How Does SoulCycle Feel About All the Parodies Popping Up on TV?

Pretty good, and the fitness chain is willing to get in on the gag

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In case you had any lingering doubt that SoulCycle has exploded from trendy fitness hobby to full-on national craze, look no further than the cycling satires popping up on Comedy Central and Netflix.

Nearly a decade old, but exploding in popularity over recent years, SoulCycle has built a brand around the culture of its classroom. With a combination of dim lighting, loud dance music and energetic coaching, the fitness chain has revamped traditional spin classes. Its vocal participants have also gotten a reputation for being a bit cult-like in their exuberance. 

Naturally, the SoulCycle obsession is starting to get lampooned in popular programming, most notably on Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (as SpiritCycle) but also on Comedy Central's Broad City (as Soulstice). 

So how is SoulCycle handling being the butt of a few national jokes? Pretty well, it turns out.

"Parodies help to elevate brand awareness and simply make us laugh," said Gabby Etrog Cohen, vp of public relations and brand strategy at SoulCycle. "We are huge fans of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Broad City." 

Opened in 2006, SoulCycle's cultural relevance has grown as rapidly as the brand, moving from one studio in New York's Upper West Side to 36 locations nationwide.

The company has plans to have more than 50 locations globally by 2016. With nearly 50,000 riders weekly and competitors like Flywheel and Power Cycle cropping up, it's no wonder the shows' jokes resonate. 

"The only reason I watched [Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt] was because a friend told me about an episode called 'Spirit Cycle,'" said Stephanie Smith, an avid SoulCycle rider and account executive at Edelman. "I thought it was humorous in that it is somewhat similar to SoulCycle." 

For its SoulCycle episode (actually called "Kimmy Rides a Bike"), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tapped comedian Nick Kroll to play a ponytailed instructor, Tristafé, commanding Ellie Kemper and Jane Krakowski's characters to find their bliss.

Viewers gradually start to see that Tristafé is using the same controlling tricks—like making participants compete for his favor—as the doomsday preacher who kept Schmidt locked in a bunker for 15 years.

SoulCycle fans admit some of Kimmy Schmidt's gags were bitingly accurate.

"Probably what I thought was most realistic, but also funny, was in SoulCycle when you start you are supposed to sit in the back row," Smith said. "There's this whole elitist thing about getting to the front row and leading the pack, and so in that episode, Kimmy is in the back and she tries to get to the front and that's true in SoulCycle classes."  

As for Broad City, one of the show's long-running jokes is that Abbi, the more responsible of the show's two main characters, works as a cleaner at a gym, Soulstice, that seems to be based on SoulCycle. Abbi aspires to be a trainer but time and time again is left to clean up the various disgusting messes that the gym's patrons leave. 

The SoulCycle PR chief says the brand has yet to do any large-scale ad campaigns and that its presence (even when parodied) on shows like these can help elevate its brand awareness.

SoulCycle hasn't always sat on the sidelines when it starts to get lighthearted national attention, though. When New Girl's Max Greenfield made the faux exercise video below in character as Schmidt, SoulCycle asked him to teach two real classes for charity. 

"We're always looking for ways to surprise and delight our riders," said Etrog Cohen. "We would totally consider doing something with Nick Kroll or the girls from Broad City [Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer]. We're open to integrating pop culture into the experience." 

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.