The SoulCycle Experiment
Dispatches from the Spandex jungle, courtesy of Richie Nakano.
June 13, 2016 ● 4 min read
Richie Nakano | Illustration by May Parsey
When informed that SoulCycle had gifted our restaurant group with a month of free rides, I was initially hateful and skeptical, as that is my personal brand.
The fuck is SoulCycle? I wondered. Why would they give us such a thing? Was the pizza and beer I live on really showing that much on my frame? (Yes.) I elected to ignore the offer, until one of my cooks came in, practically glowing from a fresh jolt of endorphins.
“I went to SoulCycle, jefe. That shit was dope.”
So, I said fuck it. Ima SoulCycle for a month and see what happens.
It’s 7:30 on a chilly April morning, and I’m strapped onto a bike in a San Francisco SoulCycle studio.
The room is glowing with black light, and full of intimidatingly fit determined people warming up. Words like WARRIOR ATHLETE LEGEND and (in even bigger letters) ADDICTED OBSESSED adorn the walls. I fumble and fuck around with my seat height, and try to take in my surroundings. My co-worker Jenna shouts something at me from her bike next to mine, but I can’t hear her over the Beyoncé dubstep remix blaring over the sound system.
“OOOOH EDDIE?” she shouts.
“Huh?” I reply.
I don’t know it in this moment, but no: I am not ready.
I have been warned about the cultish tendencies of SoulCycle (“Hope you enjoy the candles,” one friend texts) but it all seems too blatant not to be a joke. Before I can consider this further, an instructor named Anthony strides in, turns on a J Cole track, and we’re swept into 45 minutes of chaos.
In between calls for more resistance, Anthony occasionally shouts things like: “ARE YOU GONNA LET THESE BITCHES TAKE WHAT'S YOURS?" and “BOOTY SO REAL!” I don't know who the bitches are or what they're trying to take from me, but it makes me pedal faster, so I guess it works. At one point my legs are spinning out so fast that when I try to stop them, both feet violently un-click from the pedals and my chest slams into the handlebars. None of this makes sense. I have competitively raced ACTUAL bicycles before. What is this?
After class, I jot the following notes in my phone:
• Rave with no drugs?
• Mild to heavy shaming?
• Lots of cool butts
• Do they put ugly people in the back row because I was in the back row
• Did I mention butts
Back at the restaurant, my legs are wobbly and heavy with lactic acid. By the next morning, I can barely crouch to reach into the low boy.
I sign up for two more classes.
Another early Sunday morning with a full 12-hour day looming, and I’m back on the bike. This time, I'm far from alone: FOH managers, a chef de cuisine, and a server are with me. My muscles still ache, but the past week has been different; I’ve had energy during the day, and I've been so tired at night that I skip over the shots and beers and crumple directly into bed.
I’ve donned white 3/4 length tights under my shorts à la Steph Curry for this round, which makes my coworkers roll their eyes. While class is slightly more successful than last week, by the end of it I still look like I've just emerged from a swimming pool, and I'm unable to mutter any retorts to my fellow riders as we part ways to clean up before work.
During service that night, I laugh to myself while stretching pizza dough. My pain has reached a comic high. I sign up for three more classes.
“YOUR RESISTANCE IS NOT UP HIGH ENOUGH IF YOU’RE PEDALING THAT FAST RICHIE!”
The instructor comes over and cranks my resistance three turns to the right — my legs howl in protest.
It’s my last week of free classes, and some things have happened:
• I have dropped about eight pounds, which seems like a ridiculous amount of weight to lose in such a condensed period of time.
• I’m both more focused at work and WAY grouchier — apparently you have to nourish yourself if you're going to burn 600 calories every morning?
By the end of class, I'm trembling like a leaf while a disco ball spins overhead. Somehow, improbably, in a dark room with music so terrible and loud your ears just give up, hokey motivational tools, and crazy competitive people, I realize that this works — and though it’s completely off-brand for me, I like it. Against all odds, I’m converted.
In the kitchen, there’s a bounce to my step that’s been missing for the better part of a year. I’m registered for a half marathon, with another one planned for August. Was this all really the result of a few weeks in a free promotional class riding a stationary bike in a dark room to dubstep? What the fuck happened to me?
SoulCycle is at best a strange tribal confidence booster — by way of overwhelming endorphin rush — run by a terrifying cycling gang. It's part Gordon Ramsay reality show, part highly-competitive sweatbox, part wait-why-did-they-let-me-into-this-exclusive-nightclub. It's weird and sometimes terrible and slightly embarrassing, and yet it's almost like being in a kitchen. I mean, what’s more kitchen than being yelled at while you cower, sweaty with self-loathing, questioning every choice you've made in life?
It's worth noting that at the end of this little experiment, when the free classes ran out, I did not adopt SoulCycle branded athleisure wear as my new wardrobe. I also did not apply for an entry-level position laundering towels and wiping down sweaty bikes for discounts. And sadly, I was never invited to the rumored SoulCycle blood ritual where you give your soul over to your instructor in exchange for the privilege of riding in the front row.
What I did do is turn right around and sink an outrageous amount of money into a Peloton bike — one of SoulCycles main competitors — which I now ride at home. My instructor calls out to me from a studio in New York, and there's no one to actively shame me except for myself...which I manage to do regularly.
I do miss the butts, though.