ChicagoXT stands for Chicago Cross-Training. This review marks the first of hopefully several reviews of local spinning studios or classes around Chicago. I am a distance runner with very little cycling experience, so please read these reviews through the lens of a newbie (one who has yet to invest in cycling shorts). All opinions are my own, and unless otherwise indicated, these reviews are based off of classes I have, on my own accord, selected and paid for (or got lucky and received a free pass available to the general public). If you have a class you’d like to suggest, please let me know!
If you haven’t heard of SoulCycle, there’s a high probability that you don’t know (or “know”) anyone who lives in New York. Or maybe you do, and they’re the type of person that doesn’t bore you with stories of their newest fitness class. That’s cool. Maybe you’ve heard about it because you read celebrity news, or because you watched that episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills where people pretended to cycle for charity.
SoulCycle is a spinning studio that started in New York, and now has locations in other havens of wealth and privilege, where people enjoy a “scene.” (LA, DC, Boston, California, Miami, among others) I thought that Chicago was a little too practical for that, but here we are. Prices range from $26-$30/class, depending on how many classes you buy, with a one-time “first ride” price of $20. (You have to call the studio for that price, apparently.) They don’t offer monthly memberships.
Going into my first class, I had a limited understanding of what SoulCycle was. It was supposed to be more of a “spiritual” experience, akin to yoga or Scientology. There were candles. Lots of wealthy (or aspiring to be wealthy) people gather to peacock their Lululemon. Classes aren’t cheap. All of that being said, I was excited to try a new cycling class, and hoped get a spark of the energy or inspiration that others received from the class. Mostly, I just wanted a really good, fun workout.
I had received a voucher for a free class after failing to land a seat at a free pop-up event they had hosted in celebration of their recent partnership with Target. The seating at SoulCycle is reserved, so you generally hop onto their website and pick a specific bike you want to use for every class you attend. My voucher was only good for a walk-in reservation, so after scoping out the class times (and how full they were), the guy and I landed in a class about 1/3 full (Southport location).
The staff was incredibly nice – knowing it was our first time, they made sure to walk us through how to adjust the bikes and what to generally expect from a class. The studio was clean and bright, with free lockers (no lock needed), shoe rental (free our first time); and bathrooms stocked with lemongrass face wash, extra hair ties, tampons, and 2 showers. The spin studio itself was large, but filled to the brim with bikes. More bikes than I thought possible. The instructor’s bike was on a platform in the middle of the room, surrounded by grapefruit scented candles like some kind of Dia de los Muertos display. (I wish I was joking.)
As the class began, the instructor was super enthusiastic, walking us through some basic positions, and hyping the class up for the workout. I was grateful for the low attendance; we were all tail to snout in there, with bikes spaced no more than 6″ apart. It had a distinct Human Centipede feel to it, so much so that they actually list “police your body odor” as a class rule. If the class had been full, it would have been so densely crowded and I would have been incredibly uncomfortable. It makes sense why Charlize Theron wanted Tia Mowry kicked out after she fangirl’d her. Things in there are far too close to acknowledge anyone’s existence. I spent the entire time trying to avoid eye contact with people… like a dog who had shit on the rug. We chose front row seats before we realized how tight things were, and I have never been more grateful for that decision (Apparently, we got lucky. Per Rule #5, the Front Row is considered hallowed ground, given only to experts and rabid enthusiasts willing to act as de facto hype men. Newbies are often asked to sit in the back.)
SoulCycle’s workouts have you spending a lot of time out of the saddle (aka you’re not sitting on your bike seat), and you’re encouraged to change your resistance by feel (there’s no power meter or gauge to show how hard you’re working). There’s also a ton of emphasis on working together in a choreography of sorts – pedaling to the same beat with the same feet, swaying together, and generally acting as one, large group in motion. At one point, I found myself staring at the group of swaying, sweaty bodies in the mirror, and felt an uncomfortable association with those Filipino prisoners and their prison yard calisthenics. The class felt distinctly militaristic in a way; more General Mao than Manhattan millennial.
As for the actual workout, I almost immediately realized that it wasn’t going to be my cup of tea. It’s like the founders looked around and thought, “You know what people love? Bikram yoga. Let’s do it on bikes, but with more arm pumping.” I like a lot of structure, generally. In spin, I like cues to tell me how long or how many reps, interval times, really anything to let me know what to expect and how much gas to use. It was often difficult to hear/understand the instructor (super loud voice + super loud music + mirrored wall reverb), and there were very little cues other than an occasional resistance suggestion. The workout has you out of your saddle, doing “push ups” while you pedal, swaying back and forth, and matching your pace with everyone around you. In general, I found it hard to feel like I was ever in sync, and at times I actually felt like the movements were introducing bad form. I could feel my left leg working harder than my right, which isn’t good. Apparently, I’m not the first to question whether this workout encourages beneficial form and movement. The studio is purposefully kept hot, and towards the end, the bike handles were slippery with sweat (bad when you’re trying to do fake push ups), and it almost became hard to breathe. There was also about 5 minutes where we incorporated some hand weights while pedaling. This seemed mostly useless. What I will give them credit for is their post-workout stretching routine, which involved using the bike to stretch while still sitting on it (necessary, because there’s no floor space to stand).
As class let out, a young woman wearing painfully constructed “deconstructed” clothing exclaimed, “OMG isn’t he brilliant? He’s so good, andhe’s got such an open heart.” If that sounds like something you or your friends might say about a total stranger teaching you how to ride a bike, maybe you’ll like this class. I sprained an eyeball rolling them so hard. At the end of the day, I was sore, but I didn’t feel like I got a great workout. I was frustrated by most of the class, and didn’t feel like I knew how or when to actually push myself. I also felt like I wasted a lot of energy trying to do movements that didn’t add to my fitness experience, and detracted from my actual workout. We got an additional free class coupon for being first-timers, so I’ll likely try it again with a different instructor to see if I feel any differently, but I think it’s safe to say that SoulCycle isn’t my go-to cross-training moving forward.