The XX Factor

The Year I Got Over SoulCycle

No thanks.

Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

As 2013 comes to a close, DoubleX is looking back on the year that was—the stories we covered and missed that captivated, puzzled, enraged, and delighted us. Review with us.

Resolved: SoulCycle offers a decent work out. I’m not here to talk about whether bouncing up and down and shvitzing while riding a stationary bicycle in a steamed-up, incredibly loud room will make you more fit. If you were previously sedentary, it probably will, though it might also hyperextend or tear some of your tendons and ligaments. But while 2013 was the year some skeptics either tried (and dismissed) or fully embraced SoulCycle, the spinning studio-slash-cult that has been called “the Scientology of Spin,” it was also the year that SoulCycle fully and completely jumped the shark for me.

Perhaps part of the problem was that I never got the “spiritual” side of it, which lots of people seem to find appealing. The classes take place in a dark, cramped room by candlelight, with instructors who say things like, “Namaste, little badasses.” In a New York magazine article about the SoulCycle explosion this year, the writer Alex Morris quotes an acolyte saying, “This isn’t spinning, it’s a way of life.”

I started taking the classes—which are up to an exorbitant $34 a pop in New York for a 45-minute class, not counting the special shoes you must wear to use the bikes, which you can either rent or purchase—in 2010. I always hated the chattier instructors, who served up a side of faux-enlightenment with their cyclerobics, but when I first started taking the classes, they didn’t seem to talk as much.

Now they don’t shut up. In the AwlMary HK Choi says she goes to SoulCycle thrice weekly to cry (she’s working through some shit) but also to turn her brain off for a little under an hour. I have no idea how she can tune everything out when the instructors will not stop yammering at you and the music—which is often terrible—is pumped up to 11. The last straw for me was an instructor who kept calling us “ninjas” and screaming at us through her headset microphone—i.e., “Go ninjas go ninjas go!” or “Ninjas, you need to leave all your hangups outside and just do you.” By the end of the class, I had a terrible headache and also a weird aversion to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I did like the workout, though, as stupidly, unreasonably expensive as it is, and so I even tried SoulCycle’s main competitor, Flywheel, which was started by one of the original founders of SoulCycle. It’s seen as the more seriously athletic, less annoying version of SoulCycle. There are no candles or fake Eastern philosophy or overly loud music. It’s just an intense spin class. And it was fine. But it was also ridiculously priced and after the shine wore off (and after I had a kid—those suckers are expensive), I just could not justify spending that much money on a workout. Furthermore, I no longer wanted to think of myself as the kind of person who would spend that much money on a workout.

As the insightful Vanessa Grigoriadis put it in Vanity Fair, part of the culty appeal of SoulCycle is that it is so pricey and the classes are so difficult to get into. You must sign up in advance online, and classes at popular times fill up in minutes. I’ve heard of assistants who have to hover over their computers so they can enroll their bosses as soon as the new classes become available. “It’s a cult of success—worshipping the ability to pay for classes, to buy the clothes, to live a life among the elite,” Grigoriadis wrote. It’s of a piece with other recent health and fitness fads like $10 bottles of cold-pressed juice. It’s a Birkin bag made of human sweat dried on ugly hoodies with dumb catchphrases on them.

Staying in shape doesn’t have to be expensive or exclusive. Running outside is the cost of sneakers and can be done in most places until the temperature drops, at which point you can join the Y. I can also do it on my own time, to my own soundtrack, and most importantly, without some lady shouting “ninja” in my face.