4.07.2012

Cult in L.A. worships something other than Satan...

enjoying the post-workout glow with Joni Kempner and Karina Smirnoff
They worship the bike. No, not the fixed-gear bikes hipsters use to annoy car drivers. Not even regular exercise bikes, which these cult members laugh off as passe. There's a new bike in town, and if you aren't with the program, you'll be ridiculed.

I was invited to a Soul Cycle kickoff party on the Sunset Strip. US Weekly was hosting it, gift bags were present and Dancing with the Stars' Karina Smirnoff was there to sweat it out with us. The staff was great, but it was the Soul Cycle groupies I found most curious.

They laughed when I walked into the studio wearing my sneakers. Why? Because I needed to be specially fit with bike shoes that "lock in." I asked, "You mean, you don't just slide your sneaker into that strap on the pedal?" More laughter. "The strap? The strap?!" they ogled, in pure amazement. Then, as I hobbled in wearing high-tech robo-booties,  they smugly explained that exercise bikes have been using special lock-in footwear for years. "But, I just took a bicycling class, and we had regular pedal straps. "Where?" they demanded. The Santa Monica YMCA. More laughter. They would never spend less than $10 on a workout class. (Based on research, a Soul Cycle class can cost up to $25 - $30, and an article in New York reported that it cost one customer $1,800 a month, though it was always too crowded to get a seat.) With a series of snaps and bangs, my Buck Rogers-inspired footwear was locked in, and I could not break free. "What if I have to use the restroom during class?" I pleaded. The laughing continued. I began to wonder why they'd need to take a bicycling class. These groupies were getting a great ab workout at my expense. After watching me struggle, they told me that if I needed to go to the restroom, that I could untie my shoes and walk into the bathroom barefoot. Yep, barefoot in a public bathroom, as if I were Kevin Federline.

Suddenly, the room was pitch black. Nightclub lights flashed on, and pop music rattled the mirrors on the walls. Our instructor was peppy, demanding we "push ourselves" though his headset microphone. This is when I realized the groupies were much more than that. They were full-on cult members. And the New York Post agrees!  As does ABC Nightline, among others. I was already impressed by their Soul Cycle-inspired bicycling outfits; skintight moisture-wick material with rock-and roll accents, like hot pink sheer netting or metal studs. But it was their in-class contribution that pushed them into cult territory. When the club music played and we started pedaling, they whooped and hollered with reckless abandon.They even did that outdated rave call, "Ooooh?! Oooh?!" They loved the peppy instructor with the headpiece, encouraging him to play that Katy Perry song as if he were the hottest DJ in town. That's what he was to them. They kept calling it a "cardio party." They fist pumped, they danced in their seats and in the strobe lights, I caught one pouring water over her head, eyes closed as if she were in a Whitesnake video.

Did it feel like a party? Absolutely not. Karina Smirnoff compared it to childbirth, and we got the room so hot that we could no longer see our purple-flushed faces in the mirrors, because they were positively dripping with condensation. Was it a great workout? Yes it was, and the staff was very kind. But as the cult members shuffled out, they high-fived proudly, as if in on this secret about the "hottest club in town." One said that Soul Cycle changed her life, and others nodded in agreement. How can one be self-righteous about a bicycling class, or let it define them? I think until everyone calms down a bit, I should get on a non-stationary bike and pedal away.

But if you want an intense workout while taking in this entertaining spectacle, I certainly recommend Soul Cycle. It may not change your life, but it will change your body.

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