The daughter of a gym teacher, Rice had always made time for exercise, but more as something she diligently executed than as a source of joy. Then one day she walked into a little exercise studio in L.A. called Train West Hollywood and took an indoor-cycling class taught by Janet Fitzgerald. The bike soon became the only place where Rice could unwind from the nonstop pressure of working with “talent,” turn off her brain and enter into another activity with the same urgency she brought to her job. After cycling, she emerged energized instead of exhausted. “Those workouts became the anchor of my emotional life,” says Rice. “I could lose myself in them, in almost a trance-like way.”
When she moved east, Rice went looking for that same inspiring, spiritual hit and came up empty. For Rice, indoor cycling in New York felt like yet another hard-driving, goal-oriented item on the day’s checklist of chores. “I think I tried every class and gym in New York,” she says. The only experience that came close was a class taught by Ruth Zukerman at Reebok Sports Club, in which riders were guided rather than bullied and taught to use yoga breathing rather than compete to outride the other people. When Rice described her dilemma, Zukerman said, “You need to meet this woman who takes my class in East Hampton. She keeps talking about opening her own place.” Which is how Rice ended up sitting down to lunch at Soho House with Elizabeth Cutler—one of those epic, life-changing lunches where everything clicks, where you bond over having five-month-old daughters and having recently moved from the West (Cutler spent 10 years in Colorado), where by the time you leave, you’ve practically launched a business together.
“For both of us, it was the best blind date we’ve ever had,” Cutler says now. “It was like the lunch never ended,” adds Rice. “I got in the cab afterward and the phone rang, and it was Elizabeth saying, ‘Why don’t you look into towels, and I’ll look into spaces, and we’ll have coffee in a couple of days and see where we are.’ ” Their complementary styles were clear from the start: Rice is enthusiastic, creative, better at ideas than follow-through and a lifelong athlete; Cutler is organized, practical, tenacious and a latecomer to exercise who had been intimidated by fitness classes. “Early on we made a commitment that we’d never allow things to get swept under the carpet, that we’d keep our relationship clean,” says Cutler. “So we worked with an executive counselor to help us navigate big decisions or figure out problems.” Their personal lives are also interwoven. “Our kids are buddies,” Cutler says. “Our daughters are super into the clubs—they tell stories about who’s going to have which job at SoulCycle when they grow up.”
The first studio came together with a relative ease that astonished both of them and that was difficult to duplicate in later openings. Cutler, a former real estate broker, scouted locations. The first major requirement was soundproofing. One characteristic SoulCycle shares with other cycling studios is the use of pulsating music to help invigorate riders (the company now hires sound engineers from Lincoln Center). It also needed a gym permit and a site that would encourage walk-ins and publicity from street traffic. When real estate brokers weren’t helpful, Cutler got creative and checked Craigslist, where she found a move-in-ready spot on West 72nd Street. A former ballet studio with a personal-training facility upstairs, it was perfect—almost.