Good Sweat

Monday, February 22, 2010

SoulCycle vs. Flywheel: A comparison shop and spin

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A pro South African cyclist named Johnny G created Spinning to train during the off-season. Then it went from buff to fluff when the pink-Lycra gym-going set hijacked it, turning indoor cycling classes with grueling hills and all-out sprints into a 45-minute cardio-music class.

Fast-forward fifteen years and indoor cycling is having a renaissance. 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 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. This winter Zukerman left SoulCycle and teamed up with sports broadcaster and Spinning aficionado, Tiki Barber, to create Flywheel, which opened in the Flatiron last week.

So SoulCycle and Flywheel are now competing for Spinners willing to drop $30-plus per class. Well+Good visited both studios several times to bring you the comparison spin:

SOULCYCLE, www.soul-cycle.com

SoulCycle Tribeca wellandgoodnyc.com

SoulCycle Tribeca, the spin empire's newest location

VIBE: 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 grooming products for the taking).

PROS: Three city locations and a ton of classes make it easy to get into one. Passionate teachers and generally inspiring music. The workout includes an upper body segment using one-pound weights—it’s more challenging than it sounds!

CONS: Where to begin?

Nickel and diming: The $32 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 $37 for a 45-minute spin class.

Loyalty is not rewarded: Class cards don’t come with a meaningful discount; instead they just allow you the ease of online sign-up.

Cultish and scene-y: SoulCycle can feel like the Scientology of Spin.

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.

Bottom line: Whenever I leave SoulCycle, I always feel like a sucker. The studio’s marketing wooed me with the promise of exceptional customer service and instruction, and they’re just not keeping pace.

FLYWHEEL, www.flywheelsports.com

Flywheel wellandgoodnyc.com

Flywheel's stadium seating translates into great views of the instructor and plenty of room.

VIBE: 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.

PROS: Lots

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.

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.

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

Loyalty is rewarded. Individual classes cost $30. But if you buy ten rides, it’ll cost you $25/ride. Or $180/month gets you unlimited spinning, which bring it down to $22/ride if you go just twice a week.

One stop shopping: A yoga studio is slated to open soon for stand-alone yoga classes as well as Spinning-and-yoga combo classes.

CONS: Only one location, on 21st Street, between 5th and 6th, for the time being. Flywheel just announced an Upper West Side location for later this year, though we hope a downtown studio is also in the works.

Bottom line: These 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.

Have you tried SoulCycle and/or Flywheel? Tell us about your experience, here!

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