Fad Fitness: A Flywheel Faceoff

Week 5: "Winning," it turns out, is a relative term

Well, I finally did it.

Now that Flywheel has successfully displaced my concrete fitness goals with number chasing, I can at least cheer myself with the knowledge that my power score finally broke 300. Object lesson: replacing the signified with the signifier works.

It happened on the Upper East Side, in a location tellingly missing the word “flagship” from its title. This Flywheel studio is on the third floor of a building containing a Method Gym—I’m not sure of their exact relationship outside of a shower-sharing arrangement. The bikes had rusty patches, likely due to hourly deluges of salty sweat. I suspect that new bikes make their debut at Flatiron, and the older ones find their way uptown in the back of a truck, before eventually going to an even more far-off location, or for refurbishment or scrap.

I was here because, uncharacteristically for me, it was early on a Friday morning and all classes in Flatiron were booked solid. It was going to be a crazy week at work, and I had no choice but to get up early like so many other Flywheelers out there, and sneak my workout in before a long day at “the office.”

Since Flywheel is something of a boutique gym with a limited number of locations, classes before and after a typical workday—and weekends—fill up quickly, often as soon as they’re available for booking online. This can make even signing up for class a competitive experience.

Competition is key here. During my Saturday class, there were two well-muscled men near me—friends, by appearances—doggedly pumping up their numbers in side-by-side rivalry. They couldn’t be bothered with weights, instead pedaling away in double time while the rest of us struggled with our high curls.

The TorqBoard to my, and probably their, dismay was malfunctioning and had to be turned off, but I have no doubt they would have topped it with a good 50 or 60 power units between them and third place.

But back to the day before, Friday, the TorqBoard was my friend.

The Upper East Side clientele was older, placing me, at only 31 years old, at the young end of the field. In front of me was a man who looked to be 50, whom I identified on the TorqBoard by his bike number—I’ll call him FlyGuy. (I go by “Morq,” by the way. Laugh all you want.)

Per my calculations in last week’s post, I spent the first song trying to keep my current power over 17, which required adding a few torq to the instructor, Leah’s, targets in order to balance out the slower recovery periods.

At song’s end, when she flashed the scoreboard for the first time, I knew a race was on. On the male side there were only three contestants: a runaway first-place rider, FlyGuy and Morq.

FlyGuy was up on me by two. I could see his meter, having the advantage of being right behind him, and could see he was overshooting the targets by a smidgen more than I was. That smidgen, taken over 45 minutes, would ruin me, so I did what any red-blooded American would, and cranked up my torq.

Something also clicked in FlyGuy. He looked at the board, saw what I saw, and called my raise.

The 30-second races were intense, the hills were steeper, and I was beginning to resent him for making me work so damn hard. I was up by two when we got to weights.

That resentment bubbled into full-blown “Oh, no you didn’t!” when I, sucker that I am, pulled all six pounds out of their holsters, and he didn’t touch a thing except 90 rotations-per-minute.

I opted for the 2-pounder, out of a sense of sportsmanship—a gentleman follows the rules—but kept my torq in the mid-20s and my speed in the 60s so I wouldn’t fall too far behind. He pulled even, and, with two songs left, my score was already 250.

I let him have it. I hustled, sweated, tore up hills, winced at my burning thighs, grunted down the final stretch and—victory—306! I didn’t even register his score to memory before they wiped the board, but I didn’t care.

Second place overall; first in the only race that mattered.


About the Project: The Active Times' Fad Fitness Challenge is a six-week-long project in which five hapless writers will immerse themselves in five popular fitness programs—CrossFit, Insanity, Barre, Flywheel and Kettlebell classes—for the dual purposes of getting in shape and evaluating them for our readers. We guinea pigs will bust our butts, burn calories and discover muscles we'd long since mothballed and, if all goes well, emerge into the New Year with a well-rounded perspective of the top fitness fads. Check back every weekday from now until the New Year to come along for the ride without breaking a sweat. Click here to check out the rest of the programs.