SoulCycle’s Bike Is Not the Best, but It’s a Wild Ride

If you’ve dabbled in group fitness classes, at least one friend has likely tried to talk you into plunking down $34 for a SoulCycle ride. And even if you haven’t, you’ve probably heard of its cultish fanbase who pedal in club-like, candlelit studios, led by buoyant instructors spouting nonsensical aphorisms that would make a fortune cookie jealous.

But while SoulCycle was the OG boutique fitness studio, it was late to the at-home, on-demand fitness craze—something it’s tried to rectify by launching its own Peloton competitor, the SoulCycle Bike. It’s a solid effort, and there’s a lot to like, but it may not be worth it unless you’re willing to surrender yourself to the SoulCycle “tribe.”

Sleek Design, Hefty Price Tag

SoulCycle is known for being expensive, chic, and all about the vibes. That’s exactly the type of exercise bike the company has made.

This is a nice-looking piece of hardware. My family and in-laws said it made my apartment look “super fancy,” and I get why. It’s got a chic matte black finish, a silver front wheel, and decals with the SoulCycle logo that give it a modern, edgy feel. As far as specs go, you get a 21.5-inch, 1080p full HD touchscreen, wifi, support for ANT+ and Bluetooth 5.0 accessories, and two 8W speakers with a 15W woofer. It’s also a fairly standard footprint too, measuring 62.2 x 22.2 x 53.5 inches (LWH). As for riders, it supports anyone between 4’10” and 6’10” weighing up to 350 pounds.

Overall, I found the build quality quite sturdy, though to be fair I am 5’3″ and on the lighter side. The touch screen was responsive, the resistance knob was easy to use, and my feet never accidentally unclipped no matter how fast I pedaled. (I can’t say the same about the one time I nearly flew off my Flywheel bike.) My one major concern is that if I went too hard on the choreography—yes, SoulCycle makes you do choreography—the handlebar could get wobbly. It was nothing that tightening the adjustable knobs couldn’t fix, but not my favorite thing to happen mid-ride. Another quibble is that the front wheel isn’t exactly silent. You can hear a whirring, but my husband said it wasn’t anything egregious. Just something to keep in mind in this work-from-home era.

Closeup of pedals with SoulCycle logo

Here’s the not-so-great part. The bike itself is a cool $2,500—not including the mandatory 12-month Equinox+ membership for $40 per month (which is waived if you’re already an Equinox member). On the plus side, shipping and handling are included. As with Peloton, you can also finance the bike for around $64.10 per month for 39 months with 0% APR, which even with the monthly app subscription is more affordable than the cheapest Equinox memberships.

One bummer is the bike is clip-in only, meaning if you don’t already have Delta or SPD-compatible cleats you’ll have to buy them. SoulCycle does offer its own shoes, which range from $175-$215. It also sells hand weights for $18-$76, a bike mat for $75, and if you really want that authentic SoulCycle experience, you could also shell out $42 for the SoulCycle x Jonathan Adler Grapefruit Pop candle. There are more affordable bundles if you’re looking to get multiple items, with bike-specific options ranging from $135 to $375. The accessories make the experience better, but the only things you need are the shoes.

Ridiculous Classes, but the Metrics Are Lacking

Do you love it when instructors snap their fingers and scream “YAAAAAAAAAS” while they tell you to “create and own your space” and “manifest your intentions into the universe”? Does an instructor wearing a bedazzled cowboy hat and hollering “yeehaw!” along to the beat of “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” sound like a great time? What about an instructor who makes kissy faces at you while using an acid-wash denim jacket to semi-strip tease to ‘80s rock? How about riding to Luther Vandross while an instructor dispenses valuable life advice like: “If this song isn’t playing at a backyard cookout, don’t eat the potato salad and beware the mac and cheese.” These are all actual things that I heard or saw during the classes I took. If this tickles your fancy, SoulCycle might be right up your alley.

I’m a nerdy metrics girl so the SoulCycle classes left me a bit gobsmacked at first. The classes tend to focus more on the experience and vibe than they do building a skillset. That’s fine! Just not what I gravitate toward. To clarify, this isn’t a knock against the difficulty level. You absolutely will have to mop up your sweat at the end of class.

View of seat, weights, resistance knobs, screen and handlebar
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The Peloton, Flywheel, and Apple Fitness+ cycling classes I’ve taken generally give me something to shoot for, be it a certain cadence, resistance, or exertion level. SoulCycle classes are more about matching a song’s beat, leading with either your right or left leg as an instructor calls out choreography. You’ll get prompts to do tapbacks or handlebar pushups while cycling. (If you swipe right, you can see a “form view,” which is a side-view of an in-studio cyclist who demonstrates how you’re supposed to be doing these moves.) Some Peloton classes (called groove rides) also feature choreography, but every ride I did with SoulCycle involved choreo. In an ‘80s playlist ride, I was told to headbang and whip my ponytail. The instructor in the sparkly cowboy hat told me to mimic swinging a lasso. You don’t have to do these things, but it is part of why people love SoulCycle.

Unfortunately, it also means that instructors are vague. They give some guidance about form, or exertion level, but it’s too nebulous for my taste. Some classes also involve light hand weights, and those parts seemed wildly haphazard to me. Sure, you’ll feel a burn, but I intensely side-eye simply pumping weights at 2x speed for building arm strength. It’s all fine if you’re just trying to move and feel good, but it might be frustrating if you like to track your progress.

As far as what you can track, on screen you can only see cadence, power output, distance traveled and duration. There is no way to measure resistance beyond left is less and right is more. Instructors will only give murky guidance like “a touch to the right” or “take some resistance off.” You won’t get heart rate unless you’ve got an ANT+ compatible device, and even though the bike has an NFC chip, there’s no compatibility with any smartwatches or trackers. Ultimately, I wasn’t too impressed with what I saw on my screen and with the after-ride metrics. I don’t care if I matched the beat 85%—that’s not how I’d choose to gauge progress.

I confess I pedaled furiously to the Ben Swolo scene in The Last Jedi. Sue me.
I confess I pedaled furiously to the Ben Swolo scene in The Last Jedi. Sue me.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Otherwise, the classes are fairly standard. You have the option of about 7-8 live classes a day (mostly 30 or 45 minutes long), where you can see a leaderboard and have instructors give you a shoutout. On-demand cycling classes range from 20-90 minutes, with the bulk lasting 20, 30, or 45 minutes. You can also get shorter “sculpting” classes that focus on using lightweight dumbbells. The playlists are decent, though lacking in the big-name celebrity partnerships that Peloton has, and not as easy to integrate into your personal playlists like Fitness+. Music genres span all the regulars: pop, rock, hip-hop, country, electronic, etc. There’s a huge stable of instructors and you’ll find at least one that you like. (I’m Team Tanysha.)

One note: SoulCycle’s on-demand catalog is not quite as expansive as Peloton’s yet. Last I checked, there were about 400 classes, but I wouldn’t say they’re evenly distributed across skill levels. However, SoulCycle makes up for it by letting you stream Netflix or Disney+ from the screen. You have to have active accounts with both services, and you can’t access the free ride/streaming menu without a Equinox+ account. That said, I found it a great option for when I wasn’t feeling a class.

Peloton, SoulCycle, or Something Cheaper?

If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to get a Peloton or SoulCycle. NordicTrack’s $1,999 S22i Studio Cycle is a decent no-frills bike with adjustable incline, so long as you don’t mind its iFit classes are bleh at best. Echelon also has a range of dupes for around $1,040 to $1,640. If the thought of spending more than $1,000 on an exercise bike gives you hives, you can absolutely find cheaper bikes with good build quality that have holders for tablets to stream whatever on-demand content you like (including Equinox+, Peloton, and everybody else in the game).

But let’s say you’re willing to invest. Peloton or SoulCycle is going to get you the better content, and at the end of the day, that’s what this whole at-home on-demand fitness craze is about. For me, the scales tip in Peloton’s favor. The Equinox+ app is good, but a tad disjointed. The different workout types are from branded studios under the Equinox umbrella. Treadmill runs are Precision Running. Cycling is SoulCycle. Boxing is Rumble. Yoga is Pure Yoga. It’s jarring and the app isn’t quite so intuitively designed. I prefer on-demand apps that have a cohesive identity, kind of like how Peloton, Aaptiv, and Fitness+ approach it. However, don’t take my word for it. I highly recommend taking advantage of free trials for each app and if you’re comfortable, moseying on to a gym to try a brief workout from each.

View of shoes, mat, and lower half of the bike.
The shoes, mat, and weights will cost you extra but make the experience better. Though, all you really need are clip-in shoes.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

In terms of hardware and features, the main difference between Peloton and SoulCycle is that Peloton has been in the digital fitness game longer, so it’s had more time to be thoughtful about its offerings. The Peloton Bike+, which is similarly priced to the SoulCycle Bike, gets you a bigger 24-inch screen that rotates—a game-changer for doing off-bike workouts like yoga, bootcamps, or strength training. If you’re an Apple Watch user, it also supports GymKit for cycling classes. Hell, it even has an auto-follow feature so you have the option of never having to deal with the resistance knob. Not to mention Peloton’s out here dropping new features, including workout playlists and scheduling workout routines. Another pro in Peloton’s favor is you don’t have to use clip-in shoes. You can install your own pedals or toe cages if you want to use your own sneakers. Also, if Bike+ is slightly too premium for you, there’s the option of the OG Peloton bike which is permanently discounted for $1,895 and gets you the vast majority of what makes Peloton great.

However, over the last year, Peloton has also faced months-long shipping delays that have left customers fuming. These have since eased up now that Peloton has made some investments in producing more of its bikes at home and the pandemic is easing. But if you want something now, the wait time for a SoulCycle Bike is only 1-3 weeks. Also, if you already have an Equinox membership or are a die-hard SoulCycle fan, this is the better overall value.

Either way, rest reassured that although this may not be the best smart bike, it’s still an excellent one. While I personally prefer Peloton, I had a ton of fun on the SoulCycle Bike. I may have even let out a “yeehaw” or two of my own.

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