#6: Riding in the dark
And how I came to like Taylor Swift
👋 Hi friends, it's Hesam with issue #6 of 4 bits. 4 bits is a biweekly newsletter where I share thoughts and musings on how to build memorable experiences.
Here's what I've been listening to: Taylor Swift - ...Ready for It?
Yes, that's right, Taylor Swift. More about why below.
Riding in the dark
“Do you know this song?
I love this song!!”
The room was dark, I was drenched in sweat, and the only light I could see was the red glow from the exit sign and two dimly lit candles.
I was flailing from side to side, gripping onto the handlebars as if I was going down a rollercoaster, desperately trying to stay in sync with the beat.
The music was blaring. I had made the rookie mistake of choosing the bike below a large, ominous speaker that was turned up to an unsafe volume level. Visions of a future wearing a hearing aid started to appear in front of me and I could barely make out the commands being shouted by the svelte, toned instructor in the front of the room. His hair was perfectly styled. It never seemed to move, even with the seemingly endless number of choreographed moves.
"AROUND THE WORLD!"
"DROP YOUR ELBOWS"
I needed a glossary to keep up with all these terms.
Who would sign up for this craziness? And keep coming back for more?
I didn't fit the typical profile of a SoulCycle rider.
As a married man in their mid-30s with children, my Lululemon collection was limited and my feet were too large to get fancy spin shoes. I couldn't afford any "Soul Gear" and didn't have a "squad" that I could go have brunch with at Local Foods after a ride. I was rarely chosen to blow out the candle when it was time to blackout the room for the meditative part of the soul ride, where everyone was free to "express themselves".
I always stood out. But after a few rides, I could have cared less.
Because I was riding that bike like I was riding my life, or whatever the mantra of the day was.
More importantly, I had found Pinij, an instructor that knew how to turn a dark room crammed with bicycles into a rave that left me walking out inspired and ready to conquer the world.
What I appreciated most about Pinij was his contagious energy and that he was unapologetically himself.
He was always beaming. Walking into his class, he'd immediately recognize you and say, "Hey, Hesam!". He had an uncanny ability to remember people's names.
He loved the music he was playing. He was obsessed with Taylor Swift, and after a few rides, I started to kind of like her too.
When one of his favorite songs would play, he’d yell emphatically: “Do you know this song? <brief pause followed by frantic screams of joy from the crowd> I love this song!”
Once I started taking classes with Pinij, I didn't want to be in anyone else's classes. It was as if I was dating and had found my match. I made sure I attended at least one Pinij class a week, so I could get a dose of inspiration to keep me going.
If I wasn't able to take his class and was stuck with someone else, I would walk away disappointed and dejected. Why couldn't this person be more like Pinij?
This might seem irrational. Maybe you're thinking I was overly obsessed, and maybe that's the case. But other riders took it to even more extremes, taking multiple classes a day with him, following him on every social media platform, sliding into his DMs, and tracking his every move.
It's why some people call SoulCycle a cult, and why I've become fascinated with what cults do to engender loyalty. More to come in a future issue as I dig into this deeper.
I did end up following Pinij on Instagram, but only after he left SoulCycle. Barry's, an LA-based boutique fitness studio with the "best workout in the world" opened up a Houston location. They poached Pinij.
And SoulCycle never felt the same again. I kept trying other instructors, but none of them resonated with me as much as Pinij did.
In preparation for this issue of 4 bits, I went to a SoulCycle class this week. It had been my first time in years. Since my last visit, SoulCycle has plummeted in popularity, shuttering studios around the country.
As I scrambled to keep up with the rest of the class, gasping for air, questioning if I’d have my hearing after, I couldn't stop thinking about how much I missed Pinij.
A truly great instructor, guide, or coach can motivate and inspire you. They are rare. They can define an experience, make it more memorable, and take it to a completely different level. When you've found that person, recognize it, tell them they're great, and keep showing up.
This read hit me at a different level after coming home from SoulCycle today. If you're looking for another health-focused cult I would check out infrared sauna experiences in Houston, they are typically a bunch of regulars obsessed with "bio-hacking". It's my new guilty pleasure.
Oh my gosh I loved learning this about you Hesam! I laughed out loud at the “never chosen to blow out the candle”. I love SoulCycle and fully understood in your essay how you came to enjoy it as well. Particularly once you find an instructor that really resonates. I enjoy indoor cycling in general, but nothing beats the experience at SoulCycle. Taylor Swift is always a good choice for music. I once did a Punk Rock ride and it’s stayed as one of my favorites!