The room was dark and held no clock, so I’m not sure how much time had elapsed. But I’m guessing it was about seven minutes into my first Flywheel Sports cycling class that my muscles began to protest. The pain in my abs and quads built and built, until I was certain the hyper-focused girl on the bike to my left could feel my spasms from a foot away. Keeping up with the pace was no longer an option—it was all I could do to grit my teeth and keep pedaling.
I hadn’t expected it to be this bad. I’ve taken spinning classes everywhere from Endorphin to Spenga, and figured I could at least hang with the back of the pack. But stationary cycling is the kind of workout you have to do consistently—as in several times a week—in order to keep your endurance up.
That’s, frankly, why cycling is such a good method for staying in shape. It forces you to maintain some discipline or else risk severely embarrassing yourself in front of Denver’s competitive-as-hell super-athletes. But Flywheel adds an extra motivator. The New York–based fitness studio, which opened its first location in the Mile High City on Monday, prides itself on being the first indoor cycling company to have added proprietary technology to its bikes, meaning each rider has access to a screen that tracks individualized watts, resistance level, RPMs (or current, torque, and speed in Flywheel parlance), plus calories burned. There’s also a larger screen hanging at the front of the room that ranks everyone by power, so you can push yourself to, metaphorically, rise above your competitors.
At this point, none of this is unusual; it’s almost surprising not to have metrics on your bike, and the scoreboard shtick has showed up at other studios around town as well. Yet there’s something about the length of the hills, the typically heavy level of resistance, and the relatively short amount of time for recovery—coupled with the new-age vocabulary, pulsating music, and lightless space—that makes Flywheel feel a little different. It’s as if you’re in an alternative universe where time is no longer relevant, the way you feel when you’re in a casino. The goal is so singular, the experience so taxing, that you feel as if you’ve traveled a long way, perhaps warped by multiple dimensions, by the time the 45 minutes are over.
Strangely, though, it felt more like the other riders were encouraging me instead of shooting past me. I wasn’t getting dropped; I was part of the group chasing after the leaders, at least in my mind. That may have been because I opted out of putting my pace on the Torqboard. (I wasn’t that confident in myself.) More broadly, there’s some truth to this idea of community, though. Daniel Wilhelm, regional director for Flywheel’s Northwest region, says the Denver location is the company’s first to have a convertible community space where fitness experts can give talks and riders can congregate to bemoan the ass-kicking class they just endured. (I may have editorialized that last part.) Outside the studio, the Flywheel Denver crew has already held happy hours at local breweries and even started a hiking series. “We want to be a part of someone’s whole lifestyle, not just fitness,” Wilhelm says.
To that end, Flywheel also understand that few Denverites are going to use the outfit as a replacement for their weekend treks up Mt. Bierstadt. But going to a few cycling classes and a Flyfit session (an off-the-bike HIIT class that Flywheel also offers) each week might boost your endurance enough for you to climb that fourteener an hour faster.
It sounds great in theory, but the newness of the Denver location does means it’s still going through some growing pains. The bikes were so stiff that it was difficult to clip in and out, to the point that I and the woman next to me just slipped out of our provided cycling shoes—a nice no-extra-charge amenity—and left them attached to the pedals for the staff to grab later. I appreciated that I didn’t have to rent a towel to absorb the sweat from my hands, but after the class ended, I realized the fabric had started disintegrating, dropping fluff all over my tights. I looked like a goose in the thick of molting.
I’m sure the experience will improve over time (and maybe I’ll get better?). Flywheel’s got plans to add several more class formats, color-changing lights under the bikes, and potentially additional studies as they gain more traction in the fitness scene. In other words: You’ve got to start at the bottom of the hill to get to the top.