As the lights go down and the music ramps up, the room begins to feel more like a nightclub than a spin studio. But that, it quickly becomes evident, is entirely the point.
The fit, energetic instructor is outfitted with a head microphone so that he can speak to the group—which is upwards of 50 people strong—hands-free. He rides from a raised platform like a pop star, surrounded by flickering candles, enthusiastically flicking his head to get his blonde bangs out of his face. The house music builds and the opening ride intensifies as the instructor gives an opening motivational monologue about how “the only person you need to compare yourself to is the person you were when you walked in the door.”
This is SoulCycle, the spin studio with a cult following that was founded in New York in 2006 and has since expanded to 80 locations in 15 markets, including its latest: Vancouver’s Yaletown. Workout studios are rife in this city, and that includes an array of already established indoor cycling spots—but what SoulCycle brings, aside from the aforementioned trendy status, is unparalleled zest. It’s the glow stick buzzing with neon in a dark room.
“We say people come to SoulCycle for the workout, but they stay for the breakthroughs they experience on the bike and the community connections we create in the lobbies of our studios,” says the company’s CEO Melanie Whelan, over the phone from New York. “I ride four or five days a week, and hearing the stories from our riders is my favourite, whether they be about mental transformations or weight loss. It’s inspiring to hear the stories every day.”
Classes are 45 minutes long, though they go by in the blink of a Beyoncé song. Part of what makes SoulCycle unique is the “choreography” that the coach—“Part fitness instructor and part life instructor and guru,” explains Whelan—takes the group through, from moving side to side to incorporating weights, all while pedalling away to the beat of the music. As such it becomes a bit more of a full-body workout, honing endurance, of course, but also core and arm strength. Paired with heartening mantras that echo through the instructor’s microphone, the class has the energy of a dance party and the message of a yoga retreat.
It may seem intimidating from the outside, but once you’re in the saddle, as they say, it only becomes about you and the bike. “I love bringing people for the first time,” says Whelan. “I brought someone last weekend with us, he was such a doubter—he’s a finance guy, he does triathlons—and he came to one class with me, and I took him for a second one two days later. And he just sent me a text that he had taken his fifth class in a week, was officially hooked, and couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to try SoulCycle.” Just like that, another rider converted to the church of SoulCycle—a place where worship is directed inwards.