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The New Kid on the Bike

I walk through the doors of YEG Cycle at 7:30 on a Sunday morning, and ask myself for what feels like the hundredth time, what the heck am I doing? It’s early, too early. I should be curled up in bed, dreaming of coffee, not at a studio that I assume is filled with people comparing their six pack abs, fixing their perky blonde ponytails, and exchanging the latest recipes for kale chips.

 

The girl at the front desk hands me a form to fill out and a pair of shoes with metal clips on the bottom. “Don’t put them on until you get into the spin room,” she warns me. “The floors are slippery, and you could fall.”

 

Fabulous, I’ll just add that to the list of potential ways I can embarrass myself here today.

 

I allow my friends, who come to the studio regularly, to usher me into a very dark, very loud room and show me to a stationary bike that I am then instructed to “hop on.” All around me people are talking, laughing, stretching, setting up their bikes – looking like they belong.

 

Caleb, who my friends have assured me leads a very tough class (perfect), walks into the room and reminds everyone to grab weights, water, and a towel. He shouts into a microphone, with a level of enthusiasm that I am physically and mentally unable to get on board with,

 

“SUNDAY MORNING HOW’RE YOU DOING?!”

 

Great, I’m doing great. I’m in a room filled with strangers, about to willingly participate in cardio at 8am on a Sunday. It took me seven minutes to clip my feet into these pedals, and I’ve already accepted that fact that I may never get them out again. I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, and this is probably going to be the most embarrassing experience of my life. But yea, I’m doing great.

 

The perky ponytail people ERUPT in cheers.

 

50 minutes later I emerge from the darkness dripping in sweat, face looking like a ripe tomato on a hot day, nauseous, exhilarated, out-of-breath, proud, confused as all hell, and completely and totally addicted.

 

WE ARE NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF SPIN

 

Hi, my name is Sarah. I’m a 26-year-old female living, studying and working in Edmonton, Alberta, and I’m going to be honest with you, I am not in ANY way, shape, or form an athlete. I made the basketball team in grade seven, only to quit mere weeks later in favour of retaining my role in the school play (after making my parents buy me brand new, expensive court shoes obviously). I snowboard, but a lot of the time that just involves tumbling haphazardly down a mountain, and come on, anyone with a pair of goggles and a death wish can do that.

 

If you had asked me on Sunday, March 26, 2017, if I thought I would still be spinning eight months later, I would have laughed in your face and poured myself another glass of wine. With the exception of yoga, I’ve never stuck with a form of fitness for longer than a few months. Yet against all odds, here I am eight months later walking through the doors of YEG Cycle almost every day.

 

I know what you must be thinking:

A.) YEG Cycle is some sort of a cult, and this girl has CLEARLY been brainwashed.

OR

B.)  The workout must be DAMN good.

 

If you’re thinking B, you’re not wrong. But although the workout is exceptional, and I can now wear a crop top with only minimal discomfort, it is not the driving force bringing me back to the studio day after day.

 

The company originally began as YYC Cycle in Calgary, with three studio locations, and has since expanded to Edmonton. In the two years since YEG Cycle’s opening, the two Edmonton locations and upwards of 100 weekly spin classes have provided a platform for an incredible community to grow and flourish.

 

At the heart of this community exists a dedicated group of women, passionate about health, wellness, and the betterment of themselves and others.

 

In my time at the studio I have witnessed unrelenting passion, and have felt unconditional kindness from these women. I have become a part of something much bigger than I could have imagined, and it all began the first time I hopped on that bike.

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF PASSION

 

Like many people (and self-proclaimed couch potatoes), I was wary of spin classes (and exercise in general). Why would I want to pay money to sit on a stationary bike, surrounded by sweaty strangers, while someone much fitter than me yells at me to “PEDAL FASTER” for 50 minutes? I had seen spin classes at the gym, and to be honest, they didn’t look like anything to write an Instagram post about.   

 

Kylie Morrison, Exercise Specialist at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital and Motivator at YEG Cycle, was initially “anti-spin” because of unsatisfactory experiences with classes at her gym. But as someone who has been active all her life, after researching the various motivators Morrison decided to give YEG Cycle a shot. “I chose Robyn because she’s a trail runner and I’m a trail runner,” says Morrison. “I remember thinking it was the coolest thing, and leaving being like I will never say I hate spin again.”

 

Becky Robinson, local fitness instructor and Motivator at YEG Cycle, is one of several other motivators who remember feeling the same way. “That was something we all had in common when we were in motivator training,” says Robinson. “Everybody across the board was like I had done a spin class and I hated it.”

 

If you attend a spin class at your local gym (which I admittedly have not), I am told that your instructor will act as your guide. He or she will tell you to ride at a certain pace, when to sit, and when to stand. At YEG Cycle, motivators (the studio’s version of instructors) tell class members to ride to the beat of the music, and encourage everyone to make as much noise as possible while dancing to a variety of movements under the glow of colourful lights.

 

But although there are stylistic differences, both types of classes are still guaranteed to provide you with a sweat-inducing workout. So what is it then that makes a spin class at YEG Cycle so different than a spin class at the gym?

 

“It starts with your entrance when you come into the studio,” says Linda Suurhoff, Lab Assistant at the University of Alberta Hospital and Motivator at YEG Cycle. “It’s not just about the class.”

 

Through the time he spent instructing spin at various gyms, YEG Cycle co-founder Andrew Obrecht discovered that spin had the potential to become so much more than just a kickass workout. “The bike became a platform to what happened in that room,” says Obrecht. “It was a platform to connection, positivity, passion, and community.”

 

Obrecht co-founded YYC Cycle and YEG Cycle alongside his two business partners Grady Topak and Warren Matzelle, with the vision that the studio would provide more than a bike-centered workout. “I wanted to create a community of people that came to my classes,” says Obrecht. “So I started calling people the Bikergang.”

 

Since the time of the studio’s opening, the Bikergang has grown at a rapid rate, and continues to grow daily.

 

“It’s so much more than those bikes,” says YEG Cycle Assistant Regional Manager and Motivator Jasmyn Ellis. “It’s the people that make this place so special.”

 

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF POSITIVITY

 

I began attending YEG Cycle regularly in April of 2017, and at first is WAS because I wanted to lose weight, get in shape, and not feel guilty about how many beers I was consuming on any given Friday night. My friends had been attending the studio for months, and the change in their physique, skin, and overall temperament was noticeable. What I quickly realized however, much like Obrecht and many other motivators and Bikergang members, was that it was more than the workout that was bringing me back. Although I did (and still do) enjoy racing and grinding my stresses away on the bike, it was the people I was coming to see.

 

Rarely before had I been a part of such an unconditionally positive community. Here were people who were genuinely excited to greet me as soon as I walked in the door, who celebrated my successes and triumphs as if they were their own, and who’s motivational discourse stuck with me long after I hopped off the bike.

 

“It’s empowering. It’s light,” says Ellis of the atmosphere at the studio. “You can find your best self walking into this place.”

 

As a woman, it can often be challenging to find a community of likeminded women who work with you, rather than against you, yet this is what I had found at YEG Cycle. The women at the studio were inspiring me daily, and as I learned more about them, I discovered that these women exhibit the same level of passion and enthusiasm in many other areas of their lives, that they do at the studio.

 

To clarify, there are several male motivators and employees at YEG Cycle, and my praise of the female motivators is not meant to degrade the males in any way. Every motivator at YEG Cycle has something different and exciting to offer, and every motivator contributes in a unique way to the positive atmosphere facilitated at the studio. As a woman, I am simply struck by how motivated I am by the females, both on AND off the bike.

 

Here are women pursuing careers in the health and wellness industry as nurses, fitness instructors, and lab technicians; starting their own businesses; building and maintaining healthy relationships; continuing their education at post-secondary institutions; working as educators; raising children; pursuing successful careers; challenging themselves daily; and leading joyful, well-balanced lives.

 

These women do it all, and STILL willingly give their time, energy and compassion to the Bikergang each and every time they step into the studio.

 

“No matter what day you are having, one of your Bikergang members is likely going through a worse day, or going through something just as hard, if not harder,” says Celine Brossart, Registered Nurse and Motivator at YEG Cycle. “Although you show up for yourself, and you give it your all, you know that somebody in that room may really need you, and you’re doing it for them. So as much as we love doing it and it’s a job, it’s so much more than that.”

 

 The positive mindset these women exhibit is carried forth into all aspects of studio life. I have been given everything from a hug on a bad day and career advice over coffee, to the last of Robinson’s Oil of Oregano when I was feeling sick.

 

“I do my best to interact with everybody, because it’s so important to me to build that connection,” says Brossart. “That’s what it comes down to truly. The human connection is so amazing, and the business would not be anywhere without it. That’s what sets us apart.”

 

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF MOTIVATION

 

I initially began attending YEG Cycle for the promise of a killer workout, but every person who enters the studio, hops on that bike, and clips in for the first time has his or her own personal motivation. Maybe he gave in to a friend’s forceful nudge, or she had a personal goal to lose 10 pounds. Maybe he wanted to change up his stale workout routine, or she simply wanted to try something new.

 

Whatever the reason, we’ve all been there. We’ve all had a first ride.

 

Entering a studio filled with strangers, and actively participating in a new form of fitness can be intimidating (believe me, it took me weeks to realize that I was supposed to be riding to the beat of the music - I’ve been there). But whether you’re walking into the studio for the first time or the five hundredth time, it doesn’t matter. You will be met with a warm welcome either way. Everyone at YEG Cycle, staff and Bikergang alike, knows how it feels to be the new kid on the bike.

 

“You look at your shoes, and you’re like what the hell am I supposed to do with these things,” says Ellis recalling her first class. “I remember being like ‘Oh my god, I don’t want to ask for help. Everyone else knows what they’re doing.’ I didn’t want to be new, and it’s terrifying. But I laughed at myself, because that’s the only way to do it, to laugh.”

 

It can be overwhelming, but once you get the hang of the weird shoes, the hand positions, and the movements, you forget that you’re working out because you’re having SO much fun. The best part about it is that there’s no competition involved. Everyone else in that room is there to cheer you on.

 

“Know that you’re supported and you’re not alone,” says Primary Consultant for Children’s Autism Services and YEG Cycle Motivator Stephanie Mendes. “My hope is that we are a studio full of people who are very eager to hold your hand and support you through it.”

 

It’s simultaneously comforting and encouraging to know that every motivator at YEG Cycle once sat where I do now. These women whom I look up to all had that first-time experience, and were inspired by the strong role models who led their classes.

 

“I remember thinking that Dao was a really inspirational person,” says Robinson of one of her first motivators. “Then finding out that she was a Principal at an inner city school, and has kids.”

 

Although Dao has since moved on from YEG Cycle, her legacy lives on through women whom she’s inspired. For many, like Robinson, this inspiration has grown into a desire to motivate others.

 

“One common thread is: I want to give back to those who have given to me,” Obrecht speaks of the answers he receives when interviewing potential motivators. “Or, I’ve experienced such a change in my life through this, and I just want to be able to give that back.”

 

This cyclical desire to give back has birthed a community of women who are taking charge of their own lives, and encouraging other women to do the same. As Obrecht states, “Our powerful women are inspiring other powerful women in that room.”

 

“I meet people now who are in that spot that I was, and I get to do that for someone else,” says Ellis. “It’s full circle, and it completes my life.

 

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF OVERCOMING

 

Unfortunately, no matter how many inspirational quotes we post on Instagram (#BLESSED), and no matter how many expensive bath products we lavish upon ourselves, it’s inevitable that we are all going to have bad days (or weeks, or months, or years). It used to be that when I was having one of those days (or weeks, or months, or years), I would hide under my covers and binge watch Friends with an assortment of gas-station-goodies close at hand to soothe my wounded soul. Now, I’ve found an outlet through a community of women who support me no matter what kind of day I’m having (okay fine, sometimes I still binge watch Friends while eating seventeen different flavours of ice cream, you caught me, it’s called #BALANCE people).

 

I’ve gained the most from classes I attended on days when I didn’t want to go, or didn’t feel like I could do it, because when I step into that spin room I am given an opportunity to focus on myself, to challenge myself, and to grow stronger. I am given a 50-minute, guilt-free escape from whatever might be troubling me that day.

 

“I went every single day for probably a month straight,” Ellis recalls her discovery of YEG Cycle. “Sometimes twice a day, because it was my only time where it was me time.”

 

Regardless of what you’re going through in your life, in the spin room you’re in control. You are in charge of how hard you push, how much you work, and how you feel about yourself. On days when I don’t feel like I’m enough, spin gives me an opportunity to prove myself wrong.

 

“Spin is not for just a workout,” says Mendes. “The added benefit is that it’s a workout, there’s the physical fitness aspect to it, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual side to fitness in general pays such a big role in lives that I don’t think they should be ignored.”

 

Spin gives me the confidence I need to face bad days head on when they occur. This is not to say that now every time I am facing a challenge in my life I run straight to the doors of YEG Cycle, but rather because of what I have accomplished in that studio, I am safe in the knowledge that I am strong enough to overcome anything life throws my way.

 

“We work under the understanding that everybody is facing a hard battle,” says Obrecht. “Everybody is going through something, and everybody’s battle is just as powerful as the next person.”

 

It is this understanding that provides a platform for support within the studio. Though these women might not know the details of every Bikergang member’s life, they don’t need to. Their genuine care for everyone in that studio is apparent to anyone who listens to, and watches them on that bike.

 

“The things that our motivators say, and the environment that they create for the Bikergang really empower people to make decisions for themselves, for the betterment of themselves and their own lives when they leave that space,” says Obrecht.

 

The motivational discourse that these women deliver has made me feel sexy, strong, and capable. It has pushed me to dial up my tension and work harder on the bike than I ever believed I could.

Not only that, but this discourse has affected my life beyond the studio walls. Because of these women I have re-examined who I want to be, how I want to treat people, and how I want to live my life.

 

“I want people to know, it’s not just about support inside that studio,” says Suurhoff. “Whatever they take from the class, I want them to take something and put it towards their life, not just in that moment in that class.”

 

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF AUTHENTICITY

 

Over the past eight months, I have witnessed countless Edmontonians enter the studio and clip in to those pedals for the first time. In my 130 or so rides, the classes have been few and far between when I haven’t noticed someone new. What’s incredible, is that although the studio has served as a sort of fitness “big bang,” this coming together of people does not depend upon conforming to any sort of stereotype. YEG Cycle celebrates diversity and individuality, and ultimately brings out the best in every person who walks into the studio.

 

“You can walk in here and be anyone you want to,” says Ellis. “None of us know who you are. This is your first step in here. This is like a fresh start.”

 

YEG Cycle’s celebration of diversity extends not only to the Bikergang, but to the motivators, and everyone else who works at the studio as well. The motivators at YEG Cycle are encouraged to express themselves through their music choices, their class styles, and how they interact with with the Bikergang. “The whole point is to express your individuality,” says Brossart.

 

Some motivators might choose to play solely Electronic Dance Music, whereas others will change up their music styles daily, playing anything from Top 40, to Rap, to old school Rock and Roll. The advantage to this freedom is that although some motivators might not craft playlists that suit your musical tastes, with over 30 different motivators, chances are there are going to be some who will.

 

“If you don’t like my class, you’re totally entitled to not like my class,” encourages Robinson. “You might like somebody else’s. Go out there and find your motivator.”

 

Robinson’s eclectic music taste often generates unpredictable musical medleys. I’ve heard everything from Billy Joel, to Marilyn Manson, to Footloose, Flashdance, and Grease in Robinson’s classes (and loved EVERY second of it).

 

But musical preference isn’t the only factor that determines which classes Bikergang members choose to attend. Other factors include schedules, the studio locations, and the personal style of the motivator.

 

“I tend to be very honest with my Bikergang,” says Erin McIsaac, Registered Nurse and Motivator at YEG Cycle. “I’ll get on the bike and be like ‘Hey guys, I just had a whole bowl of macaroni and cheese, so I’m full of dairy and carbs, so we’ll see how today goes.’ Some people might call that an excuse, but I just call it honesty because it’s real life, and I bet you anything three of those other people in the class just had macaroni and cheese before they came to class. Now they’re not feeling alone.”

 

I’m thankful for the variety of personalities and motivational styles displayed by the motivators at YEG Cycle, because like every person, every day is different. Some days I need an inspirational speech and a swift kick in the butt, and some days all I need is for my motivator to tell me that she just ate a bowl of macaroni and cheese so I know that I’m not alone.  

 

“Now I’m at a point where it’s like this is who I am, and the people who show up are the people who appreciate and want to take what I can give them,” says Mendes. “If they don’t show up that’s great because that means somebody else at the studio can give them what they need.”

 

WE ARE IN THE BUSINESS OF HAPPINESS

 

Maybe you’ve read this far, and you’re thinking that despite everything spin just isn’t for you. And you know what? That’s completely fair. Just because I enjoy this particular form of fitness, does not mean that you will too. While I’ve tried cross fit, weight lifting, running, and various other forms of fitness, I’ve discovered that these activities are not for me. You couldn’t pay me enough to run five days a week. It’s just not going to happen. So I get it; spin is not for everyone.

 

But remember, at YEG Cycle we are not in the business of spin.

 

We all crave human connection and a sense of belonging, which is often satisfied when we find people to share our passions with. And if you aren’t into fitness, (by now you know that eight months ago I sure wasn’t), I’m sure you’ve found this connection in other areas of your life.

 

I have found an incredible connection that feeds my soul, and I have found it at a spin studio, which trust me, is the last place on earth I would have ever expected to find it.

 

The entire YEG Cycle community has become an insurmountable support system for me, but it is the women at the studio that have ultimately had the most impact on my life. Everyday these women make me feel proud of who I am, while simultaneously embodying everything that I still hope to become.

 

So maybe you’re not into spin, but as a human being I’d be willing to bet that you’re into passion, positivity, motivation, overcoming, authenticity, and happiness.

 

“What do you have to lose?” Asks Ellis. “The hardest part is walking through the doors, and I swear to god that’s it.”

 

After all, what can be gained from a bike? Defined calve muscles and a healthy heart, yes. But what can be gained from a group of strong, confident, inspiring women?

 

Everything.