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Fitonomics: While some studios drop rates, SoulCycle Tribeca debuts $32 classes

The current fitconomy in NYC looks a lot like this barbell

A “barbell distribution” is an economic term used to describe a phenomenon with a slim middle and heavy ends; for example a “barbell income distribution,” where there’s a small, stretched middle class and large clusters of rich and poor.

New York has always been a tale of two cities.  Those who dine at Per Se and those who eat at Gray’s Papaya. Those who shop at Barneys and those who rifle at Daffy’s. Now this type of barbell distribution is entering the very realm from which it takes it name.

Today SoulCycle’s new flagship studio opens in Tribeca, just next to Whole Foods. SoulCycle, for the uninitiated, is a growing chain of Spinning studios that is part killer workout and part revival-tent zealotry. (Plus a whole lotta gossip including student-teacher love affairs and backstabbing former partners.)

Despite all the Page Six play, SoulCycle is most notorious for its pricetag: $32 for a 45-minute class. And investing in multiple sessions results in a preposterously low discount: buy 20 sessions and your price goes down to $30 per session. This obnoxious pricetag doesn’t include perks of personal attention like at Tracy Anderson’s studio—with 70 bikes crammed in a room so tightly, you can smell your neighbor’s deodorant.

But that doesn’t stop the hordes of spinning devotees, which include Katie Couric, Chelsea Clinton, and Kyra Sedgwick, from filling the classes the minute the on-line sign-up schedule goes live.

Over at exhale, they’ve been experimenting successfully with high-priced Core Fusion classes for years. The market happily pays $35 for a single Core Fusion class, though package rates get significantly more enticing and can include free spa treatments.

And at Physique 57, it costs $35 to do a souped-up Pilates-style class with the fit and fabulous such as Christy Turlington and Kelly Ripa. But Pilates-esque classes have been getting away with charging boutique prices for eons. Pilates, of course, being the white truffle of the fitness world.

Why is it that some classes can charge such a premium, while some other studios are moving in the other direction? Yoga to the People is trying the donation only route, the Center for Anti-Violence Education offers a sliding scale rate for karate and tai chi, and the beloved Shala has lowered its monthly unlimited rate from $250 to $200, so its students can afford to keep coming. Then there are New Yorkers eschewing the gym altogether and lacing on their running shoes to save money.

We have to admit that the city’s fit-economy doesn’t make much sense to us, especially given the recession. But a throwaway comment by one enchanted SoulCycler puts things in perspective: “It’s a cult.” If so, perhaps $32 is considered a very reasonable tithe, a la Scientology, which takes a healthy cut of worshiper’s pay?

We miss the the old-fashioned (kettle)bell curve with lots for everyone to choose from in the middle. So while the SIDI-clad minions flock to the new SoulCycle today, we’ll try bundling up and spinning actual wheels along the Hudson River.

Care to share your thoughts (or rants) on expensive boutique fitness classes? Tell us, here!