Good news for fitness fans: the OG indoor cycling workout has finally crossed the Atlantic, after years of speculation.
SoulCycle’s first international studio is now open in London’s Soho. The brand has been redefining health and happiness for the past 13 years, and it definitely knows a thing or two about indoor cycling.
The brand is responsible for inspiring the likes of Psycle, Boom Cycle and 1Rebel that are all firm London favourites, but now SoulCycle promises to bring something different. So, what’s the difference? SoulCycle considers itself a lifestyle and hospitality brand, not a boutique fitness studio. CEO Melanie Whelan told me their riders come for the workout, but they stay for the community. Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga are just a few fans, and personally, I know a few people who dislike spinning but have really enjoyed a SoulCycle class.
But what is it really about? Think 63 bikes (bespoke ones that are specifically built for the unique workout), a state-of-the-art sound system and a motivational instructor inside a candlelight room (every studio is lit with a signature grapefruit candle and the smell is amazing).
SoulCycle asks you to turn up, dig deep and switch off for 45 minutes (no phones allowed in the studio) while the instructor takes you on a high-intensity workout journey – the brand calls it a complete mind-body-soul experience. It’s a tough and sweaty workout – during the class riders are told to get out of the saddle (ride fast whilst standing up), tap it back (the signature SoulCycle move) and climb (the heavy slow part of the class).
Part of the draw is its exclusivity: you can’t snap the class for Instagram due to the phone ban, and it’s a multisensory experience, making it super personal. The preview classes have been fully booked all week and even David Beckham turned up to be one of the first to ride front row. There have been queues since its soft launch, so there’s definitely a keen appetite for it in London.
The Soho studio is its first to be plastic bottle free and guests are encouraged to bring their own bottle to fill up from the purified water station (don’t worry, if you forget yours you can rent one from the front desk). SoulCycle fans can also buy their very own apparel from the signature retail space inside the lobby. Leggings, bras and tees have been designed specifically for this workout, so they absorb the cycle sweat in all the right places.
SoulCycle has partnered with health food favourites The Good Life Eatery too, who are on hand to serve fresh snacks and juices after class. If that’s not enough to tempt you, the changing rooms will. Riders are treated to Le Labo shower and body products, Dyson hairdryers and even Drunk Elephant skincare.
But what SoulCycle takes most pride in is the motivating instructor – the beating heart of every class. Top talent has been moved over from the US to lead the London launch alongside a group of hand-picked UK-based instructors who have been intensively trained in New York over the past few months.
I’ve done a few classes before, both in the US and London, and every time it has delivered with the best direction from super-human instructors, the greatest playlists, plus more motivational quotes than I can remember. Some might think it’s all a bit too over the top, and it’s not for everyone, but I urge you to book a bike, take it with a pinch of salt and enjoy it for what it is.
Over in New York, I spent some time with Master Trainer and Director of Global Talent, Marvin Foster Junior, to find out more about what sets this brand apart from the rest. Marvin leads SoulCycle classes across the US and UK in addition to overseeing the scouting process and immersing recruits into training. He’s worked for SoulCycle since 2012, before that was a trained dancer and has worked with brands like Nike and Adidas. His class is up there with one of my favourites.
Here’s what he had to say…
When people travel to the US for holiday and take a class I always ask this, why SoulCycle. They always say it comes down to the class experience. When I first did a class, there was something that hooked me and made me want to try it again. I don’t know what the hook was but I just know that I left feeling awesome.
There’s definitely a market for all of the bells, whistles and lights but sometimes people want a deeper feeling, something aspirational and they want to leave feeling successful. Sometimes you don’t actually need all of those things. You just need to keep it simple with a strong conversation and a great workout.
Who is SoulCycle for?
Everyone. I often think that riders in the class are a reflection of the teacher, because they attract the same vibe of a person. My regular riders are from all walks of life. I love to see people working really hard, being healthy and feeling great in their bodies. It doesn’t matter if you had abs before your baby but now you don’t, if you feel just as good and like a sexy woman then I’m like props to you.
Dropping a dress size or losing weight is an extra benefit, but that’s not my approach. Even if you’re doing the bare minimum at a SoulCycle class you’re still going to enjoy a great workout but you can get so much more out of it. You can break open, tap into what you desire and apply action towards it. It’s almost like active meditation – there are certain moments in the playlist where you can go inward and there’s a benefit to that, outside of having washboard abs and a tight bum.
I think all those things are bonus credit but they’re not the end all and be all. I do it because I want to feel good, it’s fun and I can do it with my friends. Anyone can do it. Anyone is welcome. There’s no judgement.
How will you stand out from studios we already have here?
The London fitness scene has exploded so quickly over the past few years but it’s still young and finding its way. There’s definitely a business opportunity, a lot of gorgeous facilities and talented instructors but we are keen to bring something different. We’re a community based hospitality brand and we offer an indoor cycling workout that’s paced by the music we put together.
My focus will be to help build the community, communicate and integrate the instructors so everyone feels like family. We’re going to focus on our talent and that’s our opportunity. We want to show that we’re able to speak to riders in a different way with our mind, body and soul experience. Anyone can give a good workout, but I’m interested in giving people good experiences.
Will the London experience be different to your other studios?
The DNA of who we are will stay the same, but I feel like we have to wait and see who shows up. I tell my instructors – you’re going to have your plan but you’re not going to force that plan, until you get to know your room. If I have different tricks and routines planned but I see on the first track the group are still getting the rhythm, then I know I need to teach my room first.
My mentors in the past have always said if 80% of your class can’t do it, don’t teach it. Group fitness means that everyone is important and the point of SoulCycle is that people leave feeling successful, not defeated.
We’re working with London based music consultants to host workshops for us, so we know what’s super popular and who the big UK artists are. We want it to feel like it fits.
How will you feel if British riders don’t scream and whoop in class, like Americans have a reputation for?
I don’t need the whoops, I just need the energy and I can feel it in other ways. It doesn’t scare me if people are a bit quiet. There’s going to be a bit of resistance, but I’m into that. I’m confident that we just need to give Londoners the permission to let go. I think it’s going to be like dating. Once we get to know each other more, I’ll get them to scream.
How do you recruit instructors?
We host auditions in different locations and I look for all types of people. We don’t mind if they’re not already a spin instructor, but it helps if they have rhythm. I didn’t know how to ride a bike when I first started at SoulCycle.
I try to find people with different powers, waves and skill sets but there has to be an ‘it factor’. We call it the ‘Soul Factor’. We need something that’s aspirational like “wow look at him, look at her”, not just physically, but emotionally and there has to be relatability. I want to know their story and why they want to stand on a podium to motivate people.
What’s the training programme like?
The audition gets potential instructors through to the seven-week training programme in New York, but they’re not guaranteed the job at that stage. They still have to pass.
Having said that, we have a high success rate because we have so many support processes in place. We don’t want to hire instructors who aren’t fully ready because it’s not fair to them either – the job is just way too hard. Instructors exchange energy every day, and if they’re not prepared it can be overwhelming and too taxing physically. If that were to happen we’d defer them to another training group, so they can come back in the future when they’re ready.
Throughout the training programme we have check in points like individual conversations, voice coaching, extra development workshops, private time with coaches and personal practice space. I really do believe we have the best instructor training programme in the world, we give them so many tools to help them reach their full potential.
When I’m coaching, I ask them to give me a purpose and a why. We want them to be super effective teachers and make sure the class stays safe, purposeful and soulful. Hopefully the combination of the three keeps welcoming riders back.
What’s the music like at SoulCycle?
You can’t categorise it. We play everything – I love dance music, house, electronic, hip hop, r’n’b and pop. I probably won’t play country that much, but I have. Maybe not in London! That’s not really my brand, but I want to be a jack of all trades. We have a partnership with Apple Music where riders can download instructor playlists, music is really important to us.
I explain to the trainees that there are some things I play in class because I know it serves a purpose for my job, and because I teach to a community of people from different backgrounds. But it may not necessarily be something that I would kick out to at my own house.
That’s why the beginning of the training is about music and how we put it together. Often people present the best of the best and what really speaks to them – those are the things that really hit the most in class, because the instructor has a true relatability to the song. As opposed to, I just heard this song last night and it has a good beat. The music has a bigger punch when the instructor has an emotional attachment to it.
What do you think is next for the boutique fitness industry?
Technology. I think Melanie (Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle) has plans. Not necessarily with the bikes but we are trying to elevate the experience whether it’s through technology or with our events like Sound by SoulCycle. We’re definitely going to do that in London.
We did an indoor cycling event with The Chainsmokers when we launched the Vegas studio earlier this year, they actually rode front row. After the class, they performed and all of our riders had VIP access. We did an event with Ciara in LA recently too, it was so cool. We’ve always partnered with musicians who are part of our SoulCycle community, Ciara and The Chainsmokers are regulars. In London we hope to partner with the musicians and artists who ride with us too.
SoulCycle’s first London studio is now open at 3-4 Great Marlborough Street in Soho, visit soul-cycle.com/London to book a bike. Your first class is £16 (usually £24).