SoulCycle: The Cult of Powerful Women

soulcycle bike

As soon as my shoes were clipped to those paddles, I knew I was hooked. I pushed the paddle harder after the instructor gave another encouragement to the whole class. I looked up and saw a row of loyal bikers in their white shoes; they were paddling intensely and rocking their body to the beat. I did not even have time to breathe; yet other SoulCycle riders were all there to motivate me. The room was completely dark, and we rode to four candles that surround the instructor, who stood tall on her bike in front of the room. The instructor told us to close our eyes and enjoy the blasting electronic dance music tune that was blasting in the dark room. Once my eyes were closed, I felt empowered by the pack of people that were paddling to the same rhythm, and I was focused totally on my body and inner self. After 45 minutes of standing up on the bike, I knew that I have found another part of me who is strong and fun. I felt empowered and inspired to be a different person. In class, the instructor encouraged us to keep going, and she motivated us with phrases such as “as you push that paddle, you find someone stronger within.” However, my male friend who attended the class did not resonate with these messages at all.

The dark room filled with SoulCycle bikers.
The dark room filled with SoulCycle bikers.

I realized that SoulCycle is not just an expensive indoor biking class. The loyal SoulCycle customers were not addicted to the brand SoulCycle; they were addicted to the disciplined and stronger self that they have found within. SoulCycle is a process of body modification, which transforms how women feel about themselves both physically and mentally. Women use SoulCycle as a way to express their powerful, and independent self. SoulCycle membership conveys the ability to meet the aspired, upper-class female urban lifestyle, which requires tremendous effort to balance work and leisure. I argue that SoulCycle is new form of conspicuous consumption in which women show off their power and luxurious lifestyle.

First, SoulCycle membership demonstrates a woman’s luxurious lifestyle that blends work and leisure activity. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, work is a “sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result” (“Work”). SoulCycle asks one to physically work to achieve an outcome of a fitter physical and mental health. Consistent class attendance and workout promises the result of a fit body. SoulCycle resembles this notion of work. At the same time, SoulCycle also resembles leisure activity in various ways. According to Elizabeth Wilson in Fashion and City Life, “the spending of money became a leisure activity in itself” (Wilson 143). In the case of SoulCycle, the spending of $34 per class becomes the leisure activity because one could be doing other forms of exercise for free or cheaper price. Another aspect of SoulCycle’s leisure activity is that it offers a similar experience to dance clubs. We often define clubbing as leisure activity since it is a “non-productive consumption of time” (Veblen 28). From riding in the dark room that only has four candles to blasting electronic dance music for 45 minutes, the atmosphere mimics the experience of when individuals are at the club. In addition to the atmosphere, participants are asked to stand up and ride the bike; this action resembles dance moves and the jumping movement in the dance club.

Second, SoulCycle demonstrates women’s control over their the transformation of their identity. The transformation of identity of SoulCycle members is witnessed through their apparel. In Language of Personal Adornments, Mary Ellen Roach and Joanne Bubolz Eicher stated “different combinations of apparel with their attendant qualities are capable of registering sufficiently consistent meanings for wearers and their viewers” (Roach and Eicher 154). In this case, both the combination and transformation of their apparel consistently portray the identity of the wearer as the independent, successful woman of the 21st century. When frequent members arrive at SoulCycle, most of them are in their work apparel: shirt, blazer, skinny jeans and ankle boots. They carry brand-named bags such as Chanel, Hermes, Bottega Veneta and Celine. These expensive adornments signify professionalism and achievement in their career. Once they change into their gym apparel, these Lululemon pants and SoulCycle biking shoes signify discipline, self-love and leisure. When these cues are read together, they signify the identity of independent, successful women of New York City. It portrays these women’s ability to control and balance their career with leisure activities, both by using not only financial resources but also mental work and effort.

The transformation from work apparel to gym apparel can be witnessed at the lobby of the studio.
The transformation from work apparel to gym apparel can be witnessed at the lobby of the studio.

Third, SoulCycle is where patricians conspicuously consume. In Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence, Young Jee Han, Joseph Nunes and Xavier Dreze defined patricians as those who are “concerned with associating with other patricians rather than dissociating themselves from other classes of consumers” (Han et al 17). Luxurious brands that most SoulCycle riders use rely on implicit cues that require the cultural capital from others who have high purchasing power. The handbags from Bottega Veneta, Celine and Hermes rely on distinct yet subtle designs that require those who participate in high fashion to read their values. This conveys how patricians at SoulCycle are only concerned with associating themselves with those who have the same cultural capital.

In contrast to the quiet display of wealth, the explicit display of lean and fit body in gym apparel portrays SoulCycle members’ discipline and hard work. The regular SoulCycle members could easily be spotted; they are the ones in the front row, who could keep up with the pace of the class. In addition to their SoulCycle gear and their purchased biking shoes, they all have skinny and fit body. These skinny and fit bodies resonate with Thorntein Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous consumption”, which is a method of “demonstrating the possession of wealth”(Veblen 53). However, women at SoulCycle are not only demonstrating their possession of wealth, but they are also demonstrating their discipline to achieve the ideal body type. This idea of discipline becomes as valuable as financial resource due to the temporariness of the fit body. In order for women at SoulCycle to maintain their skinny and fit body, they have to have financial resource, leisure time and discipline to work for it. Thus, maintaining this particular type of body reflects a luxurious and self-conscious lifestyle. The work apparel that these women arrived in and gym apparel show women’s ability to spend money on luxurious brands and activities.

To conclude, SoulCycle completes the lifestyle of the new independent woman. The motto, such as soul warrior, and the actual empowering experience are catered to females in urban areas who are aspired to achieve career success as well as healthy lifestyle. This demonstrates how women redefine success as related to the ability to control our physical and secure social status. Since women are often subject to control of others, SoulCycle is another opportunity for women to be in control of themselves. SoulCycle is a way for women to exercise their power physically and mentally through adornments and hardcore exercise.

The outside of SoulCycle studio in NOHO, New York. The SoulCycle gears are also displayed on the window.
The outside of SoulCycle studio in NOHO, New York. The SoulCycle gears are also displayed on the window.


Han, Young Jee, Joseph Nunes, Xavier Dreze. “Signaling Status with Luxury Goods: The Role of Brand Prominence.” Journal of Marketing (2010): 15-30. Print.

Roach, Mary Ellen, and Joanne Bubolz Eicher. “The Language of Personal Adornment.” Fashion Theory: A Reader. Ed. Malcolm Barnard. London: Routledge, 2007. 109-20. Print.

Veblen, Thornstein. “The Theory of Leisure Class”. Ed. Dover Thrift. New York: Dover Publications Inc., 1994. Print.

Wilson, Elizabeth. “Introduction”. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. New Jersey: Rutgers University, 2003. 1-15. Print.

“Work.” The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 2015. Web.


thelala. “Why Everyone Is Freaking Out About SoulCycle.” Photograph. Webshots. 15 February 2015. Web. 11 March 2015.

sosh. “SoulCycle”. Photograph. Web. 11 March 2015.


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