A dozen people wearing formfitting workout clothes climbed onto stationary bikes in a cool, dim, dance club-like room.
“Are you guys ready to rock it?” instructor Michelle Sprando shouted as 2Pac’s “California Love” piped through unseen speakers. Red LED lights glowed underneath the new stationary bicycles as participants began pedaling. The bikes’ belts hummed like a choir. Several women, with their hair pulled into ponytails, unrolled hand towels and spread them across the handlebars.
They were here to sweat at Bend’s latest boutique indoor cycling studio. (Another luxe spin studio, JoyCycle541, opened in 2016.)
“Inhale and let your exhale relax you,” Sprando said through a headset, churning her legs and lifting up her toned arms. “Loosen up your upper body and channel your energy into your legs.”
In recent years, spin studios such as CycleBar have become a nationwide phenomenon, particularly in large cities. SoulCycle, started in 2006, and Flywheel Sports (which was started by a departed SoulCycle founder), in 2010, are the spin studios with the greatest name recognition. Between them, the high-end and privately held studios have around 130 locations.
CycleBar, however, whose newest location opened on June 7 in the Old Mill District and features a new open-plan layout, has surpassed both spin studios. Today, CycleBar is the largest indoor cycling operation, with more than 150 studios throughout the country, along with locations in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; London; and Vancouver, British Columbia.
Founded in Boston in 2004 by brother and sister Bill Pryor and Alex Klemmer, CycleBar was originally called Spynergy. The company rebranded to CycleBar in 2014 and began franchising the next year, according to Boston Magazine. CycleBar’s closest premium cycling studio competitors are the SoulCycle and Flywheel Sports locations in the Seattle area, while separate, smaller operations exist in Portland and Eugene.
Local franchise owner Stefanie Nelson and her husband, Kirk Nelson, a financial consultant, moved to Bend in early 2016. They wanted to start a business that would engage them with the community, she said. Last year, they realized Bend was ripe for its first dedicated spin studio. Stefanie Nelson began the franchisee application process with CycleBar. While many are drawn to Bend for its wealth of bike shops and cycling options, Nelson said she’s not trying to pack her 50-bike studio with the cycling community.
“Outdoor cyclists want to be outside. If they want to come during the winter and get extra training, that’s great,” said Nelson, seated at a patio table outside her studio. “But our target market is the soccer mom who drops her kid off at school and then goes to exercise. It’s the millennials who don’t make a whole bunch of money but spend what they make on premium things. Our third market is the empty nester who moved here, and they’ve got time and disposable income. They retired, and they want to stay fit.”
In the saddle of luxury
CycleBar members pay monthly fees; pricing begins at $109 for early birds and levels out at $169. By comparison, SoulCycle and Flywheel Sports charge customers $30 or more for a 45-minute session.
CycleBar’s session reservations are made on its website, where users can pick their instructor and their bike’s location in the room. Encouraged to arrive 15 minutes early, participants check in at mounted iPads. Those who don’t arrive with their own cycling shoes are lent a pair made by Specialized. Shiny white cubbyhole lockers provide a safe place to store street clothes, valuables and cell phones, which are not allowed inside the CycleTheatre, or the spin room. Bowls of apples, bananas and portions of energy bars are spread on a table. Customers can grab red plastic bottles to fill up at a refrigerated fountain next to a tap that pours complementary Boneyard Beer’s RPM IPA — post-workout recovery fuel. Free mimosas are offered on Sundays. Eleven “cyclestars,” or instructors, offer classes 7 days per week from 5:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.
There’s more to leading a spin class than being fit.
“You have to command a room and keep people focused,” co-owner Nelson said. “You’re really an entertainer: You’re up there, you’re leading the crowd, you’re part fitness instructor, part DJ. No two classes should be the same.”
‘A different experience’
Ashley Chase first noticed CycleBar when it was under construction. The company’s presence in local social media threads reminded the 30-year-old Bendite to return. That she showed up at the third-ever class at this location was a coincidence. Chase booked a spot in the second row, near the center, because the more prominent front row was booked up. Chase first experienced a high-end spin studio experience at one of Burn Cycle’s four locations in Portland. She was similarly enthused about her CycleBar experience. During the first few minutes, Sprando, the instructor, warmed up the class with easy spinning before leading them on a variety of tempos, resistances (users adjust a gear nob at Sprando’s prompting) and sprints. Sprando then led the class in a upper body weight routine — 5-pound rods are holstered at the side of the machines.
“It was awesome. I loved it,” said Chase, who mixes CrossFit, a dance workout and trail running into her fitness regimen. She was confident she could hang on with the instructor’s pace throughout the 45-minute workout. She intends to return to CycleBar every other week.
“They seem very put-together,” said Chase, who last year began her own company — Birdseed Food Co., which makes gluten-free, organic granola. “(CycleBar) feels like a big company; they really know what they’re doing.”
Chase previously worked as a Zumba dance fitness instructor. The toughest part about leading a workout is “maintaining high energy throughout the class. You have to exert a lot of energy to pour into these people,” she said.
Sprando, whose attention to the group didn’t falter despite leading the demanding, mostly-out-of-the-saddle workout, has been a fitness instructor since 2003. In the multi-generational playlists Sprando, 49, curates for her classes, she favors songs with catchy beats and others with immediate recognizability.
“I want people to know they could sing along,” Sprando said.
Toward the end of the workout, Beyonce’s power ballad “Halo” came on. The song inspired Sprando to tell a personal anecdote. This moment is called the “connect song,” where CycleBar instructors “show their vulnerable side, open up and become relatable,” Nelson said. Sprando told the class about finding a way to forgive a road-raging driver who broke her son’s nose.
“I have to remember that this person is someone’s son, maybe someone’s father or brother,” Sprando said during class. “This is someone who may have momentarily lost his halo.”
After Sprando’s class, Chase was energized. She had placed well on the class’s performance board that flashed overhead and organized participants’ efforts according to wattage and revolutions per minute. She, like the other customers, would soon receive an email with those stats, along with Sprando’s playlist for future listening.
“I got second place! I liked the competition,” Chase said. “If I had gone on a bike ride, I probably wouldn’t have pushed myself that hard. I put it in a different category. (Directed, indoor cycling) is more than a workout; it’s a release,” Chase said. “They guide you through a journey of pushing yourself really hard. Just when you think you’ve tried your hardest, they make you try a little harder. It’s a different experience.”
The next morning, several women in their 30s chatted after a 9:15 a.m. session. They agreed that they loved the studio’s dim lighting, the proximity of the bikes and the music selection. Gayle Moulton, 68 and from Bend, stood nearby and removed her earplugs. A friend encouraged her to bring them to muffle the music’s volume, but the warning wasn’t warranted. Moulton intends to make CycleBar a regular thing.
“I felt welcomed,” said Moulton, who also works out at barre3 Bend, which offers full-body workouts. “I didn’t feel intimidated about keeping up. Everyone here is gracious and friendly.”
Nearby, Jan Switzer, 66, and Curt Switzer, 70, were riding town bikes along the Deschutes River Trail in the sunshine. Visiting from Eugene, the pair enjoyed the songbirds and the sight of kayakers floating by. While the Switzers sometimes attend spin classes at their local gym, they’d rather ride bikes outside.
“We like the sun,” Curt said. “That’s why we came to Bend.”
(Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version omitted the name of a different luxe spin studio. JoyCycle541 opened in 2016. The Bulletin regrets the error.)
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, email@example.com