How Indoor Cycling Helped This Man Through His Transition and Learn to Really Love Himself

Max Rigano as told to Jordan Smith
·4 min read
Photo credit: Julia Rigano
Photo credit: Julia Rigano

From Bicycling

Age: 31
Occupation: CycleBar Instructor
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Time Cycling: 2 years
Reason for Cycling:
To reconnect with my body and find self-love, to take care of myself, and because I love CycleBar.

When I moved to St. Louis eight years ago, my mom gifted me her Bianchi and I used to that to get around the city—for recreation and transportation, but not really for exercise. When I was younger, I broke one of my legs in a bunch of places, so I have to be careful when I exercise, because my joints are prone to chronic pain.

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A few years ago, I was in San Francisco for work (I used to work in marketing), and for a team-building activity, we went to an indoor cycling class. After that first class, I remember calling my partner and saying, “Get this, the instructor was like a DJ, athlete, and pastor in one. Doesn’t this sounds like a dream job?!” But at the time, I wasn’t thinking it was a job that I would actually have one day.

When I got back to St. Louis, I realized we have CycleBar, so I connected with the studio in late 2017. When I first started going, I was beginning my transition, and I was nervous; I didn’t really know how people there would receive a trans person, because I didn’t really know anyone at the studio. At that time, I wasn’t passing as a boy; I still looked pretty feminine, I still had my chest, and things like that.

I’m happy to report I was fully accepted; people were like “Okay, cool,” and I really felt embraced by the instructors. The whole community became a place where I explored sharing that part of myself.

Photo credit: Julia Rigano
Photo credit: Julia Rigano

Then, in December 2018, I got my top surgery, which is a surgical procedure to remove breast tissue. The day I was cleared for exercise postsurgery, January 12, 2019, was the day I started going to CycleBar religiously. I attended classes at the studio every day, which became a big part of my transition. Shortly before my top surgery, I started taking hormones, which helped my body start carrying fat in a more masculine way. And around that time, (though I don’t know how scientifically true this is), I was motivated to ride more to reset my body disposition.

After my top surgery, Cyclebar was the first public place I started taking my shirt off. It felt very vulnerable—there was a huge mental adjustment of getting used to sharing that part of myself in public spaces, and revealing to people that I’m trans. But I felt safe because it was a dark room, kind of like putting a toe in the water, which was a really cool space for me to get to have. Then on top of that, people who rode with me really admired me; it didn’t feel like just acceptance—I was embraced.

When you go into a situation like that, it’s scary to wonder how people might react. Especially because when you spend lots of money on boutique studio class, most people just want to take the class and live their life, but any fears I had were totally dissolved by the community at that studio.

A few months ago, Cyclebar was offering an instructor training. I was shifting out of my marketing role around the same time, so I thought, okay this is perfect timing, I’m doing this. I never thought about becoming a coach before now, but it fits with my personality. So once the stars aligned and I had the time to put into training, it all kind of came full-circle.

Photo credit: Julia Rigano
Photo credit: Julia Rigano

Now, I’ve been an instructor for two months, and I teach five to seven classes a week—I really hit the ground running. I’m trying to teach as often as I can and get really comfortable as an instructor. I still use my Bianchi as transportation, too.

There have definitely been some challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, you teach in a studio with 50 bikes—but right now, there are only 12. And, we ride in masks which is another thing to get used to, and can be intimidating for some riders. And, keeping everyone motivated is a little more emotionally challenging. Overall, it’s been really cool to see our studio and community come together and roll with the circumstances.

Being trans, I’ve struggled with a kind of disconnection with my body. I grew up feeling like I had to tolerate and cope with the body I had. But at CycleBar, I feel like I got the opportunity to reconnect with my body, and care about it, and trust it, and push it—it was just for me. CycleBar was the vehicle where I started rebuilding my relationship with my body.

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