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Alex Kalogiannis/Business Insider
The Echelon EX5S connected bike brings spin classes to your home for a price that’s competitive with other brands like Peloton and NordicTrack.Live classes and a substantial collection of on-demand courses are available in the Echelon Fit app, which also includes many non-bike workouts.Other modes such as free ride and scenic views let you pedal to your heart’s content if you want to feel like you’re just hitting the road solo. I tested the bike, and while I enjoyed the experience, I found many of the extra features on the top model superfluous.If those extras aren’t worth it to you, Echelon’s more affordable bikes like the EX3 or EX5 may be a better choice, and you can check out our guide to the best exercise bikes for more options.
Everything is going digital these days, including your workouts. Stationary bikes have changed drastically to accommodate the demands of modern fitness enthusiasts, replacing the clunky one-note analog bikes of old with multifaceted fitness machines that offer far more than just pedaling in place. NordicTrack and Peloton may be the current leading brands, but other companies are hot on their heels, looking for an opportunity to overtake the brand. One such brand, Echelon, is quickly becoming the Pepsi to their Coca-cola. To see if it stacks up to its stiff competition, I decided to take its bike and service for a spin. Echelon sells four bikes, all of which provide what you’d need to participate in Echelon’s app experiences, but the company adds refinements and features with each tier. All bikes have 32 levels of magnetic resistance, Bluetooth connectivity, and pedals with fully adjustable toe cages, but they’re also SPD compatible (if you prefer more direct integration).My test unit was the Connect EX5S, the top-tier model that, apart from a few additions, is identical to the EX5. There are just a few components and adjustments that elevate the two bikes to a more pro-level status. Both have an updated handlebar with an aero bar for those who are used to that riding position. They’re also fitted with two handlebar-mounted water bottle holders.From here, the EX5S adds a couple of refinements such as kick guards on the frame and convenient power ports on the front and back of the bike. Its main feature, however, is its 21.5-inch HD touchscreen, which takes the place of the standard smartphone mount found on other models. From start to finish, assembly took me roughly an hour and a half, and all the tools and instructions were included in the packaging. For the most part, the illustrated instructions were clear enough for me to get through the process without too much head-scratching.When put together, the Echelon bike is a hefty 124 pounds, but front-mounted wheels make positioning easy with a tilt, and it feels sturdy when planted. The frame itself feels equally robust and doesn’t dominate available space too much, though the EX5S’s massive screen distorts that perception. Adjustments to the seat, handlebars, and ride height are easy to make and, with a little experimentation, it’s easy to find your ideal ride position (even if you share the bike with someone else, too). Once you have the Echelon bike ready to go, it’s hard to know where to start, especially with the many options the Echelon Fit app presents you. Luckily, there’s a beginner playlist that’s worth taking the time to run through, even if you’re eager to pedal your heart out. The starter pack does a good job of walking riders through the fundamentals like proper seat and handlebar positioning, pedaling technique, and how to utilize the on-screen metrics effectively. Those metrics are vital to the instruction riders receive from either the live ride sessions or one of the thousand classes in the on-demand library. Though you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to the variety of class length, music, and intensity, each workout puts you in a virtual room with the instructor and a leaderboard of others in your session. Echelon has a decent enough rotation of trainers with diverse personalities, too, which keeps rides refreshing and you’ll quickly find favorites.Personally, I found I got the most out of instructors who guided me closely using the RPM (revolutions per minute) and resistance metrics. It’s a system devised to work simultaneously for an untold number of participants with different levels of fitness, but it’s easy to discern the effectiveness between instructors.For instance, a highly technical coach has you chase specific numbers, and working to maintain it is as mentally engrossing as it is physically challenging. While doing these, before I knew it, I’d burned off a whopping 600 calories. A full schedule of live classes and a deep catalog of previously recorded ones should keep you plenty busy, but there are scenic rides to enjoy if you want more of an open-road feeling. There’s also a freestyle ride mode if you’re just looking to set your own pace, though this is oddly buried in the settings menu and not easily accessible.Depending on your choice of membership, all the non-cycling workouts from FitPass are included in your menu, which further rounds out the Echelon bike as a fitness station.Echelon offers subscriptions to its FitPass streaming service in a few different ways. Here’s how it breaks down:Connect + Extra Mile: $39/month. This includes all Connect rides, as well as Extra Mile content consisting of Pilates, yoga, stretching, and others. Connect Annual Plan + Extra Mile: $399.99/year.Connect 2-Year Plan + Extra Mile: $599.99/year.Flex Ride Plan: $19.99/month. This includes all live and on-demand Flex Rides. Flex Ride Plan + Extra Mile: $24.99/month. Flex Ride Annual Plan + Extra Mile: $239.99/year. Extra Mile Plan: $12.99/month.
Alex Kalogiannis/Business Insider
After a few weeks of testing, the Echelon EX5S has endured the abuse of multiple hard-riding sessions. Even with that strain, I’ve only had to infrequently readjust my seat-and-pedal tightening. During my time with the bike, I encountered a handful of connection issues between it and the app. At first, they were rare and easily sorted with the tried and true troubleshooting technique of turning things off and on again. After time, however, the instances became more frequent, with the bike not pairing or saying it was paired even though none of the metric gauges were budging. Having to pull a number of false starts just to get everything on the same page becomes a chore if you’ve been particularly consistent with your cardio routine. A great deal of the experience is controlled through the resistance knob located underneath the handlebar. It does the job, but the empty, fly-by-wire feeling to the inputs makes it frustrating to use, particularly in the heat of an intense session. Am I a full twist from the next level or half twist? There’s no way of knowing, and you frequently find yourself overshooting and overcorrecting while trying to stay on task. Over a short period of time, I began to realize that the top-of-the-line Echelon Connect bike wasn’t for me. For one, the 21.5-inch centerpiece felt redundant. It’s an enjoyable feature, to be sure. It helps immerse yourself in the class and makes it easy to follow a coach’s movements, but in most cases, I found that I wasn’t looking at more than the metric gauges. The large screen betrays the low quality of most of the scenic rides, too, and when on a free ride, it becomes a large black mirror that can’t be ignored. Simply dropping down to the EX5 would be a simple solution, but I’d argue that there’s even a case to fall back to the EX3. Remember the aero bar? You don’t need that either. It’s meant to facilitate a specific streamlined riding position, so unless you use it in your own independent training or it’s a personal preference, it doesn’t come up in any of the sessions.Having the bottle holders underneath the handlebars is a very worthwhile convenience, but it’ll be up to you to decide if the $200 difference between having them is worth it or not.
Alex Kalogiannis/Business Insider
Those looking to take a ride on the virtual spin class craze can’t do wrong with the Echelon Connect bike. The hardware feels solid enough to give users the confidence to give it their all when pedaling, be it from the seat pumping their hearts out or standing up to climb virtual hills. An app jam-packed with a back catalog of classes gives riders plenty to keep busy, and a diverse array of class types, music themes, and a multitude of trainers prevent things from getting monotonous. Its resistance knob could do to provide more feedback when adjusting levels, which would help to integrate adjustments more smoothly during intense sessions.Affordability varies, starting at $839.98 for the Connect EX-1 bike, to our test unit, the $1,639.98 Connect EX-5S. Each price includes one month of unlimited classes and Fitpass access. The 1-and-2 year membership plans cost more upfront, but save on the bottom line over time. Echelon offers other goodies in bundles like a heart rate monitor, shoes, and yoga mats, but those are extras, not requirements. Should you buy it? If you want a more affordable connected bike than something like Peloton, then yes, it’s worth considering. However, we think many people will be happy with the more affordable EX3 or EX5 options, provided they don’t want the big screen. Echelon’s connected bike and fitness app delivers on the promise of an at-home spin class experience and there’s enough provided with a membership to keep users going for a substantial amount of time. What are your alternatives? Peloton and NordicTrack are clearly the bikes to beat. They’ve consistently been our benchmark for comparison for good reason. One of the main reasons you may prefer Echelon’s bikes is that Peloton has one single all-in-one bike option, whereas Echelon has multiple options (as does NordicTrack). Though limited, there are at least some options for riders to find what suits them, both in terms of skill and price. Price-wise, Peloton’s basic starter pack also costs more than Echelon’s top-tier EX5S bundle. Pros: With a manageable price range and a lineup of bikes to choose from, Echelon delivers on a solid at-home spin class experienceCons: Lack of feedback from the resistance knob, connection issues between the app and bike start to become a frustrating part of the routine