The Untold Truth Of SoulCycle

It's no secret that cycling is a fun way to cruise to the farmers market for some fresh flowers, or a great cardio activity for when you want to break a real sweat. In fact, Better Health states that regular cycling improves heart health and circulation, improves muscle strength, wards off symptoms of depression and anxiety, and lowers our risk for cardiovascular diseases. Cycling classes have been available at gyms for quite some time now. And with all the mental and physical health perks that come from pedaling on the bike, it was only a matter of time before a company made cycling its focus. But we're not talking about Peloton. Before that at-home workout company made a giant splash in the world of exercise, there was another booming business forging the front-lines of stationary bikes. That company was SoulCycle, a boutique cycling business that has generated a cult following and become a national craze (via Fast Company).

SoulCycle quickly experienced massive growth

According to Vox, SoulCycle was established in 2006 by talent manager Julie Rice, realtor Elizabeth Cutler, and instructor Ruth Zukerman. The first studio held 33 bikes and was located on the Upper West Side in New York City. It was completely hidden, and due to the building's landmark status the trio wasn't able to hang up any promotional signs for their new business. This actually turned out to be a marketing boon, as the secrecy of the new whispered-about cycling class piqued people's curiosity. "You have to realize that the circle of people is pretty small," Zukerman says, referring to the city's wealthy, trendy, and ultra-fit. "So when one person talks about it, everybody hears about it. It just goes down the chain." One SoulCycle studio became two. And two quickly became twenty. And according to Fast Company, at one point of massive growth, there were a total of 250 SoulCycle locations in the U.S. 

The mental boost is just as important as the physical one

So what is it about these classes that turns one-time participants into feverishly addicted riders? Women's Health points out that the 45, 60, and 90-minute cycling sessions are not only designed to give you a physical workout, but a mental boost as well. "It's much more than just a workout, it's a powerful mind-body experience," says Sam Jade, a SoulCycle senior instructor to Women's Health. She adds, "Classes are set in a dim, candlelit studio where riders can surrender to the rhythm of one-of-a-kind playlists, and get lost in the energy of the room." The music is central to SoulCycle, as the rides are choreographed to the beat. And each playlist brings a personal touch. "Every single playlist is unique and put together by us, the instructors! So if you are dying to know a track we played in class, just ask us," says Natalie, a SoulCycle instructor in San Francisco, to Caliber Fitness

The overall atmosphere also sets SoulCycle apart. As Jade said to Women's Health, "The vibe is incredibly uplifting. Together we move, ride, push toward the finish line, and celebrate our accomplishments." Apparently, they take their feel-good practices all the way to the top of the corporate ladder. "All SoulCycle corporate meetings begin with a three-minute meditation," reveals Natalie to Caliber Fitness.

Small gestures and well-paid instructors

In the realm of customer service, no gesture is too small for the convenience of their patrons. "Our awesome front desk team de-tabs all the Smartwaters so our riders don't have to," says Natalie Caliber Fitness. "Whenever I get a Smartwater from somewhere other than SoulCycle I struggle to open it and I'm reminded how helpful this small gesture is." 

In addition to personalized touches in every class, SoulCycle also became a standout boutique fitness studio because of their instructors, says Vox. Previously, fitness instructors at a gym class were more robotic and would remain anonymous. At SoulCycle, the instructors are key: they choose their own playlists, have their own style, and they bring their unique personalities to their classes. And they most definitely make their first names known. Making themselves a crucial part of the brand's success has some instructors making top dollar — the most popular can make north of $400 per class. Some instructors have even become mini celebrities in their own right, and have made appearances on talk shows and music videos, and posed for magazine spreads.

SoulCycle's reputation took a hit in the media

Unfortunately, this company's backstory is not one of only good vibes and healthy practices. A reported toxic working atmosphere within SoulCycle has been making headlines for a few years now. According to Vox, multiple former employees have accused master instructor Janet Fitzgerald — who was hired to train new hires — of telling instructors to explicitly market sex during training sessions, teaching that "sex sells" and encouraging instructors to wear red lipstick. An investigation by Business Insider also unearthed stories of racism, discrimination, and homophobia among instructors, incidents which some insiders believed were pushed under the rug to protect SoulCycle's biggest moneymakers.

In response to the many stories of toxic environments and harassment, SoulCycle released a statement via Business Insider saying, "When we receive complaints or allegations related to behavior within our community that does not align to our values, we take those very seriously and both investigate and address them."

The company has a new CEO to help them through a tough time

After SoulCycles' reputation took a hit in the media — and after 2020, a year like no other — the company is dealing with some setbacks. According to CNBC, in late 2020 SoulCycle appointed a new CEO, Evelyn Webster, after a previous one, Melanie Whelan, abruptly resigned.

"People have asked me since I joined, 'What on earth were you thinking,' joining basically a boutique fitness business, and a retail business, in the midst of a pandemic?" Webster tells CNBC. "What I knew is that we wouldn't be in the pandemic forever." The new CEO is banking on the brand's loyal followers to come back to the studios when the pandemic dust has settled. "I have enormous admiration for SoulCycle, as a brand and as a business, with my general manager's hat on," says Webster. "But as a rider, I have experienced firsthand the magic of Soul."

According to Business Insider, SoulCycle now has an at-home stationary bike for sale to try and compete with the likes of fitness giant Peloton. But the studio classes are still the core part of the company's soul.