Ride This Way: In Conversation

with Mark Partin

The owner of Boston’s B/SPOKE Studios explains why in fitness, community is everything.

By: Michael Small | Photos: Nicole Baas

Partin is wearing the Edge Brushed Crew Long Sleeve

It can be a startling realization to discover the path you’ve been on for 10 years isn’t fulfilling you in the way you thought it would. After a decade working in finance, Mark Partin realized that what he was doing wasn’t having a positive affect on anyone around him. He wanted to create something that would build community and let him contribute to society in a way pushing numbers never would. So he started B/SPOKE, an elite indoor cycling studio in Boston, MA.

The goal wasn’t just to build a gym, but a community. “I'm always drawn to the fact that people crave shared experiences. People like to gather in places,” says Partin. From the branding to the physical space of the studio, he created B/Spoke to engender a feeling of belonging. This shared experience was the thing Partin had been missing.

We spoke with him about cultivating community, having a positive effect on people’s lives and the impact design has on a gym.

Partin is wearing the Executive Jogger

Kit and Ace: Why did you leave the financial world to start B/Spoke?

Mark Partin: I looked at how hard I worked. I looked at all my focus and energy. What was it really doing? What was the impact of it? It wasn't enough just to trade currencies and make money for people. I wanted to regroup my life and focus all my energy into something that could have a positive effect on people.

KA: Tell us about B/Spoke.

MP: It’s an indoor cycling studio/boutique gym in downtown Boston. We launched a little over two years ago. I think what attracts people to our studio is the brand itself and the approach that we take. It starts from this physical aspect of the studio itself. We approached it with an aesthetic and a creative design element that people would normally see reserved for high end retail luxury goods, night life hospitality, that sort of thing. I'm a student of design. It's my favourite thing and I'm a big fan of branding. That's what separates us. We're hyper focused on creating spaces that we want people to linger in – that inspire them. We're not just in it for fitness customers to be churning in and out.

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KA: Why is it important for people to want to hang around and socialize?

If people are inspired and want to spend some time in the studio, you maximize your chances of creating a larger sense of community. What we know from the dawn of modern man is that people gather in places like work – that's where you meet people. The bar is one of the oldest establishments. Church, if you're into that. In the last 50 or so years, it has become gyms.

You're drawing people from all different types of backgrounds and demographics, especially in a downtown urban‑professional environment. You're bringing them together to share an experience. In that way, it's really easy to help them to pull into other aspects of their lives in positive ways. You have their attention and you have their trust.

Yeah, we're a fitness studio, but the end‑all purpose of the brand, and why I left finance to do this, is that we're trying to create a lifestyle brand that can help people create positive change in their lives.

Partin is wearing the Edge Brushed Crew Long Sleeve

KA: Why fitness?

MP: I'm obsessed with the fact that fitness is our catalyst for introducing changes in people's lives. From there, it creates these ripple effects in other aspects. People start working out. They start feeling more confident about themselves. They start performing better at work, immersing themselves in more positive ways with co‑workers. That's proven – a fact.

Every company now is so hyped up on health and wellness, because scientific study shows that people that are more proactive when working out. It’s endorphins – they're better workers and they integrate better with teams. From there, people want to start dressing differently. They want to start eating healthier and trying different foods. They want to start listening to different music. It's a platform to influence people in positive ways.

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KA: What separates B/Spoke from other studios and gyms?

MP: From the start, it really bothered me how a lot of gyms seemed to have design as an afterthought. It's like, ‘Why does this look so sterile in here? Why does it have no feeling? Why do I want to just get out of here immediately?’ I wanted to immediately create something that evoked and created certain emotions in terms of a design aesthetic. Secondly, creating something for a particular niche demographic isn't really that appealing.

A lot of people do that, but I think what we’re trying to do is a lot more difficult. From the start, it was all about that – how do you create something that is not cutting off people? The coolest thing I see is when we have a 72‑year old financial planner, and he's riding next to a 21‑year‑old advertising intern. Those people sharing an experience inches apart – and both getting their own utility out of it – that's awesome to me.

Partin is wearing the Executive Jogger

KA: How does your personal sense of style play into your day?

MP: My focus in terms of fashion mirrors design elements that I love, so I look for well‑tailored clothing. Fit and function – bridging those together is great. Whereas before I was favouring crazy fashion trends, now I look for enduring pieces that are made well, cut well and made of amazing materials. I like the idea of having pieces in your wardrobe that can stand the test of time – that you develop and create a history with.