DC: A Comprehensive + Candid SoulCycle Review

soul cycle

(photo: Meg Calnan)

[line] [left]where: 2301 M Street NW | Foggy Bottom

bring: water, spin shoes if you have them

perks: showers + fully stocked locker rooms

sweat score: 11 out of 10[/left][right]wear: spandex bottoms, spin shoes

instructor: Kathleen

cost: $30 drop in [/right][line]


Everyone’s heard of SoulCycle. I mean, I guess it’s possible there is one person who hasn’t heard of SoulCycle, but that person is still using a palm pilot and watching Will and Grace. Suffice it to say, this review of SoulCycle does not aspire to be the first of its kind, but rather a new perspective on a new outlet: SoulCycle DC.

Rather than hide the ball, I’ll give you the bottom-line of my review up front: the class is amazing, the space is too small, and the pricing is outrageous at best, upsettingly classist at worst.

But let’s go back to the beginning. As you may know, SoulCycle landed in the District for the first time this summer. The spectacular spin sensation chose a location between downtown and Georgetown for maximum access to D.C.’s wealthiest health nuts. And despite my eyerolling tone in the previous sentence, they snapped me up in their net: the studio is on 23 and M Northwest, right in the middle of my commute from Georgetown to Metro Center. Le sigh.

For those wondering how to get there, the space is about a 10 minute walk from the Foggy Bottom metro (mostly because of all the stoplights you’ll wait at). Just a block away at 22 and M is Sport Club/LA, the luxury gym in the Ritz Carlton building. I mention this because Equinox actually owns both Sport Club and SoulCycle now, and soon Sport Club will be D.C.’s only Equinox gym. I frequently see people strolling back and forth between the two buildings in their Soul-skull t-shirts and spandex, so there’s an option to double up your workout if you’re feeling ambitious!

The Studio

Like the SoulCycles I’ve seen in other parts of the country, the boutique here features a shiny white exterior with “SOULCYCLE” in big block letters and floor to ceiling windows. Inside, the shiny white surfaces continue, and the Soul-cult clothes hang from the windowed walls. I mean, the place is completely gorgeous. There are no buts about it. Or is it butts? Mm…it’s probably buts. Because there ARE butts – nice ones – at SoulCycle! Anyway, it’s exactly the kind of place you dream of doing your morning spin class followed by the healthiest green juice in the world and perhaps a celebrity run-in. In my opinion, the aesthetics and branding are what really set SoulCycle apart from its competitors. It’s just sexier.

But compared to other SoulCycles I’ve been to, one in San Francisco and one in LA, the DC boutique is small. Like, really small. Honestly, just TOO small for the number of people it needs to hold. [pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]It’s exactly the kind of place you dream of doing your morning spin class followed by the healthiest green juice in the world and perhaps a celebrity run-in.[/pullquote]Most classes start 15 minutes after the class before ends, which means during the only 15 minutes when anyone needs to navigate the space – the registration desk, the hallway lockers, the bathroom – the place is swarming with sweaty bodies falling all over each other. When I was there this Saturday, I waited forever then eventually forced myself through people to put my stuff in a locker as friends yelled over the cacophony about their weekend plans and people tried to balance on one foot to change into their spin shoes.

Speaking of shoes, after the $30 price of admission for a SoulCycle class, you’ll have to spend an additional $3 on spin shoes if you don’t have your own (no tennis shoes allowed; you must be able to clip into the bike). And if you also forgot a water bottle, that will be an additional $2. So it’s quite possible that you’ll have spent $35 by the time you’re actually on your cycle.

To round out the conversation about the space, I am thrilled to report that in my three trips to SoulCycle DC, I’ve never had a problem getting into one of the two bathroom stalls quickly. I’ve never waited for a shower (stocked with great products) either, but I haven’t gone before work and would imagine it’s tougher then. If you’re trying to shower before the office, I’d recommend skipping the brief stretch at the end, or doubling up with a friend! No I’m kidding don’t do that. Or do: yolo.

Overall, the bathroom facilities are lovely, and being able to get ready in a nice place makes the cost of class feel a bit more reasonable. Take advantage of it!

So now that you’ve signed in, bought shoes, changed, checked out the bathroom, and adjusted your topknot, it’s time to get on your bike!

The Class: Setting Up

When you sign up for class – either online or at the front desk, and depending on the day and time you should do this far in advance – you choose a bike. So when you enter the dark (lights out!) room in the back, you look for the bike you signed up for. I was on 31, comfortably in the middle of the room.

Whether you spin every morning or you’ve never done it before, I highly recommend having one of the SoulCycle staff help you set up your bike. It’s really great to have someone who knows these specific bikes set them up for your specific body. Plus, you can avoid an internal dialogue during class like, “Omg I think I’m too high. No I’m too low. And I’m too close to the handlebars. Or am I too far? I’m not doing it right.” Take the thinking out and have someone hook you up!

In addition to getting your bike set, you’ll want to make sure you have the right weights on the back of your bike (they sit right under your seat). I chose 2lbs, but you can also grab 1s or 3s. The weights are up in front, next to the instructor’s “stage.” Also on the stage, a line of four or five candles flicker, providing the only noticeable light in the room.

Continuing the moody theme, the walls have inspirational statements like “feel the rhythm” and “cardio party.” The space definitely feels like a cross between a traditional spin room and a chic yoga studio. If you hate the zen/philosophical elements of yoga, then SoulCycle is definitely not the spin class for you. But if you like that stuff, as I do, you’ll feel right at home. Which is not to say that the workout itself has any relation to yoga: only the atmosphere and the instructor’s mid-class mantras.

The Class: Instructor

My instructor on Saturday at 4pm, Kathleen, was hot. I mean, a smoking hot red-haired woman. I realize that great fitness instructors come in all shapes and sizes, but I have to admit that super sexy instructors really inspire me to have my best workout, because damn it I want to be as hot as her/him. Anyway, if you’re reading this, Kathleen, you have a fan, and I’m a creepy one ; )

Kathleen put on her microphone, did a final check on her playlist, and threw her long red locks into a bun. The class quieted down and the buzzing of bikes began as everyone warmed up their legs.

As in every other boutique spin class I’ve been to, the SoulCycle instructors give very specific and frequent instructions on what you should be doing. You should do two full turns, you should feel like you’re climbing, your wheel should be heavy, etc. I love this because it eliminates the problem of zoning out during a long set with no guidance from the instructor, which I frequently encounter in big gym spin. Here, you’ll definitely know whether you should be climbing up a mountain or sprinting your brains out. If you’re not there, it’s because you needed a break, not because you got lost.

In addition to a very talented instructor giving you frequent speed and heaviness directions, the class follows the beat of the music, which you can expect to be super fresh. Frequently, too, we’d start doing dance-like push-ups and pull-backs on the bike, adding extra fun and comradery to the class.

The Class: Work It

Class is fast-paced and extremely sweaty (they provide a towel). You have total control of your own bike, so it’s fine to slow down and grab a drink of water if you want to.[pullquote width=”300″ float=”right”]The class quieted down and the buzzing of bikes began as everyone warmed up their legs.[/pullquote]For the most part, though, you try to stick with the pack. The instructor encouraged us to get our legs moving at the same time, and when that happens the room really feels like an incredible sweaty-chic machine.

The arms section comes about two songs before the end—maybe 35 to 40 minutes into the 45 minute class. Don’t let the small weights fool you. Arms are hard at SoulCycle. Imagine the arms portion of a barre class, but on a bike while you continue spinning with your legs. I was desperate to get back to cardio, which is crazy when you remember how hard this “cardio party” really is!

At the end of class, you’ll hear the most motivational speeches from the instructor so far, and unless you’ve already dropped dead, you’ll push out every last drop of energy you have in the final 5 or so minutes. And then, finally finally finally, class is over. You’ve made it! It’s that feeling that fit crashers fiend for like junkies. Can’t live without it.

So what’d we think?

In conclusion, SoulCycle, for me, is a place to go with a friend as a substitute for getting lunch or drinks, a place to go on my birthday, or a place to take someone who doesn’t have spin boutiques where they live. In other words, it’s great for a special occasion, but I can’t make it part of my weekly routine.

My reason is the obvious one: it’s too damn expensive. Even though class costs $5 less here than in New York and California, $33 (I don’t have shoes) is still a ton to pay on a regular basis. There is no option to buy a package in order to pay less per class, as there is at almost every other boutique fitness establishment. Unless it’s your first time, you’re going to pay $30/class. If you went three days a week, that’s about $360/month. Up it to 4 days and that’s $480.

Boutique fitness isn’t known for being cheap, but with class package specials and our society’s new willingness to spend our extra time and money on excellent fitness, it’s achievable. Thus, in a city as diverse as Washington, D.C., I couldn’t help but feel disappointed in the lack of diversity at SoulCycle. So, Soul! Let’s get some package deals going, and start seeing some new faces at SoulCycle. I’ll be one of them!

Liz, (unbelievably for DC) a lawyer, just moved to Georgetown and hails from San Francisco. She’s spent time fit crashing in DC during two summers, in addition to SF, LA, and Chicago. Finally settled, she can’t wait to become a regular part of the DC fitness scene. She achieved a life goal recently when she got her husband to attend SoulCycle with her, and looks forward to similarly epiphanic experiences in the future.

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