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SoulCycle rides into Canadian fitness market with planned Toronto studio in 2017

TORONTO – SoulCycle, the pricey American exercise chain with a cult-like following, will open its first international location in Toronto this March — with plans to expand to multiple locations in the city and across Canada.

But industry insiders say it may face a more challenging ride north of the border, where some boutique spin studios operate at about half the cost of what SoulCycle typically charges.

New York-based SoulCycle opened its first studio in 2006 and has since grown to 67 locations in the U.S., with four more set to open this winter.

It’s en route to expand to at least 250 studios in the country at a rate of 10 to 15 per year, according to a preliminary prospectus the company filed in the summer of 2015 for an initial public offering that has yet to happen.

Andrew Alvarez of market research firm IBISWorld believes Canada’s boutique fitness market is not yet so saturated that it presents insurmountable barriers to entry — but competition is likely.

Part of SoulCycle’s future success or failure in Canada will boil down to cost, he says, noting that many traditional gyms are struggling with consumer aversion to price.

SoulCycle’s pricing varies somewhat through the U.S., but riders in New York City, for example, pay US$34 for a single class, with no option for monthly unlimited class rates. Cyclists also need clip-in shoes, which SoulCycle rents for $3 a class or sells for $150 a pair.

By way of comparison, Julie Mitchell, the owner of Torq, an indoor cycling studio that opened in Toronto’s east end last May, charges her clients C$18 per spin class.

Still, she believes some Torontonians, especially those who have tried out a SoulCycle class before, will shell out the extra bucks for a ride there.

Mitchell herself has attended classes at several SoulCycle studios and says it’s done a remarkable job creating a unique experience while building a strong following.

The company says its classes combine a full-body, rhythm-based workout—what SoulCycle calls a curated cardio-dance party—with a mind/body component designed to inspire riders emotionally.

In its preliminary prospectus, SoulCycle says its “elevated, meditative fitness experience” has drawn a following that includes numerous celebrities and generated positive publicity for the studios. Comedian Amy Schumer, for example, recently shared a photo on Instagram of her at Chicago’s Southport location.

But even if some consumers balk at the cost of sweating like — or possibly with — the stars, SoulCycle has a few advantages, including experience in Canada.

Its parent company, Equinox Holdings Inc., has brought two locations of its luxury fitness centre, Equinox, to Toronto and another will open in Vancouver before the end of the year.

In the U.S., SoulCycle hosts parties and corporate events that on average cost around US$1,000 — another way the company can generate revenue, Alvarez adds.

“The company may be able to get a leg or two over the competition as a result of these niche offerings,” he says.

SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan declined an interview request but said in a statement the company sees “tremendous opportunity” in Canada.

Despite its imminent arrival, Mitchell isn’t concerned. If anything, she says it’s likely to generate more interest in spinning.

Ashley Ander, the founder and general manager of Ride Cycle Club in Vancouver, agrees. Her gym is expanding to Toronto early next year as well.

“I feel the more, the merrier,” she said in an email.

“Each studio has its own vibe. It’s all about what works for the individual.”

Follow @AleksSagan on Twitter.