What’s the difference between FlyWheel and SoulCycle? You’ll find out today.
Studio cycling classes continue to be a popular way for people to work out. I have to be fully honest and let you know right off the bat that (a) I’m a personal trainer and group fitness instructor so I have a biased and perhaps more judgmental opinion than most (b) cycling is not my favorite form of exercise.
That being said, I’ve taken a handful of FlyWheel classes and a plethora of SoulCycle classes from a variety of instructors and have some thoughts.
FlyWheel vs. SoulCycle: What’s the difference between FlyWheel and SoulCycle
For a quick primer, you can read the following descriptions of each studio cycling class:
Let’s start with the similarities.
Both studios provide a place to get in a good low-impact cardio workout — no jumping, no plyometrics, no impact on the knees.
Both studios offer 45-minute (and sometimes 60-minute) cycling classes, in which you stay on your bike the whole time.
Both studios offer online reservations in which you choose your exact bike for the workout and both studios offer shoe rentals (for a fee), towels, water, lockers, showers, etc..
Both studios allow their instructors to create their playlists and their workouts, within a specific framework, and both studios’ signature classes have a “weights” portion, in which you pick up light hand-weights to do moves for your upper body on the bike.
Both studios also have themed rides in which one or two artists songs are featured as a fun twist to the regular classes, which are listed on the schedule.
Both studios situate the bikes fairly close together in a dark room with very loud music, and you clip your feet/shoes into the pedals.
But that is basically the end of the similarities.
Now, let’s do the differences.
The workout space
When you enter the lobby of each studio, you won’t notice a huge difference outside of the colors and branding, but once you enter the actual workout room, it will be clear these two places are quite different.
FlyWheel bikes are set slightly apart in stadium style.
FlyWheel bikes are spaced out a bit more, and the room is set up stadium style, so each row of bikes is raised a bit, so you can always see ahead of you, have more breathing room and see the instructor down below. There is also a raised-up ceiling and a little more airflow in the room. In addition, each bike has a little digital monitor and there are two big TV/computer monitors in the room for everyone to see down by the instructor. There are some mirrors (but you are not really facing the mirrors), and the rest of the walls are plain and black — basically making it a dark workout room.
If you like your space, you’ll prefer the FlyWheel set-up.
SoulCycle bikes are packed right in.
SoulCycle bikes are right up on top of each other (I mean, the butt of the person in front of you is like less than a foot from your face when leaning forward, for reals), with the instructor on a raised platform in the front middle of the room. There is no TV and no technology, other than big speakers, lights and the bikes. You have very little personal space, and only the back two rows of bikes are slightly raised, so it’s not all that easy to see the instructor if you aren’t up front. The walls of the room have motivational sayings and inspiring words and phrases all over them. The ceiling is low and there are a lot of speakers.
If you’re into the packed vibe and feed off the energy of your neighbor, you’ll prefer the SoulCycle set-up.
The workout equipment
This is where another big differentiation occurs.
FlyWheel is all about the technology.
Your instructor will offer you a range of torq, RPM and power points to obtain during the workout, and you can track your progress on the mini digital display attached to your bike. The ranges are given throughout class so you know you are on target. Then, if you choose to be included, the instructor can also display all of the riders in the class on the big TV/computer monitors in the front of the studio for everyone to see how they are ranking, with your nickname shown. These monitors will also be used for races to see who is in the lead. That means you are more accountable. Then, at the end of class, you can get a digital reading of how hard you worked and compare your results to others and compare to your previous rides to check your improvement. You can even log into a dashboard on the FlyWheel site to see this information moving forward.
SoulCycle is all about the feeling.
In SoulCycle, there are no digital displays, no ranges given, and there is definitely no competition. You are there to ride for yourself and enjoy your neighbor’s company, not compete against their stats. The instructors offer slight suggestions on “turning up your dial” which is the bike resistance, but nothing like what you get in FlyWheel. In fact, sometimes in SoulCycle, it’s hard to tell if you’re doing the right resistance or not, because there’s no tangible measurement, so you just have to listen to your body and trust your instinct, with the light guidance from the instructor to “turn it up.”
Both bikes offer a smooth ride, and your feet have a bit more movement in the FlyWheel bike pedals.
The workouts and the instruction
FlyWheel is an athletic and structured ride.
FlyWheel is more of an athletic ride, which seems more sports oriented. There are always a few races, climbs and endurance intervals, which seem to be properly spaced apart, like a traditional cycling or treadmill workout. The instructor tries to keep the class moving with their energy, music, instruction and use of cuing the resistance on the bike and RPM, which is the speed at which you are pedaling. There are some slight push-ups on the bike, some arm work using long weighted bars and some tap backs (when you move your butt and hips back over the seat of the bike). But mostly, you are focused on the legs and the riding. The arm portion is fairly straight-forward, and I prefer it to the SoulCycle arm portion. Both take your arms to fatigue with light weights and lots of isometric holds though, but FlyWheel’s contains simpler moves.
The FlyWheel instructor stays on their bike, leading the class and giving instructions, while riding along. Based on my experience, FlyWheel instructors give more set-up, cueing and form feedback in class than SoulCycle instructors. Yet, I’ve actually had some very junior and unpolished instructors in FlyWheel that just didn’t possess that cycle swagger you really need to lead a class that is essentially going nowhere — people need to be entertained. And I’m always on the hunt for good group fitness instructors.
FlyWheel also offers a few different types of classes with the signature FlyWheel class rotating and getting a new name every once in a while, currently called Method45. Then there is Tempo45, which is a newer and slightly harder variation with no hand weights.
SoulCycle is a more of a cardio experience.
SoulCycle workouts have less structure, although you are certainly busy working during class. The instructors and the theming in SoulCycle are perhaps a little less about the physical workout, and more about pushing yourself, getting inside and outside of your head and having a cathartic experience.
The instructor may spend a lot of time off the bike, walking around, dancing in the mirror, motivating people and even blowing out the candles at the base of the podium for an “effect.”
All of the instructors I’ve had for SoulCycle have that “swagger” that actually makes you want to listen to them (although sometimes they talk so loud and so close into the mic, it’s hard to understand them — which is not an issue I’ve ever experienced at FlyWheel), yet, these same cool instructors barely offer ANY cuing and just hop on their bike and assume everyone is a pro. The group fitness instructor in me ALWAYS wants to hear some set-up and form reminders no matter the level of the class — just because it’s the right thing and the safe thing to do.
Speaking of safety, some SoulCycle instructors get so creative with the upper-body and movement portion in their choreography, that it gets a little dangerous for the average rider. There’s all sorts of lingo, like “quick-fire”, “around the world” and whatnot that may seem fun and fast, but it’s just an injury waiting to happen, and the personal trainer in me cringes a bit with some of the moves at times (and I don’t really worry quite as much about this in FlyWheel.)
Also in SoulCycle, depending on your instructor, you will also get majorly inspired and pumped up by some reflective talk. I’ve had instructors tell personal stories, and others who just ask you to let the workout be “what you need it to be” and then offer an entire song of silence, just to ride. It usually happens are the arm workout before the final push, and I actually love it. It’s my favorite part about SoulCycle.
You will definitely be challenged in SoulCycle, but the intervals, climbs and races are more weaved into the songs and the flow of class, rather than standing out as part of your workout, but taking that challenge is totally up to you.
SoulCycle recently debuted a slightly harder workout called SoulActivate, which I haven’t tried and is slowly rolling out in bigger cities — apparently it has more intervals and challenges.
Which is a better workout?
Truth be told, it totally depends on the person.
If you are someone who lives for tracking, goals, numbers, competition and structure, then I think you would way prefer FlyWheel. You will always know if you are falling behind, on target or ahead because of the ranges and digital monitor on the bike. Hands down. It’s a tough cardio workout — because staying in the proper range requires some pushing even from the most athletically fit.
However, it’s not fun. I don’t find FlyWheel fun. And even with a great instructor, you will still just be cycling on a bike, in a room, going nowhere. I guarantee you will walk out of FlyWheel having pushed yourself though, because the numbers force you to do so. It’s just a bit more athletic.
If you are someone who loves motivation, a cool vibe, the energy of loud and captivating music, a community feeling (think — cheersing the person next to you with your water bottle during class) and you know how to push yourself and are accountable to the challenges an instructor puts forth without any real boundaries, then SoulCycle could work for you. You’ll have to really make yourself go hard with turns on the wheel and sticking to the beat of the music, without the certainty that you’re doing exactly what is asked of you.
The coaching in SoulCycle is much more loose. It’s much more about the soul. You will high five your neighbor, do a lot of “dancing” on the bike and bounce with the beat of music in a super dark room with club lights too. I think SoulCycle is a fun experience. I sweat, I work pretty hard, and I always reflect on life while pedaling. The atmosphere lends itself to that, so it’s an experience. You can kinda escape your day and enjoy the music, while also getting your heart-rate up.
Which workout is better for beginners?
It’s a toss up, but I’d probably say FlyWheel.
You can blend into a FlyWheel class much more, because there’s WAY less dancing on the bike and bouncing. And you can opt to not have your name on the Torq board, so no one would know you weren’t hitting the ranges suggested by the instructor. There’s much less up and down and so you’d really just ride your to the best of your abilities, hoping that of course, first that your instructor gets you set up on the bike.
In SoulCycle, you could really get into a class and use barely any resistance on the bike and not do too much with your legs, but you’d still need to understand the arm work and the “choreography” from push-ups, around-the-worlds, quick-fires, etc. There’s a lot of stuff going on, so I think you’d struggle a bit to fit in. And if you’ve never worked out in tight quarters, the loud dark room may be a shock to the system, quite honestly — but if you’re in the back, you could certainly hide a little.
Overview of the difference between FlyWheel and SoulCycle and closing thoughts on cycling
FlyWheel is more athletic, structured and “workout” like. SoulCycle has a lot more upper-body movement, choreography and is more “experience” like. FlyWheel keeps you honest on your output, yet SoulCycle is more fun.
You can get a good cardio workout from either class. You will pay a lot at both studios (usually around $32 a class in the Bay Area if you pay as you go — you can save a bit if you buy a package). You will find instructors you like and don’t like at both studios.
If you’re a straight shooter, I’d head to FlyWheel. If you’re a fun-loving, introspective, social butterfly, I’d head to SoulCycle.
Which is my preference? Well, I’m all about enjoying my workouts, so I’d choose SoulCycle for a little cardio sesh here and there, but it’s not an everyday thing for me at all.
Make sure you do other forms of exercise and pay attention to your form on the bike!
No matter what you do, make sure you spend plenty of time doing OTHER workouts off the bike too. Cycling is a great low-impact option for the lower body, but it shouldn’t be your only workout, nor should it be done every single day.
Being on the bike in a hunched over position isn’t the most natural thing, especially for those of us who spend a lot of time commuting in the car or working seated at desks, so we need to do standing work that opens up the body. Even if you have proper cycling form, you will still need to do weight-bearing activities, in which your feet are on the ground and you are upright, to challenge your body outside of the cycle room.
I’d recommend regular weight training, yoga or barre as a good complement to cycling a couple times a week. Quite frankly, all of the push-ups and upper-body stuff in both FlyWheel and SoulCycle aren’t super safe for the average exerciser with mobility issues, so listen up to any of the cuing that is offered by the instructor and listen to your body too — if something doesn’t feel right — don’t do it.
I typically go to a cycling class about twice a month for a short dose of sweaty cardio, and that’s about it!
But I’m all for supporting big studio chains that are getting more and more people around the world to use their body and get active. So three cheers for both FlyWheel and SoulCycle for doing just that. 🙂
Thanks for reading! Head here for more of my class reviews, and let me know if you have any questions in the comments.Cycle talk: FlyWheel vs. SoulCycle. Which is better? Find out here ... Click To Tweet
P.S. I’ve been given complimentary FlyWheel and SoulCycle classes, however all thoughts and opinions are my own. Clearly.
Questions of the day
Have you ever done FlyWheel or SoulCycle? What’s your preference?
What are your thoughts on cycle classes?
How was your weekend?