Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review TL;DR: cheap Peloton alternative especially recommended for those who already have a smart TV.
Home workouts and virtual fitness classes are still all the rage in 2021 so no wonder there is an increased interest in the best exercise bikes, such as the coveted yet expensive Peloton, but also the more affordable yet capable Echelon Smart Connect EX3. That said, Echelon is not in an easy situation.
In one corner, you've got Peloton, a pretty well-received indoor bike with a cult-like following despite it costing the earth and also charging extra for the membership. In the other corner, Echelon is trying to balance affordability without cutting too many corners in the process.
Can Echelon succeed? Let's find out.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: price and availability
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: assembly
Echelon Connect EX3 comes dismantled in a box but thankfully, the included instruction booklet does a good job in explaining how to put together the bike. Of course, the first hurdle will be to get the unit out of the box and that requires two people and plenty of patience.
Once out of the box, all you have to do is to follow the steps in the instruction booklet. Each step is illustrated with images and better still, the instructions are not in 'Chinglish' so you don't have to spend extra time deciphering what the sentences mean either.
All parts that need assembling can be done by one person although it is recommended to get the help of someone for the first few steps, before the rear and front foot are screwed in properly. The only really fiddly part to put on are the pedals but that's the same on every exercise bike, really.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: ergonomics
There are plenty of options to personalise the Echelon Connect EX3: you can adjust the height of the seatpost, the position and the angle of the saddle, the height of the handlebars and even the angle of the tablet holder.
The 'competition seat' is comfortable to sit on although truth to be told, I haven't tried cycling on it for longer than 30 minutes at a time. However, for that time period, it's definitely comfy enough. There are also multiple hand positions available on the handlebar so it is possible to get into a more aggressive racing positions or just to sit up and cruise if that's what you want.
In order to quench that thirst more efficiently, Echelon included not one but two bottle holders, sitting on each side of the front tube for easy access. Behind the saddle, you'll find a dumbbell holder which is enough to hold smaller weights but definitely not the Bowflex Selecttech 1090i dumbbells. I guess you won't need those for Echelon classes so that's not a big loss.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: middle console
You might wonder: if the Echelon Connect EX3 is sturdy, comfortable and capable, why is it £800 cheaper than the Peloton bike? You'll find the answer right in front of your face, on the middle console. While the Peloton bike comes with an immersive 22" HD touchscreen, the Echelon Connect EX-3 only offers a plastic tablet holder to use your own tablet.
Now, I understand that not including the huge a** touchscreen tablet will help keep the cost down (among other things) but admittedly, watching a class on a 10" iPad will not be the same as watching it on a big monitor. Sure, you can just get a 12.9" iPad Pro, but guess what? That costs a £1,000 and with that, your Echelon setup would be more expensive than the Peloton bike, not to mention you'd still have a smaller screen.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: riding experience
The Echelon Connect EX3 comes equipped with a nice big flywheel combined with silent magnetic resistance and caged pedals that can be flipped over and used with the best cycling shoes (SPD cleats). I found the cage a bit rigid and it kept pressing down my toes, although it's worth mentioning that I have a wide feet so that might affect how comfortable the cages feel. I still think an open cage or a softer material would be a better choice for the it.
It's pretty much impossible to miss the resistance dial/emergency stop in between your legs at the front. The resistance dial hasn't got distinct stops which might be a bit weird for some. Cranking up the resistance does require a few jerks of the dial and you'll need to check the bottom of the screen to see which resistance level you are on.
The emergency break will be used often as the flywheel will keep on rolling, even if you don't want to go anymore, and since you are either caged or clipped in, if you want to stop, you will need to emergency break. this also might take a few tried to get used to.
Otherwise, the Echelon Connect EX3 provides a decent indoor riding experience and thanks to the hefty flywheel, it's easy to burn calories with it.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: the Echelon App
The Echelon App might not offer live classes 24/7 like Peloton does but there are still quite a lot of content to enjoy nevertheless. There are over 5,000 on-demand cycling classes available, as well as 32 scenic rides and over 1,600 FitPass classes, the latter category including anything from HIIT sessions to mindfulness practice.
As for live classes, there are plenty of those too. Sure, you won't necessarily find a class in every hour each day, but on most days, there is a cycling available class every half an hour. The other categories are admittedly a bit more sparse: strength, tone and stretch classes are few and far between.
The Echelon App is easy to use and you can also check your progress and workout history which might be useful way to motivate some people.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: verdict
The Echelon Connect EX3 is a decent exercise bike and it offers a wide variety of on-demand and live spin classes. The magnetic resistance provides a near-silent riding experience and thanks to the customisation options, most people will find a way to sit on the Echelon Connect EX3 the way they prefer.
Unfortunately, the bike doesn't come with a built-in screen and this takes away from the experience. A class viewed on a smallish, 10" tablet will not be the same as it is on a 22" Peloton bike screen.
However, you can use your Echelon Fit web login on any smart TV and watch Echelon workouts on a big screen. If you want to see your Smart Connect Bike stats on a smart TV, Echelon recommends using an Apple TV, or Screen Mirror for your TV. There are third party apps you can use as well like Mirror for Samsung TV and Video and TV Cast.
Alternatively, the Peloton app is now also available on the Roku platform so if you have a Roku compatible TV, such as the excellent Hisense Roku TV R50B7120UK, you can view classes on a huge screen. I guess you can just watch Peloton classes on the TV and ride your Echelon bike as an alternative combination.
Considering the sturdiness of the Echelon Connect EX3, the available classes and the affordable price point, I would recommend the bike for people who are happy to use their own gadgets to view the Echelon App. As they say, 'a penny saved is a penny earned' and you will be able to save a pretty penny by getting the Echelon Connect EX3 bike.
Echelon Smart Connect EX3 review: also consider
If you're loaded, you might as well get the Peloton Bike+ instead of the Echelon EX3. Peloton has a cult following and its bike range hasn't fallen from grace either (unlike the Tread) so if you can justify the steep price of the bike and the subscription, I'm sure you'll love the Peloton Bike+
There is also the Apex Bike, UK’s answer to Peloton. With a stylish design and good, solid construction, the Apex Bike is a brilliant bit of kit for the price, complemented by some excellent virtual classes and top notch instructors.