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Panic attacks. Daily tears. Body issues. Alicia Rowe had just given birth via C-section, and it was hitting the social worker hard, as only “it”—the personal rupture that befalls an accomplished and secure 30-year-old professional upon becoming a parent—can do. “You’re a fully functional adult, and suddenly your life changes,” she recalls now, three years later.

Via an Instagram post, she discovered BurnCycle, a spinning studio launched in 2013. She showed up to find a phalanx of stationary bikes in a darkened, black-walled room, a heart-blasting 45-minute workout, and an epiphany. “Toward the end,” she remembers, “the instructor said something like, ‘Every decision you’ve made is the right one, because it led you here.’ And I was just like, ‘Yes. I’m a good mom. I’m a good wife. I’m a good social worker.’”

This stuff happens at BurnCycle. The company’s two studios in the Pearl District and Lake Oswego are indeed the very picture of the modern, well-appointed, carefully branded fitness haven; there is indeed science behind BurnCycle’s intense, interval-based pedaling routine with added upper-body weights. (BurnCycle staffers cheerfully drop phrases like “panic and death” when describing the routine.) It’s kind of like New York City’s SoulCycle and other super-trendy spin classes.

But what sets BurnCycle apart is really the Burn Army, the near-evangelical regulars who find a kind of sweat-drenched life affirmation at BC, and of whom Rowe is just one of scores. At the Pearl location, thank-you cards festoon one wall, conveying emotions of a kind and intensity usually reserved for weddings, or maybe funerals. This is more or less by design.

“I needed a workout that would melt my face off,” says Jessi Duley, the husky-voiced, engagingly motormouthed 34-year-old former Hollywood line producer who founded BurnCycle. (She’s joking. Mostly.) “What we do is so intense, you can’t think about anything else.

“People feel empowered and victorious,” Duley adds. “And we hear so many stories. If you’re in a bad relationship and you start coming here, you’re going to dump that guy. People’s bosses call us to say they’re better at work.”

For some of the Burn Army, this unusually visceral workout fosters unusually deep community. “There’s nowhere else in my life where people are so open,” Rowe says. “Everyone has cried in class.” Since starting at BurnCycle, she’s competed in five half marathons; more profoundly, the self-described “gym connoisseur” has rethought her whole relationship to exercise. “Working out isn’t about physical appearance anymore,” she says. “It’s about realizing that self-care isn’t indulgent—it’s necessary.” She pauses. “And I’m not even someone who talks like this.” 

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