TAMPA — Just as SoulCycle found itself embroiled in political battle, I found myself surrounded by mirrors and spandex on bike 57, pedaling as fast as I could to (You Drive Me) Crazy in a dark, candlelit room.
Last week was a strange one in an era where almost any extracurricular can brush up against politics. On Aug. 9, supporters of President Trump’s reelection efforts gathered for a fundraiser at the Hamptons home of Related Companies chairman Stephen Ross, whose company owns fitness brands Equinox and SoulCycle. Celebrities lit up the internet earlier in the week, calling for a boycott of both.
Twelve hundred miles away on the same day, the nearly full class and I were two songs into our 45-minute preview ride at the new SoulCycle studio in Hyde Park Village. I already felt the sweat coming.
I tried to focus on my breathing while staying on beat to Britney Spears and keeping up with Sasha Kahnamelli, our enthusiastic instructor, out of the saddle.
He was t-h-r-i-v-i-n-g on his platform at the front of the room, throwing an exhausting dance party on his set of wheels going nowhere to achieve his goals. So what was my excuse?
I hoped to replay what Sasha said earlier in my head, something about putting our energy in the cloud. Whatever that means. The only voice I could hear, though, was my own.
What have I done?
• • •
SoulCycle, launched in New York City in 2006 and in Tampa over the weekend, fuses music and exercise into one pricey full-body workout with a motivational message.
Known for its celebrity following as much as its cult comparison, the popular chain of more than 90 indoor cycling studios has also become ingrained in pop culture through name-drops and parodies. Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) and Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) feud for the affection of “SpiritCycle” coach Tristophe (Nick Kroll) in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Renee’s (Amy Schumer) wipe-out on a famed SoulCycle bike is key to the plot of I Feel Pretty.
Still, SoulCycle faced major backlash following the Washington Post’s report on the Trump fundraiser hosted by Stephen Ross, as the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Sophia Bush denounced the spinning sanctuary and loyal riders called the big-ticket benefit contradictory to its inclusive messaging.
The outcry prompted SoulCycle to release a statement:
“SoulCycle in no way endorses the political fundraising event being held later this week … Mr. Ross is a passive investor and is not involved in the management of SoulCycle.”
Now the chain has encouraged its instructors to guide a series of community rides benefiting their favorite charities. It seems these free classes are designed to show “SoulCycle isn’t just one voice or one narrative; it’s deeply important to us that we hold space for all different perspectives in our community — and we’re starting in the best way we know how,” according to a SoulCycle newsletter sent Monday to riders.
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Tampa marks the second Florida location for SoulCycle, with Miami first. All white and bright yellow, the 2,800-square-foot, 60-bike studio achieves its zippy grapefruit smell — yes, it’s a thing — through a signature combination of scented candles and some sort of magical spray that puts Febreze to shame.
If you’re a spin-class regular like me, know that the SoulCycle ritual isn’t much different.
You check in at the front desk, sign a waiver and rent the $3 shoes (bottled water is $3 as well), then strap on your kicks in the bougie bathroom/locker area featuring two showers and a three-mirror vanity. After securing your belongings in one of the many lockers and kissing that unsore tush goodbye, you click-clack to the cycling cavern at the end of the hallway, find your bike and clip in.
• • •
Before we began, Sasha told us he moved to Tampa for this gig from the SoulCycle in Washington, D.C. Our ride was his first in a week and a half. And he made the room work, directing us to tap back, feel our “power” (a.k.a. how much resistance we added to our bikes each time we turned the knob below our handlebars) and run with annoyingly inspirational spinspeak. Sasha’s words and playlist elicited everything from wooos and ponytail whips to neighborly high-fives.
At one point, he assured the class that, eventually, the nonstop cardio session stops being hard and you can just... go. Drenched in sweat and wondering what the hell is wrong with the fans around here, I started to believe after he traced what resembled a heart into the foggy floor-to-ceiling mirror behind him. I knew I’d earned my next vigorous gulp of water.
He loves me. He really, really loves me.
Slogans ran together on the wall to my left, almost like a giant crossword puzzle: We aspire to inspire; The rhythm pushes us harder. They had nothing on Sasha.
He proclaimed we’re less alone than we think. He celebrated the importance of “human diversity” during one pensive song and encouraged us to write our own words for an instrumental tune.
He also blessed us with the ditty he used to audition for SoulCycle, Get Right by J. Lo, which was a truly draining delight.
Somehow I survived the don’t-you-even-think-about-dropping-them weights portion of the ride, in which we toned our arms using tiny dumbbells stored under our seats. I quickly forgave Sasha for not doing his pulses and punches in the saddle with us, because he delivered this line that left the room shook:
“What if we all thought a little less and felt a little more?”
Yep, I reached peak spinlightenment.
Can’t stop, won’t stop, I thought, gasping for air.
Not to be outdone, Gypsy, his Lady Gaga song of choice toward the end, got the room going. So much so that two riders in the front row passionately waved their sweat towels in circles in the air. Sasha, of course, joined them, and finally disbanded the cluster of absorbent lassos for much-needed post-workout stretches.
• • •
Is SoulCycle the definitive indoor cycling studio? Maybe. Is it better than the others out there? Eh. I guess that depends who you ask.
Shimmying out of the packed studio, I overheard riders exchange reviews like “amazing” and “better than CycleBar” before they headed across the street to modern Italian restaurant Forbici for a SoulCycle happy hour.
I don’t plan to leave my go-to place for the chain (though the smell is tempting). However, I didn’t hate drinking the Kool-Aid. SoulCycle puts an emphasis on the spirited instructors who drive its brand, and while my ride was uncomfortable and never really let up on the jumping or sprinting, which I appreciate, it wasn’t as hard to push through as I thought it might be. I did it, y’all!
And being red-faced and ravaged after class is — and was — kind of the best part.
In Hyde Park Village, SoulCycle offers at least five rides per week. Your first class is $20, then $26 for every one that follows. Packages range from $125 (five classes) to $3,500 (50 classes); the latter bundle carries the “SuperSoul” distinction, which grants you access to a “concierge service” to book your rides in advance, long before reservations open to the rest of us heathens.
I won’t be online when signups for the studio’s classes open each week at, as an iconic SoulCycle shirt proclaims, “noon on Monday.” Neither will Chrissy Teigen and half of Hollywood. But perhaps you will be.
The crunchy-granola way of spin isn’t exclusive to SoulCycle, which means you can seek refuge from political screaming at almost any indoor cycling studio. Good vibes are just part of the culture. And in this era, that’s a good thing.
IF YOU GO
Hyde Park Village, 1802 W Snow Ave., Tampa. (813) 547-8010. soul-cycle.com.