I've Fallen for the SoulCycle At Home Bike and All the Life-Coach Speak That Comes With It

Dave Holmes
·7 min read
Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

I have used SoulCycle’s At-Home spin bike pretty much daily for six weeks now, and the only flaw I can find in it is myself. There’s a bright, crisp, 21.5-inch high-resolution touchscreen on this bike, and though it’s sweat-proof and anti-glare, it is glass, so there I am, reflected in it. I tilt the screen up and see my pink, straining face, I tilt it down and get a perfectly cropped snapshot of the spare tire I’ve inflated over lockdown. In time, I can look through my reflection and into the spin studio, I can get caught up in another challenging class with thumping music and intense encouragement, I can lose myself. Then 45 minutes pass, the class ends, the screen goes dark, and there I am again. But even with me in it, the bike is a fantastic product.

If you don’t live in one of the handful of cities where its studios have flourished over the last fifteen years, or if you’ve just been too intimidated to go in, SoulCycle is a network of indoor cycling gyms that combines tough workouts with aggressive empowerment messaging. A SoulCycle class is a wild ride, one of those situations where a teacher will shout “BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR WHY!!!” with the intensity of a SWAT team commander, and the “YEAHHHH!!!” will leave your mouth before you’ve even decided to yell it. It is an experience, one that translates well to the home. Having done both, I’d say it’s actually better there.

The SoulCycle bike itself is sturdy and quiet. You clip into its pedals with either SPD or Delta cycling shoes, and a quick interactive tutorial will get the seat and handlebars adjusted just right for your body. From there, the screen connects via Wifi to a huge library of on-demand classes. You can search by class length, by intensity level, by genre of music, or just click on the face of a trainer who looks trustworthy and hope for the best. A few times a day, SoulCycle broadcasts live classes that you can join in real time. On-demand classes are shot in the old Daily Show studio in Manhattan, and the production value is high: LED walls, dramatic lighting, sweeping camera moves. Three riders in each class, one up on a low platform showing you the proper form, none of them able to see you struggling to keep up.

The classes look good, but they sound great. The screen’s speakers are powerful, or you can connect headphones via Bluetooth. The instructors carefully curate their playlists to keep the pace up and the energy high, and you’re never quite sure where they’re going to take you. Sometimes you’re on a Miami rooftop with an Armand van Helden remix, sometimes you’re at a live Earth Wind and Fire concert in 1976. Recently, an instructor named Sean played Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye” at the toughest part of his class and did not say a word over it, and I am about to hand-write him a thank-you note. You won’t always agree with their song choices—and I must stress that if you only have the rights to the Glee version of the song, you do not have the rights to the song—but once the adrenaline is coursing through your body, you will find it impossible to care.

In the absence of studios crowded with students whose form they need to fix, the teachers focus on you with constant positive reinforcement. These instructors aren’t auditioning to go viral, like that Peloton guy whose thoughts on Britney turn up on my Twitter feed once a week. They’re committed to keeping the mood up and your self-talk empowering. It can feel so much like a breakthrough therapy session, you forget they can’t actually see you. They push me, and even though we are not in the same room, I am motivated by a desire for them to like me, so I keep up.

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Now, listen: I speak to you as a guy with a low tolerance for life-coach speak. When things get too spiritual, I check out. But in these classes, once the heart rate goes up and the sweat starts to pour, my defenses crumble. I begin to feel the change happening. No matter how hard I may have rolled my eyes during the warm-up, within 20 minutes I have given in. I will celebrate my soul, as Melanie recommends. I can step into my vision, like Ross suggests. I am my own hype man, the way Conor wants me to be. By the end of class I am fully on board, and I know it, and so do my neighbors. (For the record, I do know that what I am describing is the way cults operate, and I won’t think too hard about that.)

SoulCycle also puts an unspoken but undeniable emphasis on body positivity, and the message comes through much more cleanly in the at-home format. They’ve always talked a good game about self-love, but for me that message often failed to resonate in their real live studios, when I’d look around and everyone else in the room was carved out of marble. (That’s not their fault, by the way; that’s just West Hollywood, where I attended.) But in these on-demand classes, with instructors of all shapes, with the on-camera riders running the gamut of ages and body types and joyfully pushing themselves to the limit, the message is clear and welcome: You can be beautiful and powerful and fit at any size.

Gyms are probably not coming back for a while, and I’m not going back to them for a while after that. If the same is true for you, the SoulCycle experience is a good entry point into the new Equinox+ app, which is loaded with on-demand video and audio classes of all kinds: yoga, HIIT, boxing, even sleep meditations. I took an outdoor running class that challenged me with sprint intervals a few weeks back, and I’ve done it once a week since, and now my mile pace is faster than it’s been in a decade. I’m burning more calories than I used to in my daily trips to the gym, and this way I don’t have to worry about parking.

The Equinox+ app also connects with a fitness tracker called a WHOOP, which measures your respiratory rate, resting heart rate, heart rate variability, and sleep quality to give you a score that should inform your day’s activity level. I’d already been wearing a WHOOP, and here’s how I would use it: I’d look at my daily score, nod, and then do what I was already planning on doing. The trouble with that strategy was that I’d fail to give my body adequate rest. But the Equinox+ app gets your daily WHOOP score and suggests activities to suit your day: a 15-minute stretching session on a day when your body needs rest, or a long, high-intensity spin class on a day when you can handle more strain.

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Photo credit: .

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But it’s the bike and the classes on that screen that are the star of the show. I’m an avid cyclist anyway, but that activity is weather-dependent. With the SoulCycle bike, I’m consistently starting the morning with a 45-minute session, then sitting down to my desk with a clear head and a positive attitude. When I find myself with a spare half-hour in the late afternoon, sometimes I’ll throw on some workout clothes and get another quick one in. I still use my actual bike bike, but when I don’t want to put on a helmet or worry about cars, the SoulCycle bike is indispensable.

This bike is worth it, particularly now that we’re saving some money on in-person gym memberships. I’m getting better, harder workouts in less time. I’m fitting into the Before clothes. But the real difference is mental and emotional. I feel better after a SoulCycle class. Empowered, confident, stronger than I was when I started. My lungs are heaving, my quads are burning, but my heart is wide open. I feel good about the world and the people in it.

Maybe even that sweaty mess in my screen’s reflection.

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