JJ Wilson shifts Ride Cycle Club into new revenue streams

Ride Cycle Club boss has started to rent out his stationary bikes and make online videos

jj wilson
In non-pandemic times, JJ Wilson cycles on a stationary bike, flanked by instructor Reagan Place (left) and studio manager Marqelle Moeller | Chung Chow/BIV files

When COVID-19 started prompting health officials to urge social distancing, Ride Cycle Club owner JJ Wilson set an ambitious goal: to “break even,” despite not being able to operate his business’ spin-classes.

He closed his spin-class facilities before he was ordered to, laid off hourly staff and started to think about what projects could keep salaried employees busy. He knew that he needed to pivot and create new revenue streams. 

Wilson’s two Toronto locations, three Vancouver sites and a pop-up location in Calgary shuttered as of March 15, throwing 205 employees out of work. Wilson told Business in Vancouver that every staffer he spoke with supported the move as a way to help the business, and themselves, given that the layoff would help them get employment insurance. 

The 13 salaried employees who remained on his payroll are tackling some of what Wilson calls a “laundry list” of tasks, including work that had previously fallen through the cracks, such as cleaning up membership lists to delete duplicate accounts.

One of the productive shifts in his business has been to start renting about 100 of his more than 300 stationary bikes for between $250 and $300 per month.

“The idea for the bike rentals didn’t come internally,” he said. “It came from our clients. We already have a list of about 75 people in each of Toronto and Vancouver who want them. People have been asking.”

He plans to ask for deposits to ensure that the bikes are returned in good condition. Those who rent bikes will be given instructions on how to maintain them after each use.

Wilson’s business model had previously been a specialized kind of gym, where participants take classes in which they ride stationary bikes in the dark, staying in sync with each other as club music plays and lighting flickers to create a nightclub atmosphere.

While that environment cannot be replicated at home, he has decided to move ahead with virtual classes. Some of his 13 core employees are instructors who will conduct live-streamed classes that can then be watched again, for a fee. He normally charges $26 for someone to drop in and take a class. He had not yet decided on how much he would charge to watch classes virtually, but he said the fee would likely be in the $8-to-$12 range.

He has for years pondered creating an online option for classes, but the millions of people around the world who are shut in their homes as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic moved the idea into reality.

“I’m just going to put it out there and try my best,” he said. “If I have to change it, I have to change it. My interpretation of the world is that it is very flexible right now – not in terms of what customers are willing to pay, but in terms of change. They will be understanding if we go, ‘Hey, you know what? We decided to change things because it didn’t work. We’re going to try something different.’“

While his bikes do not have attached screens, like Peloton bikes do, he is convinced that customers can improvise.

“You’re going to have to MacGyver some solution, but if you can connect your phone or laptop to your TV, then you can have your stationary bike in front of your TV and tune into your class,” he said.

Others could attach a tablet to their bike with rubber bands or configure other solutions.

As a public service, to drive traffic to his website and build rapport with potential customers, Wilson has also started filming fitness videos that are posted to his website’s blog section.

The first of the free-to-watch videos notes that the equipment required is a tea towel, which the instructor uses for some resistance training.

Future videos, he said, are likely to require cans of food and other items that people are likely to have at home. •