Clubs are keeping pace with the continued popularity of pedaling.
It’s official – indoor cycling has proven it’s a program that’s here to stay. This fact is exemplified by the growth of stand-alone studios such as Flywheel, founded in 2010 with 23 locations, and SoulCycle, founded in 2006 with 29 locations. And clubs operators are taking notice.
One of those operators is Donna Cyrus, the senior vice president of programming for Crunch Fitness, who’s kept an eye on SoulCycle and Flywheel’s growth since the beginning. “I looked at all of the indoor cycling studios popping up everywhere and I thought long and hard about it,” she recalled. “I wondered, what’s the message behind [this growth]?”
Cyrus noticed that although SoulCycle and Flywheel offer different formats, they do have something in common: One form of cycling is all they offer customers. As a result, Cyrus saw an opportunity for Crunch to capitalize on the rising popularity of indoor cycling, and to do it even better.
“I think the message here for us, as a gym, is SoulCycle and Flywheel can only give you one version of cycle,” said Cyrus. “They don’t diversify.”
As a result of this conclusion, in fall 2014 Crunch will launch an updated indoor cycling program called “Ride of Your Life.” The program will feature a multitude of different styles of cycling classes, including rhythmic-based, performance-based and fusion-style classes.
“It’s known that continually doing the same activity can lead to injury and boredom,” said Cyrus. “This is our solution.”
Robert Creech, the president of DAC Fitness in Mississippi, which features the Spinning brand of indoor cycling, has kept an eye on the growth of stand-alone studios as well, and has been surprised by one key aspect. “The most interesting thing [studios] have been able to do is what they charge,” he said. “It’s unreal, and people pay it.” For example, a single class at SoulCycle can cost $40.
Eventually, Creech believes health clubs may have the same opportunity. “As time goes on, you’ll start to see clubs charging extra for cycling,” he said. “It’s really starting to be positioned as a premium option, like personal training.”
However, in order to do so, health clubs need to make their indoor cycling classes an experience — something studios like SoulCycle have done well. “It’s more than just having bikes in a room and an instructor,” explained Creech. “There are a lot of design elements going into cycling rooms now … and the quality of the instructor is important.”
To ensure its cycling instructors are capable of providing a one-of-a-kind experience to members, O2 Fitness in North Carolina looks for qualities that differentiate “good” instructors from “great” ones.
According to Julie Birbilis, O2 Fitness’ Group X manager, the qualities of a “great” instructor include being prepared, approachable and a role model, while knowing the choreography, proper technique and bringing intensity to the class. This goes for instructors teaching any format. At O2 Fitness, members can choose between two formats: O2 Ride, the club’s signature cycling class and the Les Mills RPM program.
“With O2 Ride and RPM, I think the biggest asset to have as an indoor cycling instructor is experience,” continued Birbilis. “Whether that is through riding on your own, or watching the Tour de France — experience will allow you to bring your class through a journey. It will make the class seem real.”
By having great instructors on staff, exciting formats and a one-of-a-kind experience, Cyrus believes Crunch will be in a great position to compete against stand-alone studios. “We as a fitness facility can offer what no other cycling studio can, for a quarter of the price,” she said. “You can get a membership at Crunch for what it would cost for a week’s worth of rides at Flywheel. I think all of us in the fitness industry need to look at the studio trend and think how you can compete.”
Recently, Creech has taken a look at Orangetheory Fitness — specifically, its heart-rate training aspect — and due to the franchise’s success, wondered how he could incorporate tracking into a cycling setting. MYZONE turned out to be the answer.
MYZONE allows clubs to make use of a chest strap and monitoring system that sends information on the wearer’s heart rate, calories burned and effort to a live display. That data can then be accessed in a logbook online or via MYZONE’s Lite App. “The wearable devices let you know exactly how hard you’re working,” he said. “MYZONE has been very popular at our club.”
Creech has also looked into offering “virtual rides” through companies such as Fitness on Demand or Wellbeats, to complement the club’s live indoor cycling offerings. “We’re finding that with people’s schedules, they’re no longer exercising during traditional hours,” he explained. “Virtual rides provide for a convenience factor, which is why we’re looking into it.”
Although indoor cycling has evolved over the years, Creech has come to the realization it’s a program that’s not going away. “It’s one of those things people thought was going to be a trend that would move downward, and instead it has moved upward,” he said. “It’s become even more popular.”
Birbilis attributes the popularity of indoor cycling to a number of different factors. “It is easy on people’s joints, so despite injuries or nagging issues, cycling doesn’t cause pain,” she said. “It makes participants feel good and accomplished. Cycling is addicting … It is unique and I’ve never taken or heard of another group exercise program that makes you feel as good as you do in indoor cycling.”
By Rachel Zabonick