I go through waves of love affair with spin then lull. Right now I'm in the love affair wave. I like getting a great sweat in in under an hour. Ride 26mi in a room full of others without going anywhere, in! Here is a quick overview and my thoughts on each. If you want the spoiler alert, I like them both the same but in different ways (spoken like a twin mom, eh?).
Similarities for both - considering Flywheel and SoulCycle shared a co-founder (Ruth Zukerman who started Flywheel after a split from Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice), I imagine many of the core offerings for both cycling chains came from the same luncheon chats. Both chains have packed rooms with bikes lined up facing a stage. On the stage is the teacher with a spotlight on the stage, and the room is typically dark or lit with a black light. Both chains have their own gear so riders can tout the brands in skin tight attire. Both chains have short (45min) classes to get riders in, sweaty, and out. Both chains have nice touches like lotions, gum, and hair ties at the gyms. Both are pricey - ranging from $25-30+.
There are some key differences, though...
Flywheel - a little background, I am competitive. Very competitive. Only in sports, not life. In Flywheel classes, when you create an account you pick a user name. Then, you have the option to have your name on the torque board during sprints and other in-class races - I love this! I feel like I work out harder getting to see real numbers. Regardless of if you're on the board, you get a nice little summary of your ride on their website. In the Flywheel classes I've taken, most of the music is new popular pop and other similar fast paced songs. During the class, the instructor motivates to "push it," "own this moment," "make this time count," and so on. On the bike are two weight bars to do arms mid-class. The bars are different weights so you can pick or use both together. The bike has a water holder on the front, and the gear changer down below - you can also look at a little screen to see torque and RPMs.
SoulCycle - there's no torque board or competition. Also, on the bike is a dial to change resistance, but you can't see your resistance on the bike; instead you go with what feels right. The torque-less and number-less class make it less competitive and make the class more focused on you, the rider. The rest of the bike is very similar to that in the Flywheel class. Differences are that on the SoulCycle bike there are two water bottle holders on either side (which was actually harder for me and I nearly dropped my water). Also, on the back are 3lb weights (you can pick different weights before class, but only get one set). On the stage, there are Jonathan Adler candles to give the room a comforting feel. The room is dark for the most part, and there is a black light on occasion. The teacher also controls other lights to give a light show kind of feel. The teacher in my SoulCycle class said more motivational things: "this is all about you," "take time to love yourself," "taking care of your body and mind are the most important thing," and so on. Along the wall were similarly inspiring phrases.
Completing both classes I felt the same level of awesome exhaustion and sweat. I'd opt for either!