There’s a thing you notice when you’re black and you attend a Manhattan spin class: You’re usually the only one. This wasn’t lost on Tammeca Rochester, a marketing-pro-turned-entrepreneur who opened Harlem Cycle earlier this month. It’s the neighborhood’s first indoor-cycling studio of any kind — a confounding thing to imagine when you consider it’s hard to walk ten minutes without tripping over a spin class in Manhattan.
Rochester wanted a place that embraced community — her community — and that eschewed competition in favor of overall fitness. And, since price always matters, she set the classes close to $10 below the Manhattan competition and elected to offer free water to boot (at SoulCycle that will be an extra $3, thanks). Below, Rochester explains why she hopes to achieved a fitness renaissance with Harlem Cycle, why she thinks competitors haven’t opened franchises in upper Manhattan, and why her studio is rejecting the Mean Girls tenor of boutique fitness.
What made you want to start your own studio in Harlem?
I grew up in Atlanta, where you ride your bike with your friends all the time. When I moved to New York and had my son, I rented a bike and took him. It was the scariest experience of my life. Every person blew their horn at us. I thought I was going to drop the bike and kill my child — it was so traumatic. And then I got into the park and everyone was like training for Tour de France because they’re professional riders and I’m just trying to take a leisurely ride.
What was the time period of all this? Years?
Not years, I’m a very fast learner. It all started in late September of last year, that’s when I made the realization it’s not coming.
There are no other studios?
No. You can take a class at one of the chain gyms, but there are no studios that specialize in cycling in Harlem.
What differentiates your studio from the other boutique studios?
For one, we’re more about a community feeling. We don’t want to create a competition feeling. When you walk into our studios there are no mirrors, and we did that for a reason. We wanted to make sure this was a place, a safe space for everyone no matter your fitness level; a judgment-free zone.
I wanted this place to look like Harlem. To me, Harlem is not just a location, it’s a state of mind; it’s a culture. We wanted to have that culture inside the studio. Having the exposed bricks, the fireplaces, warm neutral colors — now we’re having a mural painted by a local artist to make sure we’re bringing Harlem inside.
I go to fitness studios a lot and I’m often the only black woman. Is that something that you wanted to address?
Going to these studios downtown I was always the only one and I was like, This is a very popular workout, it’s been taking over the nation, how am I always the only person in these classes at 6:30 after work? I would go to the YMCA and New York Sports Club, which are in Harlem, and it’s filled with black women and I’m like, What’s going on?
Those [studio] environments create that Mean Girls spirit where you walk in and you feel like you’re not part of the clique. We don’t live in the same neighborhood, we don’t eat the same things, we’re very different — our bodies are very different. So it’s intimidating for someone to walk into a class and be the only one.
I realized that’s why we aren’t going to those classes, because it is intimidating. I wanted to create a studio that was open to everyone — race-wise, health-level-wise. We’ve had people come in who have never ridden a bike before. We deserve a boutique place that gives you high-quality service and gives you the best workout for you. I wanted that to be available for this community.
Why do you think the other boutique spin studios haven’t set up franchises in Harlem?
I don’t know, maybe they don’t see the opportunity. Maybe it’s because when they’re looking at their classes, they don’t see us.
What do you say when people point out the socioeconomic barriers that inhibit healthy lifestyles, including fitness? Caring about fitness is often depicted as a luxury.
I understand why they’re getting that perspective. If you look at food prices, it’s hard. A salad is like $12 at Just Salad and a burger is like $4. But you have to think about your health; it’s not a luxury. We wanted Harlem Cycle to be cost efficient for the neighborhood. We’re significantly lower than the other studios so that we can get our community in here. Twelve dollars for a first try. But I truly understand where people say it’s a luxury, but anyone can afford to go for a walk. Anyone can afford to walk for a few minutes and get just a little bit of heart health and get their energy levels up.
What is your ultimate goal?
I want people in Harlem to get that this is their studio. My ultimate goal with the studio is to create a revolution of movement with Harlem Cycle. By creating studios globally where people feel welcome, feel community, and see the impact of Harlem. Once that mural is up you will see Harlem Renaissance when you walk in. To get that feeling where anyone — no matter your ethnicity, your race, your socioeconomic status — can walk in and feel comfortable and at home.
This interview has been edited and condensed.