Clip in for this studio cycling comparison: FlyWheel vs. SoulCycle


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Photo: Getty Images/Ari Perilstein / Stringer

A pro South African cyclist named Johnny G created Spinning in 1987 as a way to train for cycling events during the off-season. But in the years since, the modality has become a beast of its own in the fitness industry, with high-energy classes packed with grueling hills and all-out sprints turning into a mainstay on pretty much every gym menu in America.

Beyond that, you can now hardly walk down a single city block (in New York, at least) without coming across a freestanding boutique spin studio, which speaks volumes of the renaissance that indoor cycling has had over the course of the last decade. Spinning’s second generation marries athleticism, house music, and inspiring platitudes borrowed from the yoga world. (“Trust yourself to close your eyes and BE here in this room.”) The result is a 45-minute cardio workout tailored to 30-somethings and up, who want sweaty intensity without the joint-pounding that accompanies running.

While gyms like Equinox are responding by kitting out Spin studios with new high performance Schwinns, the race for indoor-cycling dominance is taking place in high-end boutique studios. One-time spin sisters Elizabeth Cutler, Julie Rice, and Ruth Zukerman founded SoulCycle in 2007. In 2010, Zukerman left SoulCycle and teamed up with sports broadcaster and Spinning aficionado, Tiki Barber, to create Flywheel—leaving spin lovers with a tough choice to make as far as where they want to spend their $30+-per-class. These are only two of the major players in the spin game, but they’re certainly ones worth knowing about… and clipping in to try out for yourself. Read on to find out which one is the best pick for you.

SoulCycle

SoulCycle channels high-end spa design with its white interiors, ubiquitous scented candles, copious towels, and creature comforts (gum, hair bands, and an array of luxury grooming products—including their own custom scent of Le Labo shower products) for the taking.

Pros:

1. Easy access: Soulcycle has nearly 100 different studios in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., and a ton of classes offered at each, which makes make it easy to get into one. But if you’re looking to sweat it out with a celeb instructor, you better get your clicking fingers ready when signups open at 12pm on Monday, because those classes fill up fast.

2. Passionate teachers: While SoulCycle itself has its own general vibe (those scented candles aren’t there for nothing, after all), each teacher brings his or her individual flare to their classes. Whether it’s through their choice of music, creative choreography, or the way they choose to motivate their students, you’ll likely be able to find someone on the roster who inspires you.

3. Upper body building: In addition to rolling out your legs at rapid speed and climbing hills you’d never thought you’d be able to conquer, SoulCycle’s workout includes an upper body segment that works your arms, back and shoulders using 2-5 pound weights. It may only last for five minutes, but it is a lot harder than it sounds.

Cons

1. It’s expensive: The $36 price tag doesn’t include water or mandatory cycling shoes. The shoes cost $3 a pop to rent and water’s $2 if you forget yours, meaning it’s easy to spend $40+ for a 45-minute spin class. Prices vary based on region, but that’s what you can expect in NYC.

2. Scene-y: SoulCycle can feel like the Scientology of Spin, and it’s easy to feel more than a little bit out of place if you aren’t wearing a yellow skull-emblazoned sports bra and matching leggings.

3. Terrible lobby layouts and tight studio quarters: Getting in and out of SoulCycle is about as pleasant as the Barneys Warehouse Sale. The studios are crammed with 70-plus bikes, meaning that during the upper-body workout portion of class you cannot do an overhead chest press without hitting your neighbor with a hand-weight. When I commented on the sardine situation to one of the staff members, she suggested I turn my body 45 degrees to avoid hitting my neighbor. So this is a place where the trainers would have me compromise the accuracy and benefits of the exercise to pack more people in.

Flywheel

Flywheel, with its steely gray interior and high-tech computerized bikes, feels like a state-of-the-art athletic facility. A lounge next to the reception desk provides space for Spinners to socialize before and after class. The spinning studio itself, with its three-tiered stadium seating, feels airy and spacious. There’s truly no bad bike in the house. The unlikely business partners (Zukerman was Barber’s favorite Soul Cycle instructor) have created a terrific unisex experience that appeals to athletes of both genders. And instead of feeling like a chump after class, here I just felt like a Spinning champ.

PROS

1. Track performance and progress: Each bike comes with a proprietary Torqboard that allows you to see your real-time stats. You can monitor your resistance, RPMs, and total workload. Mounted computer screens allow cyclists to compete against each other, although you can opt out of transmitting your stats to the big board if you just want to compete against yourself. The results of each ride get saved in your Flywheel profile, accessible online, making it easy to track your progress whether you’re trying to drop fifteen pounds or train for a summer race.

2. Comfortable design and appealing atmosphere: It’s a pleasure to enter and leave this studio, even before and after a full class, because you can actually sit down and put on your shoes without getting jostled or swapping sweat.

3. No hidden costs: Water and clip-on cycling shoes are complimentary.

4. Loyalty is rewarded: Individual classes cost $36. But if you buy ten rides, it’ll cost you $24/ride. Or $300/month gets you 12 classes, which brings it down to $25/ride.

5. They’ve got digital fitness: Can’t make it into an actual studio? You can now order a specialized FlyWheel bike that will give you access to the studio’s programming directly from your living room.

CONS

1. Fewer locations: Unlike SoulCycle, Flywheel only has locations in New York City. But as mentioned, they now offer a digital version of their program, which means you can technically try it anywhere… just without the stadium-style seating.

Updated on August 19, 2019.

Hips sore from all that spinning? Here’s how to stretch ’em out. And try these groin stretches to make sure you’re prepped and primed to get back on the bike. 

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