It’s a well-made • sturdy bike. • No at-home bike will do a better job capturing the SoulCycle experience. • It’s easy to use and provides a solid workout. • The instructors are • overall • good. • There’s no pressure from a numbers-focused workout.
Peloton does a lot better. • It’s really • really expensive. • The user interface isn’t perfect • Live classes still have some kinks and the class library isn’t huge. • It’s difficult to track workout performance.
This might be the best option for SoulCycle diehards committed to that unique style of spinning. For others, there might be better, less expensive options.
This is going to sound obvious but I’m going to say it anyway: SoulCycle’s at-home spinning bike would be great if you absolutely love SoulCycle.
But you’ve got to understand that people who love SoulCycle capital-L Love SoulCycle. It’s been compared to a cult more than once. There’s a reason. Soul, which is a part of the larger fitness company the Equinox Group, is a particular brand of spinning.
You know what I mean if you’ve ever been to a studio class — you know, back when that was a reasonable thing to do. There’s impossibly loud music, a dark room, scented candles, coordinated movements, and an instructor who both guides your ride and (typically) proselytizes through a mix of spiritual talk/therapy-ish advice/motivational quotes.
In short: If that’s your bag — if that’s what you think about when you think about spinning – the SoulCycle at-home bike does a pretty good job of delivering. I tested it out for about two weeks, trying out its different features. The simple report: It’s a really nice, if quite pricey, spinning bike. The product will never be exactly like the in-studio offering, but the company clearly tried to capture that feeling for their in-home product.
But now we have to talk about the elephant in the room: Peloton. The pandemic has rocketed Peloton’s popularity, with scores of people looking for a great workout without leaving home. It’s kinda-sorta the standard for at-home spinning.
And full disclosure: I’m one of those recent Peloton buyers – my fiancée and I purchased a Peloton, which happened to arrive about two weeks before I got to test out SoulCycle’s at-home bike. To be clear, our purchase wasn’t out of some massive loyalty to Peloton. In fact, we’d never ridden a real one and my fiancée was previously a regular attendee of Soul classes. We simply live in a small NYC apartment and wanted a way to workout at home. We eventually purchased the Peloton after doing research and feeling more comfortable buying an expensive product from a company solely focused on the at-home experience.
On to the obvious question: Which do I like better? After riding the SoulCycle for a few weeks, I’d say it’s a really good product, but, in my opinion, Peloton does lots of things about ten percent better. Its pedaling is smoother, the bike is sturdier, and it’s easier to adjust settings between multiple riders. Peloton’s user interface is better, its backlog of classes is far more robust, and its filming style/instruction is better geared to the at-home rider versus a person in the studio. I’d also argue Peloton gives you a harder workout compared to SoulCycle because its focus is on material, numerical goals compared.
Phew, OK, that’s out of the way. This is a SoulCycle review, after all, even if the Peloton comparisons are inevitable. While I’ve shared the gist of my impression of the SoulCycle bike, let’s dig a bit deeper.
As close as you’ll get to a SoulCycle studio without being there
I rode the SoulCycle bike nearly every day since getting it, testing out a dozen or so rides. Rides came in a range of difficulty and lasted from 20 to 90 minutes. The difficulty isn’t really about how hard the pedaling is, but rather the level of choreography. If you’ve done a studio Soul class, then you know it’s full of movements: tapping your butt back, dipping, pushups, hands in and out, etc. It can be a lot, so if you’re brand new to that style of riding, it’s easiest to dip your toes before diving headlong into the dancing.
But that actually might the SoulCycle bike’s best selling point. Soul has its own brand of cycling, and if it appeals to you, there’s nothing else like it.
Peloton, for instance, focuses intently on your pedal strokes, there’s constant direction from the instructor regarding your speed and resistance, and each ride has a “output” score to let you know how hard you worked. I personally enjoy that and have found the constant numbers a useful motivation tool. However, that’s not for everyone! There are some Peloton instructors who borrow from Soul a bit, but there it is still nothing like SoulCycle. Not even close. Peloton is more about cycling, whereas Soul is its own brand of spinning and dancing.
And to be clear: I’m not criticizing SoulCycle. The experience can be really fun. For instance, I thoroughly enjoyed my local studio’s Emo Night ride with my favourite instructor (shouts to Sam Bilinkas) before the pandemic hit. And, in a post vaccine world, I could see myself going back despite owning an at-home bike.
SoulCycle’s at-home bike is clearly aimed at those Soul diehards. It’s still a great workout and they really did their damndest to create the studio vibe at home.
The rides are filmed cinematically. The camera angle changes and scans through a small room of riders.
The lighting in the room shifts and changes, perhaps not as often a real Soul ride, but enough to give you that vibe.
Rather than focus on numbers, Soul at home, as in studio, focuses on staying on beat with the music. The goal is some form of collective movement. It’s supposed to be a workout together, even if through a screen. This can be really helpful if you want to really lose yourself in the ride and forget you’re riding at all.
You’re going to spend a lot of the class out of the saddle. That’s a hallmark of SoulCycle and the at-home experience is no different. Your ass is up and you’re likely struggling to keep up with the choreo while keeping the pedals turning.
The classes hit every beat you get in studio. Different instructors create different vibes — you’ll settle into who you like — but they definitely try to keep you motivated and inspired. You’re going to get that proselytizing.
The instructor is on a raised platform, surround by candles and there’s a (very small) class. That feels pretty true to an in-person ride.
I contest Peloton (and maybe other bikes I haven’t tried) give you a better workout. It pushes you to go harder, to chase down your previous performances. But, to be honest, some days I was just really tired. Daily riding, coupled with work and a pandemic, left me drained. It was kind of nice that SoulCycle allowed me to ride without seeing, in dire numeric terms, how much worse my performance was. Some days getting on the bike is about all you can manage and that’s fine. That’s something that Soul clearly wanted to drill home.
The bike itself
Let’s get this out of the way: The bike ain’t cheap. It starts at $2,500, which does not include the $40 per month you’ll need to pay for the Variis membership that powers the classes. To be fair, that membership comes with lots of other useful workouts and classes you can do at home, but we’re talking about the bike here. And now through November 30 there’s a holiday bundle that will throw-in a Theragun massager, weights, a mat, and a candle for free.
For comparison’s sake, the first-generation Peloton — the one I have — starts at $1895 and does a fair number of things better. The newest Peloton, which added features like a rotating screen, more speakers, and auto-adjusting resistance starts at $2,495.
As a now frequent at-home cycler, here are a few takeaways about the bike:
The ride is great. There’s no comparison between the magnetic resistance to a cheap alternative that uses a brake pad, well there’s simply no comparison. It’s just much better (and it should be, considering the price). There’s a little bit more feedback — almost like you’re powering a fan — than the smoother ride of a Peloton or some other spinning bikes. The feedback can be nice on lower resistance settings, but after lots of rides on both, I prefer a smoother ride overall.
The bike looks pretty good. It’s mostly matte-black with a touch of gray design around the flywheel. There’s certainly uglier workout equipment.
The bike’s footprint is pretty small. I live in a one-bedroom New York apartment and there was no trouble fitting it.
The resistance wheel is easy to adjust and smooth, but inexact. You’re instructed to give a turn here or a touch there. But there is no exact way to know what you’re set at.
The bike is a bit louder than you might expect. The flywheel itself whirs a bit and the bike can creak with your movement. That being said, we have a downstairs neighbor and got no complaints, so it is by no means wildly noisy. The speakers are solid and my bluetooth headphones connected with ease, which I had to use because I love loud music and we have neighbors.
Still overall the bike is pretty sturdy and it’s adjustable to work comfortably with most body types. The adjustments are made with classic, pin-goes-in-hole knobs. It’s fine, but (sorry to bring up Peloton again) I prefer the Peloton system, which uses a vice-grip of sorts that allows you close at any spot, not just at assigned pinholes.
The screen is large and has a clear image. This is pretty much the standard for a good at-home bike, but it’s worth mentioning.
The user experience on the screen is mostly fine but has janky moments. It would lag at times and it’s not always super-easy to search through classes to find what you’re looking forward. These problems just shouldn’t exist with something so expensive.
I had an instance where the WiFi connection kicked during a live ride (despite my phone remaining connected) and you often have to pedal for a bit to reconnect the device that tracks your riding stats. Every once in a while the status bar or volume displays wouldn’t swipe in and out of view despite my efforts. These are minor inconveniences, but they exist.
Unlike Peloton, the SoulCycle at-home bike has an option to do a non-instructed free ride where you can stream TV. Right now, it’s limited to Disney Plus and Netflix. I found this to be a fun feature for cooling down or taking a relaxing ride. You can pedal along leisurely while watching The Office for the 1,000th time. I have really fast internet but the stream would still sometimes be a little blurry, but it wasn’t awful.
In short: It’s a really good machine. It’s pretty sleek looking, although I’d argue it has a bit bulkier profile than the Peloton. I can’t tell you how to spend $2,500 — that’s a lot of cash — but if you were a Soul person in the Before Times, then you will not be disappointed by this bike. It’s effectively the same, which means it’s quite nice.
SoulCycle is new to the at-home game. The brand’s whole thing — the reason it’s been compared to a cult — is the vibe at the workouts, the communal feeling that inspires people to come back again and again. You can take a spinning class anywhere but a SoulCycle class, for better or worse depending on your taste, is distinct.
SoulCycle retrofitted an at-home product to its studio offering, whereas something like Peloton built its product to primarily be used in the home.
That in mind, SoulCycle’s at-home product has some hiccups. Try as you might, at-home will never fully be in-studio. That’s not Soul’s fault but it’s just a fact.
Peloton, for instance, has focused its spinning on the person at home. Instructors call out milestone rides and give specific numbers to hit. The screen displays your speed and resistance compared to what the instructor asked for, and the app tracks your personal-record rides.
Soul, on the other had, displays your speed and power but there are no specific benchmarks to hit. I like having benchmarks to chase, others might not. The instructors at SoulCycle are good. But I found them often talking to the riders in the room, rather than me at home. Peloton instructors talk right to the camera, the shot zoomed into them so it’s like they’re talking directly to you. SoulCycle often tries to place to you in the studio, the camera sweeping around, the instructor developing rapport with the riders in the room. That’s all well and good, but to be honest I didn’t much care about that riders in the room or feeling like I was in the middle row.
SoulCycle’s product is incredibly new, which means the library of classes is only a few hundred deep. Peloton, for instance, has thousands and thousands of classes that range from five to ninety minutes long. And while you can filter at-home SoulCycle rides by music type, instructor, and difficulty, I missed being able to see what kind of ride I was signing up for. Soul classes are titled new-agey things “Just Feel It” or “Stay Present.” I often found myself wondering OK but what does that mean? Is it an interval ride, a climb?
Live Soul rides had a few hiccups as well. While riding at an assigned time, the studio live-streamed to your bike, is pretty neat, they’re not super frequent. And the experience isn’t finely tuned just yet. Again, the instructors sometimes focused more on the people they could see than the hundreds out in the internet ether. One live class I took, the instructor started the class by tiredly putting his shoes on, facing away from the camera. Another class ended before the 45-minute mark it was supposed to close, so I had to sit around and wait a few minutes for the stream to automatically end in order for it to be saved to my profile.
Peloton also really sells its leaderboard system, which stacks you up against every other rider in the class. SoulCycle lets you see how many people are taking the class, but you’re not competing. That’s a huge plus for some, a drawback for others. To be fair, these were not huge problems, but were nonetheless hiccups on a very expensive bike.
The SoulCycle at-home bike is a good, if pricey, product that might be indispensable for the true Soul diehards out there. I enjoyed riding the bike. Ultimately, I felt that if I’m going to pony up that much cash, then the Peloton is better at too many things to justify buying the SoulCycle bike. But that might be more a question of what you want out of a ride, then anything the Soul bike does wrong.