When I first moved to New York City in early 2016, all I knew about indoor cycling came from an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In the scene Kimmy is entranced by an enigmatic instructor at a place meant to resemble a posh city studio. It’s basically a cult in which the instructor spouts out self-help pablum that both helps riders to find their “zen” and incentivizes them to clamor for the coveted front-row bikes.
Fast-forward three years later: As a devout indoor cyclist and instructor, I can tell you that this interpretation of an indoor cycling class is only half true. Classes can be cultish and overly competitive at times—and I give total credence to that stereotype. But they don’t just breed competition—they can also create an amazing sense of community. Believe it or not, indoor cycling played a pivotal role in assimilating me to a new city.
Here’s the story: I was virtually friendless, reeling from a recent long-distance breakup and trying to find my place when I moved to New York City from Arizona at age 26. One particularly lonely day, I took an indoor cycling class at a neighborhood studio. From the pounding bass of the music to the flashing strobe lights to the pseudo-spiritual vibe conjured up with candles, I was in love. I was a regular from that day forward. And for the first time since I moved cross-country, I was a part of a community. Instructors and riders knew my name and expected to see me. Not only that, but for one of the first times in my life I began to truly enjoy exercising.
But in late 2018, and about two years into my love affair with indoor cycling, I noticed what felt like a pretty sizable shift that occurred in the industry: the cycling at home phenomenon. Of course, stationary bikes are nothing new—my own mother owned one in the 1980s. But what companies like Peloton, Flywheel, and even SoulCycle are trying to do by offering stationary bikes outfitted with tech that allows you to virtually join live and on-demand classes is to bring all the elements that beckon people to packed classes—the competition with other riders, instructor-curated playlists, and ability to track your progress over time—to individual riders in their own homes.
Naturally I was (and am) pretty skeptical about the at-home cycling trend. When you take away the surround-sound music and drive to pedal faster than the rider who’s actually next to you, what’s really left in an indoor cycling class? I fell in love with indoor cycling mainly because of these attributes, so a class held within the confines of my 350 square-foot apartment seemed hardly appealing.
Still I was curious. Curious enough to say yes when Flywheel offered me access to try the Flywheel Home Bike for free with both live and on-demand classes for a month. Would they be as enjoyable and challenging as in-person classes? I endeavored to find out. Here are my big revelations after trying at-home indoor cycling classes for a month.
First things first: The bike is definitely an investment, and the on-demand class service costs extra. Flywheel’s Home Bike is a fully functioning (and enormous) indoor bike you’d see in any studio. For a bike like mine with a built-in television to stream the class the cost was $ 2,287, which included delivery and assembly and a one-year warranty. For those same services but without a screen, the total comes to $ 1,987 (in which case you can stream the workouts via a handheld device like an Android or iPhone, or cast to a nearby Apple TV or Chromecast).
It’s important to note that the bike doesn’t include two key components you need to use it and participate in the classes: the $ 128 clip-in shoes (although any shoes with Look Delta cleats will work) and the actual subscription to classes, which costs $ 39 per month. The initial fee includes the first month of the membership, but you’ll have to pay monthly after that unless you want to spend the entire $ 468 (for a yearly membership) up front.
Although the prices vary by city (Flywheel is currently available in 19 regions and cities), in-person membership packages in New York City are $ 36 for a single class, $ 175 for a five-package class, and $ 660 for a 20-package class. If you shell out the money for an unlimited monthly membership (which ranges between $ 300 and $ 595 per month in New York City depending on how many studios you want access to), you also get access to their on-demand service (but that doesn’t include purchase of the bike itself).
The workout selection
As for the selection of rides themselves, you can either attend live or on-demand classes that range from 5 to 60 minutes in length. Just like in-person Flywheel classes, they’re grouped into three categories: Method (a high-intensity interval training workout with an arms sequence), Power (a more intense version of Method with increased climbs and sprints), and Tempo (a class that while still incorporating sprints and climbs relies on a rhythm-based style with tap-backs and push-ups).
It’s a fairly extensive offering—there are thousands of classes you can take on any given week, with a selection of new live ones added each day.
The competitive spirit that makes the workouts so intense is still very much present. Of all the indoor cycling classes I’ve taken in New York City, Flywheel’s are the most challenging for me because the instructors offer suggested resistance and speed ranges, and your Power Score (which is an algorithm based on speed and resistance to measure your total energy output) is displayed on a large screen in the class called a TorqBoard (though you can opt out of this if you prefer). On the Home Bike, pretty much the same system applies. The bike tracks your Power Score and the scores of all other riders taking the class, and displays those figures on the dashboard on your screen. And with live classes the instructor can see your name, a small photo of you, and your score in real time. They may even periodically call out your name (if you’re lucky).
Knowing that no one would actually be watching me ride IRL, I fully expected to slack off using the at-home bike. But on the Home Bike’s dashboard, you’re able to see the nicknames and a small profile image of the people in the class (as well as their location and their scores), so it was impossible for me not to feel at least a momentary surge of motivation. This definitely stoked a competitive spirit even if you can’t see the other cyclists.
But if you live for indoor cycling classes solely because you feel like you’re at a concert, I have some bad news. Even when I had the music turned up full-blast, the beat was sometimes barely detectable. And although you can adjust the volume of both the instructor’s voice and the music separately, I could never quite find the optimal mix. More often than not, the instructor’s voice would be overly loud. So this was one area where the at-home experience didn’t quite match the energy of a live class.
The convenience factor
The “I just can’t make it to the gym today” thing is pretty much a nonstarter.
Part of the struggle for many folks (including myself) in getting to the gym is exactly that: mustering up the motivation, lacing up your sneakers, battling rush hour traffic, and just getting to a place where you can exercise. Plus after a long day of interacting with people at work, oftentimes the last thing I want to do is spar with someone for changing space in the locker room.
Having an at-home bike removed all of those obstacles. Even on days where I was utterly exhausted coming home from work, I’d feel compelled to start a class with the giant bike staring at me. I’d reason with myself that I’d only have to ride for 10 minutes with lackluster effort. Who would be watching anyway?
Any time this would happen, however, I’d regularly find myself completing the entire class. I’d also ride the bike at times you couldn’t have paid me to exercise before, like past 7 o’clock or before 6 in the morning. This was especially helpful when my workload increased substantially at my job, which might have impacted my ability to find time to exercise without having the bike.
By the end of my 30-day period with the bike, I’d never felt so strong during sprints, climbs, and pushes. My Power Score average increased, too, giving actual evidence to my perceived strength increase.
The bottom line
So will I swap my IRL classes for at-home classes for good? The fact that I was doing workouts on par difficulty-wise with in-person classes, coupled with how easy it was to get cardio in, made the Flywheel Home Bike addicting. When I went back to taking in-person classes after my trial with the bike, I achieved my highest ever score. Although this might’ve been attributed to the instructor hovering over my dashboard throughout the ride, I’d like to think that the strength I’d amassed from daily riding at home contributed to the score.
Regardless of the reason for my uptick in strength, I never grew attached to indoor cycling classes because I wanted to be stronger or faster. I signed up for my first class because I wanted to be a part of a community when I was lonely and depressed—to have someone, even if it was just the instructor, acknowledge me by name. So while there’s no doubt I’ll continue to ride the Home Bike on days where I can’t muster the motivation to leave my apartment (or when I have only soiled, smelly leggings to pick from when I’m too lazy to do laundry), my love for in-person indoor cycling classes will keep me primarily trekking to studios in the meantime.