The congregation stands at the door of the chapel, hands clenched around bottles of water, feet balancing on horseshoe clips soon to mount pedals.
“Is it like spinning?” a woman behind me asks her uninitiated companion. “No,” she replies. “This is Soul Cycle.”
The priest, a young man with a tailored beard and a defined physique, beckons the worshippers in. The pews are freshly wiped; white towels decorate the handlebars. Each bike is occupied; hopefuls on the waiting list are turned away.
The priest sits by the altar choosing a hymnal from a computer perched on a table protruding from the wall. Under the music, the noise of locking machinery vies with chatter.
Riders select their bike before the class ensuring a demarcation of devotion — skeptics at the rear, fanatics at the front. The bikes immediately facing the priest are reserved by the most loyal — booked in the hope of receiving a look of favor or a nod of recognition from the leader. Some congregants attend church daily, some more than once a day.
It’s a ’90s nightclub, an ’80s aerobics video, a self-help convention and a liturgy. It’s a mass of steam pipe-sweaty believers all moving in primal groupishness — forward, back, left, right, always on the beat, always on the beat, always on the beat.
The riders mirror the movements of the priest at the altar, each motion choreographed immaculately with the music.
Across the notes, the priest shouts mantras of mindfulness, mutterings shorn from self-help cards and as opaque as the horoscope: “We ride, we struggle, we change, we grow, we conquer.”
The message condensed is that fitness means confidence and confidence means happiness, all delivered in fortune cookie prose: “Ride from the soul and find the happiest, fittest, most confident you in every aspect of your life.”
Through moving as one, individuals experience “self-transcendent emotions,” feelings of something greater than themselves; tribal and uplifting, the same euphoria derived from amphetamines and EDM or singing in a choir.
The priest finally reveals why we are all there: “Together we will escape the difficulties of our lives and become a part of something bigger than ourselves.”
It’s an easy sell. In a world in which corporations reduce individuals to a daily function, the church provides more. It says you are greater than your role, more than a number on a spreadsheet vying for a few additional dollars at the end of the year, more than a hungry dog snarling over scraps at the corporate feeding bowl.
You are more than a reluctant psychopath, forced to compete for approval from above whilst treading on those below lest they move ahead at your expense. You are a human. You are more.
Candles surround the priest like Anglican evensong while scripture ornaments the wall — “Athlete, Legend, Warrior, Renegade, Rockstar.”
Throughout the service God is praised, praised by the priest in branded shorts, the human God, you, the rider, all the riders, the congregation and the collective endeavor it submits — all praised by the priest in branded shorts.
The service ends and the pews empty. The congregants leave weary, fitter and closer to happiness. “Tough class” a man says to a woman removing her shoes. “Yes, he really pushed us today,” she replies. “It was like a different world in there.”
The hope is that conviction bleeds from ritual into the real world. Riders just have to keep coming back. Founding a church, it seems, is as easy as riding a bike.