The Big Three
If you are a basketball fan, when you hear “The Big Three” you may think Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - or, LeBron James, D. Wade and Chris Bosh (yup, we playing favorites). Or, maybe you think of Ice Cube’s 3-on-3 professional basketball league (We see you Lisa Leslie). When we think of “The Big Three,” we’re talking the biggest in the studio game: SoulCycle, CycleBar and Flywheel.
These three brands have been around for a while now and you seriously, how much can be different when it comes to stationary, indoor cycling? That’s what we are here to break down for you. In an already crowded market, these three studios have had to differentiate their culture, offering and clientele to have staying power. But, which is the best fit for you?
Founded in 2006 with a single cycling studio on New York City's Upper West Side, SoulCycle is considered the studio that started it all. The company has grown to over 100 locations. We love the fact that it was founded by three women.
The Vibe: SoulCycle is most known for it’s strong motivational vibes and almost cult-like following where riders implement choreography on a stationary bike. The studio encourages members to forge a connection and build a community with each other. There a saying, “If you have never cried on your bike, did you even Soul?”
SoulCycle instructors are as much entertainers as they are fitness professionals. Each instructor brings their own personality to class via their playlist. You can typically expect to hear Top 40, Hip Hop, Pop Rock and a lot of EDM while in the studio.
The Bike: SoulCycle’s bikes are exclusive to the brand and were recently updated across studios in 2017. The new bike models are sleeker and pack more power with just a small punch, or twist of the knob to add resistance. There are no computers or data measurement tools.in class. However, the company did introduce Soul Beat, an app that can track your progress in class and if your stride is keeping in sync with the beat.
Just a Spin Studio: There is the original, a 45-minute ride that incorporates inspirational coaching, "rockstar" music, and hand weights for a total body workout. The Soul Survivor (60 minutes) and Soul Challenge (90 minutes) classes expand on the SoulCycle original.
Note: SoulCycle did beta-test a studio in New York of classes off the bike. They included cardio, strength and stretch/recover classes. The studio has since permanently closed and many reviews questioned why SoulCycle would expand into the traditional space when they have such an immense following and format that has immensely succeeded. (We have thoughts on this to come later.)
Pricing: SoulCycle classes start at $34 per class. There’s also a $3 fee to rent shoes and $2 fee for a water bottle. So a single class can run $39. A pack of five classes starts at $175 and packages go up from there, ranging to a 30 class package at $900+, depending on the studio.
Pros / Cons: There is definitely an atmosphere and a scene when it comes to SoulCycle. That is both its pro and con. The motivation factor is real, tapping into what fuels you is invigorating and there are certain instructors who just know how to PREEEAAACH (Hey, Angela Davis!). The studio is also swanky. It does not apologize for appealing to a certain crowd. The instructors have amassed large, celebrity-like followings across social media. It’s known that this is where Beyonce, Big Sean, Michelle Obama and many others get their spin in…and at times you feel all of that “extraness.”
While SoulCycle is credited with starting it all, CycleBar was founded two years prior in 2004. The studio was launched by a brother-sister duo whose vision was to bring spin studios to under-served areas, including suburban markets beyond the coasts.
The Vibe: If SoulCycle is all about connecting with yourself and the community of riders around you, Cyclebar feels like its rock star little cousin. This place is all about the music and pace. With huge TVs that flank the front of each room, and a leaderboard ranking system, riders can compete against each other to make it to first place.
Instructors are known as “Cyclestars” and are there to coach and lead the class through an engaging and interactive experience. The company also created CycleBeat. Its own proprietary playlist database.
The Bike: It was not easy to locate the brand of bike CycleBar uses, but it looks like many of their studios have upgraded to a 2.0 version of the bike as recent as the top of 2019. The new bikes are credited with having intuitive pedal stroke which gives riders more real-time credit for pedaling faster. This encourages the rider to lighten the “heavy” and create power through speed.
Just a Spin Studio: Same as SoulCycle, CycleBar does not offer classes off the bike. They do offer different levels of spin class. The Performance class really pushes the technology piece of the studio with rider competitions and group challenges. Connect offers riders the chance to unplug. The studio turns off the leaderboard and really promotes their stadium/sanctuary feel. Cyclegives are classes with a charity component, and Video Rides are typically themed to certain artists or music genres. These are usually a lot of fun due to the music videos showing on the studio’s big screens.
Pricing: Single classes range $18-20, depending on the location. Packages are available that drop the per-class price down to as low as $12 per class in some cities. It is billed as the cheaper option of The Big Three.
Pros / Cons: The video rides are truly fun. If you are competitive, the leader board can add as an additional motivator. There does seem to be a good community and camaraderie among clients. However, if you are a first-timer or simply not a regular, that can be a bit off putting.
We’ve always been intrigued by Flywheel. First, one of the SoulCycle founders broke off to start the franchise (juicy). They also seem to pop up everywhere, with a lot less buzz. Founded in 2010 with a mission to be different and better, the studio’s focus is on performance.
The Vibe: Let’s take the following with a grain of salt. There was just something missing when it came to our Flywheel experience. It was a lot less energetic than classes we’ve taken at Soul and CycleBar. It seemed a lot more formulaic with the instructor just going through the motions. Here’s the caveat, the company just announced they would be closing a few studios across the country and just two days after we took a class at Flywheel, we received an email that the studio we rode at would be apart of those closures.
The studio also utilizes technology and a leader board to help track your progress through your ride and ranks you against others in class.
The Bike: Again, it was not easy to locate the brand this studio uses. However, Flywheel does have a branded Flywheel Home Bike. It is the first of The Big Three to enter the at-home space with an offer similar to Peleton. SoulCycle has just announced its new at-home option in the past month.
Just a Spin Studio: This is another differentiation from the other competitors. Flywheel has three spin formats: Method (signature, HIIT ride), Power (More challenging. More hills. No weights used to train the upper body) and Tempo (fuses rhythm riding with core-strengthening athletic movements). They also offer three precision training methods: Fly Barre (low weights & high reps), Fly Fit (functional intense training) and Fly Recover (restorative yoga and sports-inspired stretching).
Pricing: Individual classes cost $32-36. But if you buy ten rides, it’ll cost you $24/ride. Or $300/month gets you 12 classes, which brings it down to $25/ride.
Pro / Con: Flywheel is more of a one-stop-shop with its focus on cycle and additional class formats. We see more smaller boutique offerings in various cities with space for multiple types of classes. So there is more bang for your buck. However, there is a sparkle missing to this studio and we just can’t put our fingers on why.
Have you tried SoulCycle, CycleBar, or Flywheel? Every compared your experiences across them? What do you think? We want to know. Drop us a line on IG or Facebook. You can also leave us a comment below! We want to chat all about it.