For Tammeca Rochester, owner and founder of Harlem Cycle, building and belonging to a community requires more than a high five after a good sweat. It means supporting the people in the area where she lives and works whether they’re paying customers or not. It means ensuring that her clients see their values, characteristics, and culture reflected in the leaders and community members around them. Everything in Tammeca’s two New York cycle studios – from the music and décor to the instructors and price point – supports and celebrates the people and the vibe of Harlem.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Atlanta, Tammeca moved to Harlem in 2010, and worked for Colgate Palmolive. She worked her way through night classes to complete her MBA at NYU (adding to her degrees in Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering), and eventually made the courageous leap from engineering into marketing, where the stress of managing a $500M brand had her sussing out options for stress relief. She gravitated towards indoor cycling and sampled the Midtown boutique studios near work but found nothing comparable in her neighborhood.
“I had the income to go into these boutique studios, which were very expensive,” she recalls, “but I noticed I was usually the only person of color, and I was also the only person over a certain size. Back then I was super thin but still a curvy person and I felt like I wasn’t seeing myself reflected [in those studios].” As a mechanical engineer in corporate America, Tammeca was accustomed to being “the only one” in the room –the only female or the only person of color. “However, in the moments when I’m trying to relieve stress, I wanted to be able to relate on some level. I wanted that connection, and it just wasn’t happening. When I opened Harlem Cycle (in April 2016), it was about finding that connection.”
A Community First
The first studio of its kind in the ‘hood, Harlem Cycle vibrates with local rhythm, color, and culture, and welcomes people of all backgrounds and fitness levels. Mirror-free walls, diverse instructors, and soulful music captivate and educate a growing community. Cycling classes are music-driven, like ‘Reggae Rundown’ and the ‘80s/‘90s-inspired ‘Hip-Hop’; ‘Striver’s Row’ and ‘Harlem One Stop’ add resistance and core conditioning to the mix. There are also mat-based workouts for strengthening, stretching, and cardio conditioning. And if the tunes don’t grab you, the price point will: their most popular membership offers 16 classes/month at $185, which is $11 a class – “about 38% less than the average cycling studio,” says Tammeca.
Harlem Cycle’s second location opened on April 1,2022, on historical 125th St – a stone’s throw from The Apollo and shopping strip, so visibility has increased tenfold. And now that the post-COVID comeback has resulted in consistent waitlists at the original location, Tammeca is relieved she didn’t wait to outgrow those digs before expanding.
The pandemic changed how Harlem Cycle serves its community and how the community sought them out. “When we first opened, we were explaining to people the importance of cardiovascular workouts,” Tamecca recalls. The huge percentage of essential workers from communities of color and the number of African American COVID cases and deaths brought issues of wellness, accessibility, and representation to the forefront of the fitness industry and educated the community in a tragically effective manner. “I think we all get it now. People have done their homework, and now they’re looking for outlets and places to get this benefit.”
The pandemic also birthed Harlem Cycle at Home. “When we first closed our doors, I thought, Oh, well, let’s just do a couple of videos of things people can do at home in the meantime,” Tammeca recalls of their short Instagram Live classes where clients were encouraged to “go grab laundry detergent” for increased resistance. Two years later, the platform boasts 300+ videos, nutrition information and family-focused classes, “because we know what it was like to be home with your kids and they’re not getting their movement either, so let’s do it as a family.”
Harlem Cycle hosts outdoor workouts, bike rides in the park, hiking, and family fun runs to foster connection and demystify wellness for folks who might otherwise feel intimidated. These free gatherings show that being health-conscious doesn’t mean that you’re an obsessive, vegan ascetic. “I mean, we don’t sit around and talk about lettuce!” Tammeca laughs. “We eat the same things you do; we’re living our lives, but we incorporate healthy habits. Being able to get that messaging out there and letting people see that we’re part of their neighborhood really helps. Sometimes it doesn’t boost our business at all but that’s not the goal; the goal is to be a resource for those that need us the most.”
From free events to cross-promoting with local businesses, Tammeca deliberately fosters connection and the spreads the word on wellness. “I always say: I don’t lose clients to other studios or to other options. I lose them to their couch, and that is a hard to compete with,” Thanks to her inviting approach, the neighbors have every reason to pull up their couch potato roots and head for the joyful, healthy hub that is Harlem Cycle.