If the social media age has taught us anything, it’s how to read an Instagram page. Over the past two years, friends of 24-year-old Ryan Lewis have noticed his gradual evolution into Ryan L., Soul Cycle rockstar. He’s replaced a college student’s standard photos of friends, landscapes, selfies, and the occasional cupcake with what any SoulCycle rider will recognize as the typical instructor social media fare – SoulCycle class schedules, Soul gear even on his days off, hanging with trainers on the weekend. If this sounds like no big deal, you’re not Ryan’s parents: He graduated from the NYU Stern School of Business and entered Soul’s instructor training program two years later. (Although the training program, which I’m told not to bother asking about, may in fact be more exclusive.) Of his three tattoos, two are SoulCycle–inspired.
Falling in love with a 45-minute indoor cycling class changed Ryan’s career path, but it may have also saved his life. He tried various recovery programs (and still goes to meetings) for a drug addiction that started when he was in school in NYC. But the X factor, says Ryan, was Soul.
SoulCycle has been called a “community,” a “phenomenon,” and, yes, a “high.” A colleague is fond of saying, “I love SoulCycle but I don’t love telling people I love SoulCycle.” The studio’s cultish reputation can be abrasive, but it’s led to enough success for an upcoming IPO. Picture the opposite of tough love – a welcoming, “you’re one of us now” ethos crafted to soothe the inferiority complexes of 61 gym-goers in one small room. In its IPO filing, SoulCycle acknowledged that the brand’s core identity is “fueled by the personalities of our instructors.” Star instructors land profiles in Guest of a Guest, side gigs as “fitness experts,” and instantly sold-out classes. As SoulCycle has discovered, anyone can be a celebrity, and celebrities can sell anything. At $34 a class, with $3 shoe rentals and $2 water, full-service riders spends $39 a class. That’s if they manage to walk out without a $52 branded tank top for next time. In a recent NYC class, one instructor stage-whispered to a rider into his microphone, “We’re together every morning. It’s like we’re dating, isn’t it?”
The juicy side of indoor cycling is going public with new reality TV show Hollywood Cycle, about the (attractive) (drama-prone) team behind Cycle House in LA, which premiered on E! this month. Talking about the instructors, creator and Executive Producer Nick Kreiss tells me, “They’re hot, they drink, they sleep together…There’s a magnetic charisma. If they move to a different studio, riders follow them. One of the instructors has hooked up with over 100 of the girls that ride here.” SoulCycle employees, who are also hot, have media training to prevent exactly this kind of gossip. When Soul-formed couples do go the distance, they’re trotted out on the company website. A chance at love is certainly worth $34.
Ryan and his addictive personality bounced around from Crunch to Equinox to David Barton throughout college, resisting the lure of SoulCycle’s prominent rise throughout NYC. “I knew I was going to love it, which actually took me away from going to my first class. Living in New York as a college student, I knew that I didn’t have the budget for it and I honestly saw going out as being more important,” he says. When his parents visited for graduation, Ryan recalls, he and his mother “went to NoHo and took Stevie’s class at 4:30 on May 21st, 2013.” I’ve always found the saying to be true – you know when you know.
Ryan took his first spin class at age 13, when he and his mother became regulars at their local LA Fitness in suburban Philadelphia. As the youngest person in his classes, he began creating playlists for one instructor when he realized she was just playing the “Stomp the Yard 2” soundtrack through each week. (“It’s a great soundtrack,” he’s quick to point out.) He eventually considered teaching spinning, then thought he would be a psychologist, but ended up in business school like his “traditional business man” father. As these things go, he ended up in marketing at Pepsi. At the same time, he was getting “wrapped up” in the New York City social scene, “abusing different substances.”
Ryan says he channels his 14 months of sobriety on the bike. “I don’t believe that the end of class is a finish line, it’s a start to the beginning of the rest of your life,” he says. The one day at a time mentality comes from an outpatient rehab he attended while still working his corporate job, which he is far too good-natured to admit to disliking. He “had good days and bad” at Pepsi, he “felt like he was doing something right for them, never for [me]”, and was promoted in his year and a half there. Though it certainly doesn’t seem to be a requirement for instructors (although they wouldn’t tell me if it was,) it’s easy to see how someone with business experience who can succeed in a corporate culture would do well at the tightly-branded SoulCycle.
Which brings us back to Ryan’s tattoos. After 90 days of sobriety, he got the Soul Cycle wheel on his ankle. “Life is a journey, enjoy the ride,” he reminds me, plus he wanted to symbolize his mother, who brought him to his first spin classes back in Philly and at Soul. His right tricep has an arrow with a quote I’ve heard in class before and recently G-chatted to an annoyed friend, “Before an arrow gets shot forward it has to be pulled back. If you ever feel like life is dragging you back, just know that you’re going to be flung forward into something great.” It loses something over G-chat, but you have to admit – not bad.
Ryan and I spoke a few days after he got a promotion of sorts. After one month teaching in NYC, he’s a full-time instructor helping launch SoulCycle’s The Loop Chicago location. He tells me, “I can say for sure that what I’m doing now, I’ve never felt happier or more sure about what I’m doing with my life. This is what I’m meant to be doing.” When was the last time you heard a 24-year-old say that?
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