"I really don't think I need buns of steel. I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon."
Inside the studio, it's dark and cave-like. Twenty worn, once-yellow stationary bikes wait patiently, like horses in a stable. Despite the whirring fans, the air is thick with sweat, musk and stale cleaning solution. Once the class starts, the pungency will become heavier and self-sustaining, as the ten or fifteen of us pedaling furiously in the darkness ride off our sins in one short lunch-hour. Nobody ever said spinning was pretty. But it's effective.
Most of the regulars are here today. Mr. CEO, a dour, white-haired man who only wears t-shirts advertising various East Coast beaches. Ms. Something-to-Prove, a slender mom with green camo shorts and Madonna arms. Mrs. PINK! Pants, who owns a seemingly inexhaustible supply of sweats with various pithies embroidered on her behind.
But the instructor—he's one I haven't seen before. Usually this timeslot is taught by a scrawny, serious blonde, or a perky dancer. But this man, this hulking mass of human, is no dancer: He's an eight-foot tall collage of veins and sinews, muscles and chest hair. On his wrist is a tattoo of a snake; on his bicep, a grinning bulldog. He looks like the kind of guy that likes to shout, who will sweat freely and copiously and, on the harder hills, grunt like a distressed bear.
As I adjust my bike, he plays with his iPod, and suddenly, Lady Gaga begins pulsing over the speakers. I roll my eyes. I'd pegged him as an AC/DC man, not a junkie for pop.
"Not a fan of "Poker Face", I see," he says, smirking.
"I—um…" I blush.
"Don't worry," he says, smiling and lifting his iPod. "I've got some other stuff on here, too."
Smiling back, I mount my bike. Ow. Although I've been here for months, I still can't seem to ever adjust the seat quite right on the first try, so I slip off and begin fiddling with the knobs.
"Is this your first time?" he asks. My face reddens even more.
"No, I just—well, I've been taking spin for a few months now," I say. Man, these knobs are tight. Was the last person to ride this bike Conan the Barbarian? "Thought it might be good to help get rid of some of this extra weight I put on after my wedding. Married life agrees with me too much, I guess. Jesus," I mutter, as my hand, pink and raw, slips off the knob.
"Yeah, I hear you," he says. He jumps off his bike and comes over to mine. With a quick flick, the knob gives. So does my pride.
He moves my seat down about two inches. "There. The seat should be level with your hips. Don't want to hurt your knees."
"No, I guess not." I climb back up. He was right. This is better.
"Alright, class," he says, putting on his mike. "Time to start. Hope you came here looking for a workout. Let's ride."
For the next forty-five minutes, I am all sweat and gristle, powering through the hardest ride I've had in a long time. The pedals whir, my joints groan, and my muscles scream for mercy. We ride up hills, down hills, jumps, climbs, sprints—oh dear lord, the sprints—and by the end of the class, I am a dripping, incoherent blob.
"Last song," the instructor wheezes. "One more climb, then we're done."
Over the speaker, a guitar begins to keen, a clarion wail that segues into a hard bass line and thumping drums. This is a good beat, I think. A very good beat.
Wait a minute.
I stop pedaling, watching my feet weakly keep spinning. Curiously, I peer back at the speaker, then to the instructor. Is that really what I think it is? Am I really listening to… Sonic the Hedgehog?
The instructor catches my eye, and a faint, knowing smile flickers over his face. He stares down at his handlebars and pedals harder.
Yes. I am indeed spinning to a techno cover of the Marble Zone music. I'm also apparently the only one who recognizes the song, although out of the corner of my eye, I catch Mr. CEO swaying gently in time to the beat.
I giggle quietly—or, at least, I intend to. But since I'm so out of breath, it sounds more like the hoarse, barking cough of the dying, erupting out my chest and splitting the room. A few of my neighbors shoot me worried looks.
Thank goodness I'm still so red in the face.
At the end of the class, as we wipe down our bikes, the woman next to me leans over and whispers, "What were you laughing at?"
"The…" I look at the instructor. He pretends not to have overheard.
"N—Nothing," I stutter. "Just remembering a joke I heard earlier."
"Ah," she says with a raised eyebrow, unamused. She moves over to the other side of her bike and strikes up a conversation with Mrs. PINK! Pants instead.
I can't see the instructor's face clearly, but I can tell he's smiling. Should I mention the song? Or would that kill the humor? I don't want to ruin his fun, but then again, it's not every day you stumble upon a fellow Sonic fan at the gym.
I stretch for a long time, willing the kinks out of my joints, and one by one, my fellow regulars filter out, ambling like cowboys. Finally, I too start to shuffle away, but as I walk out, the instructor calls after me, "So, what did you think?"
I consider his question for a moment, then smile. "Keep playing music like that," I say, "and I'll have lost the weight in no time."