The cleverest lockdown accessory is a mini bike that fits under your desk

Second only to a puppy who fits under your bike.
Second only to a puppy who fits under your bike.
Image: Reuters/Desmond Boylan
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Life under lockdown is making all of us more eccentric. We’re forgetting how to socialize, staving off boredom with gardening and tie-dye, and forming deep emotional bonds with jars of sourdough starter. And some of us, like me, are getting really, really into our miniature under-desk bikes.

I bought my little desk bike toward the end of November. The reality of the coming winter, featuring 4pm sunsets and icy temperatures, was setting in, and I worried that my motivation to go on rambling post-work walks was about to take a nosedive.

Searching for a way to weave more exercise into my daily routine during the chilly months ahead, I remembered coming across the DeskCycle 2 on the website of Gee Thanks Just Bought It, the podcast from which I get most of my purchasing inspiration these days. At $200, the gadget’s not cheap (there are cheaper options available for those on a tighter budget). But I decided to go for it, picturing myself pedaling my way through the workday, endorphins flowing as my fingers raced across the keyboard.

The DeskCycle 2 under-desk mini-bike.

A lot of other remote workers are also chasing this dream, as Sydney Gore reports for Vox. Just as the Covid-19 pandemic prompted former gym devotees to embrace Peloton bikes and online workouts, so too has the work-from-home lifestyle led to a surge of interest in stationary bikes outfitted with laptop stands and ellipticals that fit right under your desk.

On a psychological level, mental-health experts tell Gore, exercise equipment that allows us to multi-task is a clear example of our contemporary obsession with maximizing productivity. (It’s not enough to meet deadlines; we’ve got to meet our cardio goals at the same time.) In the context of the pandemic, under-desk bikes and their ilk also represent a way to exert some small amount of control over our mental and physical well-being, even as we’re deprived of access to many of the in-person relationships, activities, and communities that are typically essential to health.

As it turns out, the DeskCycle has been a great investment, but not quite in the work context I’d imagined. I don’t yet have the eye-foot coordination necessary to type and pedal at the same time. Also, if I set up the bike at the kitchen table that doubles as my desk, my knees bump up against the wood. (Some Amazon reviewers advise using bed risers to solve this issue.)

So instead, I use the bike when I’m not engaged in deep work. In the mornings, I often hop on for a few minutes to warm up before opening up my computer. When my energy dips in the afternoon, 10 minutes or so with the DeskCycle helps me reenergize. I’ve taken to it when I feel stressed about an upcoming phone call and need to get the jitters out. And I’ve been happily pedaling my way through the evenings, sitting on my couch with the DeskCycle while reading or watching movies like Die Hard. (I’ve recently become an action-movie addict; at a time when my life is hopelessly dull, I’m counting on grizzled men and women walking away from explosions to make me feel alive.)

To be clear, the DeskCycle is not a hard-core workout—but I wasn’t looking for one. Rather, the mini-bike has given me a way to incorporate movement into various parts of my day that might otherwise be sedentary, a method that research suggests can have just as much impact on our health as high-intensity exercise.

What I love most about the mini-bike, however, is using it on Zoom calls, because it is noticeable in a subtle and silly way, offering my colleagues a chance to wonder to themselves,  “Why is Sarah doing a little shoulder shimmy as we discuss quarterly projections?” My coworker Anne says that when she sees me using the bike on a video call, it looks like I’m swaying to music that no one else can hear, “grooving, pedaling, peppy song in your heart.”

In the era of social distancing, I suppose we’re all swaying to our own private melodies these days, losing our marbles at least a little bit. The DeskCycle renders my personal weirdness temporarily visible to my onscreen friends and acquaintances, and in this way, I hope it encourages them to feel free to display their own burgeoning quirks and idiosyncrasies. It’s going to be a long, hard winter. The least we can do is amuse each other on our shared quest to find the things that make us feel even a little bit better.