Jessica Baker works out during a barre class at Biker Barre, a new fitness center in Capitol Hill. The gym, which opened last month, is owned by two women, one with an interest in spinning and the other with a passion for barre workouts, which combine elements of yoga, Pilates and ballet.
Unlike most gyms or studios, the rooms at Biker Barre, the new fitness mashup on Capitol Hill, don’t have any mirrors. In the studio for indoor cycling, participants sweat and spin in almost total darkness. Upstairs, customers attempt ballet-inspired moves in the barre classes in natural sunlight from windows facing a street of row houses.
There’s no self-examination or self-consciousness — just sweat and soreness.
It’s an intentional design choice, explained co-owners Jane Brodsky and Katie Fouts. Customers stick with a workout if they are comfortable and are not concerned about how they look or compare to their fellow classmates.
“We believe in a healthy lifestyle; we don’t believe in being crazy,” Fouts said after teaching a 7 a.m. indoor cycling class. Fouts and Brodsky are both residents of Capitol Hill and are a lively, constant presence in the lounge area of their new facility. The two women’s backgrounds are the reason for the studio’s two-pronged approach: Fouts brings the cycling experience, Brodsky the barre.
Barre blends strength training, Pilates and ballet-focused workouts, and it aims to lengthen and strengthen muscles, from arms to core, to legs and the behind. Brodsky describes it as roughly “yoga for jocks.”
Indoor cycling is just that: Participants are seated on stationary bikes and spin at varying intensity levels, climbing imaginary hills and sprinting.
Biker Barre takes these two different, though complementary, workouts and houses them under one roof.
The studio opened in May and sits just beyond the main stretch of Eighth Street Southeast near Barracks Row. Afternoon and evening classes are the busiest, but the 6 a.m. cycling class is quickly becoming a favorite. Classes are offered in a mix of experience levels and are intended to let the more dedicated take them back-to-back.
‘Afraid to Sweat’
Brodsky is the former owner of Red Bow studio, the precursor to Biker Barre. Housed in a skinny row house near Union Station, Red Bow opened in 2010 and only offered barre classes. A relaxed and serene atmosphere, Red Bow sought to foster a sense of community on Capitol Hill, Brodsky said. As a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer, she said she realized that in Washington, D.C., the only social outlet is often a bar or a restaurant.
“In a city where you kind of end up being segmented by what you do — lawyers hang out with lawyers, politics hang out with politics, Democrats with Democrats, Republicans with Republicans — it’s awesome to go somewhere where you might not know where somebody works until later,” she said.
Barre first appealed to Brodsky after she developed osteoarthritis and experienced years of tennis wear-and-tear on her knees. She said she did not have the patience for yoga, and Pilates did not do enough. Barre fit the bill. She decided to open Red Bow once she realized that fitness was her passion, though she still considers politics an interest.
Fouts found a similar salvation through cycling. She says she was always an overweight child — “I don’t hold back when there is macaroni and cheese around” — and could not develop a passion for fitness. “I was afraid to sweat because it makes you look ugly,” she said. “I was afraid to go to the gym and be the person failing. When I found indoor cycling, that was for me one of the key triggers that helped me to change everything else.”
A former advertising professional, she moved to D.C. from New York after some years in her seemingly perfect job. “At some point I realized that I was completely miserable,” she said with a big laugh.
She began thinking about opening a cycling studio on Capitol Hill and wanted to meet Brodsky, another woman who successfully operated a fitness studio.
Both are University of Michigan graduates, though they did not know each other at the time. Not long after their first meeting, they both said, they knew the meshed business plans would resonant among the Capitol Hill community, which is home to a small number of yoga studios and membership-based gyms. They wanted Biker Barre to offer strength and cardio classes a la carte.
A Neighborhood Feel
That was about eight months ago. Since then, they have closed Red Bow, opened Biker Barre, and on a personal note, Brodsky is expecting a baby later this summer. A whirlwind, both attest.
“We love Capitol Hill for the fact that people know each other, people are invested in the neighborhood, folks walk around and say hi to each other on the street,” Fouts said.
“While it’s urban, it’s also completely and totally a place where people are going to interact.”
The studio’s lounge is painted black, white and red and has an industrial feel. As in any row house, sounds can be heard throughout the studio and the cycling music blasts into the lobby.
Both men and women have been taking classes, though women tend to dominate. Prices range from $22 for a single class to $250 for a month’s pass. Classes are full of both experienced cyclers and barre enthusiasts and those who have not tried either before.
Doug Murphy is a personal trainer in Washington and owns DSM Fitness. He liked what he read about Biker Barre and was encouraged with the focus on “core strength,” or abdominal and back muscles.
“There are a lot of programs out there right now that aren’t necessarily bad exercise programs, but if you don’t go in with a solid base of core strength, you can get injured,” he said. “Kickboxing, cross fit — as you go along in these classes, you will get some benefit, but if you’re not properly prepared, you can set yourself up for injuries.”
Both Brodsky and Fouts emphasized that in developing the studio, as important as the atmosphere was, the fitness was paramount.
“It exceeds people’s expectations,” Brodsky said. “There are plenty of things that are good in theory but fail in execution. We really feel like we are filling a need and it’s amazing to bring something new in.”
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.