Change is hard and not always for the better. This week, after a months-long hiatus from SoulCycle, I got back on a bike and was greeted with an entirely different system of exercising. The first harbinger of doom was a new set of knobs for seat adjustment. They were smooth and rounded—emblazoned with the SoulCycle logo. The familiar yellow tone lulled me into a false sense of security, which is why I didn’t question why the front of the bike had grown bigger (apparently it’s to hide an electrical panel). It wasn’t until the ride was over that the true evil fully emerged: SoulCycle was quantifying my workout.
This new method, available in all New York studios, is called SoulBeat. A few minutes after a ride is completed, the rider’s metrics are available on the SoulCycle app to taunt them with a variety of stats, including the amount of time they spent offbeat. SoulBeat also shares distance, power, and cadence — information that is immediately available in other cycling studios, like FlyWheel or Peloton, which use output to motivate riders.
Measuring a workout has its place, but I never thought SoulCycle would become that place. SoulCycle instructors have always preached about zoning everything out and just feeling the music. Distancing its riders from any kind of accountability is a neat trick that helpfully hides the fact that SoulCycle is just a basic cardio workout. But with the addition of beat match and a cadence tracker, I feel like SoulCycle is losing the pseudo-spiritual aspect that separated it from the rest of the boutique exercise world.
My favorite part about going to SoulCycle on a more frequent basis was the sensation that I was getting better every time I clipped into a bike. This placebo effect gave me the mental boost to get through other workouts, off the bike, and push me to increase my resistance in every class. In place of my beloved placebo is an ominous black screen with the cold hard facts that I suck at cycling and any progress I’ve made was a fiction of my imagination.
Aside from the mental boost that comes from not worrying about stats, the beauty of an unquantified workout is that it feels like a vacation from the hundreds of other quantified facts that go into a fitness lifestyle. After counting all the reps, counting calories, and tracking my heart rate to ensure peak performance, it’s nice to take a break go into a dark room and just assume everything is fine. SoulCycle just didn’t need this extra bit of tech attached to their bikes. FlyWheel and Peloton already show rides an array of metrics including a leaderboard to fuel competition among riders; SoulCycle was an outlier that was supposed to be above that. It’s the place that said it was all about “riding with the pack,” and “moving as one.” While group energy still persists in the cycling room, that calm feeling of being in it together dissipates as soon as the class is over and everyone looks at their phones to compare who pedaled more miles or had a better beat match.
There are of course other workouts that can be used to escape analytics. There’s yoga, running or walking without your phone, swimming, or pretty much anything that doesn’t involve a workout machine. But finding the right components for a fitness journey is a lot like dating—it’s hard to give up on the one you love, even if they’ve made a change that sucks.