For our 10th wedding anniversary, my spouse and I want to mountain bike around Scotland and drink Scotch. We’ve been talking about this trip for years (mostly while we drink Scotch).
But our plans have received a setback from an unexpected quarter. Now I bombard my long-suffering spouse with long text streams: “The gravel roads in Norway are in great condition!” “Switzerland looks amazing! We could eat chocolate and buy a cuckoo clock!”
The iFit bike workouts on the NordicTrack S22i are super fun. You don’t often get to pedal crazily behind a world-class mountain biker as she cycles pell-mell over pump tracks, swings around banked turns, and takes jumps in one of the best mountain bike parks in the world.
At one point, the iFit cameraman paused in trepidation as trainer Ashleigh McIvor dove, whooping, into a steep gully in Matanzas, Chile. It made me laugh out loud. I was pedaling at 90 revolutions per minute and S22i’s flywheel was spinning like crazy, and I looked like an insane person. I didn’t care.
No Yelling Here!
As my colleague Lauren Goode pointed out, the draw of in-home exercise equipment is as much about content as convenience. While Peloton provides live, interactive, and addictive classes, NordicTrack’s iFit also makes a play for exercisers like me.
I like working out, and I appreciate an in-home cycle’s convenience. I have a job, I have toddlers, and I live in a rainy city, so I can understand that getting outside for 30 minutes a day isn’t always as easy as I’d like to be. But I cannot understand how staring at other people and being yelled at would make exercise more appealing. I would rather push my hand into a meat grinder than have an instructor bark at me (in public!) that I need to up my cadence.
Aside from the content, there isn’t much that distinguishes the Commercial S22i from the zillions of stationary bikes that have been acting as dusty clothes racks for decades. But you’re going to spend a lot of money ($2,000) and time on this thing, so we might as well go over it.
NordicTrack’s studio cycle has a compact footprint of 55 inches by 21.9 inches. It fits in my garage with room to spare, but it’s nice to have room for a mat for the full-body workouts. I can’t lift it on my own, but it has two front-mounted wheels that make it easy to spin and push around.
Another reason to choose pre-recorded workouts: You don’t have to worry about how you look! I spun the Commercial S22i so that it faced my kitchen, and not the frosted windows behind me. That positioning would’ve totally blown out my image on a Peloton.
The seat and handlebars are both adjustable; I was able to lower the seat and move it forward enough to fit my 5-foot-2 legs and torso. While both the bike seat and the handlebars are padded, I needed a little more cushion. I had to stop midway through my first workout and change into padded bike shorts. You can, and might want to, switch out the bike seat for one of your own.
The S22i also has a fan with adjustable settings, and an incline and decline system. This makes more sense on a treadmill, where increasing the incline actually increases the workload; on a stationary bike, you just increase the resistance. But it is pretty remarkable to feel your balance and posture shift as the bike rises to a 20 percent incline. That is pretty darn steep.
It also comes with two 3-pound dumbbells that I wasn’t coordinated enough to use, and two water bottle racks.
Of course, the main draw are the iFit workouts. A one year membership is included with the price of the bike, which then goes up to $15 per month for an individual membership. You experience these workouts on a large, 22-inch touchscreen that’s mounted on the bike, with two rear-mounted 2-inch speakers. The screen also rotates 360 degrees so you can still see it if you want to include pushups in your workout.
iFit has pulled a fast one with its studio classes. It says it will offer LIVE classes, which will be interactive, but they’re not currently available. They also have on-demand, streaming studio workouts that they refer to as “live classes” but are in fact, pre-recorded. The program just adjusts your incline and resistance as the trainer shouts, “I’m adjusting your incline now! I’m increasing your resistance!” I did not miss actual live, interactive classes at all, because my garage is really messy.
Much like my experience with NordicTrack’s treadmill, the bike workouts (filmed all over the world) were irresistible. The selection was limited because iFit is still taping workout series, but NordicTrack clearly made an effort to find trainers that its audience would connect with personally.
My personal favorite was Ashleigh McIvor, the first gold medal winner in women’s ski cross at the 2010 Olympics. As she pedaled through strength and interval training sessions in Chile and Norway, I learned that she is also a mom, and has also recovered from ACL tears. It is disconcerting how powerfully you can empathize with someone when all you can really see is the back of their helmet. I even picked up a few parenting tips while hammering it out on roads, gravel, and trails.
You can also swipe through the touchscreen to look at stats like your max watts, cadence, or speed; look at your calendar of past workouts; or create your own rides with Google Maps.
Unfortunately, you cannot switch or skip the background music. My reaction to that “Work from Home” song was so violent that I almost fell off the bike, but luckily there are volume controls to turn down the trainer and the background music separately.
Of course, the real test of the Commercial S22i’s effectiveness isn’t that I like it after using it for a few weeks; it would be if I was still using it a year, or two years, from now. It’s hard to picture myself using a stationary bike in my stuffy garage when the weather finally warms up, but for now, riding through the fjords is satiating my appetite for Scotland. I need to get in shape beforehand, anyway.