Spinning and Winning: How Flywheel’s Digitization Competes in Boutique Fitness

In many ways, Flywheel Sports resembles most cycling studios: dark lighting, loud music, high prices, and lots of Lululemon. Find out how Flywheel uses digitization to stand apart.

While many fitness studios have incorporated technology in basic ways such as online sign-ups, advertising and communication, Flywheel is one of the first to use technology and the Internet of Things as a key competitive advantage.

Turning up the torque – Flywheel’s business model

According the Harvard Business Review, “smart, connected products have three core elements: physical components, smart components, and connectivity components.”[1] Flywheel is the first spin studio to integrate both the smart and connectivity components with the central physical component required in a spin studio: the bike.

In fact, Flywheel’s incorporation of smart and connectivity is at the heart of its business model – its customer value proposition – and is primarily what sets it apart from its fierce rival, SoulCycle. According to Business Insider, and evident based on personal conversations, “There are two kinds of people in New York City: Those who go to SoulCycle and those who go to Flywheel.”[2]

Since opening in 2010, Flywheel has opened in 18 geographic areas and will operate 40 studios by the end of the year. Comparatively, SoulCycle, founded in 2006, currently operates 62 studios.

Where the rubber (metaphorically) meets the road – Flywheel’s operating model

The “smart” component at Flywheel is the proprietary “tech-pack” which is a device that connects to the bike and allows riders to control resistance (torque) and accurately view their own work effort based on resistance, cadence (RPMs -revolutions per minute), time, and an overall power output. At Soul Cycle, the bike has a manual resistance knob. Flywheel “believed that incorporating performance tracking technology…would provide a more rewarding workout.[3]

The connectivity, and most unique aspect, is the link from the “tech-pack” to the “Torqboard” as well as the Flywheel website and app. Riders can opt in to have their overall performance displayed during class on a large screen called the “TorqBoard.” The display shows only the highest preforming riders in the class in rank order and encourages competition. Regardless of whether or not a rider opts in to be displayed on the Torqboard, each rider has access to a record of his/her performance via Flywheel’s website and iphone app. The online platform allows users to set individual goals and to view customized reports on his/her progress.

Sample profile display from a Flywheel class. Source: Flywheel website.
  Sample profile display from a Flywheel class. Source: Flywheel website.


Torqueboard at Flywheel displays final results for a class. Source: https://twitter.com/ms4cy/status/559319394971815937
Torqueboard at Flywheel displays final results for a class. Source: https://twitter.com/ms4cy/status/559319394971815937

While Flywheel and the Troqboard concept in particular will not appeal to everyone, I think the company has succeeded in looking beyond the technologies themselves and instead, as Michael Porter and James Heppleman suggest, looking to the “competitive transformation taking place.”

Never coast – a look forward

The competition between Flywheel and SoulCycle is real. Not to mention, many other boutique spin and fitness studios like Orange Theory Fitness, PureBarre, and Solidcore are gaining momentum. In order to stay ahead of the curve, I suggest Flywheel continue to innovate with technology.

The website and app provide valuable information, but stop there – I would urge Flywheel to keep going. The platforms have the potential to better engage clients and allow for a more interactive experience. Ideas that come to mind are additional goal-setting, playlist curation and suggestions, communication with other users exchanging tips not only on Flywheel, but lifestyle issues as well.

In addition, as technology advances and becomes more affordable, Flywheel should consider implementing additional smart components to the class experience such as heart rate monitors. Alternatively, or in conjunction, Flywheel should develop a way for the fitness aficionados who already wear a heart rate monitor to class to easily sync that data into their Flywheel profile.

To investors, the match between the Internet of Things and fitness should look a lot like dollar signs. Of course, companies have to have the right business model to make it work, but the potential is there. Let’s not forget that “wearable tech” such as smartwatches and fitbits is set to be a $16 billon market this year[4], stadiums are continuously investing in wifi capabilities and innovative ideas like POS systems on mobile phones, high-tech tennis rackets provide performance feedback to the player, and popular Topgolf venues provide players with microchipped golf balls that score themselves.

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[1] https://services.hbsp.harvard.edu/services/proxy/content/56157960/56157992/2a598ecac93482e25ffab8d197783259

[2] http://www.businessinsider.com/this-indoor-cycling-studio-could-slowly-but-surely-derail-soulcycle-2015-8

[3] https://www.flywheelsports.com/about

[4] http://www.forbes.com/sites/paullamkin/2016/02/17/wearable-tech-market-to-be-worth-34-billion-by-2020/#7ec7c6a63fe3


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Student comments on Spinning and Winning: How Flywheel’s Digitization Competes in Boutique Fitness

  1. One thing that puzzles me about Flywheel is how they’ve also expanded into “FlyBarre” classes. https://www.flywheelsports.com/flybarre-classes These barre classes are pretty traditional and don’t use any IoT components. In my opinion nothing sets flybarre apart from the zillions of other barre classes available in major cities. I find it interesting that flybarre’s customer value prop and operating model is so different though they are a subset of flywheel and available at the same locations. I wonder if there is a way to create some sort of wearable tech / beacons to create as similar leaderboard for their barre classes. Thoughts?

  2. Taking the idea of an IoT cycling platform one step further, what about adding a social impact aspect to further differentiate? Would it not be even more exciting if Flywheel could show that the energy that individual participants put out was going toward reducing the energy bill of the studio and thus creating a “greener” studio? Technology exists that can be added to spinning bikes to use them to take the energy created from the spinning wheel and store that energy for use by the gym [1]. Though it might not be a way to create significant energy (claims are that within a few months the system has good ROI [2]), it is a mechanism for creating a net-zero atmosphere and building in a “feel good” social impact story that will use the existing software and tracking technology to create a more digital disruption of the fitness space.

    [1] “Boston MA Gym Powered by Spin Bikes,” Bike Radar, http://www.bikeradar.com/us/beginners/news/article/boston-ma-gym-powered-by-spin-bikes-33573/, accessed November 20, 2016
    [2] “Gym Uses Indoor Cycling Classes to Generate Power,” Earth 911, http://earth911.com/eco-tech/gym-uses-indoor-cycling-classes-to-generate-power/, accessed November 20, 2016

  3. It’s interesting that FlyWheel has embraced technology not only to provide customers with an easier and more transparent method of customization (I hate turning knobs on indoor bicycles to change resistance), but, as you pointed out, to also define its main source of differentiation: competition. Using technology to enable opt-in competition has far-reaching implications for its brand and customer value proposition. You can see see and feel it in the way their classes are run. While SoulCycle tends to emphasize “togetherness” and inclusive inspiration and motivation, there’s a distinctly competitive atmosphere in FlyWheel classes. As you rightly pointed out in the article, people respond better to different motivational tactics — I see Flywheel and SoulCycle being able to compete in a healthy way while still retaining and growing very different, but equally profitable, customer bases. It’ll be interesting to see how FlyWheel continues to harness technology to further differentiate its competitive advantage.

  4. As is suggested in this post, Flywheel’s use of technology sets it apart from Soulcycle, it’s biggest competitor and suggests a bright future for the company in an increasingly connected world. I like your suggestions of continuing to improve the app and introducing new hardware such as a heartrate monitor but I think they could go even further and must do so to compete with Peloton. Peloton is leading the charge with ‘virtual spinning’ where you can join a class remotely and experience the same instruction and competition elements from wherever you are (if you have a Peloton bike). Given Flywheel’s focus on its tech enabled ‘tech-pack’, they should have a headstart over SoulCycle in entering this new market of virtual exercise and I think they should look to capitalise on this as soon as possible.

  5. My favorite part of the Flywheel vs. Soul Cycle rivalry is that the founder of Flywheel was originally one of the founders of Soul Cycle. In this case, the competitive response between the two companies is very personal – and the philosophy behind their differentiation is as much why Flywheel has adopted personalized tracking as anything else. But regardless of their motivation, Flywheel has taken significant steps forward with personalized fitness tracking. The challenge with personalized fitness tracking is that so many of us are inconsistent in using it – how often does your Fitbit sit in the drawer instead of on your wrist? With Flywheel, by automatically logging workouts and giving you two points of comparison – your historic performance plus your peers’ performance – they’re removing many of the barriers to effectively using digital tracking as a workout tool. It will be interesting to see if more gyms, including those that rely on multiple pieces of equipment, could adopt a similar approach.

  6. I think the future integration with wearable devices is crucial here. Flywheel needs to continue to set itself apart as the digital, metrics-focused spin class. This is especially true because its largest competitor, SoulCycle, prides itself on being removed from the rest of the world, including technology. If Flywheel invests even more in becoming a digital workout experience, they’ll truly differentiate from competitors and be able to maintain their loyal fan base.

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