Peloton star Cody Rigsby, explained by his biggest fans

Peloton star Cody Rigsby, explained by his biggest fans

Cody Rigsby hates the taste of black licorice. He calls anyone who likes it a “monster.” He also hates Justin Timberlake, orange marmalade, and people who go out to dinner and refuse to split the bill evenly. But Cody Rigsby loves, too. He loves Britney Spears, wigs (preferably secured and attached firmly to a scalp), pulpy fresh-squeezed orange juice in mimosas, the crunchy texture of a Cheeto as opposed to a cheese puff, and the idea of beating up Rugrats bully Angelica Pickles.

These are some of the things you’ll learn about the Peloton instructor if you take, along with hundreds of thousands of other riders, enough of his virtual cycling classes through the popular home exercise service. Or you can learn this if you, like me, talk to several of those riders (and sit in on those rides), peruse Facebook groups and Reddit posts dedicated to him, and watch the “Best of Cody Rigsby Part 44” video (and the previous 43 installations) on YouTube.

Or you might learn it on ABC in the coming months, as Cody Rigsby ascends his largest platform yet — one that doesn’t even have a bike on it.

Earlier this month, Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) announced that Cody Rigsby would be one of the cast members of their milestone 30th season. Cody Rigsby will soon pasodoble, foxtrot, waltz, and quickstep on national television — a privilege usually reserved for Olympic gold medal winners and traditional celebrities like musicians (Normani placed third in the show’s 24th season) and actors (Zendaya placed second in the show’s 16th season).

Cody Rigsby might not be a household name to all, but for many he is an integral part of their household. For the US’s 1.4 million Peloton users, Rigsby is probably the biggest fitness celebrity not named Jane Fonda, and he’s reached that position in large part by talking about the foul taste of black licorice. His relatable persona and easily shared opinions let his fanbase feel unusually close to him, making him both a huge star and a good buddy to people who spent a lot of money on a bike in their living rooms.

“People hate working out,” Cody told the Washington Post in July. “Let’s be honest: I hate working out sometimes, too. So you want to be entertained. You want to forget that you’re doing something that you don’t like.”

It still might be a mystery to some just what kind of magic this man possesses that compels a stranger to create a 44-part highlight series on YouTube. His secret might be as simple as friendship.

What makes Cody Rigsby so popular?

Rigsby and Peloton existed before the pandemic — Cody is 34 and has been at Peloton for seven years; Peloton’s stationary bicycle was created in 2014 — but Covid-19 lockdowns and social distance protocols in the past two years accelerated the profile of both. Back in 2020, state and local health officials ordered gyms and fitness studios to shut their doors to curb infections and risk. The shutdowns put a premium on outdoor and home workouts, the latter being a boon for Peloton, the premier name in cycling and treadmilling classes from home. An example of the surge: This past May, Peloton reported that quarterly revenue rocketed 141 percent to $1.26 billion.

More people on Peloton means more of an audience for Peloton’s instructors, Rigsby included. According to Social Blade, a company that tracks social media followings, Rigsby had just under 300,000 Instagram followers in the summer of 2020 and now has a little over 890,000. Some of that boost is due to his upcoming appearance on DWTS (he’s gained about 50,000 followers since the announcement), but his rise over the past year can be traced to the popularity he carved out during Peloton’s pandemic boom. His fanbase, known as Rigsby’s Boo Crew (#BooCrew on Peloton) has over 100,000 members.

But what is it that makes Rigsby so special?

“What separates Cody is that at the end of the day, Cody’s personality comes off as very genuine, so it doesn’t feel like you’re riding a bike in your bedroom. I mean, it’s really like riding with a friend,” said Tyler Moses, 28, one of the founding members of the Boo Crew.

Moses describes himself as an early adopter of Peloton, nabbing a bike around five years ago. Not unlike group fitness instructors at SoulCycle or Barry’s, Peloton instructors have their own niche or archetype. Some may focus on a certain type of music while others might home in on providing challenging classes. Moses jokingly referred to one instructor’s class as “calculus” because of the focus on all the numbers and metrics, something he doesn’t necessarily care for.

Moses explains that Cody’s appeal is that it’s the antithesis of doing calculus. His allure comes from rants and tangents about fountain sodas, email etiquette, and how drag queens dance.

“Cody’s very open about not only fitness but his personal life,” Moses said. “I mean, talking about his mom Cindy, and him being homeless, and his dancing career and joining Peloton. It’s like things that you would share with your friends.”

And Cody has a whole lot of friends, who in turn have formed a community through Peloton’s features. Moses says that just because he has “#BooCrew” in his Peloton handle, he now gets thousands of virtual “high fives” when he takes a class.

Johanna Cox is a more recent convert, becoming a Rigsby Rider during the pandemic. She was drawn to Cody for the same reasons as Moses. His comedy and ability to connect to her sealed her loyalty.

“In my head, we were best friends after a few rides,” she said. “I wasn’t seeing anybody anymore, other than my three kids, but here he was, every day, a few inches from my face, discussing all the things my real-life friends and I used to break down.”

Cox’s experience wasn’t unique. The pandemic severed so many of our social bonds, especially early on as the directive from health officials advised us to trim our social circles into pods. Gyms and fitness studios were some of the first places to shut down in an effort to curb risk and infection, but previously they’d been places of social connection, especially group fitness classes. Fans say Cody had a special talent for making a surreal situation feel normal and fun.

“He’s hilariously self-effacing, which I think is his biggest charm,” Cox said. “Have you heard him pronounce ‘turquoise?’ It’s wrong. Or the way he enjoys being the guy who puts ice in his white wine? His cruel opinion of Taylor Swift? All of it, wrong. But what makes him so great and so truly likable is that he does not give a shit; he is who he is, and that’s how Cindy raised him.”

Not all Rigsby riders may be as devout or effusive as Moses, Cox, or the Boo Crew. Some of them wouldn’t use the word “friend,” but he’s still someone that makes them laugh and plays the music they like.

After talking to several of his riders, it seems clear that Cody Rigsby is uncannily skilled at finding memories, feelings, and nostalgia you didn’t know you cared about.

Whether it’s his observations about the taste of a Book It-earned personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut or the way some white women of a certain age dance with their arms over their head, the things he touches upon are very specific. While never overly prodding or complicated, it still feels like the opposite of small talk — like an inside joke you’ve lucked into. Like all experiences, it really pays off when someone else connects to them and the subjects he talks about — his mom, being gay, being different and growing up in the South, Britney Spears — tend to resonate with gay men, moms, and a lot of people who grew up in the 1990s and early 2000s (these same demographics also happen to be big on Peloton).

Perhaps the real genius is that Cody slyly turns his not-small talk into a fitness class. Making what’s essentially a monologue feel like a conversation with people peddling and following along through a black mirror isn’t easy. Rigsby makes it seem effortless. Fans say he lingers just enough on the story, and at the same time coaches his riders into having good form (knees forward, back straight) and pushes them to try harder — the way, he says, Britney Spears crushed her Onyx Hotel Tour.

As Cox says, “He gets us, he puts us in a better mood, so sure, we’ll turn that resistance up when he asks for it.”

Cody Rigsby and Dancing With the Stars makes perfect sense, but what’s next?

Cody is a serious threat to win Dancing With the Stars, even if he isn’t a traditional DWTS celebrity. Not only is Cody a trained dancer (though hip-hop and pop’s reliance on hair tossing and body rolls are a different animal than ballroom) with a massive audience on Peloton (a recent 20-minute ride I took with Rigsby had been taken by over 290,000 participants), he appeals to a demographic friendly with DWTS — women, specifically moms. Cody has a very devoted fanbase that’s ready to mobilize.

Cody’s inclusion indicates that people at the show are shifting their own ideas about celebrity. The stars invited usually consist of soap opera actors, child stars, former athletes, and pop music artists, with the show’s biggest moment being its cast announcement.

The show, historically, has had a conservative viewership and included former GOP lawmakers like Rick Perry and Tom DeLay, and Republican-aligned scions like Bristol Palin. But the show’s mildly pleasing mundanity sometimes snaps, like in 2019, when it cast former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Producers were criticized for normalizing someone who lied to the American public on behalf of the Trump administration. (Past controversial stars included food personality and racial slur-user Paula Deen, and boxer Floyd Mayweather, who has been convicted of domestic violence.)

Last year, for its 29th season, the show fired its longtime host Tom Bergeron and hired Tyra Banks in an effort to refresh and reenergize its viewership. That season featured the likes of Tiger King’s Carole Baskin, Backstreet Boy AJ McLean, and was eventually won by Bachelorette star Kaitlyn Bristowe. The additions of Cody along with YouTuber Jojo Siwa and influencer (and college admissions scammer) Olivia Jade seem to indicate that the show is broadening or at least reacting to the modern-day definitions of popularity and celebrity. Siwa will make history as the first celeb to dance with a partner of the same sex — a progressive move for a show that came under fire for casting Spicer two years ago.

For a select group, though, Cody’s involvement remains the biggest news. Moses explained to me that while ABC had been tight-lipped about casting, eagle-eyed Boo Crew members pieced together Cody’s itinerary based on his social media the week of the announcement. They spotted the instructor wearing a yellow face mask on a plane to California. Then, another Boo Crew member noticed a picture of an unidentified man on the DWTS set wearing what they believed to be the same face mask. They triangulated their findings and, based on the smallest of details, were sure their guy was going to be on the show.

“They were like, ‘Look at his ear! That’s Cody’s ear!’” Moses told me, laughing while recounting the story about how the rumor set the Boo Crew ablaze. Now, they’re engaged, mobilized, energized — and they vote, literally.

During the 2020 presidential election, the Boo Crew enacted a get out the vote campaign (they’ve also raised over $160,000 for charity since their inception). Though they didn’t endorse a candidate, Cody and the Boo Crew believe in women’s rights, gay rights, Black Lives Matter, diversity, and inclusivity.

“We ordered literally over 10,000 postcards and sent it to members across the country asking them to vote,” Moses said. “Then with a few swing states, we followed up. Like when Georgia had the recount, we sent even more out. As soon as it was announced that he was gonna be on Dancing With the Stars I was like, okay, we got this — not only do we got it, but we’ve had a few run-throughs.”

As a testament to Cody’s voting block, Moses sent me a screenshot from an ESPN poll about DWTS. The poll grouped him together with fellow competitors Jojo Siwa and Mel C. from the Spice Girls and asked which star would have the highest score on premiere night. Cody was in last place when the Boo Crew was alerted. After a barrage of voting, he now sits in first with 55 percent of the vote. Mel C. garnered a paltry 9 percent.

Seems likely that Cody will stick around for a while and get to be known by the show’s millions of viewers (last season averaged 6.1 million viewers per episode), adding new members to the Boo Crew with each hustle.

As Rigsby becomes a bigger star, however, there will probably be more scrutiny about who he is, what he stands for, and if he’s the same person he says he is. Some of that criticism will inevitably be tougher than others. Some haters will appear (like those ragging on the instructor’s recent $1.45 million penthouse purchase), but there might also be some genuine concerns that arise.

Memes, usually video captures of Cody and other instructors’ rides and rants, have popped up, which have promoted questions about whether Cody is using AAVE or employing a blaccent. Some riders I spoke to, who asked for anonymity because of how popular Cody is and how fervent Peloton fans are, questioned whether his appeal is because he fits and leans into a gay best friend trope.

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There are concerns for his intense fanbase as well, ones they’re already working through. One example that Moses pointed out was that Peloton used to use the word “tribes” to indicate groups like Boo Crew who had loyalty to certain instructors. Moses said he and the Boo Crew found out abruptly that the word was triggering and could be offensive when he awoke to “hundreds of messages” about how they shouldn’t refer to themselves as a tribe. Rigsby himself reached out about changing the name.

“It was just something that happened very quick. There were a lot of angry people,” he said, explaining that he took it as a learning moment instead of shying away from it. “You address it. You learn if you’ve made a mistake, and then you put it behind you.”

That’s what Cody would do, he said.