Where Should You Go for Indoor Cycling?

An inside look at how cycling at fitness clubs and boutique studios compares.

Should you take an indoor cycling class at a fitness club or go to one of the trendy boutique cycling studios? Ah, decisions, decisions! There are pros and cons to each venue so it’s smart to consider the details before you sign on for one or the other. Granted, there’s considerable variation from one fitness club to another and from one boutique studio to the next. What the different indoor-cycling venues typically have in common are high-decibel music, dance-club level lighting, and classes lasting 45 to 60 minutes each.

Beyond that, here’s a general look at how the two venues compare:

Cycling Studios at Fitness Clubs

Pros: At fitness clubs, it’s basically one-stop shopping. In addition to cycling classes, you have options for cross training, including strength-training workouts, stretching classes (often including yoga), and other cardio workouts. And it’s all typically included in a flat monthly fee so you can get a big fitness bang (and plenty of choices) for your buck. Plus, at a health club, you can always do a solo ride on the cardio floor. And you have the benefit of a full locker room (with showers, saunas, hair dryers, and more).

Cons: Depending on the health club, there may or may not be cycling classes at times that appeal to you; many studios have them early in the morning and in the early evening, but not in between, during the week and only on weekend mornings. Because the bikes are just one type of fitness equipment among many, they may not be as well maintained as they could or should be.

Instructors’ styles can vary considerably; there’s no prescribed style for the entire club so you won’t know what you’re going to get until you try a particular instructor’s class.

Clientele: It’s usually a reflection of the individual health club’s demographics and its geographic location. In other words, it’s highly variable, but typically includes riders of different ages.

The Vibe: Often, no-nonsense. The focus is on riding hard and pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to boost fitness. Classes are usually designed to be a workout, not a form of entertainment. 

Boutique Studios

Pros: At these specialized joints, cycling junkies may find their tribe—namely, fellow fit and driven indoor-cycling enthusiasts. (At local boutique studios, in particular, there’s often a strong sense of community.) There’s no commitment required—you can pay as you ride and come and go as you please; or you can buy a multi-class pass that’s good for several months. The bikes are usually well maintained, and there are often six to nine classes per day with instructors who often have a somewhat similar style.

Cons: You’ll pay a premium for classes (usually $22 to $30 a pop), though there’s often a slight discount (typically 10 to 15 percent) for 20-class packages, which usually expire in 9 months to a year. Often these studios offer cycling exclusively (though Flywheel also offers barre workouts), which means you’d have to go elsewhere for weight training, Pilates, or other workouts. The price of staying fit can quickly add up! The music volume is often extremely high (chains like Soul Cycle provide disposable earplugs—grab them!).

There’s often little attention paid to checking riders’ form, resistance, or breathing patterns; instead, the instructors are focused on creating a mood and generating enthusiasm among riders.

Clientele: It’s somewhat variable but often these studios are filled with millenials; it’s rare (though not unheard of) to find a substantial 50-plus contingent.

The Vibe: It’s often like a nightclub or a dance party on a bike, with instructors acting as DJ’s or VJ’s and setting a high-energy mood on and off the bike (that’s exer-tainment!). Other studios mimic spiritual havens with candlelit rooms.

When you go to any club or boutique for indoor cycling, it’s wise to find out what kinds of certifications (including CPR) are required for instructors.

That’s no guarantee that the cycling classes won’t include contraindicated moves (hey, it happens everywhere!). And chances are (touch wood!), you’ll never need an instructor to administer CPR to you. Nevertheless, requiring instructors to be certified in CPR and to have legitimate indoor cycling training are signs that the venue takes health, fitness, and safety seriously. These are signs you want to see!

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