What does it mean for my bike to be “properly calibrated”?
A calibrated bike means that your bike has been adjusted so that at a given resistance setting, the force needed to move your crank in a circular motion is within Peloton specifications – and ultimately, matched as closely with all other bikes in the community.
Is the proper calibration of Peloton’s bike really an issue?
Like most things, it depends. I would offer that the majority of riders fall into three categories.
First, if you are a rider that does not use the leader board functionality to compare and contrast output performance, then ignore this post and just go ride and have fun.
Second, if you do use the leader board, potentially move back and forth between various Peloton bikes (hotels that have them, the studio in NY, etc) and in general want to do your part in providing a level playing field for the community, then read on.
Third, if you are the type of rider that consistently throws up greater than 1,000 output figures in a 45 minute ride without breaking 80% of your max HR but at the same time couldn’t run a 7 minute mile to save your life – and you know it – and you don’t care – well, there isn’t much I can do to convince you to calibrate your bike anyway, so I would also suggest to stop reading.
All of that being said, regardless of what is important to you, it is a fact that our bikes and the calibration impact the Peloton community, simple as that.
What are the specific calibration settings?
Peloton has never produced a single document which specifies how much force it should take to move the crank of the bike at ANY given resistance setting or ANT given cadence level. However, you can read this post which visually shows you what an accurately calibrated bike looks like following the calibration process. This Is What A Properly Calibrated Bike Looks Like
What do the calibration steps or instructions attempt to do?
In the simplest terms, the calibration instructions attempt to standardize the space between how far the magnets are away from the flywheel. The closer the magnets are to the flywheel, the more force it takes to move the crank in a circular motion.
For example purposes only; at a 40 resistance setting, the magnets should be 1 inch away from the flywheel. At a 50 resistance setting, the magnets should be 3/4 inch away from the flywheel, etc. etc.
Bikes not calibrated correctly mean, as an example, you could have a bike that at a 40 resistance level has it’s magnets set 2 inches away from the flywheel – meaning, it would be much easier to move the crank in a circle. You could also have a bike that at a 40 resistance level has it’s magnets set 1/4 inch away from the flywheel – meaning it would be much harder to move the crank in a circle.
I’ve been told that a properly calibrated bike means “that at a constant and specific resistance setting and a constant and specific cadence a properly calibrated bike will produce the same output number”.
No, incorrect, false. Almost all Peloton bikes, absent of a sensor issue, will produce the same, or close to the same, output level given the same resistance level and cadence level settings. I am not saying that the differences are not material, they can be and they are even more so over a longer time frame; [10 minute class versus an hour and a half class]. The output calculation in no way takes into account the actual amount of force it takes to move the crank in a circular motion.
Simply put; you can have a bike which takes 10 pounds of force at a 40 resistance level to move the crank in a circle. You can have another bike that takes 5 pounds of force at a 40 resistance level to move the crank in a circle. Both bikes would produce the same output number, or relatively close; however, the 2nd bike, which only takes 5 pounds of force to turn the crank, would be much easier to ride than the first bike.
So hold on; is there anyway I can tell if my bike is not calibrated correctly?
The two quickest ways to determine this;
First, and by the far easiest to determine if your bike is materially out of calibration is to simply know thyself – Are you always in the top 5% to 10% of all riders but can’t run a 7:00 minute mile? Conversely, can you run a 7 minute mile but find yourself consistently in the bottom 3/4 of all riders in a given ride? If so, you have an issue.
Second, do you not ride with an HR monitor? This is a big mistake; you always need to ride with one. If you don’t, then you have no way of tracking/ measuring your progress from a cardio vascular development perspective. Second, it’s an easy way to determine if those Tour De France level output levels are even close to accurate; if you are always in the top 5% of a given class yet your HR doesn’t touch the 90% level then again, you have an issue. In the past Peloton gave users the ability to easily look up peoples rides; when I examined the top 5% of all riders in over 100 rides, less than 1% of all the riders used an HR monitor. You can find my recommendations for HR monitors in this post Peloton – Email FAQ #1
Is there not a tool to measure the actual force it takes to move the crank on a Peloton bike?
Yes; it’s too expensive and the explanation of how to use such a tool is beyond the scope of this blog and most riders.
Is there anything else that impacts how hard or easy my bike is to pedal?
Unknown to most people there is an adjustment for what is called a belt tension adjuster on the lower left hand side of the bike when looking at the bike from the front. It is covered by a black plastic housing which is also removable. To put this as simple as possible; if you have ever tried to do very quick stop starts or heavy out of saddle rides and you feel the crank of the bike slip, this means that there is not enough tension in the belt that goes from your crank to the flywheel. You can find the instructions for adjusting this setting here Answered – Why Is My Bike Slipping?
How pervasive are poorly calibrated bikes?
No one knows; not even Peloton. However, there is enough anecdotal data to infer that the issue is not all that uncommon.
Go to a historical view of any ride and look at the top 100 riders; you will see outputs in any length ride that are higher than what a Tour de France / Elite level cyclist could perform.
Second, you can actually infer that someone’s bike is considerably off even if they are not producing super human levels of output; if they ride with an HR monitor for instance, you could see as an example, a very low heart rate, say 120 BPM and an output of say 350. This type of performance would be next to impossible on a correctly calibrated bicycle, even for a 20 year old in peak condition.
Finally, I’ve posted a first hand account of how big of an issue this can be here Peloton – Why Bike Calibration Matters?
Why could / should I care about this?
- You want to compete on as level as a playing field as you can; and you because you can only control you, you want to ride on a correctly calibrated bike.
- Bikes at the Mothership in NY are calibrated multiple times a month. Maybe you would like your bike to be close to as accurate as your instructor when they call out resistance settings. If you also plan on visiting the Mothership, maybe you want to be as prepared as possible for riding an accurately calibrated bike.
- You use the leader board.
- You would like your projected calorie usage at the end of rides to be as accurate as possible. Outlandish and unearned output results will impact this reading.
- Using a weight lifting analogy; if you lift 45 pound weight at your house – it should weigh 45 pounds. Not 45 pounds at your house, 35 pounds at your neighbors and 65 pounds at the gym down the street.
Why should / could I not care about this?
- You only ride one bike, you don’t compare yourself to others, your all good.
- Your having fun and you like the bike how it is.
- You don’t even use an HR monitor much less care how much force it takes to push the crank in a circle.
- You don’t use the leader board, you don’t compete against other riders and / or you don’t care where you stack up in comparison to others when rides are finished.
What are the reasons as to why I might not want to calibrate my bike?
While the process itself is not very difficult; it does take some work, a screw driver, an Hex wrench and some time. Second and maybe the most important, you have an entire historical record of rides based on how your bike was calibrated at the time of your ride. Stop……think about this.
Going back to the weightlifting analogy, let’s say you spent the last year lifting 45 pounds, you even set a PR at 55 pounds. Then you re-calibrate your bike; it’s correct now, but what you didn’t know is that 45 pounds was really 35 pounds – now all of your future rides will be harder. You might not hit a PR again for a while; maybe ever depending how far your bike was off. Some people would prefer to live with the previous settings; the impact to their psyche is to great regardless of how inaccurate their bike is, I get it – just understand the impact of calibrating your bike.
If you want to see what a properly calibrated bike looks like you can view my post of the subject here Peloton – This Is What A Properly Calibrated Bike Looks Like
Ok, I’m in, I want to calibrate my bike as accurately as possible.
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