Biking in New York City is tired. Citi BikeSM takes up space on the street and a little bit of the sidewalk that was previously occupied by the street and a little bit of the sidewalk. They'll let any roving brood of vagrants into SoulCycle these days. Where can New Yorkers turn if they want to enjoy a stationary bike ride by candlelight but don't want to do that in an environment that can sustain a Mogwai's gentle magic?
They must take to the sea or, in this case, an indoor pool in Tribeca.
They must ride bikes underwater.
AQUA Studio, NYC's first and only underwater spin studio, opened classes (to women only) last April. Clad in clear rubber jellies, groups of up to 15 buffies at a time splash and pedal in time to music while partially submerged in 4 feet of water. According to the AQUA website, the reasons to ride a stationary bike under water are as varied as they are numerous. Aqua spinning "effectively burns cellulite" (reason #2). And "Europeans love it" (reason #10).
A trial visit costs $34. Gawker associate editor Leah Beckmann and I went for free (we paid $2 apiece for jellies rentals) as the guests of Esther Gauthier, the extremely chic French lady who owns and runs AQUA.
What follows is an informal discussion of our bike ride back through time, when bicycles still had gills, before they evolved to live on land.
Caity: Going in, I wasn't sure whether it would be a lot easier or harder than SoulCycle, but I was pretty confident it would land at one of those extremes.
Leah: I was pretty confident in general because it is LAAADIEEES ONLY. And on the schedule they make a point to include "(women only)" on every slot, as though men have a tiny chance of sneaking in during another time. They don't.
Caity: Oh yeah, I wracked my brain for weeks trying to figure out why it was WOMEN ONLY. The best I could come up with was: something to do with ladies spilling out of their bathing suit tops?
Leah: Something about the book The Red Tent I'm pretty sure.
Caity: If anything, I felt like the class should be men only, because men are less likely to start spontaneously bleeding into the pool.
Caity It's a good point, I think.
Leah: Women just randomly exploding. Murder scene. Menses scene.
Caity: "Maybe they wanted it to be ladies only so that the men wouldn't cut off the women’s heads, leaving their lifeless torsos to bleed into the underwater Hell?"
Leah: But the real reason turned out to be much more humdrum.
Caity: No male changing rooms!
Leah: Which seems like a pretty easy fix.
Caity: And the facility is so chichi. A gorgeous boutique spa. It’s like they said, “We have one million dollars to make this the best place we can, so we’re going to install elegant tiles and distressed wooden mirrors an—OH MY GOD WE FORGOT ABOUT MEN'S ROOMS."
Leah: You would think that before you build a place for the community to enjoy juices and massages, you would invest in a room whose only purpose is to conceal wieners. But no. Not le plan.
Caity: Hahaha — agreed. Our lovely host/AQUA propietress, Esther, has big dreams for her chic salon de underwater biking, but men factor into the equation only as an afterthought. She actually mentioned that women are coming up to her now saying they really love that the classes are women only, which is a funny compliment considering the majority of spin class participants (apart from Bradley Cooper) are female. It's sort of like walking into a Claire's and saying "I LOVE that this has become a hangout for women."
Leah: Yes! Especially because I stole us Best Friend friendship necklaces on our way out but do not tell my mom; she thinks I was babysitting.
Caity: And! Our instructor was male. WOMEN ONLY plus this one random guy.
Leah: Luke was excellent. Also maybe going through a break-up?
Caity: Yes, I believe he said that at the beginning, though it was hard to pick out specific words in the echoey pool chamber. Maybe he said he was “through ordering takeout.”
Leah: He was wearing—what were they? Seal skins? The teeniest little swim trunks. Teeniest little butt. A place where his legs meet.
Caity: He was beautiful. It was like being coached by a dancing sculpture. And I appreciated that his demeanor was really friendly and encouraging, not punishing.
Leah: If anything he seemed a little sleepy to me. A little low energy.
Caity: If Danny [our SoulCycle instructor] was an AP European history teacher, Luke was a kindergarten art teacher. Chill vibe.
One vibe that was not chill was mine, every time I thought about all the non-chlorinated liquids that must have been leaking into that pool as we pedaled to Christina Aguilera. I think because Luke kept telling us to connect with our bodies, I was much more aware of their secretions than I would be during a normal day at the pool. First of all: sweat.
Leah: The sweat of cyclers past, present, and future. Instead of smearing a towel on my sweaty face, I just face-planted into the water.
Caity: I sliced my finger open cleaning a knife this morning, so if we'd gone to class tonight there would have been my blood in the water. We'll assume that at least one of the women there was on her period, right?
Leah: Which is fortunate because there was a lovely bouquet of tampons and pink razors in the bathroom.
Caity: The prep for this was definitely more stressful than other workouts I have ever participated in. Lots of hair removal.
Leah: I planned on lots of hair removal. Then, in the shower, I was just like, "Nope!"
Caity: That is INTERESTING! You did no prep?
Leah: None. More like Leah BUSHman. That's a joke about pubic hair.
Leah: But then I was so nervous that I brought weird things with me to the studio? Like sweatpants, even though I was already wearing pants. Actually that's it, I guess.
Caity: Sweatpants and an intricately carved jack-o-lantern and a B*Witched promotional single on vinyl. Weird bring-alongs!
I will say I didn't notice that at all, if you were feeling self-conscious. I guess that's the lesson here: you don't have to do prep because no one is looking at your crotch. (I was totally ogling your boobs in the water, though. It was like porn with all the splashing.)
Leah: Haha. I checked out ALL the boobs. Did you?
Caity: Is it creepier to say NO ONLY YOURS?
Leah: Mostly I was just curious about what everyone had chosen to wear.
Caity: I was super curious about what people were wearing. (Less so about their boobs; only yours.) I saw 1 or 2 bikinis and TONS of sports bras!
Leah: The girl who was the best in the class...when she came out she was wearing LULU LEMON LEGGINGS? Why girl why? I thought everyone would be wearing one pieces.
Leah: Very #FreePeople #FestivalStyle.
I want to know what that wispy French angel Esther wears.
Caity: Oh my gosh, I can't even imagine.
Leah: A beret.
Caity: I assume it’s just a basic black one piece that retails for $700.
Leah: She’s perfect.
Caity: Remember when she said she tried water cycling for the first time in Paris and became hooked? Like, oh that old chestnut. "What did you do over Epiphany?" "I tried water cycling in Paris and now I'm HOOKED." “I went ice skating around bathtubs in Aspen and now I'm HOOKED.”
Leah: "Ever since Gwyneth told me about it when we were in Cannes..."
And rust? Oh heavens no, the bikes are from Italy!
Caity: That was hilarious. She didn't even tell us the bikes were from eetaly unprompted. We asked if would they ever rust underwater and she said "No, we keep checking for it, but there's been none yet.” Then Luke jumped in and said "They're from Italy right?"
Like it was just a stupid, mundane detail. Y'know, you pick up magical luxury waterbikes any old place. These are from eetaly, maybe yours are from Algiers.
Leah: More like from Boston's North End where she knows a guy because those things were fliiiimsy. I kept accidentally lifting mine off the ground and imagining getting caught under it if it fell over, and you having to rescue me….
Caity: I kept having weird reveries about how we were biking in the gymnasium of the Titanic as it was sinking. The band played on. We biked toward nothing.
Leah: Hahaha OK that was my big issue with it. SoulCycle at least makes you feel like you're in da club. Maybe it's a club in Atlantic City and you don't want to be in it, but you're there so you dance a little and try to force it. But this was like “I'm at the JCC with the little ladies doing 5 a.m. aerobics.” The music was echoey and it was sort of quiet. And! We just splashed. One of our exercise moves was just...splashing.
Caity I liked that they didn't force a club atmosphere. And I thought the splashing was hilarious. I felt like a puppy. I agree that the exercises definitely felt slightly geriatric at times (especially for a class where every member appeared to be in her twenties) and I couldn’t tell if they weren't super hard because I was in the water, a weightless mermaid, or if it was because it's not hard to splash. But it was fun. I laughed like a little kid every time.
Leah: So fun. Mostly though I just wanted to swim! I wanted to play Marco Polo with everyone. Luke's it!
Caity: I wish there had been a "free swim" 10 minute period at the end.
Leah: YES. The other thing: Did it hurt you?
Caity: Uh ,YES, frequently. The bike seat was really bonking my chocha uncomfortably.
Leah: ME TOO.
Caity: It was difficult to get up and down quickly. I would have to gingerly lower myself and spend 3 seconds adjusting every time we sat. I don't know if the SoulCycle bikes had different padding or what, but that sensation was not pleasant.
Leah: And when I would thrust myself down, water would shoot up in me. I kept thinking I was peeing?
Caity: YES. And I knew I wasn’t peeing because all I wanted to do was pee and I fought it off valiantly. But all of a sudden water is escaping from you….
Leah: Me too! Which only made me think that everyone else was totally peeing. Every time Luke jumped back in the pool it was totally to pee.
Caity: Hahaha — I would like to get some hard numbers on who peed and who didn't. It would have been so easy amidst the chaos of the splashing.
Leah: I ran track and cross-country in high school (BRAG) and girls would pee mid-race all the time.
Caity: Did you ever?
Leah: Yeah right gross me no never what where am I
Leah: Sometimes the workout is just too much! But in this case you're in water…I bet 8/13 girls peed in that pool.
Caity: I will say that the air had that really strong chlorine smell that always reminds you of summer. So that made it seem…vaguely clean.
Leah: Are you sore today?
Caity: Not at all. Are you?
Caity: I wasn't sore after SoulCycle either though.
Leah: Oh, I was. But I know what you mean...I couldn't tell if it was a hard workout during.
I think I maybe wouldn't pay 40 bones for it?
Caity: I had a lot of fun and I would like to do it again. But definitely not for $40. It didn't feel like a $40 workout.
Leah: Have your birthday there. I'll totally come.
Caity: Ha! I wish. I could never afford that.
I would recommend Aqua cycling for ladies of a certain age with huge disposable incomes who want to feel like they're exercising but not push themselves to the limit.
Leah: And who don't care about scamming on D's during exercise class.
Caity: I think it would also be great if you were recovering from an injury or surgery. There were definitely points when I felt "the burn.” Biking in the water was a little awkward. Not challenging in the way that running too fast on a treadmill is challenging, but challenging like learning to articulate sounds in Russian. By the end I had kind of mastered the rhythm I think: Keep your knees a little bent and they glide through the water without getting locked at the bottom of the circular pedaling motion.
Leah: Yeah I would sort of get into a groove and then somehow get thrown off that groove. My rhythm would get a little stilted but then I would just stop biking because I could. Can’t see these legs under water. Definitely the best part.
Caity: My very favorite part was swimming over to my bike at the start of class. Ariel riding home from lacrosse practice.
Leah: I would have liked to swim around with goggles. Abandoned bike ships.
Caity: I don't know if it was any more of a workout than treading water in the ocean for 45 minutes. But it was definitely chicer.
Leah: The ambience is really nice and soothing too.
Caity: I think the most valuable take away from the class is not that we splashed away cellulite, but that we’re now able to tell people we did it.
Leah: To say to Libby in Martha's Vineyard, "I tried water cycling for the first time in the City and became hooked."
Caity: "Throw on some $80 leggings and meet me in the deep end."
[Art by Jim Cooke // Image by Victor Jeffreys II]
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