Spinlighenment fitness craze SoulCycle has swept New York and recently landed in the pages of New York magazine, in which writer Alex Morris described it like this:
...The indoor-cycling company-cum-fitness-phenomenon [has] been called an "obsession," a "cult," and-by those who clamor to pay $32 (plus extra for shoe rental and water) for classes that sell out within seconds-an "addiction." Strong words to describe a 45-minute group exercise class, but the SoulCycle experience is meant to truly be an "experience": part dance party, part therapy, part communal high. The studios are dark and steamy, the music is blaring and highly curated, and riders are encouraged to pedal on the beat and follow along to choreography while instructors offer yogic inspiration ("I want the next breath to be an exorcism"; "Namaste, little badasses") and self-help maxims ("Be honest about who you are trying to be").
Are you rolling your eyes yet? I did throughout the article, and when the employees of Gawker were offered a free class, I knew the opportunity for ridiculousness was too good to pass up. I don't know if my colleagues Caity Weaver and Leah Beckmann had their heads cocked to the degree mine was when they signed on, but I do know that we were all SoulCycle virgins who'd never so much as taken a spin class before. Our impressions and proof of what gracious guests we are is in the informal chat below.
Rich: SoulCycle: The Electric Daisy Carnival of spin classes amirite?
Leah: I wish our instructor Danny had been wearing furry rave boots. I wish we all had been.
Caity: I feel I should note for the record that I just ordered myself, John, and Jim bacon cheeseburgers and fries and sodas for lunch. So SoulCycle did not work for me.
Rich: It didn't work for me either. At the end of class, Danny told us, "If you're out of breath, don't be embarrassed. It means that something shifted." I wasn't out of breath, nothing shifted, except for my balls, into my body, whenever we had to do a seat tap or push up on the handlebars while seated.
Caity: Furry rave boots would have been easier to walk in than those clippy shoes. So I also wish we had been wearing them.
Leah: It is also important to note that all three of us left our shoes on the bikes. Three rave ghosts.
Caity: That was the only part of the evening that I felt was geared toward newcomers. When they said it was okay to leave our shoes on the bike.
Rich: I had no idea what was going on.
Caity: I would say that from start to finish I had no to very little idea what was going on. I wish there had been some kind of prep video I could have watched beforehand.
Rich: Between the music and the jacked-up mic, there was a lot of distortion. Danny would be like, "SDFSKLDJFLSKHFSDFKSDFJSDFHKSDFH. YES OR NO-WAH? YES OR NO-WAH?" No? I guess? I mean, I know the answer he wanted was, "Yes," but the right one was probably, "No."
Caity: I tried to base my moves on what those around me were doing. BUT I DIDN'T REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY WERE DOING.
Rich: I found that when my nose wasn't up the ass of the guy who was cycling in front of me, I was able to follow his lead a lot better than Danny's.
Leah: Between Chelsea Clinton's sweaty ass face (she was in the class before us) and thinking I was seeing every member of Gallery Girls, my soul was very confused.
Caity: I will say, that when Leah broke the rule of talking to your neighbor to tell me that there was a Gallery Girl in attendance, it was like I got my second wind. I perked up on that bike so fast.
Leah: I talked the entire time.
Rich: Wait, there was a rule?
Caity: The rule was printed on the wall. It was like, "Do laundry so you don't smell, don't talk."
Rich: I didn't see it since the lights were out, I guess? Do you want to talk about the spotlight? How Danny would adjust it to highlight himself? And sometimes manually strobe it?
Rich: The NYMag article talks about how they hire stars, not necessarily experienced trainers.
Caity: At one point Danny has just finished strobing the spotlight over himself in time to the music and the exit sign was the only light on glowing red…
Leah: While watching himself in the mirror, WHILE on the bike.
Caity: …and I thought…
Rich: …a beacon of hope…
Caity: THIS MAN LOOKS LIKE THE DEVIL.
Rich: Still a beacon of hope. I'd prefer Satan. I'd rather sell my soul than SoulCycle, frankly.
Leah: You seemed so good at it, Rich.
Rich: Thank you, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Caity: Yeah, I felt horrible every time I looked at Rich. Gliding away. Pumping his muscles.
Leah: Me too. Then I looked at Caity and there was a yellow frown Gchat face bubble where your face used to be.
Here are some pertinent terms:
Rich: I sweated a lot, but it did not kick my ass.
Leah: I think I thought it was kicking my ass, and I have never sweat more in my life, but I don't feel awful
Caity: This was not the most exhausted I've ever been in my life. It was damn unpleasant.
Rich: My ears hurt worse than my balls.
Caity: But I think because I didn't know exactly what to do, I never really got the "work out."
Leah: Yeah. I felt very old in there. Like I was an old lady trapped in a young person's noise box. My grandkid's bedroom.
Caity: Rich was pretty much furious upon entering the building
Rich: I was! Co-ed locker rooms? What in the Verhoeven dystopian hell is that?
Caity: Oh yeah, that was a scary surprise. WHOA I'M IN THE MEN'S ROOM, Nope it's just the bathroom from Ally McBeal.
Leah: I changed in the bathroom like an 8th grader using deodorant for the first time.
Rich: And it was so crowded. A boring tea party of politeness set against walls of tiny little Alice in Wonderland lockers.
Caity: Guys, I didn't tell you this, but I think at the end when I was carrying my sweatshirt and sweater and deodorant and ballet flats and chains and baubles and all the shit I brought, some jackass in a tight SoulCycle tank…
Caity: …looked me up and down, and said to his friend, "You're not invited here." They could have been talking about themselves. It is possible I walked by during a private joke, BUT that's kind of how I felt the whole time I was there.
Rich: There was a whole Mean Girls vibe, no?
Leah: Oh yeah. That was the worst part.
Rich: "Here is where you sit. Here are the shoes you must put on so your feet can fit into the pedals like so. On Wednesdays we wear tank tops that have half a bike wheel on them that could easily be mistaken for a lemon slice." Did you like it when Danny detached his shoes and splayed out on his bike, head on handlebars, feet on seat? Like it was a bed? He seemed so cozy. Did you like it when Danny faux-vogued? When he just got off the bike and freestyled?
Leah: Hahahah. The hands down best part. Second only to when he sat cross-legged at the helm of his bike. Sittin' pretty.
Caity: Yes, definitely. I have nothing against Danny personally. I feel the system is flawed.
Rich: I mean, he seemed very devoted to his job.
Rich: He acknowledged we Gawker people, saying that he thought were "awesome." Until now, I guess.
Caity: I think Danny probably describes a lot of things in life as "awesome" though.
Leah: Danny is a "puppet master."
Caity: I tried to picture him manipulating puppets as I watched him bike. His muscles are wasted on the puppet stage.
Rich: It takes might to hold your arms up for a long time, though, as we learned. The weight routine, in which we had to keep our arms extended while doing all sorts of arm-crossy things with small hand weights for about a five straight minutes without a break, was the best part.
Caity: OH GOD.
Rich: In that it was the worst.
Caity: The weights were the only part that I knew I was doing correctly.
Leah: I was too cool for the weights. I noodle-armed the shit out of those.
Caity: (NB opening a Toblerone right now. Remembering this is making me hungry.) Would anyone like a Toblerone pyramid?
Leah: I already ate one piece of lettuce and water today, so I'm full. I really wish there had been more SOUL stuff. Or at least one period joke about cycling together.
Rich: I will say that despite being gently told at the end of class to flutter my eyes open "on your own terms," my soul was unmoved. I want soul music! Soulful house, at least. "When all you want is soulful house and all you get is dubstep and drop-based EDM," is a line from Alanis Morissette's "Ironic '13" that's just waiting to happen.
Leah: I thought it was gonna get crazy Zen and chillin', but it didn't.
Caity: Oh I would have loved some soul.
Rich: There was that song that was like, "Uh! I'm breaking a sweat!" over and over. And the one with sex sounds. Although those may have been coming from Danny.
Caity: The music reminded me of Kanye West cast-offs, how it would sometimes get a little classical over a funky beat.
Rich: Would you guys do it again?
Caity: I do think it is the perfect class for a certain type of person. Someone who loves fitness and punishing themselves and granola bars.
Leah: If we were to make a Craigslist ad, "SoulCycle looking for its mate":
You: Have straight hair that looks good in a ponytail, own neon colored Nike gym shoes, often describe your longterm boyfriend who you actually don't know that well as, "SO weird," and have like, two phones.
Caity: I think what I learned is that I might not excel in classes where trainers yell at you. Every time Danny pleaded with me to "PUSH IT!!!" I was unmoved. I would rather try Zumba.
Leah: I can't decide if I would do it again. Like, if it was free? Sure. But no matter how many times I go I will end up dead, draped over the front of my bike, 30 seconds in.
Caity: (I think the three of us should try Zumba next because I really want to.)
Leah: Me too. Let's go to Zumba.
Rich: OK, Zumba it is.
Caity: Really, I just want to practice the "Love On Top" choreography in my room, alone.
Rich: If you really want your ass kicked, try Barry's Bootcamp, because that shit makes me feel like I'm going to die.
Caity: I don't want my ass kicked, ever.
Leah: Me either.
Rich: During bootcamp, I've exhaled my soul entirely.
Leah: My soul likes group stretching on mats in the dark.
Rich: Who needs a soul when you could have fitness?
Image by Jim Cooke.