If you’re even remotely interested in fitness, you’ve heard all the buzz about designer spin classes. And you’ve probably also heard about the price ($30-35 each, at least where I live in New York) and wanted to cry. Feeling left out of the spinning class loop, I finally broke down and shelled out the money for a class at two of the trendiest spin studios in town: Flywheel and SoulCycle.
Not one to try things alone, I called in for reinforcements. Namely: expert spinner Kendyl. Standing next to my spinning bike for the first time at SoulCycle, I asked her to give me a quick rundown of everything I’d need to know for my first spin class. She looked at me like I had four heads.
Kendyl: Wait… is this your first spin class ever??
Kendyl: Seriously?! And you wanted to start with Soul Cycle??
me: Is it… harder?
me: Oh. Crap.
She was right: It was hard. But once you get past the burning sensation in your thighs, there’s a lot to love, and quite a few differences between the two most popular spin studios taking the indoor cycling world by storm. Here’s what you should know about both:
EFFECTIVENESS – Overall, was it a good workout? How sweaty was I at the end? From black tie ready to fat man in Texas July.
Flywheel: 5.* I came out of the Upper West Side studio absolutely drenched
SoulCycle: 5. Afterwards, I had to hobble across the street to Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf to get a drink and cool down.
AMENITIES - How posh was the gym/spa/studio? From lemon water to BYO.
Flywheel: 4. The $32 class includes free shoe rental and unlimited water. In cute little Flywheel-branded bottles. But it was difficult to know what to do for a first-timer (more on that below).
SoulCycle: 4. The studio felt more like a spa than a gym, but the $32 class doesn’t include shoes or water. The studio did have complimentary hair bands, gum, and other helpful amenities.
STUDIO VIBE – Was the place full of lululemon or ratty old t-shirts? How awkward did I feel, from inner-Beyonce to sixth grade me?
Flywheel: 4. I went to their original Upper West Side studio inside the JCC (they’ve since moved to their own space), so there wasn’t a front desk or anyone to greet new clients, which was confusing. Luckily, I went with an experienced friend, and she told me to check in on the computers. There are staff members around to help with shoes and equipment, but overall, it wasn’t exactly first-time-user-friendly. But the staff did help set up bikes, which was nice.
SoulCycle: 2. Despite the spa vibe, Soul Cycle has earned its reputation for a dedicated following. Our class had 70 bikes (!!) and nearly everyone was decked out in some kind of Soul Cycle apparel. This did up the intimidation factor a lot (which brings down my score), but the staff was friendly and helpful and the guy who set up my bike emailed me the setting for next time.
TEACHERS - Did the teacher add to or detract from the experience? Did they put together a good playlist?
Flywheel: 3. The teacher was good about saying motivating things, but the music was lacking overall.
SoulCycle: 5. Our teacher was great at explaining what we were doing, even with 70 bikes in the studio, and his music helped take my mind off the pain.
OVERALL EXPERIENCE - Would I go again? What else contributed to my experience?
Flywheel: 4. Each bike at Flywheel is equipped with a tech-pack, which, according to their website is a small computer that displays your resistance, speed, and current & total power. This was nice because it helped provide a target number when the instructor tells you to turn up the power. There’s also an option to display your numbers on a tv at the front of the class so you can compare your stats with other riders. And all stats are loaded into your account on flywheelsports.com so you can see how far you’ve come. This was very fun for my analytical side.
SoulCycle: 3. Even though the staff was helpful and the class was good, I’m less inclined to return regularly because the vibe left newbies feeling like outsiders.
*All factors are ranked from 1-5, 5 being the best.
I can certainly see why people are so excited about spin studios and why they’re popping up all over. It was a great workout and riding 20 miles in a 45 minute class is certainly an efficient way to get your sweat on, but the overall vibe left me unimpressed so I’m not sure this is the workout for me. On to the next!
About this column: Inspired by my love of trying all things fitness, every other week I’ll be reviewing a class, workout fad, or video, based on several factors. I try all these classes so you don’t have to. Have a class to recommend or a review you’d love to read? Leave me a comment!
Photo: flicker user Jeremy Jenum