WALKING INTO THE NEW Flywheel Sports at CityCenterDC, I was already sweating from the 94-degree heat, which seemed like a bad sign. I am lightly active on a good day, trending towards sedentary. But even someone as exercise-averse as I am has heard the recent buzz about spin classes (word on the street is that SoulCycle is the secret behind Michelle Obama’s arms). So with the opening of FlyWheel’s second location, I put on my rarely used sneakers and got ready to pedal.
First mistake, I didn’t actually need sneakers. Turns out FlyWheel provides special bike shoes that clip onto the pedals. The wall of sizes behind the front desk momentarily transported me to a bowling alley, but a quick look around set me straight. The space was sleek and polished—more spa than gym. Featuring a “stadium” with 73 bikes, and a smaller studio for their Barre classes with 22 mats, the CityCenter spot has a slightly larger capacity than the first location in Dupont Circle. The second location opened just weeks ago, but classes are already filling up, especially in the early morning and evening. On a Wednesday afternoon at 12:30, my 45-minute class was less than half full, but FlyWheel Manager Jenny Zemel says that the studio hopes to see this “lunch break” slot grow in the future. You have the option of signing up for individual classes or membership. A single class costs $28, but you can buy several at once for a discount. For example, five classes are $130 at $26 per class; 10 classes, $250 at $25/class, and so on). Membership is $300 a month for access to unlimited FlyWheel or FlyBarre classes, and $350 for both options.
But before I considered how many classes I would take every week or month, I had to try one myself. There were a few things I expected, based on my hazy knowledge of what a spin class is. I expected the room of empty bikes facing the instructor, raised on a platform. I expected the ongoing motivational aphorisms (“Embrace the pain,” “Close your eyes and find the thing that pushes you,” “Halfway there, don’t think, just ride”). I didn’t expect the circular room to black out when the class started, with glowing blue accent lights on the bikes and walls. It was kind of like being in an alien spaceship, which made me think that they missed an obvious opportunity to utilize a “running from an alien invasion” storyline to motivate riders to go faster. I also didn’t expect the instructor to be spotlighted, elevating his vaguely god-like status. However, I told myself that this was a good thing, since it meant he couldn’t see when I slowed down to a crawl somewhere during each “sprint” and stayed firmly in my seat when we were supposed to be standing on the bike. Speaking of my underperformance—I also was not expecting the class to be so hard.
Talking to my instructor, Rich, afterward, it seems that I fell into the same trap of many first-time riders. He told me that most people come in imagining it will be something like riding a bike as a kid—no sweat (wrong, there will definitely be a lot of sweat). As it turns out, FlyWheel classes are a lot more complex. Everything from the exercises to the bike shoes are designed to work specific muscles. New riders tend to push themselves to match the class without understanding how to control and use their muscles correctly. For example, Rich cautioned against simply pushing the pedals as hard as possible, like you would as a kid. Instead, the workout depends on your ability to use your whole body, pushing the pedal but then controlling the motion and pulling it through with different muscles. He warned that it usually takes about three to five classes before you really feel comfortable and can complete the full circuit the instructor does. Unfortunately no one mentioned this to me beforehand, so I felt a little bummed watching my fellow bikers breeze through the sprints, hills and whatnot while I just tried not to faint.
But sweat, pain and exhaustion aside, I did enjoy the class. The music (handpicked by the instructor; Rich prefers heavy bass) keeps the class moving smoothly, and the time went by much faster than expected. The constant motivation from the front of the room got frustrating at times, but as someone who would gladly stop at the first sign of struggle if left to her own devices, it made me push harder than I normally would. After all, you have to live by the FlyWheel motto: “Never coast.”
— Emily Harburg
MyLittleBird intern Emily Harburg last posted on her experience seeing the Robert Irwin exhibit at the Hirshhorn.