Indoor cycling’s popularity heats up in D.C. area

WASHINGTON — Six days a week, Alex Robinson leads hundreds of Washingtonians through 45 minutes of intense climbs, sprints and interval workouts — all on a stationary bike in a stadium-style room that was once a theater.

But two years ago, Robinson was doing something much different. He was patrolling the streets of London in a classic “bobby” suit and tall hat — and occasionally policing appearances by the royal family. (There’s even proof in a photo!)

“You could say I’m on a bit of a different career path now,” says Robinson, who served in London’s Metropolitan Police force from 2009 to 2013.

That’s because these days, Robinson is focused more on intervals than investigations. He’s the lead indoor cycling instructor at Flywheel Sports on Florida Avenue in Dupont Circle.

It’s quite a departure from his uniform-clad days across the pond, but when Robinson moved to D.C. to be with his wife, he decided to pursue a career in fitness and personal training.

“D.C.’s such a wonderful fitness community, and everyone feeds off each other’s energy,” he says, adding that he always enjoyed working out from his days training as a police officer.

His career switch turned out to be a good move — and is likely one that will keep him busy. After all, the popularity of indoor cycling doesn’t seem to be cooling down.

In 2014, SoulCycle opened its first studio in D.C., after experiencing success in New York and Los Angeles and building a list of celebrity devotees. Since then, it’s opened two additional studios in the area.

New York-based Flywheel moved into the District in 2015, and has expanded to 36 locations throughout the U.S., and even two locations in Dubai. D.C. is also home to a number of small, locally owned cycling studios, such as Off Road Indoor Cycling and Biker Barre.

Robinson says the intensity of the cycling workouts is what keeps customers coming back.

In a dimly-lit room, bikers are led through a workout of constantly changing torque ranges and RPMs that can be adjusted based on experience level.

“You’re getting the right range, you know where you need to be, but you can also customize it, so it’s really effective to the individual,” Robinson says.

Results keep riders coming back too.

“There’s a lot of science out there about how effective intervals are for targeting fat stores and also increasing your metabolism. So you can take a class and you’re going to get the metabolic benefits of that for several days after,” says Robinson, who adds that the workouts also help to build and maintain lean muscle.

The number of calories burned per session varies from individual to individual, and riders at Flywheel receive an estimated amount after each workout on the studio’s app. Those who want to ignite a little friendly competition in class can also do so by opting to have their names displayed on the studio’s “torqboard,” which ranks riders based on performance.

Sound too intense? Robinson says not to let the competition be a deterrent. The class style is especially inviting for beginners.

Unlike bright gyms, Flywheel’s cycling studio — and many others like it — remains dark, which is helpful for those who are worried others might see physical evidence of the pain that comes with each sprint. And while the lights remain low, the volume on the stereo is high, so as to drown out gasps for air.

But most of all, Robinson says, the culture is nothing but friendly and encouraging.

“I think it’s a special experience. It’s safe, it’s effective and it’s efficient. You come in and 45 minutes later, you’ve got a great workout and you’re heading home,” he says.

As of now, Flywheel is not reporting plans to expand its presence in D.C.; representatives say the company is focused on its Dupont studio. If you’re interested in giving a class a try, Flywheel offers free sessions for first-timers.

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