How Spin Class Gurus Hypnotized Hollywood

Emmanuel Walker

It's not just spinning's 800-calories-an-hour burn rate that has producers and execs flocking. It's the motivation and validation: "We're in an industry where people root for your failure," says Eli Roth. "In SoulCycle, you don't feel that."

"There's a reason you didn't go to Runyon Canyon this morning. There's a reason you chose to be in a dark room."

Roarke Walker, one of SoulCycle's most popular instructors, is speaking to his packed Saturday morning class, people who have waited six long days for this 8:30 session in West Hollywood, people whose mouse fingers (or, more aptly, assistants' mouse fingers) hovered just above this slot and the bike they prefer as it turned noon on Monday and the schedule opened up. People who will probably, hopefully, smell better later in the day.

Roarke, who is actor-handsome, tan and calm and hard to see in this dark room, is part of the new breed of cycling instructor who is fitness guru, DJ and lighting designer all in one. They are here for him.

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It's dark, and the music -- hip-hop mashups with Lorde and Bush and even Snow Patrol thrown in -- is so, so loud. Roarke stands and tells his disciples to start tapping back, which means he wants their rears to touch the seat for a second, then move forward, all to the beat.

"Go," says Roarke. "Find out what you don't know." He points toward the back of the room, so that they all tap back again. He points to himself, they lean forward. And back. And forth. It is tempting to think of him as Moses, but was the Red Sea as eager as these riders? As obedient?

Roarke mounts his bike again, which is surrounded by candles, and there is a surge in the music timed with a sudden spotlight on him and him alone. No, he is not Moses. Moses had a lisp and a lot of hesitations. Rather, he is Jesus, bathed in light, a strong arm and definitive message.

After 45 minutes, this dark room whose thermostat is set to 74 degrees will be darker and so humid that one rider won't be able to discern where her sweat ends and her neighbor's sweat begins. A woman will leave in tears, telling her friend: "That felt good. I needed that." There's a puddle on the floor of the bike next to mine, which is either spilled water or way more sweat than a human should be able to contain.

In SoulCycle's locker area and small bathrooms, you might enter unable to comprehend why such a wealthy population as Hollywood execs would subject themselves to such close quarters. But you'd leave understanding it.

Indoor cycling isn't new. Anyone who has been around L.A. long enough remembers Todd Tramp and Body & Soul; and certainly YAS Fitness Centers and the Equinox gyms still do their share of business in the cycling department (Equinox bought SoulCycle in 2011 but hasn't incorporated it into its gyms).

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But a new wave of cycling spots has invaded L.A. sparked by the arrival of SoulCycle -- whose fans include Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba and Brooke Shields -- with its 2012 launch in West Hollywood. This year, its New York archrival, Flywheel, began a West Coast incursion with the debut of two SoCal outposts in the past few months. Another, Aura Cycle, bowed in April in West Hollywood. And SoulCycle now has three locations, including Santa Monica and Brentwood (where Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow are regulars), with a Beverly Hills studio scheduled to open in mid-September and a location in Malibu at the end of 2014. Thanks to the well-nurtured (and pretty ingenious) cult of celebrity that surrounds these instructors, even the most jaded, trend-averse exercisers admit that stationary cycling is staying put.

At another West Hollywood spin shop, 2-year-old Cycle House, Nichelle Hines has a packed 5:15 p.m. Monday class. The soundtrack is Kanye-heavy, and she doesn't stop shouting inspiration: She calls the riders "babies," but affectionately -- "Leave your ego out of this, my babies, you can do it!" -- and talks about her former weight problems. She cycles while she talks but is never out of breath. She dismounts intermittently and crouches in front of certain bikes, whispering: "What are you going to show me today? Better yet, what are you going to show you?"

"She's a badass," says Slate PR partner Simon Halls. "I don't necessarily go because it's spiritually motivational. I go because she never lets up and never lets you off the hook."

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