Briana Owens may own a studio that offers spin classes, but she wasn’t always a fan of the form of exercise.
“I didn’t like it at all,” she told me over the phone. “I didn’t like the music, I didn’t feel like the instructor saw me. I was on the bike doing my own thing and it was really random, being in the back on a bike in a dark room. It was just…I didn’t like it.”
It wasn’t until the New York City native was lovably shamed by her co-workers into giving spin a second try that she eventually turned that attempt into a third, fourth and fifth try. Before she knew it, she was checking out multiple studios for classes and spinning grew into a passion.
Now the 30-year-old is opening her very first boutique spin gym in Brooklyn this Sunday. Spiked Spin will stand in the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in its first brick and mortar after Owens spent the last three years operating out of a shared studio in Manhattan’s financial district. She surprised the owners and herself with the fan base that grew, peaking at 3,000 riders across all over NYC.
“We started to sell out to the point where they were like, ‘Okay, what’s happening? This is not what we were expecting,’” she said. “I was like, ‘Me either!’”
But Owens hopes to do more than just bring spinning to Brooklyn. The whole mission of Spiked Spin is to make health and wellness accessible, especially in communities filled with people of color who don’t have that many options around them for fitness classes, or can’t afford to spend $30 or more on them.
“I kind of wanted to shift that narrative of boutique fitness being a luxury to just boutique fitness being an awesome experience that everyone should enjoy or at least have the opportunity to enjoy,” she said.
Check out Owens’s story, including why it was important for her to bring her gym to an underserved community, the problem with the perception of boutique fitness as a whole, and why people who come to Spiked Spin will always feel and be seen.
MadameNoire: Are you someone who has always been fairly active? How did you get started in group fitness?
Briana Owens: I’ve always been pretty active. I went to dancing school when I was younger and I ran track through high school, so activity has always been a part of my life. Even in college I would do little things to make sure I went to the gym. It was more so once I got into corporate America that I started to take more classes, but I definitely have always maintained a level of activity as far back as I can remember.
How did you initially get into spin classes?
So working in advertising, our partners would take us to different experiences, and a lot of times, group fitness was one of the things we were able to do. I started off mostly taking FlyWheel and Soul Cycle classes and that’s kind of where I got my first introduction to the concept. And then from there I just started taking classes all over and that was really the intro to boutique fitness and cycling.
So you would say that you became addicted pretty fast since you were going to the different kinds of spin classes?
I didn’t become addicted fast. I actually took one class and I didn’t go for a year because I hated it so much. Then my co-workers were like, Briana, you can not count something out after one time. You need to give it one more chance. Literally it was like nine months later, my team was going on a group outing, so it was kind of one of those not mandatory but mandatory things we needed to do. When I went to that ride it was so much different. I think it could have been, one, because I was in a different mind frame being that I was like, I have to be here, let me make the best and most of it. Also I felt like there was just a bit more instruction and understanding of what the purpose was. After that ride I think I had a little bit more of, “Ok, I’m into this!’ Then I progressively became addicted to it. It wasn’t like a light switch and I’m like ‘Oh my God, I love this.’ The more I did it the more I learned how to use my body on the bike. The more I found instructors that I enjoy. That’s when it started to be like, okay, this is something that I’m into.
Did that very first experience ever play a part in how you went about doing Spiked Spin?
It definitely played into how we operate. I’m always conscious of my first ride and I’m always thinking about how I can avoid that experience for others. Sometimes it is what it is. It’s so brand new to so many people and so there is that initial shock that comes with it. But it’s definitely something I keep top of mind and front of mind every time we host a ride or doing any type of experience. How can we prevent that as much as possible? How do we make sure people are leaving here at least feeling seen, at least feeling like they didn’t waste time and at least feeling like they can take something away, even if it’s not about the workout, I want them to leave with something valuable.
It looks like it helps that you’re walking around between the bikes letting people know you see them. Most spin classes the instructor just stays in the front on their bike.
Also, I think a point of distinction is we don’t have a pitch black room and that’s intentional. I’ve been to a lot of studios and I know that’s the trend. We do not do that. If you are coming to a Spiked class you will never be in a pitch black room because I can not instruct you in a pitch black room. My instructors can not teach that way. We try to make sure we never forget that people need instruction and people need to gain something from their experience outside of just riding. We want to make sure they properly ride, that their form is correct and also that we see them and they see us. I feel like being seen is a major part of our classes.
Why do you feel like the trend is to go dark? Do you feel like these facilities are trying to help people hide?
Actually, yes. I do feel like there’s an element of hiding. I also think there’s an element of people thinking they need this dark space in order to focus and to lock in. I would encourage people, you should be able to be your best, visibly. You shouldn’t need to be hidden in order to show out. People are comfortable when other people are not looking at them or they’re just doing their thing one on one. I want you to maintain that same level of comfort knowing that you are fully seen and people can see you. You should still put in the same amount of effort and energy and want to work hard. I don’t want to give people that out to where they can just settle because I can’t see them. We want to encourage people to feel empowered regardless of the lighting. We don’t want to add to that narrative. Beyond that, I think people feel like to be able to create that club atmosphere, it has to be dark. Or to create that gym atmosphere, it has to be dark with the flashing strobe light or it’s dark with the candles. I’m not knocking that, but that’s just not what we’re doing.
What pushed your desire to bring Spiked to Brooklyn?
I always had my focus on bringing it to underserved communities, minority communities, communities that don’t have access. That was really it. I live in Brooklyn, a lot of my friends are in Brooklyn so it just felt organic for that to be the first location.
I know you want to have affordable classes, so what range of pricing would that be and why was that important? I’m sure that all plays into your efforts to serve underserved communities.
Yep! So our mission is literally to provide accessibility and education through wellness. I know that the price point is something that can typically count a lot of people out of fitness, especially boutique fitness. So the price point was definitely something that we didn’t want to be a deterrent. We didn’t want that to be the thing that is blamed for why a person can’t experience it, so we have classes ranging from $15 up. And then we have a membership package that we’re rolling out that’s very competitive. It makes the classes than $3 per class per month. Also, we offer community rides. We try to do a lot of partnerships with larger brands to buy out the club or buy out a package so that we can provide reduced rates or even free. We try to get as creative as possible with making sure price is not a barrier to wellness.
Just to add to that, that really was important to me because a lot of the articles I read, a lot of the press,e specially surrounding boutique fitness has made it this sign of luxury and that really bothers me that anything related to wellness is also related to something that’s inaccessible or luxurious. Your wellness should not be as expensive as your handbag because wellness is necessary. A nice pair of shoes is definitely not something you need, but to have your heart working, that’s something every human being needs to live and survive. I kind of wanted to shift that narrative of boutique fitness being a luxury to just boutique fitness being an awesome experience that everyone should enjoy or at least have the opportunity to enjoy.
How important is it to have this space, which I see all kinds of people flock to, but have it available to cater to the needs of African-American women who don’t feel represented and welcomed?
That actually was the onus of the brand. I did not enjoy feeling like I was the only one. By most boxes checked, people look at me and say, well you’re already fit so you shouldn’t feel that way. But it’s still a very intimidating experience to be the only one and I notice that with my girlfriends who have curvier bodies or who are just beginning their fitness journies. There are all these different considerations and barriers no one really discusses that go beyond the color of your skin. I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to make it through 45 minutes. That’s a daunting thought to have before you go into a class. So it’s imperative, the number one thing we’re always thinking about and the reason the brand was created, is that every single person, woman, person of color, would feel completely seen and welcomed, and knows that the instructor understands all the barriers they’re facing and we’re there to let them know that they can do it.
Be sure to follow Briana’s Spiked Spin page on Instagram and check out the rest of our Fitness Fridays profiles here!