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Nick Paulson-Ellis

By Nick Paulson-Ellis

London’s Top 10 Spin & Indoor Cycling Studios

Hot on the heels of Los Angeles and New York, London has been through a veritable revolution in Spin and indoor cycling in the last five years. Gone are the days of pedalling away on your lonesome in your local chain gym. Now we're jumping in the saddle to take on a fitness-phenomenon described by the New York Times as “part dance party, part therapy, part communal high”. I spent an extremely sweaty few weeks furiously pedalling my way through the best studios London has to offer to try and come up with a top 10.

But before diving into the top 10, it is worth setting the scene on ‘Spin’ and ‘Indoor Cycling’, as they mean very different things to different people. It is one thing to compare Pyscle to Boom Cycle, but it can’t be compared to Athlete Lab the same way. The right studio or class depends a lot on what you want to get out of it.

‘Spin’ or ‘Spinning’ is actually a trademarked activity registered to Mad Dogg Athletics in the US, which was founded in 1991 by two endurance road cyclists. This is focused on workouts that replicate what you might do on a road bike, with an emphasis on heart rate zones and different training types, with variety being key.

‘Indoor cycling’ is where you pedal to the beat in a dark, steamy studio, dancing around on your bike with music blaring and doing push ups on the handle bars. It is a more recent phenomenon, inspired mainly by Soul Cycle, which launched in 2006 and saw significant growth in 2010.

London has studios that sit firmly in one camp or the other, and some that lie in between. The biggest, most popular group is the Soul Cycle inspired classes, at studios like Psycle, Boom Cycle, 1Rebel, Core Collective and Another Space. Digme and in particular Athlete Lab are focused more on the cycling element, whilst Ride Republic and One 10 sit somewhere in between.

So which studio ranks best? It is not an easy call, as since 2014 the quality of studios has risen exponentially and there are several outstanding classes on offer. A race amongst boutique gym chains to be the best has set the bar competitively high, with consumers expecting nothing less than stunning studios, showers filled with Cowshed products, and details such as eucalyptus-infused refreshment towels.

Any of the studios listed in our top 10 are likely to give you a rewarding, worthwhile class experience.

But for me, Psycle ranks as the best overall studio, with a truly immersive exercise experience, in beautiful studios with really attentive staff.

In the pure ‘Spin’ category, i.e. you want to focus solely on your cycling, then Athlete Lab is the best. Nowhere else are you likely to be sitting next to someone training for this year’s Commonwealth Games.

Ride Republic also deserves a special mention. Nothing gets near it for sheer intensity, so if you’re a competitive soul, want results fast and you like a serious challenge, I would strongly recommend it.

PSYCLE

Against a backdrop of many outstanding studios, Psycle still stands out as London’s best. It boasts slick, modern studios and is in no way intimidating to new riders, as the staff are highly attentive and make sure first timers are well looked after and get their bikes properly set up. My instructor was almost supernaturally energetic, focussed on riders form, and the class was well orchestrated to stop you depleting at any point. Psycle really is an “experience”. You are completely immersed in a challenging class with cracking music (they take playlists very seriously), and with a pretty tribal bunch of riders who give a lot of energy back to the instructor and each other (the closest I’ve had to Soul Cycle in that respect). I left the room completely invigorated, surrounded by exhausted yet ecstatic looking faces dripping in sweat. Classes are 45, 60 or (if you’re insane) 90 minutes. There are no gears or means of measurement, but the bikes are easy to calibrate with each turn to increase resistance. The only downer is that it’s so popular that it isn’t on Classpass. 

Locations: Canary Wharf, Mortimer Street, Shoreditch
Cost: £20/class, with a sliding scale for bundles  
On Classpass: No

    RIDE REPUBLIC

    Ride Republic studio

    Ride Republic embraces the power of a bit of healthy competition, through its infamous BURN Board. Riders ‘BURN’ is measured and your position in the ranking, whether your real name, or your moniker, is there on the board for all to see. If you take a ‘go hard of go home’ approach to exercise, then this is your studio. That element of healthy competition makes you work harder than you ever have before on a bike. It is the only studio I’ve been to where I physically cannot maintain the levels the instructor is asking for. And just when you think you might pass out from exhaustion, they bring an ice-cold, eucalyptus oil infused refreshment towel. This class isn’t for the faint-hearted, and there may be moments when you ask yourself what the hell you’re doing here as the instructor asks you to maintain 150 RPM, but this is an outstanding studio that will leave you feeling challenged, with a real sense of accomplishment, and get you fitter then anywhere else.

    Locations: Fulham
    Cost: £20/class, with a sliding scale for bundles  
    On Classpass: Yes

      ATHLETE LAB

      Athlete Lab Cycling Studio

      Firstly it is important to say this is totally different to any other studio on my list. There is no instructor at the front of the class, with large screens instead, and don’t expect an immersive experience with music blaring in a nightclub-like environment. This is about an authentic cycling experience, and training towards a goal. But whether you are training for a charity bike ride or the Olympic Triathlon, if you are serious about improving then Athlete Lab is as good as it gets. First established in Singapore and Sydney in 2012, followed by the Cannon Street studio, all the sessions are designed by Shane Sutton, British Cycling Performance Director, to work at different ‘zones’ or levels of intensity based on a percentage of heart rate, power, interval duration and exertion. Whilst people here are serious about cycling, it is not at all intimidating and they welcome beginners. But I’d strongly recommend that anyone does the ‘FTP’ (Functional Threshold Power) test pretty much straight away. It gives you a number (watts that are sustainable over 1 hour), which is key to making sure your bike is set to the right level of intensity for you. The bikes are real road bikes (so wear cycling shorts), with road bike positions and feel, and you will have real time training data on the screen in front of you, as well as a detailed report e-mailed to you immediately after the class. Coaching is highly regarded, and from experts rather than enthusiasts, but I found the class friendly and approachable. Overall this is a serious but sociable and friendly place to train.  

      Locations: Cannon Street
      Cost: £89-139 per month, or £30/session, dropping to £24 for 12 rides.
      On Classpass: Yes

        1REBEL

        1Rebel spin studio

        The self-styled ‘King of Gyms’ has London’s hippest studios, with a strong industrial luxe aesthetic and arguably the city’s finest changing rooms, with abundant toiletries, space, copper lockers and an all round hip hotel feel. Its ‘Ride’ classes come in 30, 45 or 60 minute sessions, with music very much front and centre to proceedings. All the instructors take their tunes seriously, but there are also themed “live rides” to mix things up with special guest DJs. 1Rebel has some very good instructors, and Ride is an excellent all round class in a stunning studio. My one criticism of 1Rebel (and I’ve heard this from others) is that the ‘too cool for school’ attitude can rub off on the front desk staff, and they are often aloof and inattentive. If you’re paying £20 a class, and doing an activity that needs bikes to be properly set up to avoid discomfort or injury, then staff attitude and service is important. On that metric 1Rebel falls short of the very best specialist studios. Nevertheless, 1Rebel is a pretty unique place, with its stylish aesthetics, Prosecco Fridays and all round irreverent attitude, and many people absolutely swear by it.

        Locations: St Mary Axe, Broadgate Circle, South Bank
        Cost: £20/class, with a sliding scale for bundles  
        On Classpass: Yes

          ANOTHER SPACE

          Another Space Studio

          Another Space is the no-contract sister studio to Third Space, but just as luxurious, with airy, bright, loft-like aesthetics designed by Goldstein Ween Architects. You’re greeted by a friendly bunch at reception who already have your shoe size and bike number. It is a big spin room, with 48 bikes in lines, but with the back rows on a higher level so you have clear visibility of the instructor. There are plenty of staff circulating to assist you setting up the bike. There are no gears or levels on the bikes. You’re just asked to keep adding two turns, so it can be tricky to know you’re in the right range. From the offset there are lots of full body/core movements (more than any of the other classes in the top 10), up/down/swaying, punching, weights – upper body seems the main emphasis rather than resistance/speed training. Expect to leave with achy arms! The upbeat house music is good, with the instructor spending most of the time on the bike and leading the movements, but also walking around encouraging and interacting with people. It was a very upbeat and interactive crowd. Showers and changing rooms are up there with the best; expect Cowshed products, GHD hairdryers & straighteners, and abundant cosmetics. There are not enough showers relative to the number of lockers, which can subsequently lead to a bit of queuing, so be warned if you’re in a hurry. Overall it's a high octane, upper body approach, with energetic instructors, strong tunes, and a beautiful space.

           Locations: Covent Garden, Bank
          Cost: £20/class, with a sliding scale for bundles  
          On Classpass: No

            CORE COLLECTIVE

            Core Collective Studio

            Core Collective opened its first studio off High Street Kensington to much fanfare, following what was rumoured to be London’s most expensive boutique gym fit-out. Part gym, part café, part art gallery, I think it is the nicest of all my top 10 venues as an overall studio environment and place to linger. They’ve mixed up and diversified the range of activities at Core recently, and what used to be ‘Accelerate’ is now ‘Cycle’, but it is still pretty much 45 minutes of straight up, high energy cycling to some cracking playlists. Core Collective has some really good instructors, but you need to find the right one for you. I find some of the classes a bit easy going, whereas I like that body trembling, post class exhaustion when I ride. Like 1Rebel, the front desk staff tend to go through the motions a bit, so it isn’t as warm and welcoming as the best studios. But I keep coming back for more, and I’d pick it as my favourite studio for a quick class before a night out.

            Locations: High Street Kensington, more to follow in 2018.  
            Cost: £18-20/class, with frequent deals
            On Classpass: Yes

              DIGME

              Digme Fitness

              Digme is skewed towards the serious cycling end of things; no surprise when it's name is taken from the beach in Hawaii where the Ironman World Championships start. The format is different to other studios, with an auditorium like semi-circle around the instructor and a large virtual display board featuring data and taking you on a ride through various landscapes. Like Ride Republic, you can compete with other riders and Digme uses the sophisticated Spivi data system to track you performance and send you a summary of your performance after the class. There are no weights in the class, and it was popular with road cyclists – I went to the Richmond Studio on a wet morning and a lot of people had diverted from their normal Richmond Park bike rides to avoid the bad weather. I did the core ‘Ride’ class, but they also have a more music (no data) focussed ‘Beats’ class, and a hardcore 75 minute ‘Performance’ class. Digme is competitive but friendly, and a good alternative to Athlete Lab if you are training for a cycling event but want a more immersive environment with an instructor at the front and some motivational tunes. My only critique would be I found the audience a bit less engaged than elsewhere, and there aren’t enough showers (at least in the Richmond studio), meaning queues, especially as the changing rooms are unisex so people take longer fully changing in the showers. So skip the warm down at the end of class and leg it to the showers.

              Locations: Richmond, Blackfriars, Moorgate, Oxford    
              Cost: £20/class, with a sliding scale for bundles  
              On Classpass: Yes

                BOOM CYCLE

                Boom Cycle Holborn

                Boom Cycle was the first mover with the Soul Cycle inspired model in London, opening in Shoreditch in 2011, a second in Holborn in 2013, then Hammersmith and Battersea. So it is definitely doing something right. Studios tend to be smaller and more intimate than the other venues, with dark rooms and use of candles rather than strobe lighting. These are high tempo classes, and a cross between HIIT and cycling, up there with Another Space for the most upper body centric workouts. Expect lots of up/down, weights, endless arm presses and tap-backs etc. They play up the music obsession, but playlists are very instructor dependent. More generally I’d say that as it has expanded you have to be more careful about instructors, and know which ones to choose. I did a recent class in Hammersmith and found the instructor a bit shouty, lacking that genuine audience engagement that the best instructors manage. The bikes don’t have gears or levels, and I find it tricky to get the intensity right. But overall Boom Cycle is a good option for high energy, full-body classes with plenty of convenient locations across London.

                 Locations: Holborn, Hammersmith, Monument, Battersea    
                Cost: £18/class, 20 for £300
                On Classpass: Yes

                  ONE 10

                  One 10 studio Marylebone

                  One 10 is the newest kid on the block. It was founded in July 2017 by former Team GB athlete Tim Benjamin, with two signature classes, Paceline and Nirvana. It is a lovely studio in Marylebone, with really friendly, engaged staff, and luxe changing rooms and showers – all on-trend white and black marble with Cowshed products. But you don’t come here just to get pampered, because as you’d expect from a business set up by a professional athlete, there’s a serious competitive element. One 10 embraces technology, with the latest TechnoGym bikes and the ability to accurately monitor each class, and you will be sent a plethora of stats (and sometimes rewards) at the end of each ride. You can monitor your progress on your profile. Paceline is the more competitive class, designed to improve your cycling, with your performance (in watts and revolutions) ranked on a live leaderboard at the front of the class, so embracing the power of competition as Ride Republic does. Nirvana meanwhile is a full body class to pumping music, with a mix of climbs, sprints, weights tracks and a bit of choreography. I found Nirvana a good all round class, with clear resistance ranges, though not overly tough (I think I’d have pushed myself harder I’d know about all the stats I’d be sent afterwards). I didn’t think the choreographed elements were great, it was too bouncy, left left, right right, and looking around me riders form was suffering, which heightens injury risk. This element of indoor cycling is one of the central critiques of the Soul Cycle influence, that bike calisthenics and hand weights done wrong will cause injury, especially in the lower back, and I thought my instructor at One 10 should have been more alert to form and notice if riders were able to follow moves properly. Something for them to watch, but overall a really strong new addition to the London cycling scene, and the only studio trying to meet the needs of both training-focused ‘Spin’ and full-body indoor cycling.

                  Locations: Marylebone    
                  Cost: £20/class, but lots of bundles and options that can get sometimes get it down to half that
                  On Classpass: Yes

                    POPCYCLE/SPN

                    Popcycle SPN Studio

                    Now I know strictly speaking this review is about ‘London’, but the fitness revolution is spreading outside the capital as well, and for all you Kent commuters there is now a studio as good as the best London has to offer. Popcycle started out in an extraordinary country mansion, and after an award-winning two years building up a cult local following, it is re-branding as SPN, and is opening a stunning three-floor studio in Tunbridge Wells in April 2018, with other Kent locations likely to follow. Canadian entrepreneur Jaime Cook takes her inspiration from the biggest trends in North America, with fresh twists on classic indoor-cycling, and classes combining spin with Pilates or HIIT, for on and off the bike full-body workouts. I tried the Popcycle 45 class, which is 45 minutes of high tempo spin with two weights tracks. The classes are at the tough end of the spectrum, so expect to be pushed to your limits, with intense cardio and core strength work. Playlists are a key part of the experience, tailored to each class and the time and day, and there are occasional live DJ rides. Popcycle/SPN combines an energetic, positive vibe with some exceptional teaching, and you won't find a better studio in South East England.

                    Location: Tunbridge Wells    
                    Cost: £15 class, 10 for £120
                    On Classpass: No
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