By Mara Abbott, Special to The Denver Post
Editor’s note: Mara Abbott was a professional cyclist for a decade and competed at the 2016 Olympic Games.
The bass was pumping and the lights were flashing. The people around me shouted with joy and excitement, and a few had tears welling up in their eyes. A row of thighs pumped in perfect time to the music.
I was in the middle of an indoor cycling class on my ’round-the-city exploration of Denver’s latest fitness trend. If you thought that indoor cycling was just a ride to nowhere in awkwardly padded shorts, you, like me, likely have a bit of catching up to do.
Turns out, whether you crave a spiritual awakening, a night at the club (complete with a disco ball) or are training for a race, there is a class for you, because Denver’s indoor-cycling scene is booming.
It’s not a new concept by any means. People have been pedaling their hearts out on stationary indoor bikes for decades. (And you can’t call it “spinning” anymore, since that word was trademarked in 1994 by Mad Dogg Athletics.) The trend of stand-alone cycling studios, however, has really picked up in the last 10 years.
Three of the six studios I visited around Denver had opened in the last two years, and two of those three have plans to launch additional locations in 2019.
Not a cyclist at all? Don’t worry. Many of the classes I found resemble outdoor riding only in the way that your legs pump in circles. No experience is necessary, evidenced by the fact that at four of the six studios, instructors told me the hardest part about being a new rider was clipping into the cycling pedals. (However, I used to race bikes, so for me that was not actually true. Across the board, my biggest indoor cycling challenge was moving in time to the music.)
Many of the trendy, new-model gyms have been criticized by some in the indoor-cycling establishment, most vocally from Jennifer Sage, a master instructor. She and other detractors contend that the classes don’t provide an effective workout, don’t create an opportunity for sustained progress, and their dynamic standing moves could set some riders up for injury.
While it’s true that many of my instructors had bios that focused on gymnastics, dance and yoga more than bicycles, it’s also probably true that the average SoulCycle client isn’t overly concerned about setting a new record up Lookout Mountain.
“Some workouts are just designed as stand-alone training sessions to make people work hard and sweat a lot,” said Chris Carmichael, a Hall of Fame cycling coach and founder of Colorado Springs-based CTS, one of the most prominent endurance coaching companies in the country.
That description was apropos for many of the workouts I attended, all of which I finished out of breath and with a glisten of perspiration. I was never entirely sure why I was doing what I was doing, and even less certain that it was part of a strategic, progressive training plan. But loud music, packed studios and high-energy instructors conspired to make me quite certain that it was very important that I keep it up.
Unfortunately, the privilege to pedal at these studios doesn’t come without a cost.
With the notable exception of the YMCA, one 45-minute class plus shoe rental at any of these locations can set you back between $20 and $31. Many studios will offer a discounted first class as an introduction.
For those ready to slip into a pair of cycling shoes, the best studio is the one you enjoy and will return to.
“The accountability and social connections from group training are key to keeping people engaged in exercise programs. Any safe way to encourage people to get more exercise is a good thing.” Carmichael said in a vote of support — and that was even before he knew there was a disco ball.
Before we get into the trendy new cyling gyms, let’s start with old faithful: the YMCA.
Read the breakdown of Denver’s studios on The Know Outdoors.