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Ex-TV anchor Erika Brason's Rebel Ride amps up indoor fitness

Former TV news anchor Erika Brason blames her daughter, Sydney, for falling hard for boutique indoor cycling studios.

Brason first set her feet in one almost four years ago, when Sydney was attending George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and introduced her mother to SoulCycle, a higher-end cycling chain.

"People ask, 'Have you always wanted to do this?' No," said Brason, 49, who will open Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling & Strength this weekend in Clarence. "I was kind of introduced to this and it was the right time in my life. I recognized this was something that was really booming, so we kind of took the plunge."

Brason – a Williamsville native who spent 20 years in journalism, splitting the last half as morning anchor at WIVB-Channel 4 and WGRZ-Channel 2 – left the broadcast studio about six years ago to start her own clothing business and spend more time with her family.

Sydney, 21, is now at New York University, pursuing journalism and political science, and son, Evan, 19, is in business school at Boston College. That gives Brason time to take a more aggressive approach toward her new venture, a leased $750,000-plus, 3,500-square-foot enterprise designed to immerse fellow indoor cycling enthusiasts in a powerful fitness experience.

Rebel Ride instructor Mo Ango, right, leades a pre-opening class in the "cycle theater" on Wednesday. Owner Erika Brason looked to international experts to set the tone for the room. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Douglas Frey, an Austin, Texas-based architect who designs similar boutiques around the country, did so for Rebel Ride, at 6449 Transit Road.

Paul Hutchison – whose LA-based HypeType Studio clients include Nike, and Beats headphones – forged the Rebel Ride brand, including a logo that contains two R's in a yin-yang position that spin into a circle.

British-born lighting guru Daryl Vaughan – who has helped with shows for the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Genesis – designed the 16-light package that will set the tone for every class.

Brason also looked closer to home for cold-brew coffee and kombucha on tap. Public Espresso in the Lafayette Hotel and Snowy Owl Kombucha in the Old First Ward will provide those touches.

"I hope people will enjoy all of this as much as we enjoyed planning for it," Brason said. "I wanted it to be a quality place. We figured, if we were going to do it, we're going to do it right."

She is the sole owner, but said many others helped bring the place together, principally her life partner, Tom Ayers – director of business development with the Olmsted Center for Sight – and a staff that includes 12 instructors, a dozen other staffers, and manager Melina Alessi, whose family owns Salon Allure in Williamsville.

The coffee, tea and kombucha bar at Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling & Strength is among several amenities in the new cycling center. Others include washrooms with showers, two changing areas, keyless lockers with phone charging stations, and towels for riders. Staff also will clean the bikes after 50-minute classes, not the riders. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Top cycling instructors from Los Angeles and New York City have worked with Brason's instructors during the last three months. The local instructors – most of whom who also teach cycling classes at other fitness centers – are now certified through Stages Cycling, which has sold Rebel Ride 40 custom-made cycling bikes; 33 of which are set up in the cycling studio.

Opening weekend rides are free, though almost sold out, and the first ride is free to everyone who wants to try Rebel Ride. Visit, create an account, pick a class – and assign yourself a bike. Riders are welcome to stop into the studio and have a staff member sign them up for classes, too.

The indoor cycling center also includes washrooms with showers, two changing areas, keyless lockers with phone charging stations, and towels for riders.

"We want to provide a really high-quality experience," Brason said.

Former television personality has opened Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling & Strength at 6449 Transit Road, Clarence.

[RELATED: See a photo gallery here]

Q. Why is the first R backward in your name?

Because we're rebels.

Q. How did you come up with the name?

We tossed around a lot of different names. We started with Ride Rebel but we liked Rebel Ride better. The domain name belonged to Larry Rudolph, Britney Spears' manager, and they have a spinning studio in Vegas called X Cycle. Originally, they were going to call their studio Rebel Ride but they changed it. We bought the name from them. We were stuck on the name. It's the most important thing. It was worth it to us and it's really resonated with people.

Q. Where did you take your first spinning class? 

Years ago at the BAC. I remember thinking it was really hard but loving that I knew I had worked out really hard and burned a lot of calories. I felt like I was spent. I had a great workout. That's what kept me coming back. Once I started going to some of the boutique studios that did these rhythm rides that we're offering, that's when I really got hooked. I have a dance background and this totally resonated with me, because you feel like you're dancing.

Q. Do you do any outdoor biking?

I don't, but we will be putting together a team for Ride for Roswell.

Q. What would you like to say about your instructors?

Crystal Hewitt, left, and Maryann Kontras check out the grand opening geofilter on Snapchat after a pre-opening practice class at Rebel Ride. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

They're mostly from some of the other clubs, Hive, LA Fitness, Catalyst, some that work in studios downtown.  We haven't told anyone to quit their jobs and there wasn't a non-compete prerequisite.

Q. What's the difference between your rhythm and performance spinning classes?

Rhythm classes are more about riding to the beat and having a good time during your workout. It feels a little bit more like a dance party. You do ups and downs to the music. We have hand-weight holders on our bikes, so in a rhythm class there's a section where you'll be sitting up on the bike and doing a hand-weight workout (with 2- to 5-pound dumbbells). The rhythm ride is not something I've seen around here and that's what really got me into this. A performance class is a little more straightforward.

Q. Are you going to burn more calories in a performance class?

Not necessarily. It really depends on how the workout is structured and how hard you're working personally.

Q. How do the new Stages bikes work?

Everyone needs to clip in. We don't have cages for sneakers. We have two different types of clips. We are renting shoes (for $2) that have Delta clips. The other side accepts SPD clips. Those are the two most common, so if you have your own shoes, you should be able to use those. The Stages bike has a resistance knob that goes left and right, but also a "sprint shifter." One shift will bring you up or down about three gears, so within those levels, you can turn the knob. It's sort of like a micro and a macro way to increase or decrease resistance. The reason it's called Stages is because you can work in stages. You get to Stage 1 of the workout and you can have all your data in that particular stage. On the left-hand side, you see what's happening currently and on the right-hand side is your average.

Q. What will be on the two TV screens in the cycling studio?

We can use the screens for music videos, but for performance rides they will be leader boards. You can create a screen name and choose to be on the leader board, or you can opt out. We can have one side of the class compete against the other side. After class, no matter if it's rhythm or performance, your results will get emailed to you. You'll get your calories burned and total watts used and other stuff.

We want people to have "Bride Rides" and corporate teambuilding and charity rides, and the TVs can be used for those. If it's a "Bride Ride" and she brings in friends and family, we can put up a slide show that includes pictures of her childhood.

A charity component, called Rebels with a Cause, is part of opening weekend. That's for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We're having a raffle to benefit Roswell Park Cancer Institute and next Saturday (Oct. 28), we're going to do a donation-based breast cancer ride. We'll have things like that ongoing. Charities can host events here and sell tickets to raise money for their cause. You can have a private event here, and choose the music and, because of the space, have a little reception here afterward.

Q. Your Studio B will feature TRX-resistance classes and In-Trinity classes. What is In-Trinity?

Workers put the finishing touches Wednesday on the new Rebel Ride Studio B, which includes TRX straps and In-Trinity boards. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

In-Trinity was developed by Johnny G (Johnny Goldberg), who invented spinning, which is a cool tie-in. He trademarked the word "spinning," so other studios need to call it indoor cycling – his companies are very protective of their trademarks. He's getting older and has gotten more into tai chi and martial arts. His company spent years developing a board. It rests on a stand (at about a 30-degree angle). You'd be surprised how stable it is. There are straps that go onto the sides, and martial arts sticks you can use for some of the movements. The movement brings in components of yoga, Pilates, and martial arts. The opening pose is called Zen Chi and from there you have about a million things you can do with the board. The class uses relaxing spa music. It grounds you. The fact that you're on an incline creates new challenges with balance and flexibility

Q. Will all classes cost the same?

We're not membership-based, we're packaged-based. The more classes you buy within a package, the lower the per-class rate. Our base rate is $19 a class and all of our classes are 50 minutes. You can use the credits across the board whether it's for cycling, TRX or In-Trinity. ... People are buying 20-packs and haven't stepped foot in the place. The first class is free. Our pre-opening specials – which will continue through Oct. 29 – include a 5-pack for $66.50 (which must be used within three months), a 10-pack for $114 (four months) and a 20-pack for $190 (eight months). Almost everything is already sold out this weekend, with wait lists.

Q. Talk about some of the rules in place for classes, particularly the cycling ones. You have to wear cycling shoes, can't bring in your cellphone and can't be more than two minutes late.

Our motto is "No Rules, Just Ride"; however, we are trying to enforce some etiquette. Because it's dark in the studio, we can't have people strolling in 10 minutes late. It's disruptive to the class and this is out of respect to the rest of the people in the class. Everybody's paying to be there, so let's have a quality experience. … Cellphones are just distraction. If there's an emergency and someone is on-call, they can leave a phone at the front desk and we can pull them out of class if necessary. As for the shoes, it's safer to be clipped in. You get a better, more efficient use of your muscles. You get a more efficient pedal stroke when you're wearing cycle shoes.

The women's washroom sign at Rebel Ride. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Q. Talk about the bathroom logos?

My bike riders? I do take credit for the restroom signs. That was my idea.

Q. In the first few weeks, especially, should people try to get to class early?

Yes. If you can get here 20 to 30 minutes ahead of time to get the lay of the land and get your shoes, that will be helpful.

Q. Who should come in and try a workout?

Anyone who's interested in fitness. What's great about cycling is that it's low impact. A lot of people have turned to cycling because they can't run anymore or they don't want something that impacts their joints. If you have a medical condition, you should check with your doctor first. The environment is intense but by no means should people feel they have to keep up or do exactly what the instructor is doing. Everyone can go at their own pace. You set the resistance for what works for you. The instructor is there to guide you and encourage you to push yourself. You do it a few times, build a little endurance and a little confidence. ... Every professional was once a beginner. You've got to start somewhere.

Q. You decided to build on a Transit Road corridor that has roughly 20 health and fitness centers between Main Street and North French. Any intimidation factor there? How are you going to stand out?

Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling & Strength, at 6449 Transit Road, sits on the Clarence side of the major thoroughfare, across from East Amherst, between North French and Casey roads. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

I think we're in the perfect location because this is where people come to work out. There is not a single place on this road, until now, that has an indoor cycling studio. Indoor cycling is offered at some of the clubs but we're completely unique. We're around suburban neighborhoods. ... Believe me, I thought about the competition but we're all in this together. My trainer, has a place, Nick B Fitness, right down the street. Cycling is our expertise. We'll refer people to each other. I have something he doesn't have and he has something I don't have. I've been in touch with Hive and we're going to collaborate. We're going to do takeovers. Hive can come over here and do a bootcamp.


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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