In just over 10 years, SoulCycle has become a leader in the indoor cycling field. Since opening its first studio in 2006 on the Upper West Side, the brand has expanded to more than 80 locations throughout North America and developed an obsessive following.
The brand only continues to grow; amid an increasingly crowded boutique studio scene, SoulCycle opened its 20th location in New York City last month, on East 46th Street near Grand Central Station.
We spoke with SoulCycle’s vice president of design, Alan Cooke, who joined the company in 2011 when it had just six permanent studios, about what they’ve learned along the way.
Engagement through art
A SoulCycle in the West Village isn’t all that different from one in West Hollywood. But the company has been differentiating its studios through art.
“Because our spaces are white and large and clean and modern, they tend to read more like an art gallery than a studio,” Cooke said. “We’re very passionate about art and what art can mean in a fitness environment.”
In the past, the brand has worked with graffiti artists such as Gregory Siff to create murals in its lobbies. For the Midtown East studio, its distinguishing feature is an interactive light installation, called Light Up Your Soul.
Designed with Pittsburgh agency Deeplocal, the installation features 20 orbs, seven of which have pulse oximeters; when touched, the orbs blink and change color based on your heart rate (typically going from blue to red as it increases). Riders are encouraged to touch the orb before and after class to see how it changes.
“We always found ways to integrate lighting into our studios, whether it be neon or our signage,” Cooke said. “We wanted to create an experience that can be unlocked and encourages riders to interact with the installation.”
Better front desk experience
Avid SoulCycle riders might notice that the front desk where you check in for your class is lower than usual.
“We lowered everything down a lot to really promote interaction with the front desk staff so it’s not as imposing,” Cooke said, noting this can be especially important for new customers.
Bigger bike map
The Midtown East studio has also made it easier for customers to find their bike assignments.
“When a rider checks in for class, one of the things they need to understand is where their bike is. Historically, that map lived on the front desk,” said Cooke, referring to an 8-by-11-inch sheet. “We enlarged it and created a large-format installation.”
The 5-by-8-foot map can be found on the wall to the left of the front desk. Going forward, Cooke can’t say with certainty if all studios will have a similar design, but that “we will take the feedback we’ve seen here from staff and riders and work to continue to innovate the designs.”
Keeping a clean design
One area Cooke isn’t messing with is SoulCycle’s signature modern look of white walls and white lighting.
“We’ve worked really hard to honor the brand integrity and really continue to make it feel like a clean, white, uplifting space,” he said.
There is one exception to that rule: the brand’s month-old Flatiron space SoulAnnex, which specializes in off-the-bike classes. There, instructors are able to play with multicolored lighting, projected from overhead lights onto a white floor.
“We call it the moodiness of the space,” Cooke said. “We got to change our palette and finishes in a way we wouldn’t have done at Soul.”