A new spin on fitness

KU grad tries to add fun to indoor cycling

JBrennan Shirk, owner of Induro Cycling Studios, leads a group of indoor cyclists at the ICS studio. In addition to playing music, Shirk projects video tours and photographs of exotic destinations during the cycling class, which meets at the Kirmayer Fitness Center on the Kansas University Medical Center campus. An image of a zebra, top, comes across on the 133-inch high-def screen at the Induro Cycling Studios site.

From left, Marsha Wilson, of Merriam, Christian Nafziger, of Westwood Hills, and Kristen Matthews, of Kansas City, Mo., pedal through a high-resistance phase of the workout.

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: Brennan Shirk doesn’t want to bring cycling indoors completely.

“Absolutely not,” said Shirk, the 32-year-old owner and founder of Induro Cycling Studios. “Do we want to replace outdoors cycling? Absolutely not.”

That said, Shirk would love to get rich and famous by bringing cycling indoors.

A certified personal trainer and former spin-class coach, Shirk started ICS nearly four years ago with four used stationary bikes he purchased for $75 apiece.

Today, ICS – inside the Kirmayer Fitness Center at the Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. – boasts 24 dedicated stationary bikes (at $1,200 a pop), a 133-inch high-def screen and a surround-sound theater system.

ICS produces videos from various global sites depicting bike rides, and participants ride along in the ICS studio.

“We want it to be fun,” Shirk said. “We want to show people the world. People ask, ‘Why would you train indoors? You don’t have the sun, the wind, the rain.’ But that’s the point. You want to be aware of all your vital signs without the traffic and without the wind and the rain. It’s mind, body and soul. If you’re riding at 75th and Metcalf or 23rd and Massachusetts, you’re not concentrating on mind, body and soul. You have minivans out there honking at you, people hurling profanities. You’re not concerned about mind, body and soul. It’s survival.”

While cycling – indoors or out – for fitness isn’t new, Shirk’s approach is novel.

Typical fitness-club spin classes often have little to do with “real” cycling, and though they might feature upbeat music, the multimedia fun ends there.

Shirk’s approach is total immersion.

“You can literally see the world,” said Shirk, an avid outdoor mountain biker and road cyclist who says despite his busy schedule leading ICS classes he still spends more time cycling outdoors than in. “You can ride in Zurich or South Africa without the delays or the 18-hour flight.”

Where do you want to ride today?

So far, ICS has just one finished video: South Africa.

But there are other videos in progress, including Zurich, Switzerland; Chicago; St. Louis; and Eureka Springs, Ark.

“I don’t know that the movie makes it any easier,” said ICS regular Mike Ofria, of Parkville, Mo. “But with a lot of exercising, it can get a little boring. This gets your mind off the actual exercise. When you’re doing mountain-climbing drills, I think about the hills I ride outside that I have a problem with. A lot of the movies have good climbing scenes. It’s a lot more interesting than sitting there on a stationary bike.”

Ofria is like a poster boy for ICS success.

He met Shirk when Shirk was a spin-class instructor at a Kansas City gym and followed him to ICS.

He wasn’t a cyclist.

Since then, he has become one.

He completed a 100-mile ride – a century – and the two-day, 150-mile MS 150, among other rides, and routinely puts in 60- to 70-mile weeks outside of ICS.

“I’d say Induro is more geared toward real, outside riding,” Ofria said. “I know it got me into outside riding. I know some people use it just like spinning in the winter to stay in shape, but as many people used Induro to get into outside riding.”

So where does ICS fit in the fitness spectrum?

Spinning is geared more toward gym junkies who might never set foot to pedal outside. And there are a couple of series of videos geared toward making competitive cyclists more competitive.

Induro Cycling falls somewhere in between.

“I’m a certified instructor, but I’m not a U.S. Olympic coach,” Shirk said. “People will improve their cycling skills. But if Joe Racer comes to me, he might not get the training he’s looking for. He’ll still get something from it. He’ll enjoy it. But I don’t think it’s really for Joe Racer. To me, this is all about entertainment, education and exercise, the three E’s.”

Coming soon

For now, the only way to experience ICS is to take a class at the studio in Kansas City.

Classes meet three times a day – early morning, midday and evening – Monday through Friday. Cost is $5 a ride for students, $6 for Kirmayer members and $8 for the general public, or $25 a month for unlimited riding.

The audio-video components are just part of the experience.

Instructors guide classes through the hour-plus workouts, which include a warmup, an introduction to the cycling “destination” du jour and a cooldown.

Different workouts focus on different cycling skills, like climbing and sprinting, and instructors provide guidance on resistance – similar to gearing on an outdoor bike – and cadence, or pedaling speed.

“One thing about being in the theater is, the lights are out,” Shirk said. “You go at your own pace. If you just want to ride along, you can. If you want to hammer, you can do that, too.”

The Kansas City studio is just the beginning.

Shirk is in discussion with the city of Shawnee to open a studio there, and he has had preliminary discussions to open a studio in Lawrence. A Kansas University grad, Shirk says his studios would be a perfect fit for fitness clubs, and he’s working to produce videos for sale.

It’s very much a start-up business.

Shirk says he works 60 to 80 hours a week. He has a staff of video and sound editors that works out of his Westport home and says he hopes to have production copies of six videos by this winter.

“I tell anyone who asks, everything you’ve heard, everything you’ve read about start-ups is true,” said Shirk, who rode all the video rides in person and had a hand in the filming; he even has a tale to tell about a run-in with a curious baboon in South Africa. “It consumes you. It really does. I’m slowly being able to relax.”

Another component to the ICS business model involves charity.

For instance, the ICS crew filmed the annual Wheel to Weston bike ride, a benefit for the American Diabetes Association that goes from Kansas City to Weston, Mo. ICS will produce a video of the ride, making it possible for cyclists to do the Wheel to Weston to raise funds for ADA – indoors.

“A big focus is charity events,” Shirk said. “I want to have Induro-thons where we can raise money for charities. You know, 5Ks are great. Actually, they’re not. I don’t like running. But 5Ks for charity : people pay 20 bucks for a 5K, and most of them are doing it for the T-shirt. How much do they actually learn about the charity? With an Induro-thon, people could come in and raise money for charity and actually learn something about the charity.

“That’s what this is all about. This is a chance to educate yourself and still get a great workout. And it’s fun. We’re young, but I look at where indoor cycling is today, and we’re what indoor cycling will be tomorrow.”