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Leisure Management - Wheels in motion

Indoor cycling

Wheels in motion

So your cycling classes are always full. Does this mean your cycle offering is performing optimally? Not necessarily. Kath Hudson finds out what mainstream operators can learn from the growing number of specialist indoor cycling microgyms

Kath Hudson
Body Bike’s Uffe Olesen says indoor cycling clubs go to extremes to inspire members
Well-designed waiting lounges can help people switch off from their everyday life
Full-service facilities should consider creating a cycling club-in-club

Indoor cycling has become very cool, commanding high ticket prices and prompting long waiting lists. Many of the concepts have been developed by sparky entrepreneurs who have created the type of experience they were looking for themselves (see briefing box, p52). Because of this, the clubs are imbued with a sense of passion, personality and individuality. So is this something the larger chains can replicate? What lessons can full-service clubs learn from the niche indoor cycling clubs?

Make members feel special
Lesson one is to listen to what the members want and make an effort to build a relationship with them. Microgyms tend to work on a pay as you go basis, meaning there’s no security of a monthly or annual contract; they have to stay responsive to members’ needs and keep offering them what they want.

“It’s all about relationships,” says Sarah Morelli, global education and development manager for Star Trac. Are the big clubs creating relationships with their members? I’d say not. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that many big clubs are only interested in how many bums in saddles were in each class, but not which customers were there. Where’s the love?”

Fergus Ahern, managing director of MOSSA in the UK, also identifies the ‘bums on seats’ mentality as an issue, pointing out that having full classes doesn’t necessarily mean happy members, or even that members are getting results. He says members should be regularly surveyed and advises frequent programme changes and up-to-date music to keep people engaged.

CEO of Body Bike, Uffe Olesen, says indoor cycling clubs go to extremes to offer a full-blown experience, and believes this is what full-service clubs also need to do to inspire members. 

“It’s important to build indoor cycling up to be a real experience, akin to going to the movies, but without the popcorn,” he says. “Create a club within a club, with a separate membership, and charge extra to rent out shoes and towels. There should be a lounge to wait in before the class to build anticipation, and to return to afterwards for a smoothie. Through décor and projections, the lounge should help people shut off from their everyday life.”

Carl McCartney, RPM trainer for Les Mills UK, agrees that – while music, décor and bikes are important – it’s the member experience that’s vital. “Indoor and outdoor cyclists are a breed apart from your typical gym-goer, so make sure you’re able to differentiate your indoor cycling from the other aspects of your club. The specialist indoor cycling clubs are doing amazingly well because they’re fostering a like-minded community through their members, making their clubs very sociable. Use all the tools in your arsenal to make your cycling studio a social hub.”

McCartney recommends regular relaunches, endurance classes for more hardcore users, and road rides or cycling tours to strengthen the bond the instructors have with members.

Bin the strip lights
One of the things that currently differentiates the microgyms is their creative use of lighting, with the experience often felt to be more powerful if the room is dark: SoulCycle in New York conducts some classes by candlelight, for example. Morelli suggests that full-service clubs could be more creative in this respect, such as installing a twinkle light ceiling. “People like to sit in the half dark,” agrees Olesen. “Something happens when the lights go out. It becomes a more immersive experience and plunges people into the present moment.”

Sound and graphics can also be used to create a cinematic feel. Get the best sound system, with big speakers at the front and back to really draw people into the experience. Have a big screen at the front to display motivational, inspiring, entertaining graphics – it could be a cityscape one day and a famous ride the next.

Olesen says that fitness club operators should think outside of the box about what will entertain cyclists during their class. He suggests themed weeks and special guests, like DJs or even dancers on stage. Meanwhile Elena Lapetra, head of Schwinn UK, says events such as cycle-related workshops and one-off challenges around big cycling events can help build members’ involvement.

But it isn’t only in these dramatic ways that the environment can contribute to the experience. The basics still matter, with cleanliness key to creating an environment people want to return to regularly. Says Lapetra: “Even if clubs don’t have a lot of money to invest, cycling studios can be made more inviting simply by ensuring the bikes are always spotlessly clean.”

“The bikes should be cleaned after each class and have a full clean every night,” agrees Morelli. “Adding a natural oil scent can help get clients in the mood to exercise, or relax, depending on the goal of the class.”

Focus on results
Gary Oleinik, national sales director at Keiser UK, says technology should be used to allow people to see how they are doing in the class, enabling them to compete if they want to, but equally importantly allowing them to track their progress over time; showing participants the results of their in-class effort is key.

With this need for results in mind, he also argues that it’s important to integrate a variety of intensity levels into the workout – for example, mixed terrain and heart rate-based programmes, some hills and some flats, or zone one and two heart rate levels.

Richard Baker, commercial director of Wattbike, agrees that tech-savvy members want real-time performance data, as well as good equipment that gives an excellent ride experience. He also stresses the need for clubs to invest in the best, most knowledgeable instructors to attract, retain and motivate members; microgyms not only have a rigorous recruitment process but also require instructors to keep their knowledge up-to-date.

“Busy classes can mean clubs and instructors become complacent, not showing enough interest in updating or developing knowledge and skills,” observes Lapetra. “Make sure instructors regularly update their skills to embrace the latest research, new class designs and training techniques, otherwise members will drift off to other classes or even other clubs.”

Lapetra also suggests bringing in expertise from other parts of the club by offering 15 minutes of core training or flexibility as part of a cycling class: “The indoor cycling studios are by their very nature specialist, meaning they’re more limited in what they and their instructors can offer. Larger clubs can draw on the full breadth of their offering to provide a more rounded, varied, engaging class with a broader range of benefits. This should be packaged so it’s perceived as one big class, such as indoor cycling integrated with core or yoga.”

Get creative
In the perfect world, your cycling studio will offer everything the niche clubs offer, continues Lapetra: spotless bikes with onboard computers linked to display technologies, stadium layout, perfect temperature and the best sound system. However, she acknowledges this isn’t always practical or within budget: “But creating a wow factor doesn’t always need a huge budget. It needs purpose and creativity. If you can’t afford new bikes, get yours serviced – riders soon tire of rusty bikes, wobbly pedals and inconsistent resistance – and implement strict maintenance routines and studio etiquette to ensure bikes stay looking and riding their best.

“Try and get computers retrofitted – with the growing desire for measurement and tracking, this is a smaller investment that can have a big impact on riders’ experience. And even if you can’t afford a full refurb of the studio, a great sound system is the fuel of the class, and some quirky lighting and a lick of paint can make a big difference.”

Clubs must also make sure it’s easy to book into the class by offering an online booking and payment system, she says: “Do your members have to follow strict and complicated guidelines for booking classes: maximum one week in advance, queueing at reception or on the phone to book? Remove their excuses for not joining your classes. Make booking really simple, including via mobile, and ideally with a live feed to show if someone’s favourite bike is still available.”

It’s this sort of personalised attention to detail that will really help the chains bring a point of difference to their cycling offering. As Morelli observes, boutique cycling clubs offer a five-star service – so what little touches could you introduce to make your members feel really special? Hand out fresh fruit? A smoothie? A cold hand towel?

Lapetra concludes: “Once you’ve gone through all the different scenarios and decided where you can improve your offering, give your studio a new name to mark a new beginning and let the world know about it.”

Introducing the microgyms

We round up some of the emerging group of cycling microgyms…

Psycle London
A new kid on the block, Psycle London opens its first site on London’s Regent Street in February. Created by Colin Waggett, the former CEO of Fitness First, its objective is to create the most enjoyable fitness experience in London. In this highly designed club, where the work of London artists is on show, classes promise to be fun, as well as effective for toning and burning calories. A pay as you go concept, classes will cost £20, or £15 if you book a package of 25.

Born in New York in 2007, SoulCycle offers a mix of inspirational coaching and high-energy music, with some classes that use candlelight to bring in a mental / spiritual aspect. Handweights and resistance bands are used to work the core and arms as well. There are currently 22 sites in the US, but the company plans to have 50–60 worldwide by 2015, with rumours of a possible London launch. It’s not a members’ club, but you have to buy a series of classes in order to book in – US$25 per class plus US$3 to hire shoes.

BOOM! Cycle in London offers classes styled around hip hop and disco music
BOOM! Cycle
Currently with one club in central London, BOOM! Cycle has plans to open nine more sites across the UK capital. For £14 a class (or £9 if you bulk buy) you’re promised pumping music, great instruction and high quality bikes. A range of different classes are offered including Hip Hop, Disco Cycle and a two-hour intensive session.

H2 Bike Run
This London-based concept was created to allow people to cycle or run to work in the city, get a decent shower, park their bike safely and even get it serviced and have their muddy clothes cleaned. Spinning has always been part of the core offer, but other classes such as yoga and TRX are also available. The first site opened in Soho in 2011 and there are now two more in central London. Various membership options are available to take advantage of the different services. A Spinning class costs £8, or you can pay £50 a month to use all the facilities.

Launched last year in central London, Cyclebeat allows participants to opt into its Beatboard technology, which displays performance in-class. Each performance is emailed to you and saved to your account, so you can track fitness improvements. One class costs £15, or you can buy 10 classes for £120. Every new rider gets 20 days’ access for £20. Monthly and annual memberships are also available.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2014 issue 1
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