Fancy bathrooms, Fiji water, and busting your ass in the pitch dark to glitchy music videos.
I'll begin by saying I was simultaneously the worst and best person to attend a #healthgoth SoulCycle spinoff. I'd never done a spin or SoulCycle class. I'd seen them in movies and have always wanted to try them, but they're generally weirdly expensive and I was afraid of being pushed too far out of my comfort zone. So I was really excited—and really anxious—about checking out Monster Cycle, a health studio with a goth, raver twist, on Lafayette Street in Manhattan. (Admittedly, not the most "goth" neighborhood in New York City.)
I arrived about 45 minutes before class. I'd been running around the city for 24 hours in 80-degree weather and felt dirty and exhausted. As soon as I walked into Monster Cycle, I felt better. The young woman at the counter, Heatley, was personable and charming. A mini-fridge full of liter-sized Fiji waters sat behind her.
I told Heatley I had to pee before I could think, so she sent me downstairs to the bathroom. She told me that I might run into the owner, Michael, down there.
"What does he look like?" I asked.
"He has a wolf tattoo on his neck," she replied.
I have a thing for bathrooms: I like comparing their different features and failings. So when I walked into the bathroom to pee, and found a shower and outlets and fresh towels, I was pleasantly surprised. To get the optimum experience of the studio, I decided to take a shower using the provided Monster Cycle brand shampoo and Dr. Bronner's soap. (Note: after class and right before class, the lines for the restrooms and showers were insane. I enjoyed this luxury only because I came early. I highly recommend it.)
Another extra touch at Monster Cycle is that they have the things you sometimes forget when you go to the gym; they had bowls overflowing with hair ties and socks. (My friend got a pair with unicorns on them, making me wish I'd also forgotten socks.)
The owner of Monster Cycle, Michael Macneal, has been featured as a leader in the health goth scene by the New York Times. Macneal grew up in Pennsylvania on the DJ/rave scene, and he explained that he had wanted to own his own SoulCycle studio by his thirtieth birthday. He's ahead of the game, because he just turned 30, and the studio is two years old. Macneal says that he and his partner—Demetre Daskalakis, a doctor—have been called a "health power couple." Macneal told VICE he was "obsessed with the high from group cycle classes" but felt that something was always missing—he wanted to feel like he'd attended an event while exercising. His idea evolved into his Monster Cycle class: 45-minute exercise sessions in the pitch dark, while music videos play to motivate and inspire you. Macneal says what sets Monster Cycle apart from other studios is that they embrace all types of music styles with specials rides like Metal Monday, Goth Pop, Punk, and Trap Week.
You can reserve which bike you want, which is cool—if you're a frequent flier you probably have a spot you like. I chose the back row. Macneal was our leader (Teacher? Coach? Cycle Messiah?), and he was fantastic and unpretentious and inclusive. I like that in an exercise teacher. He had to come help me get my shoes into the slots. I kept my bike on really low resistance most of the time. (I'm not a runner or a biker.)
When we were two minutes into class, I turned to my friend, smiling, and said, "I love this! I'm into it!" Looking back, I cannot believe I was so naive.
My internal monologue went something like, Oh my God, when will this be over I hate it I'm so out of shape what time is it, this is fucking horrible actually it's kind of awesome I'm burning so many calories I love that it's pitch black this music video is fucking cool, the chick is like in her underwear drinking champagne with a gun to her head, oh there's Taylor Swift in the video, cool, if I lived in NYC I'd come here a few times a week and be in amazing shape I'm so fucking healthy that I'm here on a Friday night ARGH this can't be good for my body I can't do it I want to stop I hate this if I lived in NYC I would never come here! This feels really good no it feels really bad. And so on. Classic ego chatter.
Macneal swooped by and danced around through the bikes, checking in on a few people, encouraging them. When he came up to me, I said, "I'm dying." He turned my resistance up a little, put his hands on my hands, and said, "You're doing great, see? You're not dying yet!" I have to say, it boosted my ego—this dude is good at what he does.
If the music videos weren't playing, it would be really hard to be in that class. I might have had to leave. But the videos made me want to dance.
Macneal danced and cheered us on the entire time, in a way that was not annoying at all. "Don't slow down!" "Don't take it easy on yourself!" "Push it!" (The opposite of the yoga classes I normally frequent: "Take it slow, take it easy, don't push yourself.")
It wasn't till afterward that I realized there were no goth people in my class. I thought I was going to see lots of decked-out piercings and tats and black, but everyone looked normal. Apparently, bankers love this place. They sit in their offices all day and then go hard at Monster Cycle. I mean, they flow hard.
I didn't know how to get off the bike, which kind of gave me a panic attack, so I just took my feet out of the shoes and left. I was covered in sweat and stickiness like never before. It scared me. I stripped my clothes off and put my dress back on.
My friend and I left and went for pizza and wine in Little Italy, and that's when the effects kicked in, super similar to taking a taste of MDMA. We were giddy and high. My body was relaxed and loose. I could see that people go to places like Monster Cycle to drink the Kool-Aid. And I respect that, because you can feel like you did drugs without doing drugs, which at this point in my life is profoundly important to me.
So it's a happy ending. Overall: Monster Cycle has fantastic service, an unpretentious vibe, and generally wants the best for you and your body and mental health. Michael says that the Monster Cycle Studio is the edgiest and sexiest studio you will ever encounter and that they will continue to push the envelope every chance they get. I believe him.
Though, I do think it would be more inclusive if they had one night a week where they offered classes at a sliding scale or a cheaper price. (Classes currently run around $35 a pop.) When I win the lottery, I'll go there every day of my life and find my higher self.
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