After work one frozen night last week, I put on my bike helmet, ski mask and warmest gloves and rode in the snow up 17th Street in Boulder to Beat Cycle, a new music-centered cycling studio on the Hill. "Sorry, I'm early," I said to the four young female employees milling around the front desk as I removed my mask and helmet, shaking off my coat and realizing I was the only one in the place who didn't work there.
Inspired in part by the wildly successful SoulCycle chain, which gets about 6,000 people per day sweating on stationary bikes with throbbing dance music and motivational instructors as a soundtrack, Harvard alums and husband and wife Carlos and Hilary Cruz-Abrams opened Beat Cycle a couple of months ago. They offer free classes to first-timers; subsequent drop-ins are $20, and monthly unlimited passes are $160.
"We have exceeded our expectations and had some almost-full classes," Hilary says. "We're a little more music-focused [than SoulCycle] and have some moves I've never seen there. Plus, we're the only place like this in Boulder. The other spin classes around here are frankly boring; they're for outdoor cyclists trying to get some miles in. We're kind of like a nightclub."
As I found my designated stationary bike (second row, center) and watched my twenty or so classmates roll in, I realized that not only was I the only male in the class, but, other than a middle-aged woman on the bike directly behind me, I was the only student over the age of approximately 22.
My instructor, who goes by Lucy J., got her playlist ready and dealt with microphone issues. "Just make sure to look at me," she said, surprisingly shrugging off news that her voice wouldn't be amplified at all.
I was a little worried. As a seasoned long-distance cyclist, I knew my legs would stand up to the class, but hearing about a "dance party set to high-intensity cycling" from friends sent up red flags. Would it be like the vomit-inducing, military-esque New York City cycling courses I'd seen on ABC News? Or like Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" video?
Whatever. The only certainty was that I was one of probably two people in the room old enough to recognize the name Olivia Newton-John. As we spun through a few minutes of warmup, Lucy went around the room trying to prove she'd remembered everyone's name. There was a Violet, a Tatiana, a Bella -- lots of blond ponytails, sports bras and tights...and one dorky, hairy, thirty-something music writer, sticking out like a Naropa student at the Sink.
The idea of using Beat Cycle's mandatory cycling shoes and clip-in pedals also gave me pause. Clip-in shoes feel uncomfortable to me; every one of my toes -- in fact the entire front of my foot -- seems masochistically jammed forward over and over with clip-ins.
But when the lights went down, the loud dance music started thumping, and Lucy shouted, "Chest presses!" I got into it. Mixing popular, mostly fast-paced club music with choreographed aerobics and nonstop high-intensity cycling was challenging fun from the get-go, and young Lucy was a good mixture of tough and enthusiastic.
To be fair, she did spend the first few official moments of the class pretending it was a yoga class -- you know, a gentle experience. "Close your eyes for a minute and think about your day," Lucy said as black light applied focus to every hint of white clothing in the room. "Find your center; the next 45 minutes are for you and only you." And the twenty other people in the studio?
The bike-riding part of Beat Cycle, for a regular cyclist, seems a little easier than an H.I.I.T. (high-intensity interval training) class. But if you're brave enough to follow your instructor's adamant orders and get out of your seat every two beats, the core-workout part is seriously difficult. At one point, while a fast-paced remix of Pink's "Try" blared, Lucy -- her bike on a platform -- yelled for us to pick up the set of weights placed near our handlebars. High-intensity cycling combined with choreographed weightlifting is not easy, nor is it an experience I would have imagined ever popping up in my life.
Overall, I enjoyed myself and the challenge. As a hopeless music geek whose idea of "dance music" is the Talking Heads' Remain in Light, the mainstream choice of music -- 75 percent of which I did not recognize -- was a little uninspiring. Prince's "Kiss" was a nice touch, but the Journey remix was cheesy; for my taste, some Girl Talk or even Foals would've gone nicely with the juxtaposition of core exercise and speedy cycling at what folks in Boulder are calling a "dance party on a bike." Maybe -- and I'm sure this sounds crazy -- a smidgen of "Master of Puppets" at the right moment would also have fit nicely.
Still, the soundtracks are surprisingly purposeful. Lucy, who proved again after class that she'd remembered most of our names, told me she puts the playlist together for each of her classes and even takes requests. The atmosphere that she -- and the disco-like setting -- created was surprisingly unintimidating, and the superficial attitudes notorious at high-intensity workout classes didn't seem present at all.
Another instructor, New York City native Sarah Gee, told me, "Music is a very personal thing, so every instructor's gonna have [his or her] own style, and that's very important." Gee says she's excited about Beat Cycle because it's "something this area doesn't have.
"Just the idea of using music as part of a class, as a basic tool...the musical phrasing and instrumentation is not something you'll find in most workout classes," she says. "And people like that, because it makes you forget that it's a workout and you're huffing and puffing and working hard. It's more like you're out dancing at a club, which is why it's so addictive."
Co-founder Hilary Cruz-Abrams agrees wholeheartedly. "We're all about the beat of the music; that's what makes it fun," she says. "I don't look at an instructor's playlist before class, [because] even if you don't like the song, the beat is so good that you're rolling with it. And we have a killer sound system."
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