I used to be so addicted to SoulCycle, I called it “spinagogue.” At first I refused to go, fearing my friends were morphing into Branch Davidians, taking subways to exerstalk their favorite instructors in BeDazzled-logo tank tops. I also didn’t want to try it because I don’t like working out and also secretly think it makes you fat; you don’t see the lithe, lipsticked women of Paris huffing and puffing—whenever I had a workout phase, I chowed like a sumo after.
But my friends prevailed, and while I barely got through the first class, which had the humidity of Singapore in monsoon season, the vibe and the endorphins made me return. Again and again and again, to the point where I’d get psyched when the new gear “dropped.” The loud music and cheering crowd rooting each other on didn’t just tone my ass but also my mind. If the brain is a muscle, the jolt of positivity and bike dancing left my noggin stretched and toned, from both the physical exercise and the human connection.
Please keep in mind, I am not a spiritual person, and I cringe with full-body-douche chills at SoCal prayer hands as a way of saying thank you—in my show Odd Mom Out, I wore a T-shirt that read, Namaste Away From Me. But I loved it, despite the fact that some classes were so hard I thought they’d start making yellow body bags that said, LOST SOUL.
But now, after this week’s bombshell report by Business Insider’s Katie Warren, many are no longer seeing the company as a temple but as a creepy cult. Not only did “master” instructors behave like bratty actors, allegedly berating the amazingly sweet front-desk workers, having sex with riders, and, in one instance, coercing a client into giving a blow job, they also verbally abused staff and riders left and right—in my own observations, they have (cardinal sin) worn sunglasses into the pitch-black studio.
My first ride back after a painful double mastectomy, one man-bunned teacher walked up to my bike, jacked the resistance, and said on the mike to his entire sold-out class, “You’re just mailing it in here. Like, why bother coming? You’re just cheating yourself!” I wrote a raging e-mail to the former C.E.O., who so kindly sent me flowers, but her generosity, along with the front-of-studio staff’s warm greetings and big smiles, was eventually eclipsed by the swelling attitudes and ballooning egos of their star instructors. I had a bad taste in my mouth from the way they carried themselves, and snapped at people I liked at the check-in, and was already disenchanted when Stephen Ross, the owner of SoulCycle, hosted a Hamptons fundraiser for Trump. Then they were dead to me: I finally threw in the sweaty towel.
Funnily enough, when I first wrote about getting into spin after much resistance, one of my issues was what I referred to as the “germ cam,” from the movie Outbreak, where someone in the back of a crowded theater sneezes and the lens follows the saliva’s travels. My first ride from the back corner (an area snickeringly referred to by Upper East Side regulars as “Staten Island”), I literally thought of that scene and imagined the packed studio could be a perfect petri dish of plague. Not sure it will ever be the same, though some riders remain steadfast, still cycling at the outdoor studios.
In the end, what I truly miss is the soul of SoulCycle that left the building when the awesome badass founders, Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice, sold the company, in 2016. They had their imprimatur on everything, and did it all with authentic passion and trademarked edginess. Their successors thought they could slap a skull on a tacky pink tank and be punk rock, but coolness is not for sale. It was a long, bumpy, tap-back-filled ascent and spectacular crash and burn. And while I’ll always love the kind people who worked there, eventually the chutzpah got flushed out by the machine, and I look back unable to believe I drank the Smartwater/Kool-Aid for as long as I did. No matter what happens—short of a sale to a company with a conscience—I will never be back in the saddle. Maybe one day someone will make a documentary about the whole meteoric rise and fiery fall. Maybe call it SVLCYCL?
Jill Kargman is a New York–based author and actress. Her most recent book is Sprinkle Glitter on My Grave