Game of Sweat

In New York, when you don’t have anything to say to a person, your best bet is to engage them on the topic of SoulCycle. Isn’t it gross? Don’t you kind of love it? You have to try it! Etc. But when a person acknowledges that they also attend boutique fitness classes, you can get into more fine grained discussions about the schisms that generate a thousand new studios every year.

I have been so deep in the dance cardio feuds that I have been a little out of touch with the spinning drama. SoulCycle is the Robert Baratheon of spinning. Once there was a perfectly stable but crazy status quo called “Spinning,” which was actually a trademarked brand rather than a generic thing like running. Trademarked “Spinning” meant that an instructor yelled at you for 30-45 minutes while you moved your resistance up and down based on a sense of your own aerobic capacity. Very loud techno beats and the yelling were really the hallmark of this original form. In these kinds of classes (often offered at gyms), you could wear normal shoes.

When SoulCycle broke onto the scene in the early aughts, its hallmarks were: less yelling, more woo woo yoga-like talk about being present and riding the wave of energy created by one’s own heart.  The classes were only offered in special SoulCycle studios that were kind of like yoga studios (in that you paid per class). Also there are no lights, everyone wears clip-in bike shoes, the only light comes from heavily scented candles, and the instructors get off the bike and dance around to more expertly curated mixes of music (think the Black Keys and Aretha). They also had a signature color: yellow. Most importantly they charged $30 (not including the shoes).  No one knew you could charge this much for a fitness class and now everyone in NYC does charge this much. Celebrities and hedge fund managers loved this because it weeded out the poor people.

But then all hell broke loose! An instructor that founded SoulCycle became disenchanted with some of the core principles of SoulCycle and started Flywheel. In many ways SoulCycle had kept the inefficiencies of Spinning by having people change their resistance based on feel and cues like “half turn” and “full turn” and added some super dangerous elements like having people wiggle around on their bike seats (called “tap backs”) and lift small weights in a dance-ish choreography all while peddling fast.

Flywheel and SoulCycle are mortal enemies and their respective celebrities are very loyal (Chelsea Clinton is on team Flywheel, and Max Greenfield is on team SoulCycle). Now there are many studios vying for dominance in NYC. Revolve, Peloton, Cyc. They all claim to have original elements. For instance, Peloton makes you race in two packs.

Flywheel, however, is the Daenerys in this Game of Sweat. Because it is competent and pretty.

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Flywheel is the only spinning class that I have ever enjoyed. Their basic innovation is to have a little screen on your bike that shows you your resistance level and your RPM. Then the instructor can tell you to move your resistance knob into a certain numerical range and keep your RPM at a certain level, which is amazing because you actually know what you are doing or failing to do. Yelling and self-help mumbo jumbo is not their thing. They just kind of talk to you. For instance, at a recent class the instructor played various theme songs from Superman movies and talked us through his favorite scenes while adding little grunts mid sentence to keep us on the beat. The seating is stadium style so you can actually see the instructor, and their is a screen that you can opt into that shows where your effort ranks in the class. But most importantly: they give you free shoes, water, and BANANAS!

This is what I deserve: BANANAS!

And this makes me think Flywheel has what it takes to win: a solid understanding of the people’s need for reliable sustenance.

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