In high school, I was one of those kids that thought “the mile” jog we had to do every Friday in gym class was torture, and organized sports were not my forté. But once I graduated college and moved to New York City, I heavily drank the boutique fitness studio Kool-Aid. What exactly makes someone who used to hate fitness happily shell out $30+ a class? First, I was single and childless, so back then, I had more disposable income — hah. But I was also drawn to the energetic vibe of the people who attended classes, great instructors, fun music, and cool spaces. Back then, a typical schedule consisted of clipping onto the SoulCycle bike three or four times a week (I ate a lot of free snacks from the office to make this work on an editorial assistant’s salary). Spinning not only got my heart thumping, but it cleared my head and let me disconnect from the world in one of those dark, candlelit rooms for 45 minutes.
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Fast-forward a few years later, I moved to a house in the suburbs (where I had to drive to my closest studio #firstworldproblems), and I had a kid that takes up 99.9% of my energy and time. As if those weren’t reasons enough to give up on exercising, a pandemic happened, and I personally can’t imagine stepping inside a cramped, enclosed studio any time soon. Luckily for others who feel similar apprehension of IRL classes, SoulCycle picked a great time to finally launch their at-home bike last year — riding the wave eight years after Peloton entered the market in 2012. However, for $2,500, I didn’t want to invest without knowing it’s something I’d actually use. I was hesitant that it would offer the motivation and sense of a community and camaraderie that in-person classes did, but it ended up being love at first tap back. If you’re considering taking the plunge, here’s what you need to know:
There are plenty of at-home bikes and cycling brands to choose from, but here are a few of the reasons why people like me gravitate towards SoulCycle:
- It benefits more than just your physical health: Funnily enough, the same girl who once considered “the mile” torturous in school ended up completing three half marathons as an adult. But running around my neighborhood became monotonous very quickly and coordinating childcare just to leave the house for an hour was a struggle. Cycling is a full-body cardio workout that doesn’t wreck your knees the way running can. But more than the physical advantages, the brand’s M.O. is all about the mind-body connection. SoulCycle enthusiasts love that instructors lead you through a yoga-like flow that builds mental clarity and focuses on mental health through movement.
- The music is addictive: SoulCycle riders move to the beat of the music, so you ride “together.” The instructors curate the unique playlists, and you can even add them to your Spotify. My go-to’s are the 90s-inspired playlists because who doesn’t love throwbacks?
- The choreography is challenging: From “tap backs” to “around the world,” there’s a whole new SoulCycle dictionary you’ll have to learn when it comes to the class’ choreography. The moves are designed to work all the different muscles in your body, so you’re not just exhausting your legs. Most of the sessions that are over 30 minutes incorporate a 5-10 minute weight series that focuses on just your arms. Needless to say, you’re never bored on the bike, and while the choreography can take some time to get used to, it’s fun to figure out. The most important thing is to match the rhythm first before “dancing” on the bike.
- It’s not based on the competition: If you are a Flywheel fan, the Peloton bike fuels your sense of competition with the leaderboard function that lets you ride with other members. (Actually, Peloton filed a lawsuit against Flywheel for patent infringement, but I digress.) SoulCycle doesn’t have a leaderboard, but unlike the in-person classes, the at-home bike will show you a beat match percentage to measure how you performed in that sense. You can see who’s riding with you during live classes and give them virtual “high fives” for motivation, but you can’t specifically see how they’re performing in the class. Again, SoulCycle’s focus is more about matching the beat and choreography instead of trying to “beat” other members.
What gear do I need?
Treat yourself to cute workout clothes to help you feel motivated to get on the bike. As far as the workout itself, it’ll be helpful to have the following ready to go:
- Cycling shoes: You’ll need to invest in a pair of cycling shoes with cleats that clip directly into the bike. They have firmer soles than regular sneakers so that you can have a smoother ride, push harder, and ensure your legs are aligned properly with the bike. SoulCycle bikes with SPDS (two holes) or Delta (three-hole) cleats, while the Peloton bike only works with Delta cleats. You can get the Pearl Izumi branded ones directly from SoulCycle, but either way, you’ll need a screwdriver to install your cleats.
- Hand weights: Two-pounders are surprisingly difficult during the arm series, but you might want a set like this from Balanceform that has a variety to keep mixing things up.
- Bike mat: A bike mat will not only protect your floors and your bike from scratches, but it also absorbs vibrations from your bike.
What’s the bike like?
The delivery and setup fee is included with your purchase, and it arrives fully set up and ready to plug in. I always felt like the SoulCycle studio bikes were a smoother ride than the competition — and you get the same experience with the at-home bike. If you’re new to SoulCycle, it’ll be helpful to go through the video tutorials on how to position the bike and make sure the settings are right for you. SoulCycle’s at-home bikes can accommodate a wider range of riders than the Peloton — as tall as 6’10” and up to 350 pounds compared to Peleton’s max of 6’4” and 297-pound weight limit. You can adjust the height and depth of the seat, the handlebar height, and the position of the handlebars (a feature the Peloton doesn’t have) to accommodate those with shorter torsos. You can enter your settings in your profile, so if you’re sharing your bike with someone else in your house, you have an easy point of reference.
The bike’s 21.5” high-res touch screen is large enough so you can feel truly immersed in the experience — and the sound quality is awesome. Though the screen doesn’t rotate like the Peloton Bike+, if you only plan on using the screen for spinning, it doesn’t really matter. While the bike has wheels to theoretically move it around from room to room, it weighs 142 pounds, so it’s not meant to stow away easily. Plan on dedicating a permanent space for it — you need it to be near an outlet.
What’s the class like?
Whether you’re new to the class or you just need a refresher, there are lots of intro classes that show you the basics and proper form to get familiar with how they do things. You might be surprised to find that you spend a lot of time out of the saddle in a SoulCycle class. Most warm-ups are done cycling while standing up, and it gives your body more freedom and space to move and not feel stuck in one position on the bike. The aforementioned “dance” combos give me something to focus on (instead of the clock), and it’s truly the core of what makes the class fun. While I’m obviously not riding with 45 other members in my basement, I love that the brand still aims to foster community by featuring riders and teachers of different races and sizes on the screen. You can switch from the studio/instructor view to the demo view of one of the riders, showing you the proper riding form, choreography, and rhythm. While Peloton automatically adjusts your resistance during the classes to match the instructor’s commands, SoulCycle’s approach is for you to modify it manually so that you can be more in tune with your body’s needs. The production value of the on-demand classes is high (think: colorful LED lighting and smooth camera moves), and you can filter by music genre, length of class, or instructor.
Will I see results?
Research shows that a 45-minute indoor cycling session can torch upwards of 600 calories depending on how much effort you put into it — no matter what type of cycling class you take. Because of the heavy choreography of SoulCycle, you’ll work your core in addition to your glutes and quads, plus a dedicated arms series makes sure your triceps and biceps aren’t forgotten. It’s truly a full-body workout whether you’re looking to build endurance and strength or lose weight. I also feel like I emerge from every class not only stronger but inspired and ready to conquer the day thanks to the community’s positive and warm instructors. They aim to keep the energy high, the mood up, and often feel like the therapy session you didn’t realize you needed.
Where do I start?
You have to create an Equinox+ account when you order your bike. While you’re waiting for it to arrive, you can check out some of the HIIT, core, and running classes that come with your $40 monthly membership. After your bike arrives, it’s as simple as finding your favorite workout clothes and clipping in. In addition to freestyle mode (where you can ride to your own music or even while watching Netflix or Disney shows), you’ll find both live and on-demand classes as short as 20 minutes and as long as 90 minutes. It’ll take some time to find your favorite instructors, but I consistently bookmark the blowout-inspiring Karyn Nesbit, who will make sure you’re drenched in sweat by the end of class, and joyful Jenny Gaither, who nails the playlists every time. While I don’t have the dimly lit candles or a disco ball from the studios to give my at-home classes flair, I was surprised by how much I’m able to continue to challenge myself even in the comfort of my own home. The post-class endorphin high is refreshingly the same. That’s all we can ask for during a pandemic, isn’t it?
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