StarCycle Is Lights Out

Get out of Your Head, Get on the Bike

Olivia Alvarado, StarCycle instructor. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

When a friend invited me to help her celebrate a milestone birthday by going on a cycling tour of Italy, I accepted without hesitation. Our itinerary called for us to ride 20-35 miles a day, and even though we’d be renting e-bikes in Italy, I decided a little training was in order. After hearing a co-worker rave about StarCycle, I headed to La Cumbre Plaza to check it out.

As a veteran of other cycling programs like Spinning and RPM, I figured I knew what to expect, but the StarCycle experience had several surprises in store for me.

First of all, the room is dark. A spotlight and candles illuminate the instructor, but otherwise there’s no light in the studio. Unlike Spinning and RPM, in which the instructor gives cues that provide a simulation of road cycling (e.g., climbing uphill or racing on the flats), StarCycle classes feature choreography — a style that franchise co-owner Kayla Neal calls “rhythmic.” Instead of picturing myself pedaling up the Alps, I found myself doing combinations that involved getting in and out of the saddle, lifting my arms out and overhead, and moving my hands to different positions on the handlebars, all to the beat of the music. Those hands-free moments provide a challenging core workout, and StarCycle incorporates more upper body work than other cycling programs I’ve tried, with lots of push-ups on the handlebars and a brief but demanding weight workout at the end of each class. 

And there are some things you won’t find at StarCycle: The bikes aren’t equipped with computers indicating your RPMs, resistance level, and other data. There’s also no leaderboard pitting you in a virtual race against everyone else.

Neal says it’s all by design. The dim lighting provides the freedom to do your own workout, she points out, without comparing yourself to others or turning the tension control knob quite as many times as the instructor says. The dark studio and the absence of computers “give people an opportunity to quiet their mind, to enter a space that’s technology- and interruption-free, to connect with the music,” she explains. It’s no wonder StarCycle markets itself as “a dance party on a bike.”

Amy Ramos warming up for her StarCycle class. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

As a woman of a certain age, I will note that the few songs I recognized were from the ’90s or before. In general, the playlists are heavy on R&B and hip-hop, no doubt a reflection of the riders, who, in the classes I took, seemed to skew young. Neal, however, describes the StarCycle demographic as broad, with a lot of college students as well as riders in their sixties and seventies. She estimates that the membership is about equally divided between those who do StarCycle exclusively and those who mix other kinds of workouts into their routine.

Whatever a rider’s experience level, the StarCycle team creates a personalized experience in an inviting environment. When I arrived at the studio, I found that each bike had been set up with a towel and two small hand weights, and a staff member helped me configure my bike correctly for my height. For my first few classes, I found personalized notes on my bike welcoming me to the studio or congratulating me for returning. Instructors called out encouragement to me and other students by name during class. 

So, how well did StarCycle prepare me for my cycling tour? Even on days when I pedaled up the grapevine-covered hills of the Piedmont region, I experienced only minor muscle soreness. Remembering my StarCycle classes, I got out of the saddle periodically to reduce soreness and did pushups on my handlebars every so often to relieve forearm tension.

There are no beginner classes at StarCycle. “Every class is defined for every fitness level,” says Neal. My advice to novice riders: Let yourself work up to the moves that involve taking your hands off the handlebars, which can feel a little scary at first. Your hands (along with the rest of you) will get sweaty, so wear cycling gloves to help you keep a grip on the handlebars. And definitely invest in some bike shorts or bike underwear to protect your “undercarriage.” Even if you’re an experienced road cyclist, you may be in for a shock when you try StarCycle — indoor cycling, advises Neal, “is a completely different sport.”

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Located in Suite D115 at La Cumbre Plaza, StarCycle offers multiple classes per day, starting as early as 6 a.m. on weekdays. Reserve a spot using the StarCycle app. Towel service and cubbies are included, and shoe rental is available. Plenty of free parking. See starcycleride.com.


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