I was excited to try Soul Cycle after this wonderful interview with co-founder Julie Rice. (She is still on the board but has moved onto other things. You may have heard of a recent boycott of Soul Cycle; that is not directly connected to Ms. Rice). I don’t live anywhere near one, so I was excited to learn that it was in Palo Alto, California, near where I stayed during a recent trip there.
According to the interview, Soul Cycle was borne out of a desire to create a better experience for riders, rather than signing up for a corporate gym. This type of experience allegedly did not exist in New York City at the time. You rent a specific bike, and pay per class instead of a typical monthly or yearly gym membership. Instructors were trained in house and paid as full-time employees rather than a side gig.
I arrived at 6:43am; 17 minutes until class started. They handed me a pair of cycling shoes; free for my first ride and $3 thereafter (or bring your own). A class was finishing up so I had to wait outside while a couple of staff members went in and got the room ready for the next class.
When it was time, I entered the dark room. I couldn’t tell how the bikes were numbered and asked a staff member in a yellow tank top for assistance. She showed me to my bike and set it up for me, using the same method as cycling instructors whose classes I have attended in the past, at normal gyms. It wasn’t a great fit for me, so I raised the seat to fit my normal feel.
The bikes are designed around the instructor on three sides, 3 rows deep on each side. I sat in the back row. Unfortunately the class was not full. I wanted the feeling of the energy a full class would bring. I should have realized that and at least sat around more people; but instead the back was fairly empty with one person two bikes to my left and someone right in front of me; otherwise most people were in the front row.
The instructor’s bike is raised in the middle. My instructor was female. The setup resembles a DJ; from the area in the middle she could control the lighting and music. I don’t know a lot about music, but I think she could control more than just volume (maybe base and that sort of thing…again, I don’t know music and it was possible that she was making other adjustments).
The class began. The room was quite dark with candles (presumably fake) surrounding the instructor and a little red light from an exit sign. A couple of people arrived late and another staff member showed them to their bike with a red light. A few times the instructor turned more lights on, particularly if we were playing with balance and moving our hands off the handlebars.
I could never hear the instructor well – I think it was a microphone problem. I got the gist of what she was saying most of the time but it was frustrating.
It was an incredible workout. A bit like an early morning dance party on a bike. Most of the ride was done standing. Lots of ‘push ups’ on the handle bars. A little balance work. A little high-resistance work, but not a lot. For one song we used hand weights to do some upper body work. My weights were super light. I saw some bigger weights coming into the room. I think all the bikes have the light ones but you can use the bigger and then return if you want. We were seated for that part.
It’s hard to feel it was a cycle workout. And it definitely wasn’t a strength workout. But I definitely got my heart rate up and I had a lot of fun.
If I lived near one and could afford it, I think I would continue. It was definitely more of an immersive experience than the general workout classes I attend; of course I don’t know how much of that gets lost once it becomes a regular occurrence.
I really like that they offer cycling shoes for everyone. I think this is a good example of something any business could take from – invest in the items that will really make the experience for your customers. I also happened to like the cycling shoes they use – the fit sort of like a climbing shoe in the sense that it fit snugly around my foot. (This may mean that my cycling shoes don’t fit me well, or this is a different style, I don’t know).
There are some serious critiques about the workout, such as this one. The critiques include that it isn’t that great of a workout, that it’s prone to injury, that the ‘other moves’ on the bike (like push ups) really don’t do much for you. I can see how all of this can be true, but to that I say – take responsibility for your workout and your body. Many people get injured doing CrossFit, and I know that it doesn’t work for my body. Neither does Insanity. So I avoid those workouts. But if you enjoy the energy at a Soul Cycle class, and take care of your body doing the moves, then I say great. It’s nice to have different options to get a good workout while enjoying your time spent doing it. It all comes with a risk. Take care of yourself, play, enjoy moving your body, and carry on.