On a Saturday morning, down a cobblestone street near Kings Cross train station, a group of people stand chatting, laughing and sipping flat whites in takeaway cups. Shantelle Ekermans, who is wearing a meshed hat backwards, races up the alleyway and enthusiastically greets everyone by name and with a hug.
The group, who is loitering outside a former nightclub, is here for a class, and make up a community that is part of the growing exercise phenomenon in Sydney called rhythm riding.
State of the art spin studios have popped up all over town, offering participants much more than a cycling class. “Rhythm riding involves coordinated movements matched to music,” says Ekermans, co-founder of Up!Cycle. “The core concept is that the music moves you through a challenging whole body workout, including tracks with weights to build upper body strength."
Described by many devotees as a “dance party on a bike,” class participants are encouraged to verbally support each other and ride as a team. The rooms are dimly lit and riders wear cleats (supplied by the studios) to enhance to their connection with their bike.
Often, the instructors will call out the foot, whether right or left, that should hit the beat at a given time. Coordinated left and right arm drops, and tricep dips create a feeling of a team routine, while the feet pedal rapidly or slowly with resistance. At Infinite Cycle, participants are given a rundown of their class vital statistics so they can monitor their progress and upload their results on social media channels if they like.
Ekermans and Up!Cycle co-founder Kelly O’Connor came up with their rhythm riding program after being inspired by existing programs in the US and UK.
David Finnimore, the dynamic founder of Surry Hills’ hotspot, Cycology Club, was also inspired by the extensive rhythm riding programs overseas. His studio classes are packed and pulsating with nightclub-style flashing lights. “We’ve been very fortunate to have such a supportive and energetic group who really give it their all every time,” he explains. “Some find it a little sweaty but we like it that way.“
Because each rider controls the resistance on their bike, a range of fitness levels can participate in rhythm riding and make the experience their own. Forty-five minute classes at studios such as Up!Cycle, Cycology Club and Infinite Cycle can burn upwards of 450–700 calories and leave participants on an endorphin-fueled ‘high’, absolutely drenched with sweat, and sometimes even emotional.
Finnimore describes coming to terms with a personal relationship struggle during a class sparked by hearing a particular song. “Before I knew it,” he says, “I was riding harder than ever and fighting back tears. I was riding with everything I had and I finished the class with a smile and a whole lot more perspective.”
Ekermans says her instructors are not only trained to tap into the mental strength needed to push the body to its limits, but to also focus the mind on existential drivers such as gratitude, self-love and inner strength. “Oh, and of course there is laughter, sometimes a lot of laughter, which lightens the intensity of the ride.”
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