A tune by Death pumped through the speakers in the basement of SYNCStudio in Williamsburg. Halston Bruce, a tattooed chick with curly red hair, donned a headset microphone and mounted her stationary bike. This innaugural heavy metal cycling class (last Thursday) had been her longtime vision, and she percolated with excitement.
“Let’s turn this basement into a double bass-ment!” she proclaimed.
Cue the Led Zeppelin.
See also: Heavy Metal Yoga Is a Thing
Cycling, a.k.a. “spinning,” has become inexplicably trendy, with entire gyms devoted to this one activity. Typically, the accompaniment is remixed pop fare: Beyonce, Katy Perry, etc. For some fitness fans, this works fine. But for others, the thought of listening to such mixes for an hour is as palatable as the sound of a dentist drill. (An employee at David Barton Gym at Astor Place once told me the spinning class there was all Britney Spears. I knew then I was touring the wrong gym.) The de-motivator of bad music had kept me away from group classes. Upon learning that this one would be 100% metal, I’d decided to give it a chance.
When an assistant showed me how to clip my special rental shoes to the bike pedals, my commitment to the next 45 minutes locked into focus. Like being secured to a roller coaster, there was a feeling of reassurance mixed with terror. I was now one with the bike, ready to attempt my first “ride.”
Halston pedaled in time with “Rock and Roll” by Led Zep (arguably not metal, but this was just the warm up), calling out, “Up! Up!,” indicating our knees. It hit me that she was not simply marking the common-time rhythm: she was double-timing it, cycling in eighth notes! John Bonham himself might not have matched the pace. Her legs became a blur of circular motion. She was the Looney Tunes roadrunner and I a straggling Wiley Coyote. My only lucid thought was, “What have I gotten myself into?”
Before class, I’d asked Halston why this was a better workout than running around in a mosh pit. “You get your heart rate to a certain level, and you maintain it for 45 minutes,” she said, adding, “It’s strength as well as cardio.” We weren’t even one full song into her playlist, and already I was doubting whether I was going to last the whole time.
We powered through tunes by Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. God bless Metallica for writing “For Whom the Bell Tolls” because that tempo is actually attainable for a novice. Looking around the room, it was easy to tell who the veterans were–and just as easy to identify the metalheads by the shirts they wore. Represented among the tees were Slayer, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Death, Aksumite, and Freddie Krueger (not a band, but metal enough). I wore an Alice Cooper shirt and hoped the “Love It to Death” tagline wouldn’t prove prescient.
The playlist got more aggressive–Slayer segued into Manowar into Bolt Thrower. By the time “Black Star” by Carcass came on, I was sufficiently impressed by the song choices. (“We’re going to get more and more evil as we go!” Halston announced.) On command, we ratcheted the resistance level of the bike up or down using a manual knob, and perversely I found I liked it better the harder it was. I started to feel like a badass. Endorphins were kicking in.
“Metal offers a sort of fantasy escape,” Halston said later, “It makes me feel empowered and unstoppable! Exercising to such music can only do one favors and improve a workout.” I was beginning to agree.
Right when I felt I was getting into the groove, the pace began to slow. Tunes by Neurosis and Dimmu Borgir offered a gradual wind-down. Our fearless leader turned off the lights and lit saint candles on the floor around the room, creating a black metal ambiance. It was a soothing shift; though we were still pushing hard, it signaled the end was near. We dismounted and stretched to Death’s “Voice of the Soul,” a meditative instrumental, and then it was all over.
There was a feeling akin to exiting a metal show with fellow tribe members, sweaty and spent yet energized and fulfilled. Having survived, I felt accomplished, strong. (Bonus: the next-day crotch soreness and leg fatigue presents the added benefit of feeling like you had great sex the night before. Insert feminist fish/bicycle pun here.)
She was nothing if not hardcore. I opted instead for a shower.
(The next Full Metal Cycling class will be held at SYNCStudio, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on August 21.)
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2014