The Digital Spin: Flywheel Sports Gears Up with Data to Drive Performance

Flywheel Sports has revolutionized the modern-day fitness experience through its use of digital tools that encourage its riders to go the extra mile.

It’s usually 5 a.m. or 5 p.m. and usually it’s been a long day. Roughly 40 people shuffle in to find their bikes, and quickly stretch as they mentally prepare for the hour ahead. Collectively, something about that dark room, the blaring pop music and the fierce guidance from the instructor – “left, right, left, right!” – has sparked the recent phenomena of the indoor cycling studio.

Building Momentum

In recent years, boutique exercise studios have significantly outpaced growth of traditional health clubs. According to Forbes, chains like SoulCycle, The Bar Method and Flywheel saw 8.5% year-over-year revenue growth versus 2% at traditional “big box” gyms [1]. Specifically, indoor spinning has steadily drawn in new riders attracted to the prospect of burning up to 800 calories per class. With roughly two of every three Americans identified as overweight [2], these studios are actively working to combat obesity while attracting and retaining new customers. In the case of cycling studio Flywheel Sports, the company has embraced digital tools as a key differentiator. Its performance-tracking technology aims to enhance the rider experience, cultivate personal connections with customers, and ultimately generate brand loyalty [3].

Climbing to the Top

With nearly 40 established studios and an aggressive growth strategy to enter Europe and Asia in 2017,  Flywheel has consistently ranked among the top cycling brands (SoulCycle, founded in 2009, is widely-regarded as its main competitor) [4]. Co-founder Ruth Zukerman, who launched Flywheel after founding SoulCycle, aimed to create an inclusive experience [5]. “I wanted to undo the intimidation. This is done via the stadium seating design, dark lighting, and of course our use of technology in studio and online.”

Flywheel's proprietary Torqboards help riders keep track of how their doing throughout the workout.
Flywheel’s proprietary TorqBoards help riders keep track of how their doing throughout the workout.

Flywheel riders are completely immersed in the digital experience. Upon entering a studio, he or she checks in with an iPad and confirms a bike number. The rider then enters the studio, where mini computers, or “tech packs,” are attached to each bike. The packs light up when riders sit down, greeting them by name. The screen lists key

performance metrics including resistance, speed, distance, and a power score that illustrates total energy exerted during the workout. At the front of the room are large screens, where riders can view the power scores of the top 10 performers in the class [6]. Instructors also have access to this data, which is used periodically to encourage riders when they struggle during class. On the backend, this data helps Flywheel address bike maintenance promptly and precisely as needs arise.

Flywheel’s 360-degree use of technology is embedded within its customer promise: “The answer is performance personalization. Our on-bike tech packs let you view and adjust your effort in class. You can share your real-time performance on our in-stadium TorqBoards.” Post class, personal stats are stored on an online Flywheel dashboard. According to Flywheel, these digital features “enhance the ride, make it more efficient, and make it more fun because we can compete with ourselves.” The company plans to publish research to support the premise that its data-driven approach has made setting, managing, and achieving fitness goals more effective than ever.


Social media: Flywheel has cultivated a following of socially-savvy riders who are passionate about sharing their Flywheel stories with friends and influencers.

Data Anywhere, Everywhere

Zukerman’s team also invested heavily in building a Flywheel mobile application, which was enhanced in 2014 to track personal performance and share results [7]. Additional features include a geo check-in for efficient sign-ins at nearby studios; a dashboard highlighting upcoming classes and recent performance data; social sharing to post class reviews and invite Facebook friends to join a class; and a “class rank” feature which shows how a rider ranks against other members of any given session. The rank feature also allowed for “tier 2” filtering by class length, gender and individual metrics [8].


Pedaling Forward

Overall, Flywheel has differentiated itself amid a rapidly-growing, highly competitive market by instituting a scientific, digital-first strategy for its customers. The following ideas could help Flywheel apply this innovative mindset to business operations:

  • Digitizing the foot: Most spin studios require the use of special shoes that clip onto the bike pedal’s hook and secure the rider during the workout. Flywheel could consider the installation of a delicate RFID (radio-frequency identification) sensor embedded within the shoe to track additional data for the rider, such as heart rate and distance traveled.
  • Electric bikes: Could Flywheel leverage all these rapid spinners to generate energy for its brick and mortar operations? If it could capitalize on riders’ millions of revolutions for energy production toward its office operations, it could significantly reduce overhead costs of running the studios.

Flywheel may not singlehandedly solve the country’s battle with obesity, but surely it has created a fun, innovative way for consumers of the future to get motivated and get moving.

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[1] O’Connor, Clare. “As SoulCycle Preps For IPO, Stats Show Boutique Fitness Isn’t Just A Fad.” Forbes 31 July 2015: n. pag. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <>.

[2] “A Global Look at Rising Obesity Rates.” Obesity Prevention Source. Harvard T Chan School of Public Health, 14 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

[3] Saint Louis, Catherine. “In New York, a Rivalry Shifts Into High Gear.” , The New York Times, 8 Oct. 2010. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

[4] Schlossberg, Mallory. “SoulCycle’s Biggest Competitor Is Catching up.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 07 Mar. 2016. Web. 15 Nov. 2016. <>.

[5] Ogunnaike, Nikki. “How One Woman Single-Handedly Changed the Indoor Cycling Game.” Elle Magazine 16 June 2016: Print.

[6] “Flywheel Has New Spin: A Non-snobby, Tech-savvy and Empowering Ride to Take on SoulCycle.” New York Business Journal, 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

[7] Ruth Zukerman Describes the Flywheel Sports Experience. Prod. Flywheel Sports. Perf. Ruth Zukerman. YouTube, 14 Nov. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2016.

[8] Flywheel Sports. Flywheel Sports Launches The First IOS App Exclusively For Indoor Cycling Enthusiasts Nationwide. PR Newswire, 11 Mar. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2016. <>.

[9] Polkinghorn, Alexandra. “Flying High at Flywheel Sports.” Vanities. Vanity Fair, 06 Dec. 2012. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.


[1] Flywheel Sports. “About Us.” Flywheel Sports, 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016. <>.


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Student comments on The Digital Spin: Flywheel Sports Gears Up with Data to Drive Performance

  1. Amrita – great article and topic. Flywheel was especially impressive in this space given they were a first-mover in bringing technology to fitness. I absolutely loved your suggestions of pedaling sensors and the electric bike.

    In addition, what do you think about providing chest-strap heart rate monitors to link to the bikes? Although bulky, it provides an extra dimension of data. Orangetheory Fitness (another tech-inspired fitness concept) provides these heart rate monitors and shows you your heart rate during class. Heart rate monitors should be able to provide more accurate calorie counts than Flywheel’s estimate (which does not take into consideration many factors including HR, weight, height)(1). I also like how OrangeTheory’s app includes community workouts and “join a group” options – the online peer groups encourage people to sign up for classes together and hold each other accountable. This could help Flywheel with customer retention and satisfaction.

    I am worried about the threat of competition – in particular, Peloton’s digital spin classes(2). I think Flywheel needs to move into this online class space and use their brick & mortar presence to help advertise it. Unlike Flywheel, Peloton is using technology to reach the thousands of suburban customers, anywhere in the US. Flywheel’s technology and classes are restrained to metropolitan areas (as they need the population density). With Peloton, you can purchase a bike and access online classes (on-demand) in the comfort of your own home – whether that’s in New York or a small town in Oklahoma (3). I was skeptical at first that it removed the “in-person experience”, but I actually really enjoyed it.

    I love what Flywheel has done to kick-start this tech-inspired fitness studio industry. But they need to continue to invest in technology to respond to competition (who have all been inspired by Flywheel’s first-mover technology).


  2. Great post on a very interesting topic! I love the idea of having sensors in shoes to gather even more data about the workout, and I especially am intrigued by and often think about how these cycling studios can use the power and energy from all the people cycling to power their studio’s electricity. There is a fun example of this in Portland, where you can bike to power your smoothie. [1] The smoothie shop is completely off the grid and self sufficient.

    I would love to see FlyWheels technology and data collection somehow integrated with the app Strava – which is a social network for athletes, where you can track all of your workouts and share them with friends and teams to encourage each other. [2] You can also track your heart rate, miles and pace for each activity- and it works across running, cycling, and swimming. Many athletes do not only take spin studio classes but rather combine various types of exercise. Integrating or allowing the FlyWheel data collection to sync with the Strava app would allow those who are tracking their total workouts to see their performance and improvement not just for the indoor spinning portion of their training.


  3. As newer gyms, companies like Flywheel and SoulCycle are clearly in a better position to use technology and data to enhance their product. But my bigger concern is that both feel like fads, which means that adaptability will be the defining characteristic of their long-term success. Technology can be an important part of that.

    Obesity is a crisis on the US, but the path to health is a challenging one. The only approach is a long-term, healthy diet and commitment to regular exercise, but most people just aren’t willing to do that. That’s why diets that promise more than they can actually deliver (the Atkins diet, for example) rise and fall so fast. Exercise is the same way, and everything from Eight Minute Abs to the Shake Weight [1] have been promised as a golden ticket.

    Without a coprorate commitment to adapability, they could go the same way.


  4. Thanks for a great article! As an avid Flywheeler, your article made me think about why I keep returning and why I prefer it to so many of the other spin options out there. For me, the answer lies in how they’ve leveraged gamification and competition – something that sets them apart even today from SoulCycle, Barry’s Bootcamp, and the other competitors out there – seeing your name on the TorqBoard is a powerful thing!

    An area where I think they can branch into is improved analytics of previous class performance. Taking inspiration from the Nike Run Club app, which not only shows you distance / calories / points burned from your run (something Flywheel’s existing app does), but also what time of day you’re likely to perform better, your fastest route in the city you’re currently in, and your cumulative mileage since downloading the app. Flywheel could do the same in order to increase their consumer engagement: do I burn more calories in morning or evening classes? Do I do better in the front row or in the back of the class? How many Torq-Points have I earned this month? Year? Of all time? Data nerds like me (and I assume, many Flywheel enthusiasts) would love increased insight from the data that Flywheel has. And for Flywheel, for customers who pay $35 a pop for one more data point, it’s a compelling value proposition…

  5. I am a great fan of FlyWheel and am a big believer in its use of data and the gamification that Fay mentions for avid athletes who are interested in taking their performance to the next level. Your suggestion of furthering this experience through enhanced tools is spot on and in line with this goal.

    One downside to the FlyWheel model, however, is that it is often self-selecting to existing high performance athletes and less amenable to novices or the more than half of the country whom you rightly mention is considered to be obese. Nobody likes to be last TorqBoard! and many may be turned off to FlyWheel for this reason.

    With this in mind, I was building on your idea for further innovation to wonder if it would make sense to leverage the data collected from classes (as well as the app you mention they are developing) to create a resource to ‘jump start’ getting into shape. Providing stats on the benefits of beginning exercise as well as an at home how-to guide for getting active could help lots of people get in the habit of exercise, thereby opening the door for them to later on, increase the intensity of their physical activity and eventually reach the level of being a FlyWheel customer.

    This could both help to further the aim to reduce cases of obesity in the country, and also provide a steady stream of loyal FlyWheel customers.

  6. Thanks for the article. Huge growth in the fitness industry going on.

    2 quick points:
    – These business models are generally easy to copy, do you think flywheel will continue to hold on to it’s competitive advantage, or will it diminish with many copy-cats likely to enter the industry.

    – Large scale gyms, like 24Hour Fitness, also pose a large threat to Flywheel. They’ve recently started investing in digitalization as well, and could also easily enter this space with a few capital investments (like similar bikes for instance). Do you think the viability of these boutique fitness shops is sustainable in the long term?

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