoing CPD and even a chance to become a master trainer if their classes are consistently at 70+ per cent capacity. So, there’s career progression, not to mention a chance to become an influencer – our master trainers have a big social media following.

But the real X factor of CycleBar is that the studios have a ‘mom and pop’ feel, and that’s precisely because they’re franchised rather than corporately owned. It takes hospitality to a whole new level when it’s someone local running it – someone who really knows the market and the local community. But then all of this is supported with systems and training from HQ to ensure everything runs smoothly and efficiently. It’s the best of both worlds.

cyclebar entranceWhat are your growth plans?

We’re currently in 38 states in the US, with 42 sold: we have 161 sites open and operational, with another 50 signed and pre-selling memberships [figures correct as at 1 May 2019].

We’re in three other countries already – Dubai, the UK and Canada – with other markets such as Japan, Saudi Arabia and South America in the pipeline. Roll-out hasn’t yet started in the UK, because we’ve brought in new equity partners who want to take on some of the other Xponential brands too – they will be the master franchisee for Xponential in the UK and we’re just finalising that deal. But they have aggressive plans, including 20–30 CycleBar studios.

Across all markets, I expect to open a further 70 CycleBar locations this year, taking us past the 250-site mark. The goal will be for an average US$600,000 revenue per site across those 250+ locations by the end of the year.

2020 will then see a big push around technology to drive engagement: an app to reach beyond the studio, ‘frequent rider’ points, heart rate training and tracking technology.

In five years’ time, I want to be at 600 locations – of which 100 international

In five years’ time, I want to be at 600 locations – of which 100 international – and US$750,000 revenue per studio.

Ultimately, I think international is where our growth will be. I expect us to cap out at around 600 locations in the US, but interestingly, I think cycling is bigger outside of the US.

What do you see as the future of indoor cycling?

Indoor cycling will continue to grow. Smaller locations that are trying to offer more than one modality will drop out and be replaced by the big boxes, but specialist boutiques will continue to be the go-to for those who seek specialised indoor cycling. The big boxes will get people into cycling, who will then feed in to the boutiques for the experience we offer.

In this boutique cycling space, I don’t see SoulCycle or Flywheel franchising. While other brands may pop up, CycleBar will continue to grow and dominate this franchise sector.

CycleBar joins the Xponential family

  • Indoor cycling brand CycleBar was the second of eight acquisitions by Xponential Fitness, a company described by Forbes as a “curator of boutique fitness”.
  • Led by CEO Anthony Geisler, Xponential Fitness specialises in franchising, with eight modalities now on offer to prospective franchisees.
  • Club Pilates was the first brand in the portfolio, with CycleBar acquired in September 2017. A further six brands were added by the end of 2018: Row House; StretchLab; AKT, the dance-based cardio studios; Yoga Six; Pure Barre; and Stride, a boutique running concept offering premium treadmill-based cardio and strength training.
  • All brands were selected around two key criteria, says Geisler. Firstly, the modalities inspire him personally. But perhaps even more importantly, Geisler wants Xponential to own “the best and biggest franchised brand in each of our modalities. I don’t want to go into a market and be number two.”
  • Now, having reached eight modalities, Geisler is drawing a line: “We aren’t looking at any more acquisitions – Xponential was never intended to cover all modalities. My focus moving forward is on the brands we already own, growing from the approximately 2,500 locations currently sold across the US and expanding all eight modalities internationally.”


Five steps to a perfect cycle studio

1. Deliver an experience, not a class

The member experience is something everyone talks about nowadays, yet many operators fall short of delivering a true experience – something members will want to tell their friends about.

While there are, of course, many different elements that combine to create the perfect member experience, I believe three are particularly important. Firstly, always try to tell a story rather than selling a product. Secondly, engage passionate instructors who genuinely love to teach. And third, try to surprise your participants in every class they join.

group class indoor bikes2. Focus on the group cycling product

Further to tip #1, although it isn’t about selling a product, it’s nevertheless vitally important that the product hits the mark, delivering results as well as a share-worthy experience.

An obvious point here, but use great equipment – and by that, I don’t only mean equipment that’s high quality, but that also feels high quality. Member perceptions are important. Minimise opportunities for distraction too, so riders are immersed at the moment and fully focused on their training. Use large format displays or projection to present stats like heart rate or other performance metrics. Last but not least, create a sense of competition between participants to ensure they push themselves to their limits – and beyond.

nice cycle class studio3. Maximise the impact of your studio

If your cycle studio looks like someone put bikes onto a squash court, it will always feel like someone put bikes onto a squash court.

Make the most of your studio space – for example, maximising the impact of any unusual architectural features to create unique interior design concepts. And make the most of what’s outside too: if your club is located amid beautiful scenery, consider installing large panoramic windows in your studio. Do, however, ensure it’s a view that will motivate and inspire rather than distract – as noted in tip #2 – and remember there may be a need for blackout blinds over the windows if, for some classes, you want to create a cinematic experience via a big screen.

spinning studio interior4. Change the look of your cycle studio as often as possible

Don’t allow your studio to feel the same throughout the duration of a class, as this does little for motivation. Mix it up to keep riders stimulated and engaged.

Opt for a lighting system that supports the training being delivered, with different lighting to sync with the different phases of the workout. And use video projection to further immerse participants in the story your instructor is telling – the journey they are being taken on.

cycle studio audio5. Deliver crystal-clear audio at every bike

A great sound system is vital to every group cycling class. Use an audio system that delivers perfect audio – including clarity and intelligibility of speech – wherever you may be in the studio, at whichever bike. Reduce the risk of any disturbance in sound – reverberation, for example – by incorporating features such as hidden absorption material behind graphics on the walls.

Ralph Butzin

“I used to be a professional handball player, competing in the first division in Germany,” says German cycling legend Ralph Butzin. “In 1993, I injured my knee and went to Switzerland for rehab, and it was there I first came across Spinning – the phenomenon of indoor cycling to music.

“I liked the look of it so I did a class, which just happened to be with Mike Michaels – master trainer for Johnny G, the creator of Spinning. That’s a great way to do your first class!

“I spoke to Mike afterwards and explained that I’d like to do these classes back home, but he told me there were no Spinner bikes in Germany – so I decided to start my own class.”

He continues: “I teamed up with another master trainer, Keith Howells, to launch in the basement of a club in Bielefeld, Germany. We had a squash court space with 11 bikes and a ghetto blaster – and that was it. There was very little structure: we just played music and got people to ride the bikes as hard as they could! But it was really popular: with just 11 bikes, we had to run around eight classes a day to keep up with demand.

“For a long time, this was essentially what I did: instructing Spin classes, creating education for Schwinn, building a national team for Schwinn and later Star Trac. But then a crunch point came when the team split: Johnny G went with Star Trac; most of the other trainers went with Schwinn. And the whole thing just started to move along a path I wasn’t happy with: it became more about selling bikes and merchandise, when really all I wanted to do was train people.

“In 2003, I therefore left to set up my own company: the National Cycling Academy, or NCA for short, which was created as a supplier-neutral organisation.”

NCA instructors
The NCA has created a strong and loyal team of instructors

You can’t buy personality
He continues: “At the NCA, we aim to do things a bit differently. Most cycling instructor qualifications take place over the space of one weekend, for example, whereas ours takes two weekends and is always run by two master trainers. There’s just so much you need to know when you’re starting out as an instructor.

“We focus on training – on the science – rather than gimmicks, and encourage our students to always do the same in the classes they go on to deliver. Gimmicks quickly lose their appeal; training is relevant for a lifetime.

“We invite an array of experts to speak to our students too: cardiologists; theatre directors to speak about performance and the delivery of classes; someone to talk about music; someone to talk about muscles, stretching, recovery.

“And we help them find jobs afterwards: we approach clubs to tell them about instructors living locally. This is a free service, firstly because we feel it’s the right thing to do, and secondly because it helps us build a strong network of clubs and trainers.”

Butzin adds: “One thing all of our participants leave our courses with is this simple message: it isn’t about them. They work for the members. If there’s nobody in their class, there’s no need for them as an instructor. They learn to leave their egos at the door and focus on creating a great experience for members.

“In fact, this is partly why we don’t sell other qualifications. In our view, just paying your way through lots of courses doesn’t make you a great instructor. It doesn’t matter if you’re a master trainer or a newly qualified instructor: your personality is the way to people’s hearts.

“If people do feel they want to learn more further down the line, though, we invite them to attend our events for free to chat to our master trainers. Sharing ideas and knowledge is, we believe, the best way to learn, and we give a lot away for free: whatever they want to know, our master trainers share it with them at no charge. We aren’t interested in getting every last Euro out of people.”

He adds: “What this does, of course, is build great relationships between the NCA and the instructors – so when we need to ask for their help, they’re happy to give it.”

ralph butzin training talk
A training talk for instructors at an outdoor event in 2018

Pursuing a dream 
The help Butzin refers to relates to public events he runs under the NCA banner: instructors are invited and encouraged to bring members and other cycling enthusiasts along with them. So, a favour perhaps, but not a huge one – especially as good trainers are invited on-stage to run some of the classes. “I don’t believe in making it just about master trainers,” explains Butzin. “These are events for trainers and their members.”

My dream, when I first set up the NCA, was to run the biggest cycling event in the world

He rewinds to the early days: “My dream, when I first set up the NCA, was to run the biggest cycling event in the world. I started small: my first event was in 2003, with 70 bikes in a sports club in northern Germany. It was an overnight event – eight hours, from midnight to 8.00am – and people had to pay 30 Deutschmark to take part. I did absolutely everything myself: I organised the bikes, drove the lorry to get them to the venue, instructed the classes, gave out water… But it went well, so I decided to scale things up.

“For the next four or five years, I ran two events each year: in the winter, the event took place in a Mercedes Benz centre with around 200 bikes; in the summer, we could go outdoors so had more space, so we ran events with 500–700 bikes in a village called Bad Zwischenahn. The events would go on for anything from 12 to 24 hours, with lots of different sessions and instructors on-stage. Participants could vote on how good they were, with an award at the end for the best trainer. It was a bit like all the reality TV shows nowadays!

“People would also pay to attend these events, and I got lots of sponsors involved too: they liked the fact that, once we’d covered our costs, all the rest of the money raised through these events would immediately be donated to charity… children’s hospices and so on.

“In between these events, I’d travel around the country talking to sports clubs and gyms and running small cycling events for them. I got Erdinger, the beer brand, to sponsor what became known as the Erdinger City Tour: smaller in-club events, where clubs would get alcohol-free beer to give out.”

ralph butzin charity
Butzin’s events have raised thousands of Euros for charity

Breaking records
Butzin continues his story: “At this point, the NCA was still just a hobby for me – I had a full-time job working for the government – but in 2006, I decided to leave my job and live my passion full-time, pursuing my dream to create the biggest cycling event in the world.

“I identified the venue I wanted to rent – the AWD Dome in Bremen, northern Germany – and knew I wanted to fill it with 3,000 bikes. I scheduled the event for August 2007 and spent the next 18 months travelling around clubs, running classes for them for free, talking to them about my dream and asking: ‘Please could I borrow your bikes?’ However many bikes they agreed to lend me for the day, that’s how many tickets they got for the event, which they could then offer to their members.

“When the day came, we had a real mix of bikes coming from all over the country, all of which had to be brought to the Dome and taken out again in the same day – because it cost €70,000 to rent the venue for one day but also, obviously, because the clubs needed them back.

“But it worked. We had thousands of attendees, great classes over the space of eight hours, a live band, hot food for everyone, water and fruit delivered regularly to every bike… And it was just a great feeling: everyone was on an emotional high afterwards.

“Admittedly I lost €70,000 on the event, but that wasn’t important to me – I just wanted to make my dream come true. That said, the bank didn’t feel quite the same way: I had to run a subsequent smaller event to make the money back!”

Butzin’s mass participation events attract thousands of participants

Cycling for energy
Fast-forward to today and the NCA is still running events, with the current wave adopting an energy theme, as Butzin explains: “In 2015, 2016 and 2017, we ran 24-hour events where we attached dynamos to the bikes to capture the human energy being generated, using this to charge the battery of an electric car.

“We actually set a Guinness World Record: 2,500 people – just normal people, not athletes – rode 100 bikes and generated enough energy for the Minister of Economy to drive the car for 130km.”

He adds: “We also continue to raise large amounts for charity: over the last three years alone, we’ve donated around €45,000 to good causes.

“Our next event is scheduled to take place in November 2019. Volkswagen is launching a new car and wants us to run an energy-harvesting event – much like the recent ones we’ve organised – to help promote it. So, we’ll be looking for teams of cyclists to take part!”

The German challenge
But when I broach the topic of new trends in indoor cycling, the exciting boutique studios appearing around the world, and what the future might look like for indoor cycling in Germany, Butzin falls uncharacteristically quiet. “I hate to have to say this, but indoor cycling is dying in Germany,” he says. “Most club operators question the return on investment: they have bikes to buy and maintain, and instructors to pay, but only run perhaps two classes a day. The rest of the time, the studios – and the bikes – are unused. As a result, operators are starting to pull indoor cycling off the timetable.”

He continues: “The NCA does what it can to keep the momentum going, but in the end we do what we do for fun. Meanwhile, very few of the world’s big, powerful cycling brands have a strong presence in Germany. The positive spirit around indoor cycling has gone in our market.

Heart attacks remain Germany’s biggest killer, so encouraging cycling is a great message

“But it isn’t too late. We simply need new inspiration. My idea would be for someone – a pioneering supplier – to buy a lorry and put 50 bikes on it, along with a great sound system, a good sponsor and fantastic instructors. Get out there and show people what great indoor cycling looks like.

“There are 40 major cities in Germany, so spend a year touring. Bring it to the people – let them try it for themselves, then tell them where they can do indoor cycling locally.

“Talk to the operators about their challenges and propose a new model: one where the bikes are on the gym floor rather than tucked away in a studio. There’s no reason at all why indoor cycling classes can’t take place on a gym floor, with the bikes then available for general gym use the rest of the time.

“Get health insurance companies involved as sponsors, so the costs are covered. Get in touch with the local authorities to find a neutral space where all club operators will be happy to go: you’ll get the authorities on-side by promising to donate every cent of the €10 participation fees to local charities. Get the Health Minister aware. And secure TV and other media coverage to create a buzz around the whole thing; heart attacks remain Germany’s biggest killer, so encouraging people to cycle is a great media-friendly message, as is donating all proceeds to local hospitals.

“If we get the right people on-board, we can do this.”

portrait photo ralph butzin
Ralph Butzin


Home Delivery

To say the at-home indoor cycling market is booming would be an understatement. Ignited by US-based Peloton back in 2013, when it first launched its bike on Kickstarter, the market has gained strong momentum over the last few years in particular. We’re seeing major new players enter the fray and a surge in consumer demand: recent research by Les Mills found that 85 per cent of gym members now also work out at home – and cycling is without doubt one of the disciplines seeing the greatest innovation and interest.

Peloton: Flying high

Let’s start with Peloton which, following months of speculation, in June revealed plans to launch an initial public offering (IPO). The number of shares and the price range for the proposed offering had, at the time of going to print, not yet been determined, but the announcement marks the culmination of a strong 12 months for the brand, which is currently flying high with 1 million-plus users, a US$4bn valuation, sales of US$700m+ in its most recent fiscal year, a predicted 6.2 per cent share of the US gym equipment market by the end of its current fiscal year, and successful roll-outs into the UK and Canada.

Peloton is also now gearing up for entry into its fourth market – Germany – later this year. This will mark the brand’s first foray into regular non-English language instruction, with bespoke content set to be created: German-speaking indoor cycling instructors will be added to Peloton’s roster, at this stage based out of Peloton’s London studio. Hundreds of existing English-language classes will also be made available with German subtitles.

Other plans for Germany include a network of branded retail showrooms in the major cities, allowing consumers to ‘try before they buy’; the bike can also be purchased online, retailing at €2,290 plus a €39 monthly fee to access classes.

Peloton streams classes to more than 1 million members

While this price point may seem ambitious judged purely against the predominantly low-cost German gym market, in fact, the at-home market is a different story, says industry veteran Jon Johnston: “In my experience, the price point for home fitness products has held up better in Germany compared to other markets.“

Kevin Cornils, Peloton’s international managing director, is certainly confident, explaining: “Germany is Europe’s largest fitness market, where more than 10 million people belong to a gym, so it was a natural next step for Peloton.“ [Read our recent interview with Cornils here]

And as Leisure Database’s David Minton observes: “The reality is that Peloton will go everywhere, because it has so much money. In the last six years, it has spent US$1bn. If it spends the same again in the next six years, it could be in at least 100 countries.“

Back to Plan A

That said, things aren’t all rosy for Peloton, which has currently pulled out of the commercial space to focus exclusively on the at-home market – no doubt at least in part the result of its widely-reported lawsuit over music licensing. Observers do, however, predict a return to the commercial space – potentially with a new bike – once the licensing issue has been addressed.

And Peloton has unquestionably struck a chord with today’s convenience-driven, experience-led consumer. Global fitness industry observer Emma Barry comments: “Peloton was not the first to deliver at-home workouts by a long shot, riding the slipstream of greats before it, but this fit-tech unicorn has nevertheless delivered a software-hardware-subscription solution happily touting a 2-foot commute. It has raised the at-home stakes by elegantly connecting experience and community – linking riders to live-streamed NYC rockstars, and each other – and making it sticky enough to produce startling engagement: an average 13 rides per month.

Boutique ventures

Little wonder, then, that Peloton has spawned a whole raft of copycats over the last few years.

Live streaming will be a great way for us to extend our brand to new audiences outside of London – 1Rebel.

Around the same time as Peloton announced its upcoming German launch, US-based Flywheel – with its 42 studios across the US – teamed up with Amazon to take its Flywheel Home Bike to a broader audience. The bike retails on Amazon for US$2,248 (with tablet) or US$1,948 (bike only), with two months’ access to Flywheel’s programming included for free. Although the bike originally launched towards the end of 2017, this new deal with online juggernaut Amazon marks a significant ramping up of Flywheel’s at-home ambitions.

And it’s surely just a matter of time before SoulCycle follows suit. “SoulCycle owner Equinox is looking at every opportunity to expand its reach, says Minton. “The space it has created in New York – with its first hotel alongside an Equinox health club, Rumble, SoulCycle all in the same place – shows the scale of its ambition. It won’t be long before we see Equinox and SoulCycle beamed into the home.

soul cycle at home
It’s surely just a matter of time before SoulCycle launches its own at-home offering

Meanwhile, other innovations are harnessing the power of partnership to come to market, with each partner playing to their respective strengths: equipment manufacturers creating the hardware; operators coming on-board as content providers.

Late last year, Italian equipment manufacturer Technogym announced its entry into the dynamic at-home group exercise marketplace. Its Technogym Live digital platform – home to carefully curated class content – will be accessed through a range of Technogym Live equipment: a new bike, as well as other home equipment including a treadmill and a rowing machine, will all feature a special console. As with Peloton, users will be able to access live-streamed classes as well as a comprehensive on-demand library.

Classes on the Technogym Live platform will be created in collaboration with a specially selected line-up of operator partners – and this is where the boutiques come in again, with the line-up already including Virgin Active Revolution in Milan and London’s 1Rebel, which will be live streaming from its cycling amphitheatre in Victoria.

les mills virtual bike at-home cycling
The Les Mills Virtual Bike was designed for the gym floor, but it’s easy to see how similar bikes could move into the home exercise space.

“We’ve been recording a catalogue of on-demand classes since January, and will be live streaming a number of peak classes when the bike launches, which I expect to be September,“ confirms 1Rebel’s James Balfour. “It will be a great way for us to extend our brand to new audiences outside of London.“

The Les Mills Virtual Bike was designed for the gym floor, but it’s easy to see how similar bikes could move into the home exercise space.

On-demand survival

And it’s easy to see how this market – equipment manufacturers partnering with content providers to create at-home solutions – might continue to grow and evolve.

Already on the market are a couple of products which, at this stage, have been designed with a B2B audience in mind – a way for operators to keep their gym floors competitive in an era where consumer expectations are being shaped by the likes of Peloton. The Les Mills Virtual Bike, created in collaboration with Stages Indoor Cycling, launched late last year, while a prototype of the Wexer Body Bike was showcased at FIBO 2019. Both products allow users to access a range of high quality on-demand virtual classes: the former focusing exclusively on Les Mills RPM, SPRINT and TRIP; the latter offering access to Wexer’s top cycling classes from a range of content providers, as well as complementary floor-based workouts which can be done post-cycle thanks to the bike’s 180-degree swivel screen.

Although currently B2B products, it’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to envisage similar bikes being made available for at-home use in the longer term. Indeed, Wexer Body Bike is already exploring options to allow operators to sell its bike to their members – potentially even white labelled with their own branding – for at-home use. “In addition to creating a new revenue stream for operators, this would allow gyms to extend their ecosystem into members’ homes,” confirms Body Bike CEO Uffe A Olesen.

And this is key to gyms’ survival in the on-demand economy, says HDD Group CEO Kim Hessellund: “Even though we have had time to prepare in Europe, it seems we’re still surprised by our ‘new’ competitors: many gyms still don’t have a clear strategy to compete in this space.

“We need to learn from Peloton’s B2C success and disrupt the disruptors, introducing new digital solutions that allow gym members to exercise anywhere, any time. I’m confident this flexibility would allow operators to offer a total health community in a way the likes of Peloton never could.

“It’s not a binary conversation, confirms Barry. “While some consumers will prefer predominantly physical or digital experiences, most will converse with the greater ecosystem, consuming content when and where they choose – physically, digitally and everywhere in between.

An exercise ecosystem

And why stop at simply selling bikes to members when, just as boutiques such as 1Rebel have already done, other operators could also become content providers themselves?

Minton continues: “I think we’ll see the merging of hardware and software quite quickly over the next two to three years. We’ll see more operators selling ready-made products: buying a bike with a live streaming facility, for example, which they can sell on to members and live stream their own classes. I can see the likes of David Lloyd Clubs doing something like this.

It would certainly be a logical progression, as tech advisor and entrepreneur Bryan K O’Rourke explains: “We’re already seeing McFIT and other gym brands entering the content streaming business, and it’s just getting started. Brands will have to make decisions around how and where they wish to compete, given consumer expectations.

“Cloud computing, quality video production and enterprise platforms are already enabling businesses to deploy content solutions, at scale, more and more economically. You can launch streaming solutions relatively inexpensively. YouTube now has a subscriber model.

“The bottom line is that, if your content concept appeals to a certain segment, you – as a fitness professional or business – can already become a global provider to users directly. Indeed, there are fitness studios already making good money streaming their content to exercisers around the world.

And this will only go up a gear as hardware and software move closer together, confirms O’Rourke: “There will no doubt be increasing competition, as several well-financed entrants are now planning on entering home cycling with equipment and platforms.

“There is certainly enough demand – people expect to have their fitness experience available to them whenever and whenever they choose – but more importantly the economics of delivery are going to become less expensive as well. When it comes to health and fitness as a frictionless service, what we’re already seeing is only the beginning.“

Good & bad news

All that said, Balfour is quick to sound a note of warning. “There’s good and bad news about the at-home market, he says. “There’s a proven model of demand and Peloton has low attrition rates, although that isn’t overly surprising: once you’ve bought a US$2,000+ bike, you’re unlikely to switch to another brand unless you have a terrible experience, and you also tend to keep paying the monthly fees.

“However, as far as I’m aware, Peloton hasn’t yet made a profit. It has dominated the market with a first-mover advantage and spent a lot of money to drive a big valuation – some sources are even touting £8bn as a pre-IPO price – but we shouldn’t be side-tracked by this. Although this trend is here to stay, ultimately nobody knows the value of this market; given we’re talking about US$2,000 pieces of home equipment, it has to be finite.

“It’s also important to recognise that, although I personally believe Peloton risks spending too much to grow, its price tag and consequent retention rates could mean its first mover advantage clinches a ‘winner takes all’ situation. Even if it doesn’t, the market is about to get very crowded.

“For me, the important thing is to be pragmatic. Certainly, in our venture with Technogym, I believe every bike should be profitable, otherwise, it will be a distraction for us. This is where Technogym’s economies of scale, as well as our ability to use our studios as retail outlets to sell the bikes, will come into play.

Welcome the big brands

The crowd to which Balfour alludes is in fact already forming, including more affordable options for those not able to stretch to a Peloton-esque price tag. BKool, for example – a Spanish turbo trainer manufacturer that supplies UCI World Tour cycling teams – already manufactures the BKool Smart Bike, which retails through the likes of Powerhouse Fitness and Sports Tiedje for £1,199, plus £7.99 a month for on-demand workout content.

The bike has no integrated screen – classes are accessed via an app and can be cast onto a TV screen – but once connected to the user’s personal device via Bluetooth, the app takes control of the gearing, automatically adjusting resistance in response to the class profile or route shown on-screen.

“The best way to think about the future of at-home cycling is to forget about cycling altogether.”

More product launches are sure to follow in what’s set to be an increasingly competitive sector – one that now has the attention of the big consumer brands. Says Minton: “The big players have realised it’s all about entertainment in the home, about creating a great at-home experience. You just need to look at the likes of TCV – a lead investor in Peloton’s recent US$550m financing round – which has also invested in brands like Spotify and Netflix. We really are just seeing the start of all of this.“

at-home cycling bike
Flywheel’s home bike is now available on Amazon

Barry agrees: “GAFA – Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple – are rubbing their hands in glee as they prepare to stretch out their long arm of end-to-end product, service and delivery to our consumer. With the accelerating force of AI and ongoing development of VR and AR, fitness will soon be as engaging as PlayStation for a 12-year old boy.

“The best way to think about the future of at-home cycling is to forget about cycling altogether. Think of it as just another service you’re passionate about receiving. Think food. Think fashion. Think human behaviour. Amazon has primed us to expect immediate delivery by drone or robot; Netflix is feeding us intoxicating content based on our preferences; Fortnite has us adventuring off-world with friends. These examples tap the tenets of convenience, hyper-personalisation and community – which brings us back to Peloton.

She concludes: “Moving forward, the coaching capacity and ability to enhance the experience will be a dimensional shift in exercising. Tech will help take us to dizzying heights of new sensation. Our biometrics will directly inform our optimal programming and nutrition plan, while personalised nudges throughout the day will keep us on track. At-home workouts are all set to blow the ceilings off.“

The power of the Brand

A simple but crucial question: why is it important to have a brand?
The market is so full of choice nowadays that the consumer is in charge. Why should they choose you rather than your competitor? What makes you different? What makes you stand out?

In the end, product attributes can be copied – a club could open up down the road offering exactly the same as you, for a cheaper price, and you’ll lose customers. But a brand can’t be copied; if someone tries, people recognise it as a rip-off and the imposter not only fails to have the same impact as the original, but it actually loses credibility.

So, what makes a brand? Put simply, a brand is created when you go beyond a rational, product-based relationship to develop an emotional connection with the customer – and the impact is incredibly powerful. There is, quite simply, no limit to the involvement a consumer will have with a brand they feel attached to personally – even in the face of competition.

cycle brand business touchpoint
Every customer journey is different, but all journeys will comprise a multitude of touchpoints with your business

You then need to distil the essence of this brand – what you stand for – and take it across every touch point of your business. It isn’t just the obvious stuff either, such as your logo and your advertising. Your handshake, your coffee, the invoice you send out… this is all branding too.

As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos says: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

How does Fitbrand help businesses build brands?
A brand is a comprehensive experience that communicates to your audience who your company is – and we can help with all of it. However, we don’t execute all of it: our role has become increasingly strategic over the last few years, often creating entire brand identities from scratch.

We kick off with in-depth discussions with the client to understand their needs, their goals, their target audiences. Where budget allows, we will also do some consumer research to create target market personas, as this allows the brand to be crafted around its end users.

Crucially, though, we’re there to help clients understand that it takes more than an Instagram account to become a brand. We believe the measure of a brand is its long-term visibility, which takes strategy and an ability to set clear goals.

The big challenge in the fitness sector is that many businesses have failed to realise the role of the brand. They still believe their businesses will grow through a sales-focused approach. Our mission is to challenge this mindset.

What sort of businesses do you work with?
We work with all sizes of business, from larger corporates to personal trainers who are looking to set up their first studio. Indeed, what’s interesting nowadays is that, thanks to social media, personal brands can be as strong as business brands – individual fitness trainers, for example, can become brands with huge, loyal fan bases.

We believe the measure of a brand is its long-term visibility, which takes strategy and an ability to set clear goals.

Sometimes people come to us with a clear idea of what they want to do, in which case it’s our role to challenge their thinking. Other times, particularly for the independent start-ups, our role is more of a knowledge provider. But with all clients, I like there to be a discussion – I don’t just want them to sit back and agree with us. Challenging each other makes the process more interesting and leads to better outcomes. 

But I do have one non-negotiable, and I immediately establish whether potential clients meet this by asking two important questions: what’s your motivation, and what do you see as Fitbrand’s role in all of this? If we see that people are driven by passion, we’ll work with them. If, on the other hand, we feel they’re driven by unrealistic expectations, we won’t work with them as we know success will always prove elusive for them.

Is there one universal piece of advice for all businesses looking to build their brands?
To understand what you need to do to become a better brand, you first have to appreciate what’s going on in the world. Read – and by that I don’t just mean short snippets of information on social media. Really try to understand your target market and the world in which they live.

Then, once you’re assessing your business, don’t only try to improve an existing concept. Think out of the box, embrace the new… and remember, if you aren’t online, you’ll never be the brand you want to be.

But at the same time, don’t try and embrace things that aren’t true to you. Don’t copy anyone else. Do what you’re best at and create a niche for yourself. That’s when people will believe in you and follow you, because you’re doing something credible.

One great example is the personal trainer in the south of Holland who works with dog owners, training them with their dogs. He’s been very successful in creating a strong personal brand because he stands for something differentiated, he’s found a niche he’s passionate about, and he’s good at what he does.

crowded subway brand power

How do personal brands work?
Social media has given individuals a route to market, allowing them to become brands in their own right. It’s why Equinox in the US was recently able to launch an agency for social media influencers: brands now pay for these influencers to promote their products.

This trend impacts the club environment too. Let’s take a group cycling class for example: get the right instructor in there – a star trainer – and the class will be packed. It might be exactly the same programme as another instructor delivers, but the power of the star trainer’s personal brand draws the crowds.

This is therefore the main piece of advice I’d offer all club and studio operators: Hire the very best staff you can afford, because fitness is a people business. It’s just about the worst-paid industry in the world, and the hardest part of branding is getting the right people for the right price – but if you get it right, your brand will build on the strength of their connections.

A bit of advice, too, for any individuals looking to develop their own personal brands: don’t use digital comms to show yourself off. There’s so much narcissism on social media. Instead, use social media to connect with people: show how your clients succeed, share knowledge, give away information to show people you have their interests at heart. Educate your followers and give them a reason to believe in you.

digital self branding social media
Don’t use digital comms to show yourself off. Use social media to build a personal brand by connecting with and educating people.

In fact, the same goes for bigger brands too. If you’re a health club chain, appoint social media managers who understand that content should first and foremost be good for your members, not good (i.e. promotional) for you.

And be patient: it takes time to build emotional connections. If you feel you don’t have enough Twitter followers, the problem isn’t them – it’s you. People won’t be interested in you until they know you and what you can do for them: you have to have something to say, and it has to be something they want to hear.

Once you’ve developed a brand, then what – is it up to the client from then on?
Fitbrand doesn’t do all the execution, but we do provide brand manuals for ongoing reference.

We’re also launching a new service next year – a brand coaching system – that will keep us strategically connected to our clients on an ongoing basis. Every month, we’ll meet for two hours to discuss their vision for the future, their goals, their challenges, anything they’re working on where we can help make them a better, more entrepreneurial brand.

This is really important, because branding isn’t something you can put in an algorithm and predict the outcome based on what you’ve done – there are always external factors at play, and you have to continually re-assess and respond to protect and progress your brand.

We’ve already been working in this way with some clients – BODY BIKE, for example – but this will be our recommended approach for all clients going forward. It will allow us to re-set clients’ mindsets on a regular basis, helping them stay on-brand even as they navigate new challenges, and encouraging them to stay thinking creatively.


we transformed BODY BIKE from being a factory into being a brand.

Tell us more about your work with BODY BIKE…
We’ve been working with them properly for about five years. When they approached us, they had a great reputation but were too focused on the process of building their bikes. They hadn’t really paused for breath to recognise the value of their company.

We identified some strong USPs – the fact the bikes are hand-made in Denmark, for example – and came up with slogans like “Your Bike, Your Ride”. We put together special events and support packages for the launch of their new bikes – marketing assets that were used by distributors and clubs. It was so successful that they had to bring in more people to meet the demand for the bikes.

In brief, we transformed BODY BIKE from being a factory into being a brand.

Are there any other fitness brands out there that you particularly admire?
SoulCycle is quoted so often, but it really has done a great job of telling a story and building a brand. People say indoor cycling is dead, but it isn’t at all – it’s just about branding it in the right way, making it fun and delivering a full experience around it. That’s what SoulCycle has done so well.

The other thing SoulCycle has done is recognise that the strength of its brand rests firmly on the shoulders of its instructors. They are the stars and the secret of SoulCycle’s success – and the business realises this and pays them very well.

campcycle branding

Other notable brands include Roo Cycle in the Netherlands. It’s focused on the environment – no plastic bottles sold in its studios, for example – which is something its audience cares about. It also shares lots of posts on social media around nutrition, rest, rehab and so on – they don’t talk about themselves, but instead share knowledge freely to improve the experience of those cycling with them.

Meanwhile, UK boutique operator 1Rebel did some great work in understanding its millennial target market. Its product and brand absolutely reflect this, from the lighting and music to the brand’s tone of voice and use of social media; many others are now trying to imitate it.

What would be your advice to a full-service club wanting to improve its cycling offering?
Develop club-in-club concepts. Take each individual space in your club – your cycling studio, but also your yoga studio, functional training space and so on – and make them so awesome and so distinctive that people will pay extra to use them.

But don’t just see this as a revenue driver. See it as a brand-building project too – an opportunity to broaden the appeal of your business by creating standalone brands that appeal to new target groups. Fitnesscamp Westerwald in Germany is a great example: by totally reinventing its cycling studio environment and hiring star instructors, it motivated whole new groups of people to become fans of its brand.

Ultimately, make your cycling offering a great, customer-centric experience from start to finish, so it’s something people talk about and share. This word of mouth will also play a huge part in further building your brand.

And what about the boutiques – any areas in which they could do better?
Boutiques have done a great job of finding their niche, and I believe more and more niches will open up as interest in health, fitness and lifestyle continues to grow – there will be plenty of opportunities here for studios and personal trainers alike.

However, most boutiques remain too salesfocused. They’re doing well at filling classes, but they still haven’t done enough to really embed their brands and protect themselves from becoming commodities.

My view is this: These boutiques need to do even more to build communities. This is where true brand strength and loyalty is built.

A connected fitness ecosystem

Your strapline is ‘ANT+ It just works’. But what just works – what is ANT+?
To explain what ANT+ is, I first need to backtrack and explain what ANT is.

ANT is a generic wireless protocol owned by Garmin, which was born from a desire to track how many steps a runner was taking without putting wires all over him.

Many people will be familiar with another wireless protocol, Bluetooth, so this is often the best place to start when it comes to explaining what ANT does. It’s similar to Bluetooth in many ways.

They really are complementary technologies. Bluetooth is built around fixed pairing relationships: you can typically only connect a sensor to one other device at any one time. Meanwhile, ANT is set up to allow a sensor device to connect to many other devices simultaneously, which adds flexibility: you can, for example, connect your heart rate strap with a phone, your watch and the computer on your indoor cycling bike – all at the same time.

ANT+ is an application that’s been built on top of ANT. It’s a collection of what we call Device Profiles, built for very specific use cases, each of which has a specification of how to transmit the information related to that use case over the air using ANT – whether it’s data from an ANT+ heart rate strap, an ANT+ bike power meter, an ANT+ bike speed and cadence sensor…

More specifically, ANT+ is the wireless standard that connects an entire product ecosystem: a universal standard that ensures wireless fitness sensor data, whatever manufacturer it comes from, is all of the same format.

That all sounds a bit complex I know, but in a nutshell, what ANT+ represents is a very successful, multi-brand wireless ecosystem.

What do you mean by a ‘wireless standard’?
Rewind to before the days of ANT+ when, as a prime example, there were lots of different companies building devices to measure bicycle power – but none of them were communicating in the same way.

What ANT did was encourage the different manufacturers to recognise that building one-off solutions for specific customers – thereby creating walled gardens whereby only devices within those restricted ecosystems could speak to each other – would only get the industry so far. Although they were competitors, these manufacturers came to understand that collaborating within the ANT+ ecosystem would grow the market as a whole and ensure a bigger slice of the pie for everyone.

Spinnclass ANT+
ANT+ works well even in crowded studios – it can cope with high levels of data traffic

From that, the standardised device profile for bicycle power was born – accompanying other use cases such as heart rate and speed – and ANT+ became the de-facto central organising body for a consortium of companies in the sport and fitness electronics market.

Nowadays there must be at least 15–20 bicycle power manufacturers in the ANT+ ecosystem, and lots of different ways to measure bike power – crank-based strain gauges, two-sided pedal power, rear wheel sensors… But although all the sensor tech is different, the wireless data they all send up is now of the same standard.

Why does that matter?

For the consumer, this standardisation means they get to choose the device that works for them and get their data regardless.

For manufacturers, it means great new ideas can come to market quickly, because they can tap in to an existing ecosystem. They can just focus on developing great sensor technology, knowing the wireless ecosystem is already there.

Ant+ couple bike phone
Aggregator apps need to make data consumable, so end users can make sense of it

Can you give some examples of how ANT+ is used in the fitness sector?
The first couple of examples are related to Fitness Equipment Control.

All newer Samsung devices natively include ANT support, which means app developers can tap in to ANT+ too. For example, Zwift and Trainer Road both use ANT+ to connect with smart trainers – the devices you attach to the rear wheel of a normal road bike to be able to train indoors – and remotely control the resistance.

Zwift uses this to create huge, multi-player online games where you race around virtual tracks from across the globe. As the game footage shows the terrain going uphill, Zwift sends an instruction to the trainer to make it harder for the cyclist by increasing the resistance: an incline of 10 per cent on-screen is made to feel like 10 per cent on the bike.

I’ve seen really lovely examples of this in action in bike shops in Canada, where during the winter they invite people into the shop, hook everyone up to Zwift and do group rides indoors when it isn’t possible to cycle outside. It creates a great sense of community.

Trainer Road takes the same remote control capability but, instead of showing VR footage, uses it to curate workouts and training programmes to run through the trainer.

Another great example relates to heart rate belts, and the ability to create entire gym scenarios where multiple devices are connected at once – because any device that supports ANT+ can connect with any other device that supports ANT+, simultaneously.

Orangetheory Fitness is a great example: everyone wears a heart rate strap which they can connect to their own smart watches – but all straps are connected to the gym too, with big screens showing everyone’s heart rate. If you get on a treadmill, you could also connect your heart rate belt to that if you wanted to.

With ANT+, this is all possible even in a busy environment with a large number of devices – it can cope with the traffic. That’s useful in boutique studios too. These are generally smaller, so the concentration of devices can be quite high, but it’s still possible to create things like leaderboards, which again helps build the sense of community.

Ant+ ecosystem exerciser
The ANT+ ecosystem means exercisers can choose the device that works for them and get their data regardless

Anything new from ANT+ that you’d like to tell us about?
We’ve just released a new version of our Fitness Equipment Control device profile. Historically it was always two-way: as with the Zwift example, ANT+ could be used to wirelessly transmit data to the sensor, as well as from it.

Now we’ve also created a one-way version which is great for studio bikes, as well as other types of fitness equipment: treadmills, rowers, ellipticals and so on. These aren’t, and don’t need to be, remote controlled, so this latest enhancement of the device profile allows us to better deliver on what studios need – which, as with the work we do for BODY BIKE, is ensurin g the data people actually want can be extracted from the equipment.

How do you see the fitness sector evolving, and how will ANT+ help shape this?
Sensors and devices are getting so much smarter, increasingly able to measure numerous different things. As this happens, so more data types will need to be broadcast wirelessly – and we’re uniquely positioned to deliver on this, because we’re a small and intimately run organisation that can quickly adapt to new use cases.

It will then be over to the aggregator apps – like Garmin Connect and Strava – to take all that data and make it consumable, so end users can make sense of it. In turn, this will drive an appetite among consumers to collect even more data and understand more about themselves. And so it will come full circle, back to the sensor manufacturers to make their devices even smarter still.

We’re in the centre of all this, supporting all of this development as it moves forward.

Why health is the future of fitness

“What the fitness industry needs to recognise is that training isn’t about being in a certain location,” says ACTIVIO CEO Moris Lahdo. “Health club membership might work for some people, at certain points in their life, but there are lots of other ways to exercise.

“Fitness and training is about where you are in your life right now, and as an industry we need to acknowledge and address this. We need to follow people throughout their life journey, assuming a broader responsibility: that of getting more people, more active in whatever way is best suited to them at that moment.”

He continues: “Technology isn’t the only answer to this challenge, but it certainly has a big role to play – and the likes of Apple and Google are well aware of this. While the fitness industry is busy looking inwards and focusing on membership sales, these tech giants have identified a bigger opportunity to focus on the preventative healthcare agenda. In the next few years, I expect them to create a platform that will connect everything with everyone – where all you need to manage your health is your smartphone – and this will mark the end for a lot of traditional fitness companies.

“Our industry will be fundamentally disrupted unless we start working smart and working with each other. We need to connect and create a seamless platform for end users – one that educates people about their training, their nutrition, their sleep. One that centres on improving health rather than selling memberships; the latter should come once people have got moving, but it can’t be the starting point.”

Activio App Technology

He adds: “The starting point to getting fit and healthy is a fitness tracker or app with training recommendations: something that gets you off the couch and out for a gentle five -minute walk. Perhaps it’s prescribed to you by your doctor. Perhaps your friends recommend it. Whatever the catalyst, one thing is certain: the gym won’t be the natural first port of call for people who are currently inactive.

“To appeal to these people – and let’s not forget, this is the vast majority of the population – the fitness industry needs to adapt. This is our challenge and this is what we should be talking about, not selling memberships to the 10–15 per cent of already active individuals. If we don’t solve this for ourselves, believe me, Apple and Google will come in and solve it.”

Towards a solution

Lahdo explains: “This is something we’ve prioritised at ACTIVIO. Of course, we have great solutions for health clubs, studios and fitness centres – our roots are in professional sports and it remains our mission to optimise the training experience. In a health club environment, we motivate people to push themselves and achieve great results.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our products relevant to the rest of the population, helping less active people to also achieve great results by taking baby steps.”

He continues: “In Sweden, where ACTIVIO is headquartered, a lot of people are prescribed physical activity by their doctors. That’s great, but technology-wise it’s a very closed system. Now imagine instead a system whereby your activity data is sent up to a cloud, to be shared with whoever it is who’s helping you improve your health – your doctor, your fitness coach, your mentor. This is how ACTIVIO works.


“ACTIVIO also becomes a coach inside your smartphone, recommending exercises and activities to help you towards your goals. To start off, it might prescribe 3 x 5-minute walks each week, telling you to stay in the blue heart rate zone – so just a gentle stroll to get moving. It’s about helping people accept the need to train in the first place, as well as helping them easily understand how to do that – how to live a healthier life.

“We also do a lot of work with schools. Kids are incredibly motivated by our system – even kids who are usually totally sedentary. The moment they put on an ACTIVIO heart rate belt and see their colour-coded gauge on the screen at the front of the room, they start running around to see how high they can get their heart rate. It’s about creating movement and joy at this age. In the end, they may become gym members – but not if you don’t intervene when they’re still children, getting them away from their phones and their tablets and getting them moving.”

He adds: “ACTIVIO is already used by over a million people every month. If we can continue to expand into new markets, and continue to extend our capacity to prescribe, I believe we can help whole populations to become healthier.

“I also believe this is what the whole fitness industry should be doing – connecting different levels and groups in society to encourage movement and health.”

The consumer is king

Even within the health club environment, a key goal for ACTIVIO is helping exercisers realise how their training impacts their overall health, by giving them ownership and understanding of their training data.

Says Lahdo: “ACTIVIO’s mission has always been to optimise the training performance. To this end, one of our key USPs is the way we present training data.

“When you’re under stress – during exercise, for example – the brain finds it harder to process


numbers and figures. Based on this scientific insight, we made a conscious decision to use a simple analogue display for the ACTIVIO system: a gauge that looks a bit like the speedometer in a car, but where colours replace the numbers around the edge. The coach tells you to hit a specific colour zone and you gear your effort level accordingly – and that’s it. You learn how each zone feels, and that’s what’s important.”

This approach is constant across ACTIVIO’s portfolio of products, from the premium, fixed installation to the portable, tablet-based solution to the power solution that wirelessly collects data from indoor bikes. It’s also the approach in the brand new ACTIVIO Next Level platform, which will be launched soon.

What’s equally important about ACTIVIO Next Level is the open nature of the platform. Lah-do explains: “We’re already seeing consumers bringing their own smartphones and wearables into health clubs, and this will only increase over the coming years. They want to be able to use their own device, to wear their choice of heart rate belt or monitor in class. Closed systems will become less and less relevant.

“ACTIVIO Next Level is therefore an open platform that will work with all the major brands of heart rate belt. We will also integrate our solution with Apple Health, GoogleFit, Strava, Runkeeper and so on. If the member wants to use an ACTIVIO belt, great – they will be able to benefit from all the measures we can track, from heart rate and power, to pace and distance through our memory recording and accelerometer technology.

“But belt sales aren’t our priority. We want to be a ‘hub in the club’ that allows for excellent coaching, motivation and education – and where the club is at the heart of that experience – but where the member uses their own tech. They get to choose where their data goes after the workout.

“If we want to help people improve their health, we have to accept that they own their health data.”

Enhancing the experience

He concludes: “Interestingly, adopting this data-based approach also enhances the training experience, which in turn improves member retention.

Activio colour zone
ACTIVIO’s colour-zoned, analogue gauge is simple to read and understand

“Training data can add huge value to the indoor cycling experience too. In cycling classes across the sector, there’s a lot of stuff going on these days to keep people engaged: virtual footage, immersive experiences, real-time inter-club competitions and races. This is all great and will continue to play a big role in the future of indoor cycling, but I believe education is also key. Why should people do CV training?

Why should they cycle? Entertainment is great, but members need to know why they’re doing what they’re doing.

“We also need to add recommendations into what we do. What should be someone’s next workout? How can they progress? And as a gym operator, how can you design progression into your programming each quarter so people feel something is actually happening as a result of their exercise – that they’re making progress?

“Monitoring lies at the heart of all of this – heart rate, power and so on. In itself, it adds to the experience. It makes exercise very engaging when you can see your data in front of you and understand how what you do in your workout can affect it.

“But it’s also about showing someone how they’ve progressed. It’s about showing them how they’ve improved their health.

“If the fitness industry wants to be attractive in the future, it needs to focus on health – on helping people live a healthy lifestyle, and live it for many years.”


A new ACTIVIO Points™ (APS) system awards points to exercisers according to the effort they put in during their workout. This evidence-based system is linked to the ACTIVIO Sport Solution for professional teams.

  • Track and analyse a variety of performance metrics including heart rate, power, cadence, distance, APS™, calories and more.

  • Run fitness tests in class, from FTP to VO2 max. After each test, display the results and upload them for future use – a great way to boost member motivation and track progress over time.

  • Offer team competition mode, leaderboards and gamification to motivate members during exercise – and afterwards, with social media integration allowing members to share their training experiences.

  • Use structured workouts in your classes or let your instructors create their own workouts, which they can share with other instructors in your club. Using Virtual Trainer, club instructors can design their own class profiles – based on heart rate or power – and run those classes on the group exercise screen.

  • OPEN ACTIVIO™ doesn’t tie customers to specific technology: they will be able to use heart rate monitors from all the most popular brands and wearables.

  • A new cloud service will connect to the likes of Strava, Runkeeper, Google Fit and Apple Health.

  • An updated training app will offer memory recording and acceleration features.

  • Developed for future system integrations with modern API.

  • A new instructor education platform offers five different lecture programmes to share the latest science around heart rate training and power (watts) training.

Peloton: ‘A category of one’

What’s Peloton’s vision?
The inspiration behind Peloton is simple: people want to work out, but there are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way.

Peloton CEO John Foley experienced this first-hand when, with two kids at home, he and his wife Jill could no longer fit studio classes into their busy schedules. The idea for Peloton was born: studio-style, group fitness classes at home, letting people access the motivation, power and intensity of these classes any time, anywhere.

Peloton started with a bike, but it never set out to be just a bike company. It was always about bringing instructor-led group fitness classes to the convenience of your own home. Over the years, we’ve expanded and we continue to evolve our offering, but those founding principles remain the same.

Peloton has set the home fitness market alight. Why do you think this is?
The secret of Peloton’s success is that it’s more than just a class, a cycling studio or a bike: it sits at the intersection of fitness, technology and media and has reinvented the way people work out.

We talk about Peloton as a category of one; while there are similarities with brands that offer indoor cycling, we are more than any single bike, cycling class or studio.

The live component and community are what truly set us apart. We have over one million members in the Peloton community so, alongside the motivation from our instructors, our members can also give each other a boost.

The Peloton Bike features a real-time leaderboard, allowing you to track your progress versus other riders as well as your own Personal Record. In addition, we have a feature called ‘Here Now’, where the leaderboard shows other members who are riding in the same on-demand class at the same time as you; you can then give each other virtual high fives and support.


Other social features include ‘Ride with Friends’. When you hop on your Bike, you’ll receive a notification on-screen if a member you follow is currently taking a class. That way, you can join in and ride together on the leaderboard.

In short, members develop incredible relationships and connections with the community, who all share a passion for our brand. The way they motivate and interact with each other on the lea-derboard and on social media is truly amazing – and it converts riders into workout addicts

Peloton cycle classes
Instructors can see who’s taking part in live classes and give shout-outs to home riders

The Peloton Bike has a fairly high price point. Who is your target market?
Peloton has a very diverse member community, both geographically and socio-economically. What unites them is their desire for a high-quality workout with a great instructor and motivation.

They are often time-poor, so appreciate the convenience of Peloton. In addition, the monthly subscription fee is charged per household, so if you have more than one person working out, that’s a shared cost: you can have multiple profiles and riders for a single Bike.

In the UK, our monthly subscription is £39. With an average of 13 rides a month per subscription, that works out to be only £3 per ride.

How many Peloton classes are live streamed each day?
For cycling specifically, up to 14 classes are live streamed each day and we’ll have hundreds or even thousands of members taking part. In fact, some of Peloton’s recent themed rides have at-tracted nearly 20,000 live riders at one time.

During the live classes, instructors can see who’s taking part in their class, as well as those who are celebrating a milestone such as a 100th ride or a birthday, which enables them to give shout-outs to home riders.

However, it’s not just about interaction between instructors and members, but between members too. Members who have connected via Peloton will often plan to ride together and will motivate one another during the class.

Every single class that’s live streamed is then automatically added to our on-demand library, so members have access to the content any time, anywhere, regardless of where they’re based in the world.

You also have class participants in the New York studio. Can anyone go to these classes?
Anyone can visit our cycling studio in New York City to try a class. Often, we find that existing Peloton members will visit the studio to celebrate a milestone ride or to meet up with other members they’ve met through the class leader-board or social media.

We always recommend that members and new visitors to the studio book their preferred class as far in advance as possible (schedules are released a week ahead) but, with up to 14 classes live streamed each day, there are plenty of options. In addition, rides outside of the peak morning and evening times operate on a free, walk-in basis.

You now have a treadmill product too. What are your plans for this?
We announced our second hardware product, the Peloton Tread, at CES in January 2018 and started delivering units in the US this past fall.


Similar to the Bike, the Peloton Tread allows people to take live and on-demand group fitness classes, led by world-class instructors, from the comfort and convenience of their own homes. Peloton currently has a team of 11 Tread instructors who teach total body circuit training, walking, running, strength, stretching and audio-only outdoor running.

The reaction to the Tread has been incredible so far. Though it’s technically a treadmill, it’s really designed to deliver a total body workout, with live and on-demand classes across running, walking, bootcamp, strength and stretching.

Any plans to launch more products?
Peloton is always expanding its fitness content offerings to provide members with an ever-more diverse array of options to stay fit, happy and healthy. In December, we introduced live yoga and meditation classes, which offer a great complement to cycling.

We now have three studios in New York City – Cycling, Tread and Yoga – which are set up for live streaming of content.

cycling studio peloton
Pelotin digital is free to all bike and tread owners and offers access to over 10,000 classes

You also offer a digital membership. How does this complement the Bike and Tread?
Peloton Digital is free to all Bike and Tread owners and offers access to over 10,000 classes across categories such as cycling, running, walking, bootcamp, strength, stretching, cardio, yoga and meditation.

For non-Bike or Tread owners, you can access the full content library for £19.49 a month – less than the cost of one boutique fitness studio class. We believe the quality and breadth of content, as well as the community surrounding Peloton, sets us apart.

You recently launched in the UK. What has been the response to date?
The response has been incredible, with a community of UK-based members that’s growing daily – even faster than in the US when the business launched there.

Since the UK launch in September 2018, we’ve run our first TV advertising campaign, hosted thousands of rides at Peloton House in London, announced two UK instructors and opened multiple retail locations. Our pop-up in Covent Garden (Peloton House) has now closed, but you can take a test ride at any time at one of our retail showrooms.

We’re currently in our planning phase for a fulltime UK studio and will be opening it in 2020. In the meantime, cycling classes taught by our UK instructors are currently recorded from a location in London. They aren’t live streamed, but quickly become available on-demand for all members to access any time, anywhere around the world.

There’s enormous potential to disrupt the fitness market in the UK, and we’re only just getting started.

Will there be any differences between the way you operate in the UK versus the US?
In many ways, we’ve mirrored the US strategy in the UK. We sell direct-to-consumer through our website as well as through retail showrooms, and have built up our own delivery infrastructure to ensure we provide the highest-quality customer experience at each touchpoint.

Are you looking at any other international markets for expansion?
Right now, our international expansion efforts are focused on the UK and Canada; we launched into the Canadian market in October 2018.

The focus for the UK over the next 12 months is on growing our member base and introducing more people to Peloton. We have no immediate plans to launch the Tread in the UK, though, as we’re 100 per cent focused on penetrating the market with our core product: the Peloton Bike.

I read that you might go public in 2019. Is that still on the cards?
We’re not discussing specific timing for an IPO and, right now, are focused on using the capital we have to expand the business across product, retail and global expansion.

[Editor’s note: Recent news coverage suggests some progress has been made since this interview, with reports naming Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase as the banks chosen to lead the IPO. However, Peloton reiterates that no specific timing is being discussed for an IPO at this stage.]


Is it your ultimate vision to have numerous studios around the world, all live streaming?
Our studios are different from other cycling studios – they’re really state-of-the-art broadcast production facilities – so our business model will never be to open many studio locations around the world.

At the moment, we’re focused on continuing to offer 14 hours of live cycling content from our current NYC studio, as well as on building the studio in London and a new multistudio facility in New York City, which will open next year.

Having locally-based instructors is really important though: they understand the market, the music and what motivates people. That’s why we announced two UK instructors in November 2018.

cycling home

Do you think Peloton has changed the way people want to consume cycling?
Yes. I truly believe that Peloton has reinvented the category and that we’re creating demand.

We often describe Peloton as boutique fitness with a 2ft commute – you no longer have to live in a major city to get the benefit of boutique fitness classes – and the immersive experience of riding with Peloton means you’re motivated to train like never before.

Do you feel athome exercise can genuinely rival the experience of being in a club?
While gyms can still serve their purpose, we believe that fitness is moving into the home, much like movies and video games have over the past decade or so. If you can get a better fitness experience in a better, more convenient location, it could theoretically replace the need to belong to a gym.

What do you see as the future of the indoor cycling market, and what role will Peloton play in this?
I think technology will continue to play a huge role. For Peloton, technology underlies everything we do and is a big differentiator for us. We would consider ourselves to be a technology company first, content second, hardware third.

Ultimately the goal for Peloton is to be the global fitness platform for the home.


“I’ve co-founded, scaled and sold market-leading businesses across Europe in retail, media and digital services,“ says Kevin Cornils.“ I was a founding member of the team that brought the online dating business to Europe from the US, and was previously CEO of Glasses Direct, Europe’s largest online optical business.

“My passion has always been building businesses that are either creating new markets or disrupting old ones. Peloton is a great example: an exciting business that’s creating a whole new connected fitness market.

“I joined Peloton in January 2018, to oversee global business and expansion beyond the US, but have been following the brand since launch. I went to Harvard Business School with Peloton CEO John Foley, and was the first person in the UK to order a Bike when he launched Peloton on Kickstarter in 2013.

“I believed from the beginning that Peloton was a game-changing concept – one that would resonate with people who care about health and fitness, and who want a convenient and high-quality solution.“


  •  Over 1 million Peloton members, and counting; reports suggest Peloton now has 4% more US customers than SoulCycle
  •  The company was recently valued at US$4bn, with US$1bn total fundraising to date
  •  The one-year customer retention rate is 95 per cent; it’s still 87 per cent after two years
  •  The Bike retails at US$2,000 (£1,990) + US$39 (£39) a month subscription
  •  Over 300,000 Bikes sold within three years of the 2014 launch
  •  To date, each Bike sold is used for an average of 13 rides per month
  •  Peloton members typically do 50–60% of their exercise on the Bike; the rest is done outdoors or at the gym
  •  The new Tread retails at US$4,000

Phillip Mills

What has the emergence of boutique studios meant for the fitness sector as a whole?
As we all know, the fitness market has been disrupted over the last 15 years, in particular by the low-cost operators – these clubs are just getting better and better – and by the boutiques.

Boutiques in particular have really captured the millennial taste and this is key to their success, not least because millennials now account for a huge proportion of the fitness market: Les Mills recently commissioned a new study from Qualtrix – surveying 18,000 people across 22 countries – which found that 79 per cent of people doing gym-type activities are either millennials (those aged up to 37 years) or post-millennials (those aged up to 23 years).

Clubs absolutely have to embrace this market if they want to survive, and that means adapt-ing their offering. Millennials are very different from Baby Boomers and Gen X. In fact, they very consciously don’t want to do what their parents did. Many millennials are therefore bypassing traditional clubs in favour of the boutiques, and it’s vitally important that health club operators realise and respond to this.

Why? Because not only do millennials represent a huge segment of the market, but this is also the age at which habits are formed. The average age of a health club member might be around 40 years old, but our research has found the vast majority of people first join clubs in their 20s; 24 years old is the biggest joining point. Very few people join for the first time after 35 years old, and after the age of 40 the numbers are statistically almost non-existent.

So, you have to get people when they’re in their 20s, or at a push their early 30s – and this is the age group that’s currently being drawn to the boutiques. Our research shows a 5 per cent growth in the number of people doing gym-type activities between 2013 and 2018 – from 28 per cent of the population to 33 per cent – and it’s the boutiques and low-cost club that are benefiting the most.

Only 49 per cent of the market now uses traditional health clubs; the remaining 51 per cent are split across low-cost clubs, boutiques, small local clubs – the Anytime Fitnesses, Jetts and Snaps of this world – and other niches like university and corporate clubs.

And while not all the boutiques are successful – anecdotal evidence suggests around a third are struggling financially – this is still a sector that’s booming. There are now hundreds of thousands of boutique studios around the world and they’re enjoying share of wallet as well as share of market: the average monthly expenditure per member at a traditional club is US$52; at a boutique studio, that figure rises to US$111.

Understandably, then, there’s been growing concern among operators that traditional clubs could become an anachronism. I don’t accept this. For me, all it means is that traditional clubs have to evolve.

Les Mills the trip
Immersive class THE TRIP will be “the next big thing“, says Mills

And have traditional clubs evolved?
They have started to, yes, with a number of operators creating boutique-style spaces in their clubs. In the UK, for example, David Lloyd Leisure has launched Blaze, while the Brazilian mar-ket leader – the BioRitmo/Smartfit group – has created a few different styles of in-club boutique. Meanwhile, in New Zealand – following the pre-vious launch of our millennial-targeted, in-club cycling studio Chain – our Les Mills clubs have a couple of millennial-style innovations set to come out this year: a boxing/running class and a functional circuit similar to the F45 model.


It’s these styles of class – in-club boutique offer-ings – that will help traditional clubs to compete with the boutiques. But they have to be done well. It needs to be an authentic environment: a small area with a community feel. Crucially, the programming and the teachers have to be real-ly great. If you look at the successful boutiques – Barry’s Bootcamp, SoulCycle and Flywheel, for example – they’ve created some really cool class-es which are also incredible workouts, and they’re led by amazing instructors.

This is a key point, because it’s in this area – instructors – that traditional clubs have done badly over recent times. Clubs have been allowed to age in this respect: US$22 is still the average instructor fee paid per class in a traditional club, which is pretty much the same as it was in the 1980s. Why would any good instructor settle for that when the average fee for teaching a boutique class is US$50–$100?

Of course, there are some really good hobbyist in-structors out there – people who are doing it for love and who are great at what they do. But this isn’t a model that will bring a new generation of rockstar instructors into traditional clubs. These operators have to start paying instructors more. They need great instructors to deliver great classes if they’re to stand any chance of compet-ing with the boutiques – and the low-cost clubs for that matter.

And there’s no point saying you’ll rely on virtual group exercise. It’s true that the leading virtual classes are taught by great instructors, and it can be a very powerful tool for traditional clubs in off-peak times. But it’s live classes that build a sense of community. It’s instructors who build relationships and drive retention. Plus, most of the low-cost clubs offer virtual classes now. Traditional clubs need to up their game when it comes to live group exercise.

What’s the best place for clubs to start?
Clubs need to look at how and where to create cool boutique areas within their facilities, and the cycling studio is the easiest place to start. Cycle classes deliver the highest profit per square foot

– the number of people you can fit into an area is higher than for any other activity – and most clubs have a cycling studio already. However, in many cases they’ve been allowed to die, running just two or three classes a day.

Meanwhile, cycling is a huge – and growing – category in boutiques; even in traditional clubs, where cycling is done well, anything up to 30 per cent of members will include it in their routines.

ride high rebel Victoria
1Rebel Victoria has done something incredible. It’s the single best group exercise studio in the world

And that’s because anyone can do it, it’s a high motivation activity, and it offers great results. There’s also a growing body of research coming out of the big global research institutes show-ing how interval training on a bike can boost metabolism and weight loss, change our DNA to make muscles fitter and healthier, and even im-prove the cellular health and functionality of our muscles as we age.

So, while running, boxing, HIIT, yoga and so on are all opportunities for traditional clubs when it comes to in-house boutique spaces, definitely the most logical place to start would be upgrading existing cycling studios: upgrading the décor, the AV, the programming, the instructor quality by paying for rockstars… If you have great content, great teachers and a great space, you become competitive again.

Can you offer a few examples of great cycling studios that might act as inspiration?
There are lots of great examples out there. Décor-wise SoulCycle is great, and it has some very good instructors. The workout isn’t for me though, with too much high-speed stuff out of the saddle. In terms of the workout, I love Flywheel – it’s more athletic, more about interval training. Space Cycle in Shanghai is very cool too, as are some of the immersive studios we’ve worked with around the world: TMPL in New York City and Pure Fitness in Hong Kong, for example.

But in terms of overall experience, my two current favourites are London’s 1Rebel Victoria and the new TRIP studio in our Les Mills Auckland club. 1Rebel Victoria has done something incredible. It’s the single best group exercise studio in the world – a truly amazing experience – and it’s setting the standard for clubs around the globe. [Read more about 1Rebel Victoria in our interview with 1Rebel co-founder James Balfour.]

Meanwhile, in Auckland, we have 100 bikes in a theatre-style studio that’s been designed by some hot young architects. The studio is dark, illuminated from the front by a concave screen – 20m wide by 3m high – on which we run our immersive cycling classes, THE TRIP. We’re now on the 16th release of THE TRIP, with US$500,000 investment going into the production of each class, and it’s a truly addictive experience. I do it three times a week!

Tell us a bit more about THE TRIP…
When we first launched THE TRIP, we were adamant that the screens had to be huge, but re-cently we’ve realised it can still work on smaller screens. If you have a 4×3 mosaic screen – that is, 12 smaller screens joined together – the experience can still be immersive for up to 35 people. Even on regular 3m-wide virtual screens, it’s great.

Les mills cycling
Cycling isn’t only booming in boutiques. Even in traditional clubs, up to 30 per cent of members take part

This has helped THE TRIP to explode: since we launched these new formats and virtual TRIP three months ago, we’ve gone from just a handful of studios around the world to over 100 installations sold. I have absolute confi-dence that it’s going to be the next big thing, available in thousands of clubs over the next few years. It leapfrogs any club’s studio ahead of even the best boutiques.

Finally, let’s chat about Peloton and the impact this has had on the market…
The at-home fitness market is a huge category and always has been, right back to the days of Jane Fonda workout videos. Our research shows that 83 per cent of those who have gym mem-berships also exercise at home.

What’s happening now is simply that the technology is evolving, facilitating products like Peloton and Zwift. There’s a lot of content streamed online too, although here it’s often a case of quantity over quality – there’s a lot of rubbish out there. But overall, the range of at-home exercise options is growing fast.

In terms of Peloton specifically, it’s doing very well as a business and I love what it’s doing for cycling as a whole. But it is quite a simple prod-uct in terms of its content, simply streaming live classes out of a studio. Some of its teachers are quite good, but generally, I’d have to be honest and say the classes aren’t fabulous compared to other virtual classes that have been well choreo-graphed, filmed in great locations using multiple camera angles and top cameramen. You can get bored after a while


So, what’s driving Peloton’s success? The tech is good, but it isn’t the live streaming that’s ultimately driving its appeal: only a small proportion of Peloton users take part in these classes, with most going back into the pre-recorded library to pick their favourites. Lots of people just use the Peloton app on their own bikes.

What Peloton has done absolutely brilliantly – and the same goes for SoulCycle – is an amazing marketing job. Both these brands have succeed-ed in bringing bikes back to the fore, so I really want to see them do well. They’ve done great things for the category. Really, the whole indus-try can now benefit from what they’ve done.

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