Amy and I are in Santa Monica, CA this week for the MINDBODY Bold convention. I knew I would have a bunch of downtime and did a search for classes near our hotel. Imagine my delight at discovering a SoulCycle just a few blocks away 🙂
We attended a sold out class there Sunday morning at 9:00. The Instructor's name was Heather P and it was very easy to see why people (primarily women 20-40 years old) are in love with these classes.
I also attended a second class (about 85% full) on Tuesday 10/14 with a different Instructor. Please keep in mind that what follows is my first hand experiences, based on taking two classes at the Santa Monica location.
It's all about the details.
The whole experience (registration, welcome, pre-class, the class, post class) had me understanding why they are so successful. SoulCycle is a well-oiled machine designed and scripted to deliver their product very efficiently. Their attention to detail is remarkable and IMO a large reason for their success is based on how well they appear to have refined (and execute) even very small details.
I've got a lot to tell you - I may end up breaking this into a few posts - so lets get started.
First time participants get a discount ($20 vs $34) and free ($3) shoe rental - but you can't sign up online if you want the deal - you need to call the studio directly. A very pleasant young lady answered the phone, asking me my questions (mine was; "who's class should I take?), took my information and smoothly asked for my credit card info to confirm my appointment.
So why do you force me to call? I'm on your website. You could easily provide a "first timers click here" button, but SoulCycle wants me to call them. WHY? I've been thinking about this question since last week. Probably overthinking it. They say the simplest explanation is typically the right one: SoulCycle wants to make a personal connection with their customers right from the beginning - before they ever set foot in their studio.
A nice touch - would that make sense for your studio?
After getting the recommendation to take Heather P's class, I was asked where I wanted to ride. I asked for two bikes near the front - they reserve the front row for regulars I think. This is important as these experienced riders tend to lead the class as Heather was off the bike for at least half the class.
After the call I received a series of emails; a CC receipt and a Welcome to SoulCycle email that included the image above.
Welcome to SoulCycle
Amy and I had a short walk from our hotel and I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about the experience I was about have. There were three, friendly, young people behind the counter. We introduced ourselves and one of the attendants found our names on a printed class attendance list. Next to each of our names was a purple check mark, indicating we were first time riders. Another nice touch - this list was given to the Instructor so she would know who's new and she made a point of greeting us before class started.
What else can we provide for you two? I had purposely left my bike shoes at home, preferring to try out their rental shoes. I gave her my shoe size and she quickly handed me a pair of generic road shoes with LOOK cleats. LOOK cleats? Not SPD's? That didn't make sense to me and I wasn't able to get any information about why LOOK instead of SPD. Amy's idea was that LOOK cleats maybe easier to get in & out of?
Key Studio Room Details
By all appearances, the studio is exactly the right size for the 60 cycles they have. There isn't room for anything else! Each bike is set very close to the others in the row. The rearward end of the seat slider in front of me sits right below the end of my bike's handlebars. The back 4 rows are raised theater style.
Some people might not like how cramped this studio is. My initial reaction was just that; too many people squeezed into a small space. But by this time I was seeing how SoulCycle doesn't appear to do anything without a purpose. As I watched the others ride, it became obvious that the closeness (we're all part of the same tribe) was another part of the charm that is this brand + with each bike potentially bringing in $2,000 a week, I'd pack them in as well plus have a few hanging from the ceiling if I could find a way for a person to ride it!
- Rubber flooring - what a relief to have something other than slippery polished stone or bamboo flooring to walk on wearing cycling shoes 🙂
- Instructor monitor speaker - even though this is a small space, having a monitor speaker (so the Instructor hears & can adjust her mic/music ratio) is crucial for keeping your vocal cues intelligible along with loud music.
- Those candles are electric - which was a bit disappointing. Here I kept hearing about the candles - maybe they are real at some of the other studios.
- Two exits - a small thing but I've been frustrated in other studios trying to get in or out.
- Ventilation - minimal and yet it never felt stuffy... nor did the mirrors fog up like I certain LifeTime club I'm aware of.
The SoulCycle Indoor Cycle
I don't think you can buy enough for a full studio, but you can purchase the Indoor Cycles used at SoulCycle studios for use at home. These cycles are of their very own design and my understanding is that they're manufactured in the same factories that make other brands.
Conventional weighted flywheel with friction resistance. These things are very heavy bikes = solid and stable. The ride is very smooth and I found the resistance very progressive. There's no computer/console of any type and the only thing out of the ordinary are the cages that hold your weights. Every bike uses reversible LOOK/SPD pedals. There is no shoe basket option for using fitness shoes - an important detail as I'll explain in a moment.
I quickly found a setting that had me comfortable in and out of the saddle. Amy said she got close, but didn't feel completely right and she wasn't a fan of that sculpted saddle. I should note that we didn't identify ourselves as Instructors, but I was wearing Pearl bibs which obviously identifies me as someone with some level of bicycle experience. Although we were told at check-in that someone would be there to help set us up, no one did. There were three assistants in the room, so my assumption is that if we had looked clueless (or asked) someone would have been there to help.
Key Bike Details
- As you can guess, you move around on the bike a lot in these classes vs. more cycling specific formats. The rock solid stability of the SoulCycle bike instills a lot of confidence in the rider that it isn't going anywhere. After the class I tried lifting one end and those things must be made out of cast iron they're so heavy. Every bike was spotless and appear to be very well maintained despite 60+ classes offered there each week.
- If you're going to move around safely, it's important that your feet stay connected to the pedals. The LOOK cleats on my bike and SPD's on Amy's bike were adjusted quite tightly, requiring more rotational force than typical to release. You don't want your release settings too high on a road bike, but to me, tight = safe indoors.
Before taking this class, I had looked at shoe rentals as a convenience you offer to riders. Now I recognise that having a policy where everyone is securely clipped in would be a real safety enhancement. Shoe baskets (AKA Toe clips) may be more accommodating for new people, but they're truly a pain and could actually have potential safety issues when compared to cleated shoes:
- Cleated shoes offer a very secure, positive engagement vs. shoe baskets that may or may not be fastened securely - or stay fastened if the strap isn't routed correctly through the capture mechanism.
- Cleated shoes have better foot alignment - how your foot is positioned on the pedals can have a big effect on your knees. Don't believe me? Next time on the bike rotate your heals in and watch where your knees end up. Knee over pedal needs to be in two planes; fore/aft and side to side.
- Cleated shoes control the position of the ball of your foot over the pedal spindle - this can vary wildly with different size feet in shoe baskets.
- Cleated shoes have solid bottoms = much more comfortable when standing regardless of how much out of the saddle riding you do.
If your studio offers unconventional classes similar to SoulCycle, I see a policy of only allowing cleated shoes as a Best Practice to ensure your riders safety + at $3.00 a rental (your first class rental is free) it could be a nice source of additional revenue.
Details about the classes are here in part 2
Originally posted 2014-10-14 17:01:44.