I will never forget my first SoulCycle class. I was 22, in the midst of my first "adult" breakup, and I let my friends convince me that spending $36 to cry on a bike would make me feel better. They were right. Riding in a dark, grapefruit-scented studio, alongside 60 other people was the closest thing I'd ever had to a religious experience. Not only did it make me feel better for the first time in weeks, it also helped me to fall in love with exercise for the first time in my entire life. The cycling studio—which launched as a single brick-and-mortar in New York in 2005 and now has 99 locations across the U.S., UK, and Canada—built its brand on sweat as a sanctuary. And this week, the brand announced its first-ever, at-home bike linked to on-demand classes. The only question that remains: Does at-home spin have the same soul?
As of today, the bike, with a $2500 price tag (which includes shipping and handling, as well as five additional in-studio classes), will be available for pre-order in select cities: Austin, Dallas, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In addition to the bike, SoulCycle's parent company, Equinox Group, will also be launching its first foray into digital fitness through an app called Variis. The additional $40-per-month app—which includes content from a number of Equinox Group-owned brands—gives users access to on-demand SoulCycle classes through their phone, tablet, or a built-in screen on their shiny new at-home bike. In addition to SoulCycle, Variis also has running classes from Precision Run and yoga classes from PureYoga, as well as meditation and recovery classes. However, for now, the app will only be available to current Equinox members via a phased market rollout as a part of their membership, or anyone who purchases the at-home SoulCycle bike.
I had a chance to demo a digital class on the SoulCycle at-home bike—which looks like a regular SoulCycle bike, but is matte black and has a built-in screen—ahead of the launch. There are currently 31 classes to choose from (and new ones will be rolling out over time), varying in length from 30 to 45 minutes. You can view each class's playlist ahead of time—which, to me, was possibly the coolest feature—and filter by difficulty and instructor. I chose a 45-minute "Guilty Pleasures" class taught by New Jersey-based instructor Valentina, featuring songs from Celine Dion, Boyz II Men, and The Backstreet Boys.
The ride itself was similar to a real-life SoulCycle class. There were sprints, hills, and choreography, plus two sections of arms. Watching the workout on a video took some getting used to, since the camera changed angles frequently between the instructor, the six riders she was teaching, and a form model, which made it challenging to keep track of which foot I was supposed to be on. But by the end of the 45 minutes, I was drenched in sweat—there was no question that I'd gotten a solid cardio workout, and the stats that the bike provided after my ride proved as much. There are so many benefits of the bike, the most important of which is that for the first time ever it gives people who don't live in major metros a chance to become a part of the cult-of-Soul. While the bike is now only available in six cities, the brand promises that it's "working on making it available to more of our riders" in time.
However, I found that what was missing from the at-home bike is all that makes SoulCycle SoulCycle. "Set in a dark candlelit room to high-energy music, our riders move in unison as a pack," reads the copy on the brand's website. Riding alone, you miss that community, and unless you want to turn off the lights and invest $58 in a scented candle, you're pretty much out of luck as far as recreating the studio vibe.
Knowing that I've tested the bike, people have repeatedly asked me whether or not I think it's worth it. And my answer to that is, "it depends." If you're interested in SoulCycle because of its challenging workout—or if you've always wanted to take a spin class that lets you sing The Backstreet Boys out loud without being judged—then absolutely, yes. But if you're in it for the vibe, or the community, (or even for the Le Labo shower products) I'd suggest buying those 88 classes in a good, old fashioned studio, instead.
There are a lot of digital fitness classes out there these days—these are some of our favorites. Plus, why the next frontier of digital fitness is coming to a gym near you.
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