Spinning is Winning

Kirk Whiteman has been teaching spin class for more than 15 years. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Kirk Whiteman has been teaching spin class for more than 15 years. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

I’m in Portland. It’s raining. Yes, I realize these are redundant statements.

I’ve traveled to Pacific Northwest to have dinner with friends, shoot some photographs and do a little business. I haven’t packed my folder because apparently I don’t possess the gene required to think this is riding weather.



Luckily, my dinner companions introduce me to Jenny Whiteman and her husband Kirk. They own Tempo Cycling and Pilate Studio in SW Portland and it turns out Kirk knows a thing or two about bicycles, spin classes and life.

The first thing one notices about Brooklyn-born Kirk Whiteman is his giant smile. As time goes on I begin to wonder if the smile is not more of a smirk.

He uses his pleasant, jovial personality to drive his class on. It’s almost as if you want to suffer to make him thankful you are in his class. You immediately want to be his friend.

Whiteman was a standout high school athlete until his junior year when he got injured. He used his BMX bike as part of his rehabilitation and the hook was set.

Then he saw a 30-second clip of the great Nelson Vails on the Wide World of Sports and Whiteman was off to the races, winning a National Championship in Tandem Sprints in 1996, a World Championship in Sprints in 1997 and the World Championships in Sprints and Team Sprints in 1998.

He started teaching spin classes in Brooklyn in 1999, eventually opening his own studio there.

Then there was the detour to sell insurance in Texas and shoveling slag at a steel mill in Springfield, Oregon. “I should of stayed in school, I kept telling myself.”

Then he finally settled in Portland and opened Tempo in 2008.

He uses the knowledge gained during his years of racing the track to not only teach a mean spin class, but also coach local cyclists on how to be successful on the road. He stresses success is how the individual defines it. Define your own success.

I watched Whiteman fish through a large box of clipless pedals, including a pair of Frogs, to find my SPDs. And then he not only helped me get set on my bicycle, but he used an angle goniometer to do it. And then shortly after class started he noticed from the back of the room I was a little bunched up and he came and did a mid-class adjustment.

So I wondered if he might have some tips he could share with the readers of Element.ly for how to make spin classes better for serious cyclists. Here’s what he said:

1. Technique: Make sure your body is in the proper position to deliver power with suppleness.

2. Cadence: Get into proper cadence first then adjust the resistance so you can keep your form.

3. Breathing: Try to keep your breathing long and even. Don’t hyperventilate.

4. Focus: Be in the now. Focus on the task at hand and eliminate distractions.

5. Visualization: Take what you do indoors and think about “real world” situations.

6. Honesty: You have to be honest with yourself.

7. Dream: Dream about how great you want to be and realize that it’s not impossible to get there.

8. Accountability: It’s up to you. It’s all about you. Ask yourself if you are doing everything you need to do to be successful.

I’ll end with something one of the students from my morning spin class told me about Whiteman.

“I’ve been known to give him the finger and curse him,” Leslie Carlson said as we finished our class. “And he seems to like it.”

Don't let Kirk Whiteman's smile fool you, he is all rpms, heart rate and power output. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
Don’t let Kirk Whiteman’s smile fool you, he is all rpms, heart rate and power output. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly
  • pdxsun

    The studio is located in SE Portland, not SW.