Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo
Peloton is having a rough time . The connected fitness company is struggling to sell bikes it once couldn’t keep in stock, its CEO was just replaced with a more competent officer, and it just laid off 2,800 employees . But Peloton has never struggled in one specific area: its classes. And so the company hopes to catch a break today when it launches a Lanebreak feature that turns Peloton rides into video game levels.
The feature has been in a rolling beta since last summer, accumulating thousands of Bike and Bike+ users at any given time. Peloton gave me early access to Lanebreak a couple weeks ago to take it for a—literal—spin. If you’re a Bike owner looking to switch up your routine, Lanebreak is a really fun way to ride.
Will Lanebreak solve Peloton’s numerous problems and pull the company back from the brink of catastrophe? No. Will it entertain Peloton owners who might be warily eyeing their bikes, dreading what seems to be an inevitable Amazon acquisition? Yes.
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Lanebreak is a new feature available only on the Bike and Bike+, accessible under the “More” tab where Peloton’s free rides and scenic rides live. There are about 20 levels to start with varying musical themes in partnership with Warner Music Group. You can currently choose from 5-minute cool-downs and warm-ups, 10-minute hip hop classes, a 20-minute level with a soundtrack curated by Peloton fave DJ John Michael, and even a 30-minute class. Most of the levels are bite-sized, designed to stack with other rides (though actually stacking them is impossible—more on that in a minute).
To fill up a breaker like this one, you have to pedal furiously to max out the points you can earn. Screenshot: Peloton
Each level looks the same, with the same gameplay. There are different playlists for each, and you can choose from four difficulty levels (beginner to expert), but otherwise the visuals are the same—a futuristic look that evokes Tron. Lanebreak also has a minimalist Mario Kart Rainbow Road vibe, except rather than careen around a track as Inkling Girl, dodging obstacles and throwing turtle shells behind me, I’m pedaling to hit specific beats, fill up breakers by pedaling furiously, or keep up a stream by maintaining a cadence, all the while using the bike’s resistance knob to switch between six lanes. You’re rewarded with points for hitting all of the targets.
The mechanics of the game are inspired by Peloton’s instructor-led classes, according to David Packles, Peloton’s senior director of product management overseeing Lanebreak.
As a Bike+ owner feeling uninspired to work out in recent months, Lanebreak has been a fun way to switch it up, and the levels offer just as good of a workout as the instructor-led classes—maybe even more so. In an instructor-led class, I sometimes pull back my resistance or cadence to catch a breath in the hopes that I can make up for it on the leaderboard later, but with Lanebreak, skipping a stream or coasting through a breaker is leaving points on the table. My output on a 20-minute Lanebreak has been consistently higher than on a regular 20-minute class, and I finish each level sweating profusely regardless of which difficulty setting I choose ahead of time.
You can view your leaderboard status following a Lanebreak ride, not during. Screenshot: Peloton
I had my husband, a fellow Peloton rider and actual video game enthusiast, test out Lanebreak to assess its appeal to gamers. He loved it, though his criticisms of the feature were similar to mine: The levels need more diverse visual landscapes to feel like you’re making progress, and Lanebreak also needs an in-level leaderboard or some other way to compete with fellow riders. (Currently you can view your leaderboard status following a Lanebreak level, but not mid-ride.)
Packles told me those features are in the works. “We were pretty laser focused on nailing the core experience first and making that core experience as fun as possible,” he said. “All the other stuff—progression systems, visual diversity, new types of features that build on top of our core—are all things we plan to layer on over time. Over the next few months members can expect to see some changes in Lanebreak.”
Packles said Lanebreak will function similarly to the rest of Peloton’s classes, with new rides dropping regularly.
“Peloton is amazing because every time you get on there’s another new Alex [Toussaint] class, another new Adrian [Williams] class,” he said. “We’re applying that principle to Lanebreak so every week there’s something to pull you in.”
Riders can expect the majority of Lanebreak levels to be bite-sized—10 or 20 minutes rather than 30-60 minutes. Honestly, this is for the best: Because the Lanebreak track looks the exact same no matter how long you pedal, longer classes would quickly become monotonous. Lanebreak levels are also fun to combine with instructor-led classes, but doing so is more arduous than it needs to be. You have to tap into More, select Lanebreak, go through the process of choosing your level, complete the ride and then dive back into the rest of Peloton’s classes in a completely different section of the interface after exiting Lanebreak. Lanebreak currently has no placement on the home screen when you turn on the Bike or Bike+ tablet, which is a perfect example of another Peloton issue: introducing extremely cool features or classes only to make them difficult to find or use.
Hitting a stream requires you to meet a cadence callout, like you would in an instructor-led class. Screenshot: Peloton
Peloton’s more literally gamified rides will not solve the company’s current structural shitshow, but Lanebreak is an example of where Peloton shines: its actual content. No other connected fitness company offers the experience that Peloton does, and that’s a reason why its users remain devoted despite the the company’s uncertain future.
Lanebreak is also, potentially, a sneak peek at where Peloton could go in the future. Virtual reality-based fitness games like Supernatural and Beat Saber have become hugely popular, and it would make sense for Peloton to start developing VR content—to create a Peloverse, if you will (sorry, sorry, trying to delete)—rather than releasing wearable accessories or a weird strength-training camera . (A long-rumored Peloton rower is reportedly due out soon , and the addition of rowing content would also go a long way toward appealing to new users.)
“The thing that is unchanged within Peloton is our commitment to innovation and our commitment to try new things. Lanebreak is a good example of that,” Packles said. “We are what we’ve always been and what we’ll continue to be. We’ll see how this performs and decide how deep we go. Our feedback from our beta test has been unbelievably positive.”
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Peloton’s Lanebreak feature is now available to Bike and Bike+ owners in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and Germany.