Dear Spright: I just moved to a city that has a lot of fitness classes, and the spin studios include both Flywheel and SoulCycle. I’ve heard a lot about both of these classes, but how do I know which one is right for me? Are they really that different from the spin classes I might find at my regular gym?
The variety of spin classes now available certainly spices up the list of things you might expect from riding an indoor bike! SoulCycle arrived on the scene in 2006; Flywheel branched off in 2010. The two have created unique worlds of “spin” that contrast with each other and cater to different personality types. SoulCycle came first, founded by Elizabeth Cutler, Julie Rice, and Ruth Zukerman. Zukerman eventually left to begin her own thing, and when she partnered up with former professional football player Tiki Barber, Flywheel was born.
Both SoulCycle and Flywheel are surrounded by hype and popularity as they expand to more locations, each targeting a unique type of spinner who’s looking for a little more than the usual gym class offering. Flywheel caters to the competitive, numbers-driven rider with its proprietary TorqBoard, while SoulCycle has more of a rhythm-based, dance party feel. Both integrate weights into the workout.
While we can’t answer the question of which studio is better suited to you, we can let you in on the preferences of our Spright editors!
Heather: I was a first-timer at both SoulCycle and Flywheel in the same week, on opposite coasts. On a Monday evening I joined the Spright crew for the 5:30 p.m. 45-minute class at SoulCycle SoMa near our office. By Thursday I was in DC and headed to Flywheel’s Dupont studio for the 7 a.m. 45-minute ride.
Considering myself only semicompetitive and totally driven by a fun dance party, I assumed SoulCycle would be my thing and Flywheel would intimidate more than motivate me. And I was totally wrong.
I liked both workouts, and I’d do each one again. But if I had to choose between the two, Flywheel gets my vote. I loved having actual metrics, both for gauging my effort and for using as guidance during specific intervals led by the instructor. Finally, a spin class without the mystery of “How many turns of the knob?” or “What, exactly, is a ‘sandy beach ride’ feel?” I worked harder to see my name move up on the TorqBoard, which kept track of how all the riders in the class were doing. For the weights section, I liked the varied weight bars (each bike has a four-pound and two-pound bar) instead of having to deal with whatever set of weights I chose at SoulCycle. The class went by quickly, we hit all the usual spin challenges (sprint, recover, climb, recover, out of the saddle, recover, etc.), and my heart rate stayed consistently high.
SoulCycle’s music game gets a few extra points, but otherwise, my first ride was a mystery. We had little to no instruction as to what was going on, the push-up moves on the handlebars felt extremely awkward, and the instructor tried to give us a dose of motivational “Soul speak” but it just felt kind of off. I worked up a good sweat and wouldn’t hesitate to try another class, but it left a lot to be desired and a few questions unanswered. For one, how exactly are you supposed to do push-ups to the beat and still move your legs in circles? Trickery. (I’ve since heard it gets easier the more often you go; to be determined.)
Jackelyn: I like Flywheel a lot better than SoulCycle. SoulCycle can get a little jerky and confusing if you can’t really keep up with the beat. Flywheel lets you go at your own pace, giving you markers as to how fast or slow you should go. You get to see the numbers for yourself, and it’s not a guessing game as to how much resistance and/or speed you should be aiming for. I get confused in spin classes when instructors say “half a turn to the right” or “two full turns to the right” for the resistance without any benchmarks for where we’ve been the whole time. Plus, I seem to slow down tremendously with two full turns to the right, but everyone around me seems to still be sprinting. Finally, I love that Flywheel has the competitive aspect where you can race other people in the class. You can opt out if you want, but I think it’s such a fun way to really understand how hard you are working.
Molly: I’m decidedly the SoulCycler of the group. I’ve done a ton of classes in SF, LA, and NYC over the past few years with a variety of teachers. Some classes have been really challenging (see: New Year’s Eve 100-Minute Ride), some have left me frustrated, and some I’ve certainly checked out of mentally, but overall I support SoulCycle. It’s fun and motivational. Sure, I get teased by my friends and people scoff at the price, but I have my share of retorts — I mean, spending money on fitness…how bad a decision could that possibly be? It’s only cultish if you feel the need to take everything at face value. Plus, my years of yoga have left me open to touchy-feely language in classes. I will say this: I’ve seen a number of friends who don’t have a regular workout routine start one once they get to SoulCycle. Even if it’s not your workout of choice, I certainly would never begrudge anything that gets someone happily moving. I do think it takes three to five classes to really get the SoulCycle moves (see Heather’s comments above) so I’d say if you want to give it a chance, that means giving it more than one ride.
I checked out Flywheel when I was in Chicago on business. It was a lot of fun — the bikes weren’t quite as fancy as SoulCycle, but I appreciated the stadium-style layout of the room, which gives everyone a good view of the leaderboard and instructor. My instructor was also clear from the beginning that the whole class would be ten songs long, so you could know how far along you were if you kept count. The weights are done with a bar instead of individual dumbbells, which was great for me because I have a shoulder injury. I enjoyed watching myself on the leaderboard and having actual RPMs and/or resistance (torque) goals for each interval. It helped me better gauge how much I push myself during other spin classes. I also liked the follow-up email, which tells you how you compare to the entire Flywheel population and your demographic. If Flywheel had a studio in San Francisco — the only one in the area so far is about 45 minutes south — I would definitely do it again to see how I feel about it now that I’ve done a lot more SoulCycling.
Overall, these are both still pretty niche when it comes to the whole country, but I think more and more spin classes are moving toward SoulCycle format with weights and encouraging instructors. I have friends who do spin at gyms and other fitness studios, and they all say they’re getting basically the SoulCycle/Flywheel experience now. So even if you can’t get to SoulCycle or Flywheel where you live, it’s worth checking out a spin class anyway to see if it’s following some of these trends.
And if you’re about straight-up comparisons, here how the two rank against each other in specifics (and in our opinion):
FLYWHEEL (Based on Dupont, DC location)
Cost: First class is free! After that: One ride: $25, 10 rides: $225 (various other options)
What the studio’s like: Efficient check-in process; clean locker rooms with showers, toiletries provided; spacious waiting area.
Bikes: Each attached to an individual computer showing Torq, RPM, Power, and “Score.” Weight bars/wands included on the bike (four-pound and two-pound).
FlyWheel is: specific, competitive (in a friendly way), stat-driven, inspirational.
Stats: overall score, personal score in relation to that class, and overall Flywheel stats sent via e-mail after class.
SOULCYCLE (Based on SoMa, San Francisco location)
Cost: One ride: $34, 10 rides: $320 (various other options)
What the studio’s like: Less efficient check-in compared with Flywheel; tight waiting area (varies by studio); fully stocked showers and locker rooms.
Bikes: Slightly nicer fit compared with Flywheel or other spin bikes; no data; hand weights on the back (you have the option between one, two, three, and five pounds).
SoulCycle is: high-energy, motivating, tapping into the “soul.”
Depending on what motivates you and why, you’ll probably find that one of these studio’s styles fits you best. Try ’em out, see you what you think, and let us know!
Feature image courtesy of Flywheel Dupont Studio.