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When it comes to group fitness, few studios have nailed the vibe quite like SoulCycle. Founded in 2006, the company has expanded its presence from a small space in Manhattan to almost 100 studios around the world. When the pandemic hit in 2020, SoulCycle quickly pivoted to outdoor classes, taking over patios, parking lots and even malls to keep the rides going strong. And for riders who were — and still are — hesitant to go back into a group setting right now, SoulCycle launched its own at-home spin bike in partnership with Equinox last year (sidenote: we’ve been using it for months now and it does a pretty decent job of replicating the in-studio experience).
But SoulCycle hasn’t been without its share of challenges and controversies in recent years. A number of people cancelled their memberships in 2019 following revelations that SoulCycle (and parent company Equinox’s) majority owner, Stephen Ross, had hosted a fundraiser for President Trump. Then just this past February, the company was hit by allegations that one of its senior instructors had jumped the line to get a vaccine.
As Pride Month comes to a close though, SoulCycle says it’s using the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to not only its LGBTQIA followers, but also to more transparent business practices, and a more inclusive and open culture for both its employees and riders.
“SoulCycle is built on a culture of diversity, inclusion, acceptance, and love–and it is our priority to ensure that not only our riders see that, but also prospective instructors and colleagues,” a SoulCycle rep tells Rolling Stone. “Our new CEO, Evelyn Webster, sees a lot of opportunity and work to be done around the culture of the organization, and is working closely with the new head of people, Adwoa Dadzie, to spark positive change throughout.”
Part of this opportunity set is more Pride-themed rides on Equinox+, the monthly fitness instruction service that gives members unlimited access to both live and on-demand SoulCycle classes, along with classes from brands like Equinox, Precision Run, PURE Yoga, HeadStrong, Rumble and TB12. SoulCycle instructors are also increasingly highlighting queer artists in their classes, intentionally choosing songs and playlists that reflect their community of riders.
For SoulCycle Master Instructor Melanie Griffith (above), whose Pride playlist includes LGBTQ artists like King Princess and Christine and the Queens, these rides are about more than just fitness — they’re about empowerment. “I want to create an experience that is safe and fun and challenging and is so much more than a physical workout,” she says. “I always want to offer a message of compassion and create an experience that feels safe and celebratory – specifically for members of the queer community and allies alike.”
“There’s such a rich history of music—specifically dance music—that has supported and shaped the LGBTQ+ community over the years,” adds Ross Ramone, another SoulCycle instructor on Equinox+, who cites Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own,” Lady Gaga’s “entire Born This Way album” and Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange as frequently played artists in his classes. “For me,” Ramone says, “music helps me feel through what I need to heal though, whether it’s an anthem of empowerment, or a balm for my achy heart.”
Music has long been a part of the studio cycling experience, with instructors spending hours perfecting the perfect playlist to sync to each pedal stroke and arm movement. But it’s become a big part of the home fitness studio too. Just this week, Peloton announced the launch of a virtual music festival, featuring performances from everyone from Tina Turner to Migos. Pitbull, meantime, just announced a new partnership with SoulCycle and Peloton rival, Echelon, to create original “anthems” and Pitbull-themed classes for the Echelon app. And this year, SoulCycle partnered with Universal Music Group to license the world’s largest music catalog to be used on the new Equinox+ fitness app, allowing users to work out at home to songs by the likes of Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish and the Weeknd.
The ability for riders to choose music they want to work out to — and music that resonates with them — is a large part of what has made at-home cycling so popular, and though Pride Month is ending, instructors say that doesn’t mean the opportunities for queer-themed rides and queer-affirming soundtracks is over. A number of theme rides that were created for Pride Month will continue to be available on the Equinox+ app for riders to take on-demand. SoulCycle instructors say they’ll also continue to play songs by queer and “queer-adjacent” artists in their classes, so that riders can feel uplifted and supported.
“I came out in 2012 when the song ‘Same Love’ was released and I must have listened to it over a million times and just cried. It made me feel a lot less alone and made me feel like there were people that understood me,” shares Kathleen Kulikowski, Master SoulCycle Instructor on Equinox+. To Kulikowski, supporting her community of LGBTQ riders and allies doesn’t end when June is over. “Pride month first and foremost is a reminder of all the people that came before us and fought so hard for equality,” she says, citing Tegan and Sara and Lady Gaga as favorite artists to play. “It should be a reminder that we still have so much work to do, and to keep fighting the good fight. Celebrate this month, and fight on the 11 other months.”
Griffith, meantime, says she’s seen the ability of a good song to transform the entire mood of a room, something she hopes will translate to her virtual classes as well. “Some of the songs [I choose] are by queer artists and some just inspire the feeling of love and joy in knowing that it’s okay to be who you are and love how you love,” she says. “Music can amplify energy and motivate action and can also provide an outlet for tears and reflection. It is the fabric of our experience at SoulCycle and it is part of the vibe of my life.”
Kulikowski says she’s proud to represent the LGBTQ community as a SoulCycle instructor, and hopes to use her platform to inspire others, and to remind people of SoulCycle’s roots as a place where everyone is welcome. “Pride to me is a reminder that love always wins,” she says. “A reminder to live in full authenticity. A reminder to step into your light and power, even if society tells you it’s wrong. A reminder that we are all human, we are all breathing. A reminder,” she concludes, “that in order to love and understand people who are different from us, we must love and understand ourselves.”
What to Know About the SoulCycle At-Home Bike
The SoulCycle at-home bike is available now online at EquinoxPlus.com. The bike features a high-resolution (and sweat-resistant!) screen and a bold sound system specifically engineered for the bike and the SoulCycle instructor-curated playlists. The bike is set on a sturdy steel frame with a comfortable padded seat. The seat and handlebars are fully adjustable, with a spot for hand weights behind the seat. Everything is super durable and wipes down easily after a workout.
SoulCycle vs. Peloton
The SoulCycle bike differs from the Peloton set-up in a couple of ways: for starters, the SoulCycle at-home bike is slightly longer at about 63 inches vs. 59 inches for the Peloton. That makes the SoulCycle bike able to accommodate taller riders, up to 6 foot 10, and heavier riders as well (up to 350 pounds). The Peloton bike is best for riders under 6 foot 4.
The SoulCycle bike also has a couple more adjustment options, specifically the ability to move the handlebars forwards and backwards. That may make it more comfortable, especially for shorter people or people with less reach.
In terms of pricing, the Peloton starts at $1895 and the company offers a few different package options. The SoulCycle bike costs $2500. Both companies require a monthly membership to access their classes, and both are around the $40 range.
Ultimately, it comes down to the type of workout you want and the “vibe” you desire. In our opinion, SoulCycle delivers more of a well-rounded workout, incorporating different movements, tempos and variety in music. SoulCycle instructors tend to also be more encouraging, coaching you through your workout with supportive mantras and personal anecdotes. The goal is to not only leave your workout feeling fit — but feeling good about yourself as well.
Peloton classes are more fitness-focused, and if you’re someone who obsesses over metrics, you’ll appreciate Peloton’s in-depth analysis of your ride and the performance-driven instructors. You’ll be pushed with some tough love and it won’t always be pretty, but if you’re aiming to crush specific fitness goals or looking for an intense workout, Peloton could be the choice for you.
Is the SoulCycle At-Home Bike Worth It?
If you’re already a SoulCycle rider in-studio, or a fan of its “community” feel, you’ll want to pick up their home spin bike as well. The classes were surprisingly immersive, even when staring at a screen, and the ability to see other riders physically spinning in the same room as the instructor makes you feel like you’re in the room too. The SoulCycle bike is also worth it for new riders too — it’s easy to set up, the display is easy to understand, and the songs and theme rides are easy to get into. Whether you like rock, pop, punk, hip-hop or EDM, there really is something for everyone.
One last note that tips the scales in SoulCycle’s favor: while many fitness companies are experiencing a backlog in shipping, SoulCycle says their bikes are in stock and available to ship in as little as 1-3 weeks. See full pricing details and options at EquinoxPlus.com.