The first sign that NordicTrack's new S22i isn't your average spin bike greets you at the welcome screen of its built-in iFit platform. From the moment you sign in, you’re presented with a panel of options highlighting of some of the world’s most beautiful rides—from routes in Vietnam and Tokyo to climbs in Norway and Patagonia. A few taps later, and the bike's sharp, 22-inch HD monitor transports you there instantly, setting you behind a pro cyclist as they narrate every turn in the road in real-time.
Of all the features included with the S22i studio bike, these innovative international rides are what feel most like an olive branch to people who still might be struggling with the limitations of working out under lockdown in the wake of COVID-19. For the month that I spent testing the bike, it was a relief to begin—or end—the day knowing that I could look forward to a virtual escape.
This feature also does a great job of setting the S22i apart from high-end competitors like Peloton and Echelon, giving iFit a distinct offering in addition to its robust library of studio classes and HIIT workouts. For an added dose of realism, the bike's engineers also gave the S22i the unique ability to tilt upward 20 degrees, or downward 10 degrees. Those inclines and declines sync up automatically with your ride, whether you’re cruising along a Tokyo bike path or following an instructor’s lead in a live class.
The same goes for adding and removing resistance: When taking a class through iFit, trainers don't merely ask you to add resistance—they just do it, and your bike obeys their commands, making it a lot harder to slack off. (Riders, thankfully, can take manual control of this feature at any time.)
A magnetic resistance system built into the wheelhouse also makes the act of pedaling nearly whisper-silent. (The only exception to this rule is the distractingly loud motor mounted on the back of the bike that blares to life as it powers you up and down those virtual hills.) A Google Maps integration, meanwhile, amounts to a nice stocking stuffer: It's fun to plot a virtual route anywhere in the world, but the actual experience of watching an image refresh every few seconds while you pedal is a few steps down from the immersiveness of those international rides.
Taken together, however, these features make a compelling package—especially given how much the platform stands to evolve. There are encouraging signs, too, that NordicTrack continues to invest in iFit: For its featured talent, the company went out and recruited notable trainers such as Men’s and Women’s Health-approved stars like Gideon Akande and Stacie Clark. In recent weeks, they also (at long last) announced the addition of live workout classes, long one of Peloton's primary advantages over the S22i.
NordicTrack also paid attention to the subtleties: For instance, I was a big fan of the screen’s ability to swivel 360 degrees—a thoughtful touch for people who prefer HIIT classes that often involve off-bike workout components. If you hop off the bike mid-routine to do some pushups and burpees, for instance, you can just readjust the angle of the monitor to point in any direction you want while you continue following along. When I was back on the bike, I appreciated the small fan mounted under the monitor to help cool me off. Unlike other manufacturers, NordicTrack also includes a pair of three-pound weights along with the bike for no additional charge, a nice bonus.
That's not to say the user experience was always perfect: At times, the platform still showed signs of growing pains. On a few rides, the system abruptly glitched, either sending me back to the home screen or forcing me to wait about 30 seconds before my workout resumed. As other reviewers noted, I also found the saddle to be stiff and unforgiving, and quickly ordered several pairs of bike shorts to help compensate. While the bike's generous, 170-pound frame was impressively sturdy—I weigh about 190 pounds—the screen still had a tendency to wobble out of place. And in the future, I'd love to see the platform license music from actual artists, rather than the generic dance beats that accompanied the studio sessions.
That said, the S22i provides a generous return on your investment, especially compared to the competition. While not exactly a bargain, it's competitively priced. At $1999, the bike falls about $250 below the most stripped-down, entry-level Peloton, which doesn't include weights or the ability to adjust grade, and on par with Echelon’s higher-end Connect EX-5S, which also lacks that feature. Consider the fact that NordicTrack also throws in a free year of iFit, which typically runs about another $400/year, and suddenly the S22i looks like one of the best deals you're likely to find among high-end studio bikes.
That's especially true if you're looking for a menu that promises to take you somewhere more interesting than just another spin class. Tomorrow morning, I'm thinking either Switzerland or France.
You Might Also Like