My hand shot up when SoulCycle instructor Charlotte Hitch asked how many people were there for the first time. It was 9:30 on a Wednesday morning, and I was in uncharted waters with about one or two others — the rest of the folks filling the 45-bike studio had done this before, more or less religiously.
SoulCycle arrived on Martha’s Vineyard on August 5. The exercise empire will occupy Evolve Pilates in Edgartown until August 27. Whether you’re a SoulCycle virgin like I was, or you’ve been sipping the Kool-Aid for years, I get you.
SoulCycle is a stationary-bicycling exercise trend that has swept the nation. Its first studio opened in New York City on the Upper West Side in 2006. It now has over 80 studios coast to coast, and was recently ranked in the top 25 brands that matter now by Fast Company magazine.
So what makes SoulCycle different from any other spinning class? Dedicated riders will tell you it’s about the community and lifestyle. As a mere passerby who couldn’t figure out how to clip the shoes into the bike, I was most struck by — dare I say — the soul of it all.
Loud music blared from downstairs, where the studio was set up. SoulCycle staff signed me in, gave me shoes to rent, a Smartwater to drink (the pop-up was co-sponsored by Smartwater) and assigned me a bike number. I filed into my prospective seat, sardined within a grid of stationary bikes that fit into the space like pieces of a puzzle. Charlotte’s voice echoed from a mic coming from the front of the room. The lights switched on and off in sync with the music, making me feel like I was in a club. My 9:30 am energy surged.
Charlotte instructed the group to keep pedaling, when to increase and decrease resistance, and to stick together. “Yes you can,” she’d repeat to the group, inspiring everyone to keep pushing, and to take their best step. I can reflect on one pitch-black moment where the group pulsed together as one to an especially rocking beat. I said to myself, OK, I get it.
The 45-minute class incorporates small hand weights and weaves in upper-arm strength training. Charlotte occupied the front space like the total vision of a fitness instructor she is. Participants thanked her, and asked for photos with her after the workout.
“She’s a celebrity in SoulCycle,” one cyclist said. “We totally planned our Martha’s Vineyard vacation around when she would be here.”
Charlotte started SoulCycling four years ago when she was a fashion designer for Ralph Lauren in New York City.
“All I remember is this feeling I had after class,” she said. “I had to call my parents, which is a weird thing for a 25-year-old to do after a fitness class.”
She continued attending classes in New York City for about six months, until an instructor approached her and asked if she’d consider being an instructor herself.
“I didn’t think I could do it; it never really crossed my mind,” she said. “But here I am four years later, and it’s 100 percent full-time.”
SoulCycle’s first Boston studio opened in Chestnut Hill. Charlotte was asked to move to Boston to help get things started. “I didn’t want to. I loved New York, and my life was there,” she said. “But from a career perspective, it was a good opportunity. Instead of being one out of 100 instructors in New York, I was one out of four in Boston.”
Boston now has four studios and more than 14 instructors. The Martha’s Vineyard pop-up brought in instructors from Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. The Evolve Pilates space is almost unrecognizable. SoulCycle’s events team completely revamped the TRX room into a lobby and retail studio. The pop-up is part of the company’s Destination Soul initiative, which brings the studio to places and events like Aspen, Coachella, and Martha’s Vineyard.
“My favorite part about this is the pocket of new riders we’re bringing into our community,” Charlotte said. “We’ve been meeting a lot of people from New Hampshire, Western Massachusetts, and of course the Cape and Islands — people who’ve heard of it but haven’t been able to try it.”
SoulCycle leaves riders energized, sweating, and maybe with a sore bum, but it ties them to something bigger than an exercise class. Whether or not you want to admit it, you’ll probably sip that Kool-Aid one more time.
SoulCycle offers classes at Evolve Pilates on weekdays at 7, 8:15, 9:30, and 10:45 am, and 4:45 pm. On weekends, classes run at 7, 8:15, and 10:45 am, as well as 12 and 4:45 pm. For updates and more information, visit marthasvineyard.splashthat.com.