In life, certain opportunities and rarities are not to be missed. For some, it may be traversing Mount Everest or the Grand Canyon. For others, it’s an audition, or an interview in pursuit of a lifelong dream. For me, it was the chance to participate in Keith Thompson’s crazy hype KTX cycle class, made infamous in online videos.
Burn Baby Burn
I was introduced to indoor cycling by a co-worker and runner friend almost ten years ago. Michelle had been doing classes at Quad downtown and suggested I come out for one of Michelene’s beginner classes. Her instinct was bang on. I loved it. Minus the severe crotch pain that followed. The aggressive sprints, fun jumps, and challenging hills were fantastic. And it played perfectly to my extroverted-introvert personality. See, when you’re on the bike, you’re alone, immersed in your own ride, but surrounded by the energy of the music and people and denseness of exertion around you. Once I’d tried it, it was a mode I returned to often for conditioning workouts. Since then, I’ve attended several cycling workouts at various gyms and studios around the city, some better than others, but all generally similar.
The names Keith Thompson and KTX may not mean much to you, but chances are you’d recognize the video from Facebook or YouTube if I showed it to you. It’s the one with that super hype black instructor who leads those funky cycling classes, with dance choreography and rows of black women spinning in unison. Yes, I said black twice. Thanks to six degrees of online sharing, the promo for his KTX On The Run classes appeared in my Facebook timeline. Without hesitation, my fingers tapped up and down the laptop keys. Clickety-click, “I’m in!” A few short replies later, Cecilia and I had confirmed side by side bikes in the first of four Toronto classes, to be held Friday at 6:30pm.
I’m So Excited
I posted the event on my timeline announcing my spot on bike number 29. I entered it into my calendar. I told anyone who would listen and showed them the video on my computer at work. I described the class for my trainer, who cautioned me not to kill myself before our FANFIT event scheduled the day after. Yeah, I already knew that wasn’t going to be pretty. Most importantly, I made it my mission to get a new sport bra to control my girls, after the unfortunate Boys and Girls Club charity cycle class experience. That’s a whole other adventure you should read about, too ;-) Friday night rolled around and I was ready with my RB Triax bra strapped on, and my hair flat-ironed straight in anticipation of an all out sweat session!
I entered Rocket Cycle off the unfamiliar St. Clair Avenue block midtown, and headed directly up the steep flight of stairs to the second floor studio. It was gorgeous! White walls. Filtered water taps modeled after beer taps. Beautiful dark wood finishes on the lockers. While I liked the grit of a studio like Quad, its basement location, permanently stained with the essence of physical exertion, was a stark contrast to Rocket Cycle’s pristine and airy space. Friendly, mature staff, a refreshing change from over-stressed and poorly motivated 20-somethings, greeted me with towels and spin shoes before pointing out the cubbies, locker area and bathrooms. I passed a few women on my way to the bathroom, almost all of them black. By the time I had changed and claimed a cubby, more and more women were arriving, including Cecilia, looking fly in a cab and shades with her natural hair pulled back. I couldn’t believe the number of Black women I saw: slim women, round women, light-skinned, dark, a few with twists and dreads, two with protective scarves tied around their heads and one who was visibly pregnant! I scanned the crowd gathered in the lobby and pondered trying to get a group photo for commemoration, uncertain I would ever encounter this rarity again.
Even if I hadn’t recognized Keith from the photos and videos, there’d be no mistaking the big black man with the barreled chest towering a foot over all of us. His long arms extended outward as he attempted to gain the attention of the chatty crowd. “If you want a photo with me, we’ll take care of that now. Come on over!” he instructed with a southern drawl. Nobody made their way over but me. Mildly dejected or easily distracted, I’m not sure, probably the latter, but I was left standing there alone without a selfie, while Keith busied himself with his phone on the opposite side of the room. The nerve!
I got the sense that Keith, who was visiting Toronto as part of this On The Run class tour, had a tinge of American arrogance and regarded himself more of a celebrity than this Canadian crowd had acknowledged. A few of us got photos with him after all and just then, the studio doors opened. A pack of sweaty regulars, almost all white, shuffled out as we filed in. No doubt they were wondering what was up with all the Black people.
You Spin Me Round
The studio, which was the size of a small theatre, was outfitted with wall to wall, sleek Schwinn bikes. At the front of the room was a floor to ceiling mirror and instructor platform with a bike and PA system. I found my bike, number 29, in the middle of the third row midway to the back. Although I’d cycled many times, I’d only worn cycle shoes (which were mandatory for this class) once, and hadn’t quite mastered clipping in and out of the bike. I leaned over to my left for help from the curly haired brunette already set up on bike beside me. She and I laughed as I fumbled comically before finally securing both shoes to the pedals. That’s when Cecilia walked in with her puffer and a petrified look. I helped her set up her bike and made jokes to help calm her first-timer jitters.
Once everyone was in the studio, I counted, from the first row up. One, two, three…eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Twenty black people in this class! In all my years, in all my fitness classes, I had never encountered that before. I was often the only one. Maybe there’d be two or even up to four or five, depending on the size and type of the class, but never twenty. We made up half the class. Judging completely from appearances, not all the women came across as particularly ‘fit’. I assumed they came for the same reason I did. Some events were not to be missed.
Let’s Go Crazy
Keith entered the studio like a performer onto a stage, mic’d up, and turned on the music. After a brief introduction and standard cautions, heavy bass beats blared and it was on! What came first and what came next is all a blur now. There was none of the typical position one, two and three instruction that I’d come to expect, and no jumps or hills per se. In fact, we hardly ever touched the resistance. Thank goodness, because more resistance was the last thing I needed. The speedy pace and combinations of upper body moves that demanded serious coordination core engagement, were exhausting. At the end of the warm up I looked over and saw Cecilia slumped over her handlebars. “Get her head up”, Keith directed from the front of the room without missing a beat and transitioned into the next set.
If there was a clock in the room, I didn’t see it. I lost track of time in the workout-meets-dance-party. My heartbeat sped and sweat drenched my skin. We did fierce sets of chest dips and shoulders taps, sweating to hip hop tracks too new for me to recognize (i.e made in the last ten years) and for recovery, bumped and grinded to old ‘Quiet Storm’ RnB tunes, pedalling non-stop all the while. “Up, down, criss-cross! Up, down, criss-cross!” The pace, at times felt like cycling on crack to a record playing at double speed. Rihanna came on, hands rose into the air and our voices sang aloud, “work work work work work” the only song I recognized the whole class. My towel was soaked and my face felt coated in wet sand. I was feeling the vibe and intensity, so much so, that my turnover simply couldn’t match my enthusiasm. I wanted to stay in the flow and match every move beat for beat, but my legs began feeling heavy and my abs and shoulders ached. I focused on maintaining good form and occasionally sat back in the saddle for a break, but always got back up to join the party. Keith’s clownish personality shone bright as he worked the room in his perfected act of hype man-meets-comedian-meets-exotic dancer. When the collective energy waned and our ride looked laboured, Keith shouted for us to keep up with Stephanie, a strong looking woman with a shaved head absolutely killing it in the front row, who I later found out is an instructor there. I need to take her class next!
Keith was a riot and delivered a bang up class worth every penny, but make no mistake, he was a businessman handling his biz. He produced another video there on the spot, finding the right angle, holding his phone high above his head and making sure we gave it our all as he yelled and twerked until that little red light went off. Once we’d cooled down, dismounted and stretched, we assembled for a group photo. “Get on Facebook right now. Like KTX Fitness and share the video”. Whether too spent or disinterested, nobody made a move for their phone. The final sell was for KTX T-shirts strategically piled in boxes by the door.
“How much is $16 American dollars is Canadian? he shot out. I thought it was a trivia question for a prize and without any consideration or knowledge of the exhange blurted out, “Twenty two”.
“KTX shirts. Twenty two dollars each!. Come get yours. I’m not taking these home!” he projected in full carnie mode. I thoroughly enjoyed the class but wasn’t buying into anything more than the thirty dollars plus cab fare I had spent to be there.
One last photo, this time with Cecilia in it too, and that was that. I was tapped out and soaked from my head to my unmentionables, including the new bra which held up beautifully pun intended. As much as we moved up, down and side to side, my girls didn’t. Score for Adidas. I’d survived the crazy KTX class and would do it again in a heartbeat. Leaving the studio, my soggy hair was pasted to my head and I was a hot grimy mess, too weak to do anything but go home. I couldn’t believe Cecilia and the other girls were getting ready to go straight out from there. I love my people. Regardless of whatever went down in that hour, there was no way those fine black women were leaving looking anything less than black gold.
Do you spin? What are your favourite studios and classes?
New to indoor cycling? Here are a my personal tips to get you started!
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