Church is dead.
Instead, a new kind of worship bellows from the horizon: one every bit as spiritual, but more physically taxing and emotionally engaging. And it has music that is so thumping, so trance-inducing, that no Baptist choir can compete.
It’s called SoulCycle. This indoor cycling and full-body fitness cult just sold its soul to the devil when, on July 30, it filed an IPO and will soon become a publicly traded company.
Is America ready for this much Soul?
A 45-minute religious service consisting of bicycling, upper body exercise, and high-energy music, SoulCycle has devout practitioners in some 46 studios across the east and west coasts and a few other major U.S. Cities.
Its cult-like horde of adherents—celebrities, millennials, and the occasional father trying to shed his dad bod—pay homage en masse to the tune of nearly 8,000 daily rides, not only on Sundays, but multiple times a week. And just as a cross or a rosary are the churchgoer’s symbolic accessories, SoulCycle apparel has become a must-have, with sales of its clothing—sweatshirts, t-shirts, tank tops, sports bras, jackets, hooded pullovers—growing by 126 percent annually since 2008.
Simply open your eyes in any New York neighborhood to see the cacophony of skulls and the letters “S.O.U.L” proselytizing the fitness gospel in the streets. In Manhattan alone, SoulCycle has 12 studios across the borough.
The company has clearly figured something out. But what exactly?
It’s figured out that people will pay $28-$34 per class—depending on the city and package—to be put through an exercise ring-of-fire. It’s figured out that, to paraphrase its mission statement, exercise can be a spiritual experience when set in a dark, candlelit sanctuary. And it’s figured out that when practitioners move to the beat as a pack and follow the cues and choreography of the leader, they produce a self-high and mind-body connectedness (something Italians call going aldilà) that no religious service can create.
Now, SoulCycle must prove to Americans in the suburbs outside of cosmopolitan and coastal hubs, where Christianity reigns, that cardio-parties are indeed fun and worth the value. Trade in your rosaries and hymn books for your cycling shoes.
But will SoulCycle’s ambitious expansion plans for at least 250 new studios woo the investing public? Google founder Larry Page might use his “toothbrush test” to answer such investment questions, evaluating a product on whether it will be used at least twice daily and whether it improves daily life overall.
Let the facts speak: Millennials are not only “brushing their teeth” twice a day, they’re flossing morning, noon, and night. They’re exercising a hell of a lot more than any generation before. Fitness is woven into their lifestyle fabric.
SoulCycle’s philosophy meets that passion so effectively. By combining the emotional benefit of exercise with class programming, the company taps a nerve that conventional cardio never did: the elevation of exercise to a spiritual experience. The value is in transcending the physical, just like church.
So maybe the devil doesn’t wear Prada. Maybe the devil wears a SoulCycle “drop the beat” shirt and is coming to a neighborhood near you.