Stationary Bikes That Foster Community: A Look at Harlem Cycle
The pandemic disrupted daily life in a myriad of ways. For group fitness enthusiasts, gym closures and social distancing meant an immediate end to their workout regime in the months following initial lockdowns in March 2020.
Harlem Cycle, a boutique indoor cycling studio based in New York City, first opened its doors in 2016. Tammeca Rochester, owner and founder, has almost 15 years of experience running her own nonprofit and previously worked as a Colgate-Palmolive marketing manager. Rochester’s vision for her fitness studio went beyond having a space for people to achieve their workout goals. She wanted to develop a supportive community where both instructors and team members were representative of the diversity a place like Harlem offers, whether it is physical appearance, professional background, or lifestyle. Building economic prosperity and creating jobs within the neighborhood is part of Harlem Cycle’s mission, ensuring that 90% of the studio’s team is hired locally.
“Being able to see yourself reflected is very important,” Rochester explained. “We strive to make sure that we're always able to reflect our community when our clients come in and ensure that they feel comfortable going at that pace that honors themselves. You're not in competition with your neighbor. There is no leaderboard. Pedaling faster will not make that person beside you feel any different.”
COVID-19 safety regulations led the cycling studio to pause its operations for 15 months. Learning to pivot the community aspect of her business online took time. Harlem Cycle could not simply go virtual as many clients did not own stationary bikes, and for those that did, the bikes would often include programming from another company. Rochester first developed a wellness platform that offered multiple mat-based workouts, outdoor bike rides, and community hikes.
“I think the community really appreciated that because they knew that we were doing it from a sense of caring and making sure that they were staying active and moving, and it also was our way to help stay connected to them,” Rochester said. “But throughout the pandemic, the hardest challenge was being a studio that relied on in-person and having a certain machine where you couldn't take that home with you as easy as possible.”
In addition to alternative programming, Harlem Cycle hosted weekly Wellness Wednesday sessions on Instagram with chefs, doctors, and meditation experts to encourage daily movement for free. They also developed Harlem Cycle at Home, an on-demand platform that offers recorded cardio, cycling, sculpt, and strength workouts, along with recipes, cooking demos, and family fitness activities.
Harlem Cycle was founded on the belief that everyone should have equal access to wellness. For Rochester, health and wellness in her community have a two-generation component.
“If you see your mom's eating healthy and living an active lifestyle, then generations to follow automatically see that as the way they should be following,” she said. “It’s creating an impact in our community generationally, and we want to continue that and make sure that we're focusing on diseases such as obesity and heart disease and all those different things that are plaguing our communities, and that we're doing our part to help eradicate it.”
Harlem Cycle plans to open a second studio location in New York City and hopes to add more physical locations in the Northeast. This past year, the spin studio was awarded a $5,000 grant by the Coalition to Back Black Businesses (CBBB) – a multi-year initiative founded in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, American Express, and four leading national Black business organizations – that supports Black small business owners through immediate financial assistance and resources for long-term growth.
As the cycling studio enters its sixth year, Rochester finds inspiration from supporting others in their fitness journey.
“Seeing people reach their goals and knowing that we're part of the reason they're meeting their goals keeps me going,” she explained. “I have an amazing team of instructors and my front desk staff that are just the best of the best, and their energy alone motivates me to keep trying.”