In the late 1980s, a handsome, muscle-bound transplant to Santa Monica from South Africa called Johnny G (for Goldberg) came up with an idea for indoor cycling classes he called Spinning. Indoor cycling soon became a fitness mainstay, but he could hardly have anticipated the scene today.
Los Angeles is in the midst of an indoor cycling tsunami, with a wave of competing boutique studios and revamped programs at major fitness clubs. Every program has its own personality, with charismatic instructors, pumped-up music, a defined in-class atmosphere, a host of amenities and, not incidentally, premium price tags that don’t seem to be stabilizing.
The big kahuna is SoulCycle, which arrived here in 2012 with a single West Hollywood location and is opening its ninth (Manhattan Beach) and 10th (Culver City) studios this year. (Southern California takes the lion’s share of the state’s 15 studios.)
Though SoulCycle started in New York, it has some roots here. Co-founder Julie Rice, a onetime Hollywood talent agent, felt her cycling classes lacked L.A.'s sense of community after she moved to New York. With partner Elizabeth Cutler, they reimagined indoor cycling as a lifestyle experience, from a Manhattan basement studio in 2006 to a brand archetype complete with a sportswear line and a Vanity Fair-certified celebrity following.
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 3, 11:36 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice’s first name as Julia.
Though SoulCycle’s arrival was a game changer, it’s not the only game in town. We sampled a variety of classes, each with a distinctive vibe, choosing instructors who seemed to typify the approach of each program.
Some classes envelope you in a mood and others play the tech side of things. All deliver on the attributes that have made cycling classes so popular: a hard-charging, calorie-burning ride; low-impact cardiovascular exercise that’s also a strength-building workout for the legs, backside and core (with some allover toning often thrown in); a highly motivated session that gets busy people in and out in an hour or so. And keeps them coming back.
Here are some studios of the moment.
Scene: A friendly mixed group that appears to be chiefly thirtysomething marrieds from the nabe, with a few more mommies than daddies. The 48 bikes are arranged on tight stadium-style risers in a U configuration.
Instructor: Lacey Stone is a nationally known fitness pro and also a lovable goofball who gives her all, with group countdowns, the occasional groaner pun and even dance moves to get you through the demanding workout.
Music: “Larchmont loves the ‘80s,” she says, though her playlist mixes in more current fare, all of it high-energy.
Lowdown: Each bike has a “tech pack” that, along with displaying speed in RPMs and individual “power” output, assigns a number value to the resistance at any time on the bike, which it terms “Torq.” Rather than the usual “turn your resistance up a quarter turn,” this allows the instructors at Flywheel to give a precise setting for how hard you should be working for sprints or hills. Stone’s class is a fast-moving sequence of both, with no slacking off, and near the end she has us pick up weighted bars attached to each side of the bike for a series of chest, arm and shoulder presses and curls while still pedaling. So it isn’t just your legs that are burning. After class, your stats are automatically available in your online account.
Flywheel, 147 N. Larchmont Blvd., L.A. (also West Hollywood). Classes $25 each, first class free. Packages available. Includes cycling shoes. 9:30 a.m. Saturdays. flywheelsports.com
Equinox Santa Monica
Scene: Young professionals at the end of the workday, pretty evenly split between men and women. The room is long and narrow with three rows of 13 bikes. Little chatter before class, probably because everyone is focused on getting up to speed — literally. A big screen in front displays numbered circles that correspond to each bike. As people start to pedal, the circles start to whirl around and light up more with effort.
Instructor: Our amiable leader, Justin Rubin, asks to see that everyone’s connected, and a second instructor circulates at the top of class to help individually.
Music: Rubin works off a Spotify playlist and improvises with everything from Moby to remixed Kanye West to David Guetta.
Lowdown: Equinox borrowed from the world of gaming for the Pursuit, an interval-based sequence that opens with individual drills. There were three intervals, and each time you tried to beat what you did before. Then the class was split in two, and there were three team challenges. In one, for instance, the screen displayed a big circle for each team, and we worked furiously together, hoping our team would “fill in” the circle first. The work was punishing, but there was a great camaraderie, and, for the last push, Rubin reminded us there were just 30 seconds left, “till cocktail hour.” At the end of class, the top five achievers on each team flashed on screen. (And results are also posted to members’ accounts online with Equinox’s new Connected Cycling feature.)
Equinox, 201 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica (also at the Westwood and Glendale locations). Membership rates vary; at Santa Monica, it’s $198 a month after an initiation fee. The Pursuit, 6 p.m. Thursdays. www.equinox.com
Cycle House West Hollywood
Scene: It’s a sunny day, and people are sitting and chatting before class in the brick-lined alley behind La Cienega Boulevard off Melrose Avenue. Inside the studio, though, after a cheery greeting, it’s almost pitch-black as you make your way to your assigned bike out of the 48 arranged in tight rows. The lights always go down in any cycling class, but here the darkness sets a serious mood before you even begin.
Instructor: Nichelle Hines is a woman in charge, and she knows it. There’s a “get it done” attitude, and she delivers a nearly constant barrage of encouragement (“We’re not going to worry about your hangover”) and reminders about form (“One, two, three, four, drop that ass back!”) finishing with a self-satisfied, “I didn’t think I was going to be able to get you all through it.”
Music: As befits the space, a hard-core mix of hip-hop and house at its loudest — overlaid with Hines’ high-volume patter. Not without a sense of humor, though; near the end of class, she leads us in a chorus of “If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands.”
Lowdown: Cycle House prides itself on being homegrown, or, as co-founder Lara Gillman puts it, “This is the real L.A.” And, like the city, the workout is intense and demanding. It incorporates a segment with small hand-weights for curls, presses and shadow-boxing moves. The company also prides itself on being green and doesn’t sell bottled water, instead dispensing an alkaline-filtered water.
Cycle House, 8511 Melrose Ave., L.A. (also in Santa Monica). Classes, $29 each, first class $18. Packages available. Shoes included. 11 a.m. Sundays. cyclehousela.com
FOR THE RECORD
Friday, July 21, 3:28 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last names of Nichelle Hines as Hinds and of Lara Gillman as Gilman.
Scene: Tucked away on the second floor along the 3rd Street shopping stretch, this streamlined space feels intimate. The cycling studio is long and narrow with three rows of bikes in stair-stepped tiers.
Instructor: Today it’s the always gregarious Trent David, is a longtime fitness expert in in L.A. and a DJ on the side who brings a sense of fun (when not on the bike, he’s dancing around with hands in the air) without slacking off on the workout.
Music: It’s a dance-heavy mix with Nicki Minaj rapping “Hey Mama,” electronic beats from Sub Focus and remixed Candi Staton.
Lowdown: If you want to relive your disco days or just bring a dance club vibe to your cycling class, this is the place. Pin spots pulsate on a front mirror panel and LED lighting effects change from blue to red as the intensity builds. David puts us through our paces, and there’s a lot of quick changes in grip position on the W-shaped handlebars to change our posture and hit different muscles as we ride in and out of the saddle. Here too there’s a mini weight segment. David says, “You have to know when to motivate and when to back off.” But he paces the session to get results. “Don’t we just want to keep our bodies going as long as we can?” And the time flew by. The class was the quickest hour of the week.
Aura Cycle, 8231 W. 3rd St. Classes, $24, shoes included; packages available. 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays. www.aurapulse.com/aura-cycle-studio
Scene: This reporter doesn’t usually go in for full-on cardio at 7 a.m., but here I am with a class of 50 pumped-up people at this recently opened location in a new Hollywood apartment complex.
Instructor: David Zint hops off his bike to go up and greet a newcomer in person before class.
Music: His high-energy playlist includes Lady Gaga with an R. Kelly chaser, Skrillex & Diplo, Rihanna and a throwback remixed Michael Jackson.
Lowdown: The first time I took a class with Zint, one of his mantras stayed with me: “This isn’t a competition, this is an elevation.” This morning, he’s way, way up to kick off everyone’s morning with a blast. More often than not, he’s off the bike, striding across the room, delivering encouragement and affirmations like, “You can sweat … into your dreams if you want it.” (In a novel twist, there are two bikes at the front and another rider is always in our sights keeping form as Zint roams.) There are weights here too but mostly hard-charging cycling. At the end of class, he has us put our hands together in gratitude, yoga-style, and gives a shoutout to the new riders and one rider who drove from San Diego for the class. And then 50 sweaty and satisfied faces flood out of class.
SoulCycle, 6201 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Classes, $30, shoes included. Packages available. 7 a.m. Thursdays. soul-cycle.com