Photo by Ingrid Barrentine

When meeting Stephen Smith, one instantly picks up on his boundless energy and positivity. It might even make one ponder how a spin bike, a slamming playlist, and a room full of novice and expert spinners alike could amplify his innate pep.

“Whatever we’re doing, I’m going to do it to the max because you need me to be at the max,” said the 34-year-old owner and instructor of The Handlebar Cycling Studio in Tacoma. “I am going to feed you my energy.”

Smith didn’t always love spin. The passion for the exercise was born during a fateful tenure as a camp counselor at a Michigan YMCA in 2008, when Smith was approached by a supervisor who, knowing he was pursuing a degree in kinesiology, asked him to teach a class.

He first endeavored to take a class and see what it was all about. “Twenty minutes in, I was dying … (After that) I was like, ‘I’m going to beat spin.’”

From there, Smith moved to Chicago, where he worked at several gyms and boutique spin clubs, including other YMCA locations, CycleBar, and Full Psycle. Though Smith credits these businesses for helping him to become a showman, he felt he could do what they do, but better.

“I can take what (these) guys have done and put it into a place where anybody can come,” he said. “Because if you walk into SoulCycle or CycleBar, there’s this aesthetic of, ‘If you don’t look like this, you probably aren’t ready to be here,’ and I am trying to change that aesthetic.”

This thought was omnipresent as he pedaled through the next several years, and later into 2018, when he followed a friend to the Pacific Northwest and became an instructor at Handlebar, then owned by Becky LeProwse.

When the opportunity to purchase the business from LeProwse came in early 2020, Smith jumped in. The next day, Gov. Jay Inslee ordered all schools closed due to COVID-19, and many businesses began to shutter and implement work-from-home protocols.

Smith said he couldn’t believe the unfortunate timing, but he ultimately feels like he was in the right place at the right time to keep Handlebar going. After riding out the months-long stay-home order, Smith is back on the bike with reduced class sizes and safety protocols.

And he’s bringing his energy to every class.

Photos below courtesy Stephen Smith


6:20 a.m. Started the day teaching an early morning spin class: 12 miles down and many more to go before the day is over.


6:30 a.m. The class leaves, and I take a quiet moment before sanitizing the studio.


7 a.m. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I head to Pacific Southern and do some class planning.


11:30 a.m. Back at the studio, I get ready to greet members for our lunchtime boot camp.


12:20 p.m. Second workout is in the books; Another 12 miles down, with one more class to go.


1 p.m. After another shower and change of clothes, I sit down to work on administrative tasks, like planning class schedules for next week.


5:15 p.m. Performing temperature scanning on members as they arrive for the last class of the day; everyone is fever-free.


6:20 p.m. Last spin class of the day; our members really brought it tonight.


6:30 p.m. With the last class of the day over, I’m ready to sanitize the studio (again) and head home to shower and change one last time.


7 p.m. At home and relaxing on my patio; tomorrow morning starts with another early class.