Mark Shipman, Flywheel Sports’ resident spin doctor, takes you  right ’round baby, right ’round


Flywheel spinning instructor Mark Shipman is in it to spin it — he brings a go-go boy energy to an intense cycling workout. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer

In the hierarchy of things to dread at the gym, “stationary bike” ranks somewhere between “treadmill” and “that sweaty ogre who grunts while bench-pressing the equivalent of a Volkswagen Beetle.” Sure, some facilities offer classes where you can commiserate with others while literally spinning your wheels, but at Flywheel Sports, a new North Texas fitness boutique, this mission is to reinvent the whole concept of indoor cycling.

Facing my bicycle dread head-on, I stopped in Flywheel to try a class with out instructor Mark Shipman. At first glance, Shipman is almost menacing: Bulging muscles, a shaved head, full tattoos sleeves that wind onto his chest, too. He began inking up over just a 10-month period, getting tattooed every single weekend while living for a year in Chicago.

But the hard exterior masks a demeanor that, in his classes, is more pep squad leader meets motivational coach than Oz cast member. (Could this high-energy personality be the result of burning upwards of 2,000 calories a day teaching classes?)

Recently open in Highland Park and Plano — Shipman works both gyms — Flywheel Sports was developed about three years ago by cycling instructor Ruth Zuckerman and a team of fitness enthusiasts. It begins with stadium-style seating so that every bike seat has a view of the instructor (you can even reserve a particular seat online). Add to that an in-house DJ who works with the instructors to create custom playlists, and you have something unique — especially for the gay fitness junkie. And what boutique would be complete without shoes?

Flywheel provides a special kind that clip onto the pedals of their custom-made bikes for a gratifying, albeit very sweaty, workout. And yes, there are showers and towels if you need to freshen up after class.

Best of all, they aren’t out to intimidate you. Shipman notes that the studio is dimly lit, so fellow riders won’t judge you if you take it easy for a while — it’s about serving your needs, not ego.

For first-time riders in the 45-minute classes, Shipman recommends “learning the positions [to] ride in and how your body feels in each of those. Take it easy on yourself, be ready to work and have fun. You get stronger with every ride and before you know it you will be a pro … and addicted!”

It comes as no surprise that Shipman has a contagious “can do” attitude; he’s worked with some of the best fitness motivators in the business, including Biggest Loser trainer extraordinaire Jillian Michaels. They met on a Wellness Cruise where she proceeded to pick him as a volunteer from the audience and lead him through an unforgettable 90-minute workout. Later, they worked together to open the Chicago Gold Coast Flywheel location. “I owe that woman so much! She showed me I could do whatever I wanted and helped me realize fitness was my one true passion,” says Shipman.

Today, he shares those same lessons learned with his room full of riders. “I am all about motivating people, inspiring them and showing them just how fun working out is … especially on the bike,” he says. “I try to push people to dig deep inside themselves and find out how strong they really are. People rarely give themselves the credit they deserve and give up before achieving what they really want. It’s my job to not let that happen.”

And if his motivation alone isn’t enough to keep riders returning, there’s always the music. Flywheel structures each class around a series of tunes in which you increase the speed and torque (resistance) of your ride. As such, Shipman and others help you feel the burn to hits ranging from Madonna and Rihanna to Linkin Park and Nicki Minaj.

“Music is a huge part of my class,” says Shipman, who has a gay man’s sense for what’ll get you moving on the dance floor and the gym. “I want you to feel like you are dancing while you ride and you just do not want to stop. In fact, [I was once] described as a ‘spin instructor-slash-go-go dancer that will make you want to dance and party while you sweat.’ I think that sums me up well.”

So no more excuses for putting off that fitness goal, take a spin at Flywheel. As they say, you never forget how to ride a bicycle … even a stationary one. Especially when at the request of a hunky (and single) instructor.

Flywheel Sports, 4252 Oak Lawn Ave., (214) 504-2205 and 5964 W. Parker Road, Suite 100, Plano, (214) 865-7261.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2013.