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testing indoor cycle spin classes

We’ve all heard about the cult of Soul Cycle in the US, but now, as Australia finally joins the party, our writer Saskia Tillers books in a rhythm-riding class to determine whether this fitness trend is really everything it’s cracked up to be.

When I turn up at Cycology Club in Surry Hills for the first time, I have to admit that I’m a tad nervous about what awaits me.

Sure, I’ve done the odd spin class at my gym, ride my bike regularly, and do some form of exercise every day, but this particular beast – rhythm riding – I’ve never tried. While I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of it, especially given the infamy of die-hard Soul Cycle fans in America, (and the myriad pop culture references, in everything from Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty, to Broad City), I struggled to find many equivalents in Sydney, anywhere remotely near where I live or work.

Cue Cycology Club, which happens to be located just around the corner from my new office. I excitedly book myself in for a beginner class, figuring that I’ll start easy, and quickly move up the levels as each week passes. Oh, how naïve I was!

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Hidden away, far below the street level, I find Cycology, which in all seriousness does actually resemble a nightclub – with plenty of exposed concrete, iron and wooden finishes – and that’s before you even start the class.

I’m ushered into a dark room filled with bikes, and familiarize myself with the one I’ve been allocated. We warm up slowly, and make sure each cycle of our legs is in time with the dance/pop hit being blasted out of the speakers. As well as enjoying the tunes, I find myself thinking, “Piece of cake – I’m nailing this!”

Cut to 15 minutes in, and I’m pretty sure I’m dying. The majority of the class is spent up off the seat (like you’re riding up a hill), not sitting and pedaling, and my poor little legs are failing me. As it turns out, in the hundreds of years since I last worked them this hard, I must’ve lost every single ounce of those once-impressive leg muscles I’d built up over my years doing ballet in high school. This. Is. Hard. Work.

And yet, the very perky teacher keeps my spirits high, with his encouragement and regular check-ins on how we’re all doing, and I feel myself smiling through my sweat. It’s also clear that I’m not the only one having a good time.

I have to admit, when the guy cycling next to me lets out his first few “Woo!”’s, it does throw me a bit – not only as it’s been such a bloody long time since I’ve been at a place where people yell things, like a music gig or sports match – but also because he genuinely does seem so psyched. He’s truly “riding the high”, as they say in the biz.

The brain behind Cycology Club, David Finnimore, initially started indoor cycling after he’d moved overseas. “Living in the States and Hong Kong in a fairly hedonistic lifestyle – it was 45 minutes to myself to keep my sanity,” he tells Body+Soul. “But it became much more than that.”

There’s been plenty of research done into the psychological benefits of cycling, with a 2018 survey even claiming that 75% of respondents noticed an improvement in their mental health after cycling. “Exercise, and intensive cardiovascular training in particular has long been one of the many tools used to help manage mental health and conditions like anxiety and depression,” Finnimore says. “And at Cycology, we don’t only focus on the body, we focus on how we make you feel.”

He explains that when he first opened the aptly named Cycology Club, there were no other rhythm-based spin classes in Sydney. “When I talked about spin, people instantly thought of the RPM-style classes you might get at a [gym] where you’re instructed to follow the road, climb the hill, and sprint,” he says. “Rhythm riding is very different – it’s soulful, beat-based, and scalable. We incorporate principles of mindfulness and meditation into our class and include weight tracks where we work the upper body, giving you a complete full-body workout.”

As a stressed out yogi, I’m particularly amenable to any extra meditation in my day, so that’s yet another box Cycology ticks for me. At the end of the class, as we’re letting our heart rates decrease, our instructor guides us through some gentle breathing and meditation to ensure we’re finishing class and heading out into the world on the right foot.

And the cherry on top? A delectably icy fresh towel to mop my now-beetroot-coloured face with. I look around the room at all the utterly exhausted but happy faces around me and can’t help but grin. All in all, Cycology Club has been everything, if not more than what I’d hoped it would be– a helluva workout, a fun, pump-up vibe and a substantial sprinkling of mindfulness.

PSA: For the next five days, I can barely walk up the stairs to my apartment. But because I’m a sucker for punishment, I immediately book in my next class.

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