- Peloton is facing backlash after reports that its accidents involving the Tread+ led to 38 injuries and one child’s death.
- Insider spoke with 5 Peloton customers who experienced Tread+ issues dating back to January 2019.
- The customers said they experienced injuries, malfunctions, and lack of responsiveness from Peloton.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Cary Kelly, a seasoned marathon runner, says she lost her footing two minutes into a workout on her Peloton Tread+ in May 2019.
When she fell, she says she landed facedown on the treadmill. According to Kelly, the machine then propelled her prone body backward so forcefully her legs broke through the wall. Unable to move, she says she remained stuck in this position as the treadmill belt continued moving beneath her, tearing into her skin on her face and neck.
“It seemed like a million minutes, like I was there forever,” Kelly told Insider.
By the time Kelly was able to extract herself, she says her body was covered in burns and her legs riddled with bone fractures, confirmed by X-ray scans after the accident. Kelly says the injuries made it difficult for her to walk and impossible for her to run for months.
Kelly considers herself fortunate. She said had she fallen at a different angle, she is afraid she might have suffered the same fate of the young child who was fatally injured by the Peloton Tread+ in March — the incident that first brought intense public scrutiny to Peloton over its treadmill.
“I’m very, very lucky that my arm didn’t get sucked under,” she said.
While Kelly said the accident was in part her fault because she wasn’t wearing the security clip as recommended on the Peloton website, she felt that the company failed to properly communicate all safety protocols associated with the $4,295 machine, a follow-up product to Peloton’s wildly popular bike, which the company released in 2014.
According to Kelly, the installation crew that Peloton sent to set up her Tread+ never told her about the recommended 78.7 inches (about 6.5 feet) between the back of the machine and the wall, a precaution that could have spared her injuries.
Still, Kelly remains a fan of the fitness company and says she has no plans for legal action. According to Kelly, she doesn’t feel the company needs to issue a recall because “we all have to take care of our own safety in our own house.”
Kelly is one of five Peloton customers Insider spoke to who shared past injuries and correspondence with the company over troubles involving the Tread+ dating back to January 2019. A former customer-service employee also told Insider about several calls she answered in 2020 involving mechanical issues that potentially posed a risk to user safety.
The experiences that these customers said they had — involving mechanical malfunctions, a lack of sufficient guidance on how to use the Tread+ during installation, and extreme difficulty receiving assistance from Peloton customer service when problems arose — suggest a pattern of inaction on behalf of the fitness company.
The apparent problems are a rare but noticeable misstep for a company that reported $1.8 billion in annual revenue for its 2020 fiscal year and is forecasting $4 billion in 2021. In a crowded market, Peloton has ascended to the top of the fitness industry with 4.4 million paying members across its bike, treadmill, and standalone subscription models.
Peloton declined to comment for this story, referring Insider to the company’s public statement published on its website.
‘It is a huge safety concern for anyone and everyone’
Following the tragedy in March involving a Tread+ trapping a child under the rear roller, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission launched an investigation which found a total of 38 additional incidents of injury, including one involving a pet, caused by the machine. The company is slated to release a slimmer treadmill, the Peloton Tread, later this month for a little over half of the price of the original at $2,495. (The Tread+ was rebranded to its current name in September 2020.)
After its investigation, the CPSC issued a warning not to use the product, specifically citing potential danger for small children and pets, and called for an official recall. Foley called the CPSC findings “inaccurate and misleading” and said the company would refuse to recall or stop selling the product.
The Peloton customers and former employee who spoke to Insider said they felt the Tread+ could also be perilous for adults.
According to the former customer-service representative — who spoke on the condition of anonymity and whose employment status at Peloton in 2020 was confirmed by Insider — she received complaints about the Tread+ that made her increasingly concerned about its safety starting in September 2020.
During her time working for Peloton last year, she said she fielded “quite a bit of calls” from Tread+ customers who said they had encountered stability issues, even after the machine was installed by Peloton technicians. (This wasn’t the first time Peloton users said they encountered issues with a product — in September 2020, 120 customers reported pedals breaking off their bikes. Peloton subsequently issued a recall on pedals for 27,000 bikes in October 2020.)
Customers would say “that these brand-new Treads that they would get delivered to their home and have had installed for them, already out the gate were wobbling tremendously,” she said.
On one call that the former representative found particularly harrowing, a customer said her treadmill was stuck on an incline at a high speed and would not stop running.
“There’s some stuff that I’ve had to troubleshoot for members personally, which led me to believe that this thing should not be used by anyone at all,” the former employee said. “It is a huge safety concern for anyone and everyone.”
Peloton is facing two class-action lawsuits alleging it violated consumer-protection laws.
According to the first lawsuit, filed on behalf of Peloton consumers on April 20, the company knowingly “sold and marketed the device as safe and appropriate for use by families in the home, even though its design makes it inherently and uniquely dangerous to children.” In an image of early marketing material for the Tread+ included in the lawsuit, a small child is pictured working out with her mother near the machine.
In the second suit, filed on April 29, a group of Peloton investors say the company made a series of statements regarding the Tread+ that were “materially false and/or misleading” and failed to disclose “adverse facts pertaining to the company’s business … which were known to defendants or recklessly disregarded by them.”
While all treadmills pose a possibility for injury — there were an estimated 22,500 accidents in the US tied to treadmills in 2019, of which 2,000 involved children younger than 8 years old, according to the CPSC — regulators say the design of the Peloton Tread+ may make it especially dangerous.
“We have had injuries reported concerning other treadmills but to date, we are unaware of this hazard pattern involving other treadmills. For example, many injuries involve sudden acceleration of the treadmill, which is not the issue here,” a CPSC spokesperson told Insider’s Mary Hanbury last month.
Another Peloton Tread+ customer, Rhonda Clark, said that while she empathizes with the family of the young child who was killed on the treadmill, all exercise machines are dangerous and ultimately it was not “Peloton’s responsibility to parent.”
“I’m aware of the accidents that have happened and the one that resulted in a child passing away, which is awful,” she said, noting she has three young grandchildren. “But having said that, the Tread is not the only treadmill I’ve ever had. I’ve had other treadmills, too, and they’re all dangerous.”
Despite being thrown off her treadmill when the belt abruptly stopped in the middle of a run, Clark said she has had a positive experience with Peloton and found customer service to be prompt in replacing her broken base unit.
She considers herself part of the “Tread family,” she said, as both she and her daughter own Peloton Tread+ machines.
Still, regulators say the Tread+ has more space between the ground and the machine’s base than most other treadmill models, which may make it easier for a child or small animal to become trapped beneath it.
One of the biggest issues with the Tread+ is that it’s not realistically designed for use in an average American household, said Nancy Cowles, executive director of Kids in Danger. Her nonprofit organization is dedicated to improving product safety accountability and transparency among companies and regulators.
“We sit on standard-setting committees to really bring a user perspective to design,” she told Insider, adding that companies should not be “designing for a person who has a locked exercise room with plenty of space and someone to watch their children while they’re working out.”
“You need to be really designing for how a household runs,” she said.
Kids in Danger has joined the CPSC in calling on Peloton to recall the Tread+. Cowles, who also played an active role in the recall of the IKEA Malm dresser, said Peloton needs to view this as an opportunity for “stepping up and doing the right thing for their consumers.”
In a letter to Tread+ members sent earlier this month, Foley said the company is updating its software to include a safety-access code to prevent future injuries, though it did not indicate the company has made plans to update the machinery.
‘Peloton is not doing anything’
Some Peloton Tread+ users said they were plagued not only with defective machines but also sluggish — and in some cases unresponsive — customer service.
When Kelly, the marathon runner, reached out to Peloton about her accident, she says she asked that her membership be paused while she recovered from her injuries and requested help in moving her Tread to a safer part of her home. She was denied.
“I do apologize we are unable to send anyone out to move the Tread around for you guys,” a Peloton customer-service representative wrote to Kelly in May 2019, in an email viewed by Insider. “We don’t provide any moving services for the Tread at all right now.”
Kelly said it wasn’t until she provided photo documentation of her injuries that Peloton acquiesced, finally freezing her membership payments and sending out a crew to move her treadmill.
“Mostly I wanted to share my experience so that other people didn’t have the same thing happen,” she said.
Kyle Pribilski says he endured a similar experience in dealing with Peloton’s customer service.
According to Pribilski, his 14-year-old son was in the middle of an incline workout on the family’s Peloton Tread+ last summer when the base unexpectedly slammed straight down, catapulting him off the machine.
While he was not severely injured, it was the start of a lengthy back-and-forth between Pribilski and Peloton customer service, a prolonged battle that more than a year later, he says, has left him with an unreplaced broken treadmill.
Pribilski said it was unclear what caused the issue, as the treadmill was just over a year old and had been sparingly used. But because the machine was past the 12-month warranty, Peloton initially refused to cover the cost of a base replacement.
“As a growing business, there are limitations to the amount of compensation we can provide to all of our members equally,” a Peloton customer-service representative wrote in an email to Pribilski in July 2020, which was reviewed by Insider. “We would love to be able to compensate members per their requests, but it’s just simply not something we can accommodate presently.”
Instead, Peloton offered to replace the base of his family treadmill for $1,795, a proposal Pribilski pushed back on until the company eventually opted to expand its Tread+ warranty program in September 2020. Under the new policy, several components of the treadmill are now protected for five years compared to just one, making Pribilski eligible for a free replacement.
Pribilski said, however, that the company has subsequently stopped responding to emails for six months after agreeing to fix the machine. His broken treadmill remains collecting dust in his Texas home, where it’s gone untouched for almost a year.
“I’m fortunate that our kid didn’t get hurt and that we didn’t have a serious injury, but it doesn’t stop the fact that these things have severe issues with them and Peloton is not doing anything,” Pribilski told Insider.
Kaleen Mahoney also spent months waiting for answers from Peloton customer service, she said. When her Tread+ started to make loud noises in March 2020, Peloton customer service initially told her she would need to have a part replaced, which would be covered under warranty.
Then the pandemic hit and months passed with no updates from the company, a delay she understood and accepted until she says Peloton told her they would need to replace the entire treadmill instead.
According to Mahoney, Peloton customer service subsequently canceled her service order completely, requiring her to reschedule another time slot for installation. But the next available appointment was more than two months out, and though Mahoney said she tried to be patient, she thought the employees she spoke to were dismissive and “really rude.”
“Their customer service was so horrible for a company like Peloton,” she said. “I look at Peloton, because of the cost of the tread, as Nordstrom. And what I get from Nordstrom customer service is spectacular, so I’ll pay extra for that customer service. But what I got from Peloton was crap.”
In late 2020, customer complaints began to skyrocket due to lengthy wait times and canceled deliveries stemming from supply-chain issues for Peloton products, prompting many customers to take their grievances to social media, where Peloton was called a “terribly run company” with “horrible customer service.” Shipping delays weren’t uncommon during the pandemic as businesses of all kinds dealt with a surge in online orders. But the months-long waits that some Peloton customers said they experienced left them particularly frustrated.
‘You just start to think that they fundamentally have a design problem’
Because of the Tread+’s base height from the floor, common household items are also susceptible to being sucked beneath the machine, as depicted in the CSPC’s warning video and in viral TikTok videos of exercise balls being sucked under the machine.
Dan Ellis, who purchased his Tread+ in March, was running on the treadmill in April when the base suddenly and forcefully lurched upward.
“I jumped off and there was smoke coming off the front,” he said. “It smelled like a burnt-up motor, and I could hear stuff underneath. For a split second, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s my dog.'”
After peering beneath the machine he saw his Roomba vacuum, which had, unbeknownst to Ellis, begun its cleaning schedule and became stuck underneath the treadmill.
Ellis said he previously had a different treadmill model in the same spot as his Peloton Tread and never had a similar incident happen. He told Insider the accident made him question the design of the treadmill, adding “if your position is that our product is safe when you operate it in a completely empty room with the door locked, that doesn’t mean that it’s a very safe product.”
“You just start to think that they fundamentally have a design problem,” he said. “This is not a product that is going into a gym or a commercial space where you don’t have dogs and pets and kids and all these kinds of things. And there are other hazards that just exist around the home.”
Much like the other customers who spoke to Insider, Ellis also encountered challenges with customer service, which, he says, refused to cover the cost of replacement under warranty, saying the fault was Ellis’. According to Ellis, through a series of back-and-forths, Peloton said he would have to pay $2,700 to replace the base unit, which Ellis is still in the process of disputing.
“At this point though, we do need to follow our policy which states that any damage caused by the member is not covered under warranty,” a customer-service representative wrote to Ellis in an email sent on April 22, which was reviewed by Insider.
“I was pretty disappointed,” he said. “I’ve been a huge fan and am just disappointed how they handled this. I’d only had it for less than two weeks.
Still, even injuries and mechanical failures haven’t turned Peloton’s biggest fans away.
Despite the fractures, burns, and busted wall, Kelly remains a Peloton enthusiast and continues to run regularly on her Tread+.
“I love my treadmill,” she said. “I still use my treadmill. In fact, since then, we bought a bike. We didn’t have the Peloton bike before and then we got it afterward, so I’m definitely a Peloton fan.”
If you’re a Peloton consumer or employee who has a story to share, contact this reporter via email at [email protected] or by encrypted messaging app Signal at +1 (646) 768-4706.