What my first post-pandemic SoulCycle class was like
Pre-pandemic Soul journey
My experience at my first post-pandemic live SoulCycle class was one for the history books. I was under a tent. In a gravel parking lot. with no mirrors, candles, or darkness. But I still had a blast.
Eight years ago I walked up to my first SoulCycle class in Manhattan in the Union Square studio. It was a blur of dancing and lots of “tapping back,” one of SoulCycle’s signature moves. Unlike other studios like Flywheel or Cyclebar, SoulCycle does not believe in leaderboards or quantitative measurements. It’s about the journey and experience. Moreso it’s about “riding with the pack,” so that everyone is on the same foot and moving in a wave like motion. If you are in the front row, you need to be on point or else there is visible disruption.
I walked down 5th avenue back to my hotel feeling giddy, high, and 10 times lighter from the puddle of sweat I had left on the floor. From that moment, I would immediately look up if where I was going on a given business trip had a SoulCycle studio and book their class. On many trips to New York, LA (Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Newport Beach), San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia, I’d go to the 6am or evening class so I could make my meetings. I would take clients and work colleagues along with me. One time in NY, a group of us including several partners from work went to an Akin class. Akin was a Master instructor who taught the likes of Bradley Cooper and Karlie Kloss. It was terrifying and thrilling at the same time. If you are a Soul person you know what I mean.
I always marveled from a business perspective the remarkable consistency of the brand in every city. It made me feel like I wasn’t as far away from home. The same yellow wheel on the windows, smiling and efficient front desk staff, bright white lockers, hanging branded apparel, and locker rooms stocked with hair spray, deodorant, sugarless gum and free hair bands.
Once I found out SoulCycle was opening in DC, I felt like I won the lottery. I was a faithful rider in my neighborhood studio in the West End, one of five studios that opened in DC and that was frequented by the Obamas. We had a pack of riders that went to the same classes and it became like the neighboring watering hole, where we all knew each other and caught up on our lives as we waited around for the previous class to come out. The front desk knew my bike settings and that I preferred sidebar, so if I was on the waitlist, they’d always put me on bike 14 if that was open. The dark studio was a secret place where everyone else’s demands are shut out as soon as those heavy doors slammed shut.
The Soul Journey through the pandemic
Six years later, the once bustling studio in my neighborhood was among many to have to shut down, at least temporarily. I still remember walking past that studio and the Equinox, seeing signs similar to many businesses that “we will reopen March 31st.” Now that I think of it, we should have kept these for posterity. We had no idea what the real consequences or severity of the situation was.
I thought about getting a Peloton or a SoulCycle bike. I even wrote this article comparing the two bikes and apps (I have ridden both of them, just not owned). The main barrier for me was that by doing this when there is a SoulCycle and Equinox steps away, I would be prophesying defeat. I’d rather take actions that anticipate that the future will change for the better. I still remember walking past the construction site in 2014 of the first SoulCycle studio in DC. For about 9 months, I would see more progress and think, it’s going to be here soon. In my mind, COVID has been this huge period of us all being under construction. And like most construction projects, the deadlines get delayed, but eventually it’s done.
The transition out of the pandemic
In Spring of 2021, we are starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Some of the Soul brick and mortar studios have reopened around the country, but for now there are a lot of outdoor classes available (you can see the list here). I just took my first class with my friend Cindy almost exactly 7 years after I took my very first class at the Union Square (UNSQ) studio in Manhattan.
Riding with the pack in the “new normal”
What was it like? As the title says, it was in a parking lot, with a big tent at least 50 feet high. We wore personalized headphones to be able to hear the instructor and the music. There was still a front desk with super friendly people greeting me (after taking my temperature, of course). I checked in on the app, rather than finding my name on the clipboard list, and I headed over to my bike after getting the green light to do so after it was meticulously cleaned. The bikes were spaced at least 6 feet apart, and we were not required to wear masks while riding.
As far as my experience went, it wasn’t quite like that first time in Manhattan, or some of my epic rides in DC. But it has a special place in the history books. I realized that my choreo was majorly rusty as I took Chirs’s class, but like my diminished strength from being out of the gym, it will come back. Chris kept me laughing throughout almost the whole class with cracking jokes and egging riders on. I remembered not to take myself so seriously – I was riding a bike in a gravel parking lot, after all, in perfect 70 degree weather.
The feeling of clipping into an actual bike and having a live instructor and live people around me in the class was like a wave of reassurance that we will get our lives back. Working out at home has helped keep me sane, but I need to see the whites of people’s eyes again. Although 59% of Americans say they will not go back to the gym, it is a personal choice for everyone. For me, I choose whatever can safely bring me back to that connection and random interactions. That’s how I expanded my world through fitness in the first place. It was kind of like the conclusion of Up in the Air with George Clooney – you just can’t replace the real thing.
If you want to read more about the history of SoulCycle and details about the ride, check out this article by one of my fellow riders at Vox.