Jillian Michaels, the hard-driving fitness trainer from television’s “The Biggest Loser” and now “The Doctors,” hasn’t worked over a group in about four months. Now she’s just getting warmed up, taunting those of us who have come to her one-time class at Flywheel, Chicago’s newest indoor cycling studio.
“Ah, well, look at all of you,” says Michaels, laughing ominously. “This is so stupid of you to show up today. I’m ready for blood.”
Fortunately for New York-based Flywheel, which opened last week on the Gold Coast, Michaels is an investor in the company, not a spin instructor. Because while her class was certainly tough and entertaining – between commands and expletives, she repeatedly threatened she’d break our arms if we leaned on them -- Flywheel’s regular instructors seem even better.
To be fair, Michaels’ full-time gig is maintaining her wellness brand, not teaching spin classes. And she does embody the type of intensity you can expect from the workout. But the class I took the following day from Ruth Zukerman, one of FlyWheel’s cofounders, was more typical of what you can expect: supportive yet challenging, with a gradual, logical buildup of resistance, speedwork, core strengthening and plenty of sweat. Expect to feel wired for hours after a good spin class.
Flywheel, like Chicago’s first indoor cycling studio, Go Cycle, has also vastly improved upon one of the most infuriating things about stationary bike riding: the resistance knob.
There’s still resistance, of course – they call it “torque” in Flywheel-speak. But on most stationary spinning bikes, there’s no way to tell how hard you’re actually pedaling or what “two turns to the right” is supposed to feel like.
At Flywheel and GoCycle, technology gives riders specific information about how hard they’re working, including power output, revolutions per minute and calories burned. All the bikes have individual screens that let riders compete with themselves or with others – you can also opt out and hide your info -- and it vastly improves the workout.
Flywheel instructors use a training program developed by Zukerman. Music is a key part of the class and differs from the wordless-techno style of some other popular spin classes. “People want to hear music that triggers a memory, that they can sing to,” Zukerman said.
Flywheel is pricey -- $25 for a single class. (The price drops to $20 with the purchase of a 20-class pack.) It also currently offers unlimited rides for $160 a month, with a six-month commitment.
But the studio, which is positioned between a high-end, broadly focused health club such as East Bank and a personal trainer, aims to take care of everything; all you need to worry about is spinning.
If you sign up online, waiting for you in a cubby when you arrive will be rental clip-in biking shoes (cleaned after each ride), bottled water and towel. Forgot your hair band? There’s a bowl of them at the front desk, where you can also get earplugs and fresh fruit.
The studio itself is small but carefully designed. The 45 bikes are spaced on three tiers, so you can see the instructor wherever you’re located. And you’re close enough to feed off someone else’s energy, but not so close that you’re dripping sweat on them.
Personally, I’d rather pay less and bring my own shoes, hairband, water and towel. I don't expect to be pampered when I'm working out. And Flywheel doesn't have showers, so if you plan to take a class and go back to work, you have to figure out how to clean up.
But then again, it’s August and easy to get outside on your bike when you need a fix. Come January, I may be a regular.