Meet Our Community Partner: Harlem Cycle

This month, we’re highlighting one of our brand partners, Harlem Cycle, Harlem’s first and only indoor cycling studio. We spoke with the founder Tammeca Rochester on how important it was for her to see herself represented in indoor cycling, her advice to a first-time cyclist, and how Harlem Cycle supports other small businesses.

*This interview has been edited for brevity*

What inspired you to start Harlem Cycle?

It was what I was missing in my life. I was looking for a cycling studio close to my neighborhood. I couldn’t find one because there were none. I started taking classes at the Y. I loved the music but everything else was bad; the facilities were bad, the bikes were always broken, there was always something. I wondered, “Why is it substandard when it comes to our community?” I went to studios downtown and they were amazing. They had all the amazing amenities, all the great customer service, all the great everything, but they had terrible music! I just couldn’t see myself reflected in the classes. Representation was a huge thing for me and I didn’t really feel like I fit in there. And one of the ways was just in the music. I couldn’t even stand the full 45 minutes. I would just be waiting on that one Beyonce song to come on. It felt like I was always having to make a sacrifice in some kind of way: if I take the classes uptown, I’m sacrificing the convenience and all the amenities I felt I deserved versus going downtown where I’m sacrificing the overall culture and environment that I felt was needed. One day I said I was tired of having to give up something and three months later, we opened Harlem Cycle.

Are there any expansion plans?

Yep! That’s the plan. We’re going to start expanding in the Northeast and just work our way up and down and take it to all the different urban areas lacking in health and wellness. We’ve been here for 7 years and we’re still the only cycling studio north of 92nd St.

How has the response been in the community? Do you see a lot of first-time indoor cyclists?

Our first-timer rate is amazing for us. But when we first opened, there was a lot of skepticism. People would walk in and wonder, “Is this really Black owned? Is it for me? Can anyone do this? Do I have to be a certain size?” The industry has created this stigma around cycling and this elitist attitude, particularly towards indoor cycling, because of how the top brands portrayed who was an indoor cyclist. We had to push through that noise and make people feel comfortable. We’re a representation of the community. I’m not a size two so being able to see yourself breaks through some of that noise. People were really open and receptive once they saw we were for real and here to actually help the community. The mission and vision are to help and change this community. That was always the goal. So once people started recognizing all the things we were doing, not just inside our studio but outside, to get the community healthy, it totally started to open the doors for us [with the community].

In what ways do you believe Harlem Cycle is helping people to live better?

Because of the science of exercise, at the bare minimum, you're getting the health benefits of a wellness class. But I’ve seen that we’ve become people’s therapy. When you’re having a hard day, you come in and take a class. We’re providing that comfort and having that stable place where you can come in and work on yourself. 

Share one of your proudest moments of Harlem Cycle

Within the first 18 months of our opening, an article came out in Outside Magazine about the top 40 women changing the world. I’m flipping through it and there’s Serena Williams, Michelle Obama, and then, Tammeca Rochester! To this day, I’m still like, “How did I make the list with Michelle Obama and Serena Williams?!” The article spotlighted people who are focused on health and wellness and it was amazing to see my name next to these giants in everything.

What would be your advice to a first-time indoor cyclist?

Come open! It’s gonna feel hard the first time because the goal is to challenge yourself. But we can all do hard things and we can get past it. I tell first-timers, “Don’t worry! These seats may feel uncomfortable and you’re gonna feel like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is so hard!’ but we all went through it. It’s a rite of passage. No one around here didn’t go through that same feeling that you’re going through. It’s OK to take the break if you need to take the break and come right back to your workout.”

What’s your favorite snack when you're feeling nostalgic and/or need comfort?

For me, it’s brownies. My fiance will come home and say, “Uh oh, what happened? I smell brownies.” I always have brownie mix, no matter what. No food in the fridge, none in my cabinet, but somehow there are brownies (laughs). Part of it is just the smell of it. It’s something about the warmth and the smell. Because once it’s out of the oven, I’m good. I’ll still eat but it’s the making it and the smell that calms me down.

What are your top three at-home workouts to improve body health?

Anything that’s low impact like a mixture of yoga, barre, and pilates. They’re great for improving your flexibility. We sit so much, we need that flexibility and joint movement. I also love ab workouts. It’s something about ab workouts that make me feel so accomplished. I just love knowing that my core is getting stronger. What I need to do is more arm workouts at home. I don’t spend a lot of time working on arms, particularly with cycling. And we all have weights at home. Whether we bought weights or we have laundry detergent. We’ve got heavy stuff at home. There are plenty of ways to do it.

How did you hear about Gwell and what attracted you to partner with us?

I got a snack from somewhere but I don’t remember where. It was the [peach & pomegranate] tea cookies, which are [now] my absolute favorite. I started looking into [Gwell] and saw it was Black woman-owned (yes!). Part of my mission is that anything that we hold in-studio is Black woman-owned. And I only sell Black woman-owned products in the studio. Particularly, for small businesses, I feel like the only way for us to continue to grow is to continue to support each other.  

Are there any upcoming events or experiences that you’d like to share?

We have our big retreat coming on May 18-21, Cardio Glamping on Governors Island. This is our third year. We had to pause during the pandemic but it’s gotten better and better every year. It’s amazing to see the vision come to life and how the clients absolutely love it. It’s such a transformative weekend of self-care: think relaxing, think laying in hammocks, think s'mores by the fireplace. And some cardio workouts, we still work out. Think five-star meals, views of the Hudson. It’s just an amazing weekend.

It was a pleasure speaking with Tammeca about the community essential, Harlem Cycle. To find out more about the organization, visit their website at https://harlem-cycle.com/. Thank you, Harlem Cycle!

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