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Pedaling is my thing. I think of my two bicycles as a pair of beloved pets. Saddling up is how I hack Denver traffic and parking, bust stress, get outside, and qualify new friends. This past summer, I took my romance with bicycles across the USA on a solo, self-supported bike tour from coast to coast.
Post-tour, adjusting to life off the bike proved to be a challenge. How could I just keep pedaling, even during the snowed-in winter months? I turned to Denver’s indoor cycling scene to keep me moving, albeit in place. Using Google reviews and proximity to downtown, I picked the five spin classes to test out while I shopped around for a home studio. Here’s what I discovered along the way:
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Drop-in price: $25
The studio: Cyclebar fits right in with its brand-spanking-new neighbors in the revitalized Union Station area. Like the shiny Whole Foods across the street, Cyclebar is a national franchise making its way into trendy urban cities across the country. The black box of a studio, where about 40 bikes are arranged auditorium-style facing the stage, is lit up by the red neon glow of the ‘CYCLEBAR’ sign, and each rider is assigned a bike for the class. I got number 18.
My classmates: I saw mostly women in their 20s and 30s, looking good in the unofficial uniform of a sports bras, leggings, and topknot bun.
The equipment: I had to turn on my phone’s flashlight to get a better look at my bike. It featured clip-in pedals and the usual resistance knob. I turned on the dashboard and saw the familiar RPM (rotations per minute) metric, in addition to a “power” metric, and a gear/resistance estimator. Competitive types could see their positions on the leaderboard screen. Then we all teamed up to get our class average up to a certain RPM or power goal.
The music: Was this a group fitness class or a LoDo nightclub? The instructor, Vandon, who hosts a Monday night hip-hope ride, had a playlist that kept me guessing.
The burn: Yes, this one burns. At one point, everyone pulled out what looked like police batons from holsters on the bikes. Lifting the weighted bars in fast, rhythmic reps took everything my scrawny little arms had in them. About an hour after my class, I got an email from Cyclebar titled “Performance Summary.” It told me I came in seventh of 33 riders (what do they tell the person 33rd place?) and that I burned an estimated 381 calories. My Garmin guessed 397.
Drop-in price: $6 (free for first-timers to Denver Rec Centers)
The studio: Carla Madison is the newest addition to Denver Parks and Recreation facilities. For a public rec center, it’s gorgeous. And therefore crowded. To get a seat on a bike, expect to wait in line outside. Once the door opens, everyone races to a sign-up form with a stack of 20 small cones that represent spaces available. I grabbed cone number 17, meaning if I’d arrived any less than 20 minutes early, I would have been out of luck. Sharpen your nails for this line—it gets competitive.
If you manage to claw your way in, the rewards are high. The spin studio itself is perched on the third floor and daylight-filled, with a glass garage door that opens to a view of the Denver skyline with mountains in the background.
My classmates: I loved the low-key neighborly vibe. This is the most unassuming group I’ve found at a spin class. Lots of middle-agers—both men and women—with the full range of body types and pretense-free attire. A few people brought their own clip-in shoes, while the rest of us just slipped our sneakers into the pedal straps.
The equipment: Carla Madison uses a fleet of all-new SpinnerShift bikes. The dashboard metric our instructor used to guide the class was RPM. Difficulty levels are self-styled; we were instructed to give the knobs a quarter, half, or full turn to adjust the resistance.
The music: Ben, the instructor, played a predictable playlist of high-energy club jams and remixes. The mix felt well-researched based on beats per minute.
The burn: Ben’s flow lasted a full hour, burning longer than harder. My heart rate maxed out during the second series of sprints. We hill-climbed. We squatted. We crunched our obliques. Ben’s signature move seems to be this thing where you’re leaning hard to the side, holding it, and hoping the bike doesn’t tip. According to my Garmin, I burned 338 calories.
Drop-in class: $28 ($20 for first-timers)
The studio: It’s no surprise that the high-end cycle franchise SoulCycle chose the affluent Cherry Creek North as its home. The foyer is heavily merchandised with its own branded retail. Inside the blacked-out, neon-lit studio, I found my bike—number 40 of 64—at the edge of a tightly packed row. I wanted to take a photo, but I’d been told to leave my phone in the outside lockers.
My classmates: At this noon lunch-hour class, the majority of the crowd was young, female, and professional, while a few older women joined as well.
The equipment: The biggest surprise here was a lack of screens on the bikes. No dashboard. No data. Just the knob to adjust resistance, and some five-pound weights hidden under the seat.
The music: The instructor, Dylan, and I connected on Instagram after class and I asked him to share his playlist. Dylan considers himself a musical person, and gets full creative control over his classes. I appreciated his selections of Lindsey Sterling’s violin intensity and Ben Platt’s soft introspection. The arc went from fast-paced sprinting beats to slow-burning ballads. All of it aimed to stir the soul.
The burn: I sweated, yes. The workout satisfied but left me wondering how hard I’d worked. SoulCycle is more about the feels than the metrics. Coincidentally, I’d left my Garmin at home, so I had no stats from my own smuggled-in screen.
Drop-in price: $25
The studio: The Epic Ryde Studio has prime real estate on Larimer Street in the heart of RiNo. Smaller than the big franchise studios, the room fits 20 bikes in four rows facing the front. Large garage-style windows give passersby full view of the show.
My classmates: The Sunday morning class was sold out with 100 percent female attendees. Their style matched the RiNo neighborhood—artsy and tattooed, with brightly colored hair. I noted the diversity in age, skin tone, and body type. No pretense, no judgment, just women who knew one another’s names.
The equipment: I saddled up on a basic spin class bike, with dual-sided pedals to clip in or strap in. A monitor shows the usual metrics—RMP, watts, calories, etc.—and the usual manual knob allows for self-styled resistance adjustments.
The music: I went out of my way to attend the karaoke-themed class, aptly called “Guilty Pleasures.” From my cross-country bike tour, I had felt the soul-soaring power of singing badly from the saddle. As advertised, the fun-factor was high. Peggy, the instructor, had us belting out everything from “Love Shack” to Lizzo.
The burn: More about play than work, discipline was low priority. We were not ordered to climb, sprint, crunch, squat, lift weights, or do push ups. Peggy offered suggestions about sitting or standing and an occasional RMP benchmark, with lots of motivational messages, personal anecdotes, and chorus-singing. I loved the flexibility to find the rhythm on my own terms and had too much fun to believe I burned over 500 calories. Winded singing will do that, I guess?
Drop-in price: $18
The studio: This is a compact space wedged between a dispensary and a tavern on central Colfax. I walked in to what felt like a sauna, complete with sweat condensation on the glass doors.
My classmates: The evening “Warrior” class was populated with about 10 women and one man, all muscular and serious.
The equipment: About two dozen bikes half-circled the stage bike. Standard dashboards displayed RPM and watts, and the resistance knob had an extra lever to snap quickly between easy, medium, and hard. Behind the bike space was a disconcerting strip of HIIT equipment—weights, weighted balls, and kettlebells.
The music: Our instructor, Amy, switched it up between high-energy jams and slow powerlifting rap. The only thing I recognized was “No Scrubs” by TLC.
The burn: I was tricked into interval training. My goal was to compare cycling classes around town, but little did I know, we’d be getting off the bikes and dealing with those dreaded weights. Reluctantly, I burpeed and kettlebelled. Almost half of the hour-long “Warrior” session was spent off the bike. My Garmin reported only 289 calories burned. But to the class’s credit, it was the only one that left me feeling full-body sore the next day.