SoulCycle to host over 350 free charity rides in response to criticism of Ross' Trump fundraiser

It’s been all but a quiet week for SoulCycle and Equinox after news broke that Stephen Ross, founder and chairman of Related Companies (which owns Equinox and Soul among other popular restaurants, fitness brands and properties) was hosting a fundraiser on August 9 in his Southhampton, New York home benefiting President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Furious customers and former loyal riders were up in arms about the what they perceived to be a clearcut association between the money they were spending to sweat and a direct funding of Trump’s reelection, with consumers nationwide and beyond calling for cancellations of Equinox memberships and boycotts of SoulCycle classes.

Many urged the companies to respond and to take some sort of deliberate action, forcing both Equinox and SoulCycle to release statements in which both companies referred to Ross as a ‘passive investor,’ which didn’t exactly go over well with the social media masses either.

Though words can be misconstrued and overanalyzed often to a fault, making a tangible plan of action is the first step in showing loyal members and riders that their voice are being heard — and the two initiatives announced by both Equinox and SoulCycle this week are reflective of exactly that.

Many refer to Equinox and SoulCycle as having ‘cult-like’ mentalities among members and riders, but perhaps that is arguably their biggest strength of each respective business — the two companies have managed to cultivate strong, tight-knit communities that have turned what were once simply workouts and classes ordinarily into full-fledged lifestyles for many.

And though all successful businesses know to put the primary focus of operations on their customers, Equinox and SoulCycle know that their members and riders are not only the backbone of the fiscal business, but of the entire brand itself. 

It’s with this understanding that both brands, upon decidedly taking monetary action in light of the Ross-sponsored fundraiser, have addressed their communities of loyal members, riders and customers directly in their responses and calls to action.

Last Friday, SoulCycle posted a notice on its website aptly titled 'Our Values' which laid out the company's plans to give each of their instructors across all studios the opportunity to host a free community ride benefitting the charity of their choice.

Soul clarified in a message to riders that the initiative will in no way be a requirement for instructors: 

“We want to give our instructors, studio teams, and local communities a platform to promote whatever cause is true in their heart. This is not a requirement. This is an invitation—an invitation to create a conversation and provide support to the causes that matter most to the communities we serve.”

Instructors that choose to host a community ride will be paid in full, as they would a regular class.

Though riders will not have to pay for their bike, SoulCycle will donate 100 percent of the equivalent of a sold-out class to the social cause of the instructor’s choice, per SoulCycle’s Instagram post on August 13:

“The rides will be free, and we’ll donate the equivalent of the proceeds from a sold-out class to charitable causes selected by our instructor,” reads the caption. 

“This isn’t the only answer, but we’re starting in the best way we know how. Keep sharing your thoughts; we’re listening. As always, our studio doors are open.”

The brand added a new highlight titled 'Your Questions' to its Instagram page where SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan and other members of the SoulCycle community have addressed and answered questions Soul has been "hearing the most" regarding the fundraising debacle.

Though there is no outlined timeframe for when and for how long these community rides will run, Soul stated in its message posted to its website that the community rides would begin as early as this month in ensuring that the company is “responding in the best way we know how—with diversity, inclusion, acceptance, and love.”

Soul has continued to maintain its stance on Ross’ Trump fundraiser, reiterating in the site’s message that SoulCycle has “nothing to do with our investor’s personal political fundraising event. We do not support it.”

The message continued:

“This is not the only answer. But it’s our answer for today, so our community can start to heal … We are not one narrative; and we will not become someone else’s narrative. The best way we can create real change in the world is by productive conversation and dialogue. We hope you will join ours.”

You can read SoulCycle’s full notice here.

Following suit, Equinox sent out an email blast to all members on August 15 written in first-person narrative from the company’s Executive Chairman, Harvey Spevak.

“The last week has been difficult for all,” the letter begins.

“I am sorry for the impact it has had on our community - and I'm sorry we haven't said more. We have not been ignoring the situation. I have been in our clubs listening to our teams and members. I really appreciate the open and honest feedback I received. It's been heartfelt and, in many instances, emotional.”

Spevak went on to mention Ross directly by name, stating:

“Mr. Ross is not the majority investor in Equinox. He is one of the investors including myself. He does not run the company. I do.”

The email continued:

“When I joined Equinox over 20 years ago, I worked with our then small team to create values that would guide us forward. They are the foundation of our culture, a culture based on equality, diversity, inclusivity, integrity, empathy and mutual respect. A community where everyone is welcome.”

The message then went on to nod to the various charities and communities that Equinox has donated to and aided in various ways, namely Cycle for Survival (which raised $42 million this year alone for rare cancers), The Heroes Project, Move for Minds (Alzheimer's research), The Felix Organization (foster care) and House Lives Matter (LGBTQ house ballroom community group). 

Spevak then laid out the health club’s plan of action for the immediate future:

“As a next step, Equinox will make a $1 million donation to benefit the five charities mentioned above. From August 17 through August 31, every check-in will be an opportunity for our members and employees to select how our donation will be allocated among the causes.”

The initiative will give members a hands-on choice in deciding where the charitable funds will be allocated.

Spevak closed his note by thanking Equinox staff members, admitting that it “pains” him “to see how this has been impacting them and I am truly grateful for their commitment, passion and dedication.”

He closed off the note on a hopeful note:

“[Equinox] will continue to listen to your thoughts and ideas, and while we have a lot of work to do, I am confident that together we will come out a stronger community.”

You can find Equinox's full statement here

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