I always imagined SoulCycle would be my own personal hell. Perky, perfect-looking fitness enthusiasts who work in P.R., live in studio apartments in Chelsea, and get blowouts before going for drinks at The Standard all crammed into a small space with EDM blasting over the speakers. After spinning at other non-cult gyms elsewhere for four years, I took my first-ever class at a SoulCycle where I learned that I wasn’t wrong.
People throw around the word “cult” a lot when referring to SoulCycle, and it’s a pretty fair descriptor. The place just sounds intimidating from all the press it receives. I mean, even Oprah endorses it. I had called a few days ahead of time to reserve a bike at the Downtown Brooklyn location, which is the closest to my apartment and also probably the least douchiest of all the SoulCycle branches, though I hope to never find out. The nice man on the phone informed me that I would need to arrive 20 minutes prior to class because I was new. There must be some sort of initiation process, I thought to myself. They’re going to make me sign my name in blood.
I got there way too early. I went “shopping” a.k.a. I looked at a pair of $96 SoulCycle brand sweatpants, choked on water, and immediately hung them back on the rack. When I got to the front counter, I obviously looked lost because the girl immediately asked if I was new. When I said yes, she let out a long “Awww” like I had just told her I had gotten my period for the first time. She made me sign a form—luckily just in BIC pen—agreeing to the “risks and dangers” that indoor cycling poses.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m no newbie to indoor cycling, and I think I maaaaybe impressed the front counter chick with my cycling shoes that I brought. When she asked if I wanted to buy a $3 chilled SmartWater, I politely declined. She looked at me with razor-sharp eyes and quietly said, “Are you sure? You’re gonna need it.” I explained that I have my own reusable water bottle, dammit, and to stop polluting the earth (jk but I should’ve said that.) I was intimidated no less.
“There is definitely a Soul community—inside and out of the studio,” Vicky Land, senior public relations manager of SoulCycle, told me. “Our riders and staff build real relationships with each other. Feeling part of the community definitely encourages new riders–and although it can be intimidating to take your first class, a lot of the time it’s the physicality of the class that intimidates first time riders, not the community.”
Before it was time to hit the ~sanctuary~ (that’s what they call their spin studios), I quickly got a tour of the SoulCycle space from front desk girl. The whole time, she was stifling a laugh while she made eyes at some really attractive dude who also worked there. The space was exactly what I pictured in my nightmares. A lot of pristine white with pops of yellow. A neon light sign with “Find Your Soul” was expertly placed in the basement locker room.
About ten minutes before class started, a stampede of sweaty, smelly, mostly barefooted women in tank tops ran down the steps with SmartWater’s in hand towards their lockers.
I knew this meant my class would be starting soon, so I threw my stuff in a locker. Their lockers, which say they are SO easy to use, require you to set your own numbered combination. I set a combination, but I instantly forgot it as soon as I set it. I immediately felt like the outcast…the kid who gets picked last in dodgeball. That was me.
I didn’t have time to deal with my forgotten combination, so I ascended the steps into the sanctuary. The room, which had the stale, musty scent of sweat and cleaning supplies like the lobby of a Marriott, was completely dark except for three candles lit on the stage where the instructor sits. I went to my bike, lucky number 44, and set it up as I would have done in any other cycling studio and hopped on and clipped my shoes into the pedals.
A beautiful, tall, muscular, wavy-haired woman in printed pants and a sports bra walked in and mounted the stage. Clearly she was the instructor. She put on her headpiece and barked over the microphone, “Which one of you is new? They told me there’s a newbie.” My face turned red. Yep, that was me. I raised my hand and she asked if I had set up my bike by myself. I nodded yes and she sent over a minion in a yellow shirt to check it out.
“Umm, it’s probably best if we just start over,” she said. I’ve been setting up cycling bikes to fit my height and arm length for four years now, but apparently I don’t know anything. After decreasing the height of my handlebars so low that I had to hunch (because it’s their “policy” to make people hunch so they engage their core), I was back on and ready to go.
I’d heard a lot of talk about the SoulCycle playlists that go down, but nothing could have prepared me for the eardrum-shattering playlist the instructor pumped. Honestly, I’ve been to clubs with worse sound systems. The music was like Tove Lo remixed with Skrillex remixed with a broken garage door. Forget hearing what the instructor said over the course of the next 45 minutes, I just hoped I wouldn’t be deaf by the end of the ride.
As we took off on our soul-searching journey, it felt like I was worshipping at the feet of some cycling goddess. The dude on the bike in front of mine had his head perfectly aligned to block everything but the instructor’s bouncing cleavage, focused gaze, and flowing brown hair. The glow of the candles perfectly illuminated the beads of sweat dripping between her boobs. It felt pornographic, almost. Like her bike should instead just be a dude, and I should be watching from behind a computer screen.
The cycling itself was nothing out of the ordinary except for the fact that my back was aching due to the low handlebars. It was challenging, yes, but I could get the same workout at my local Crunch. We bounced up and down on our bikes, we did some fancy arm workout while spinning through nothingness, and we even threw in a few handlebar pushups. It was all normal spin class stuff, really.
The workout was the least climactic part of my time spent at the Soul studio, which confirms what I always thought to be true: people don’t join SoulCycle solely for the workout. They join because they want to feel a part of some cult-like spin church worshipping some mega-sexy babe who looks like she could fulfill all of their internet fantasies. They join because they want to be in with the in crowd– they want to be the ones with the $96 sweatpants who don’t forget their locker combos.
Speaking of, after the class was over, I retreated back to the basement to shuffle with my locker combo one more time before admitting failure to the perky girl at the front desk. After ten minutes and being the only loser left, I decided to give up and ask if she could break into the locker for me. Luckily there’s a universal key to all of them, and she said it happens all the time with the newbies… excellent. After I collected my belongings and changed my shoes, I headed back upstairs, feeling like an outsider since I was the only non-employee left in the studio as they were cleaning up and preparing to close for the night.
When I passed the front desk, the minion who had helped me set up my bike earlier asked me what I thought about my first class. The only response I could think to muster up without horribly offending a company she obviously puts her soul in was, “It was…fun.” She responded, “Yep, it’s a party on a bike.” Not sure if I would go that far, girlfriend.
As I walked back into the bustle of downtown Brooklyn, I knew that would be the last time I ever dared to go to a SoulCycle class. I headed straight for Shake Shack and wolfed down french fries and a hamburger (I deserved it, right?) while everyone else who I had just had class with was probably drinking a green smoothie. Yeah, I definitely didn’t fit into that cult.