Erika Brason once connected with Western New York from the reporting field and the anchor desk at WGRZ-TV (Channel 2) and WIVB-TV (Channel 4).
She’s now capturing Buffalo’s attention by offering a cycling experience in a studio filled with colored lights, dance music and instructors who know how to ensure participants use the provided hand towel to soak up sweat.
This is Brason’s newest endeavor — Rebel Ride Indoor Cycling and Strength Training, which she opened in October in East Amherst. Located on the first floor of The Abbey, a new mixed-use development on Transit Road, Rebel Ride features a theater-like studio filled with 33 Stages SC3 bikes. With 16 different lighting programs, the cycling studio feels as much dance club as workout.
“Our cycling classes are designed to be an immersive experience,” Brason said. “We impress upon people that you don’t have to come in here and be a maniac. Go at the pace that feels right for you.”
Rebel Ride also has a small studio outfitted with eight elevated boards created for the unique In-Trinity workout that combines Pilates, yoga and martial arts. It was founded by Johnny G, the same fitness guru who started indoor spinning. That studio also features TRX Suspension Training classes, where you use your own body weight and gravity for strength and balance training.
Brason is no stranger to regimented fitness. Growing up in Williamsville, she studied ballet from age 5. She even attended two ballet-focused boarding high schools.
But by her junior year, she realized that she didn’t want to pursue a dancing career and returned home to graduate from Williamsville East High School. She studied communications at Syracuse University and began her broadcasting career at WGR550 radio before moving into television.
While working long hours as a journalist and raising two children, Brason always found solace in exercise.
“Physical fitness is in my bones,” she said, adding that her ballet training inspired her to offer In-Trinity, with its graceful flowing motions combined with strength training and balance. “I was looking for something different.”
A few years after leaving broadcasting, Brason spent five years selling luxury clothing in trunk sales. She toyed with the idea of opening a fitness business but wasn’t sure what kind. She had an “aha” moment while visiting her daughter at college in Washington, D.C. Together, they attended a SoulCycle class.
“I was inspired by the boutique model and the level of customer service that goes along with it,” she said. “It had an exciting vibe.”
Her journalism career provided Brason with insight into marketing and making personal connections with clients. Obviously, she did something right.
Even before Rebel Ride opened, she pre-sold several class packages. She also hit upon a hot market. Boutique fitness is the only growth segment in an otherwise stagnant gym industry, according to the Association of Fitness Studios. In New York City, more than two dozen new boutique fitness studios — from barre to spinning — opened in 2016, and Buffalo isn’t far behind.
The model of purchasing one class or a package of classes rather than a membership appeals to many people. Some clients also have gym memberships but want the additional personalized experience and specialized approach of a small studio, she said.
“A workout is not just physical. It’s a mental experience, too,” Brason said. “Each instructor brings his or her distinctive style to the class.”
In the true spirit of a boutique facility, Rebel Ride also sells cycling shoes, branded apparel and an assortment of pressed juices, coffee and tea. At the end of class, participants are rewarded with eucalyptus-scented cold towels. And on Friday, following the Bike and Brew class, riders 21 years or older are offered complimentary beer.
Before opening, Brason brought in trainers from New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. They auditioned almost 20 instructors, 12 of whom she hired, along with 12 desk employees and a studio manager.
“It’s been an amazing process, assembling a team,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect, starting something like this from scratch. It was a huge leap of faith. I feel fortunate that we found such good people.”
Power Ride instructor Lori Morreale, who worked in pharmaceutical sales before joining Rebel Ride as an instructor and social media manager, said she loves her new gig.
“I feel like it’s a party each day,” she said. “I check to see who is coming to class, and pick songs I think will motivate them, especially if I know they need a little extra push.”
Brason also partners with local non-profits for “Rebels with a Cause” charity rides and classes. In the fall, proceeds from designated classes benefitted Roswell Park Breast Cancer Research and the Buffalo City Mission. In addition, Rebel Ride collected donations for Toys for Tots and the Food Bank of Western New York.
This kind of community outreach, along with the personalized connections she’s made with clients, motivate Brason as much as the novelty of running her own studio.
“If I were going to a boutique fitness facility, this is what I would look for,” she said. “I wanted to create a community where we would know members by name.”
6449 Transit Road, East Amherst