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‘I Knew I Wanted a Space Where I Could Belong’: How Harlem Cycle, NYC’s First Black-Owned Cycle Center, Successfully Tapped Into a Sense of Community

There are a ton of places in New York City to take a cycle class, and Tammeca Rochester tried more than a few. But none of them seemed the right fit. Either the music wasn’t hitting, or she felt like an outsider. 

So she decided to open up the Big Apple’s first Black-owned cycle center in Harlem.

Harlem Cycle was founded in February 2016. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Rochester was able to open a second Harlem location in 2021.

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Harlem Cycle founder Tammeca Rochester. (Photo from @tammeca_rochester Instagram)

“During the pandemic, we did so many pivots. Each day we were coming up with new ways to keep our community active and to try and bring some positive energy through the dark times. We started by hosting weekly Wellness Wednesday sessions with chefs, doctors, meditation experts, etc., all while providing daily free movement sessions via Instagram,” Rochester told Finurah.

She debuted a product through which Harlem Cycle members could continue their exercise routine. “We then recorded and developed our on-demand platform and created Harlem Cycle at Home, a full wellness platform featuring cardio, cycling, sculpt and strength workouts, recipes, cooking demos, mobility work, and family fitness fun,” Rochester said. “We did daily live-streams mat-based classes and also took our team outdoors and held classes in the park. We continued our community events and offered free outdoor bike rides, hikes, and family-run/walks to make sure we were doing our part to keep all of Harlem healthy.”

When Rochester, a former Colgate-Palmolive marketing manager, opened the first Harlem Cycle, she had no idea it would take off. Currently, she has more than 12,100 members, but in the beginning, Harlem Cycle started as a niche venture.

Niche venture or not, cycling studios generate 55 percent more revenue than other fitness studios, according to 2016 data.

Rochester came up with the concept in 2015, created a business plan, and in 2016 Harlem Cycle opened.

“I didn’t feel that I could turn Harlem Cycle into a big success at all. I just knew that I wanted a space where I could belong, where music that I loved would be played, where I could connect with my community. We could work on our health together, and I saw it wasn’t going to happen the way I envisioned it unless I did it myself,” says Rochester, who teaches classes as well.

The connection with the community has been key to the company’s success.

“I think what makes Harlem Cycle successful is my authentic approach to the community. I really take a genuine interest in the lives of every person that comes through our doors. When you look to the left at the community event, I’m there. When you go for a run or walk, you’ll see my family and me in the park. I am a part of the community, and I am fully invested in seeing it flourish,” says Rochester.

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Harlem Cycle (Photo from https://harlem-cycle.com/)

She continued, “Plus, I pride myself in being as authentic as possible with our clients, and that means sharing my personal struggles and journey with managing my weight, running a business, being a mom openly. There is comfort in knowing our journeys are similar, and I take pride in creating a space knowing I can share openly and there will be no judgment.”

This approach has made the Harlem Cycle unique.

“The experience of attending a class is more than just physical; there’s also an undeniable spiritual and cultural connection. Our approach to wellness is unique in every way imaginable: from our soul-stirring playlists to inspiring fitness experiences to Harlem Renaissance-inspired décor; it’s a vibe. Our clients range from the 75-year-old grandmother to the 45-year-old teacher to the 18-year-old college student. It’s so fulfilling to watch them all ride together, sing along to the songs, and then high-five each other after class. There’s no competition here, just community,” offers Rochester.

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