FEATURE

SPIND DOCTOR

In downtown Whitefish, the feisty 25-year-old “entreprenista” who owns Sobba Cycle peddles her own brand of high-octane fitness bliss.

Clare Menzel, Whitefish Montana, ski, author

Clare Menzel

P

errey Sobba cracks open a bottle of kale juice. Her acrylic nails are electric-blue and shamrock-green, and she has a tattoo on her middle finger that reads “you do you,” written in her own handwriting. Perrey’s chin-length blonde hair is sweaty, from teaching a 45-minute cycling class set to a soundtrack of Florence + the Machine and Ellie Goulding. It’s an early March morning, less than a week before Perrey closed the studio in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ten minutes earlier, Florence’s powerful vocals howled on the speakers, remixed into a pounding dance track. Then came Ellie, crooning a slower-tempo cool-down. Then the door opened and out into the waiting room came studio manager Madeline Axtell, wiping her forehead with a towel as she resumes her position behind the check-in desk. “So dreamy,” she sighs.

On the wall to Madeline’s left, a soft white and lavender neon sign illuminates three words: sweat, bass, bliss. This is the mantra at Sobba Cycle, the Flathead Valley’s only boutique cycling studio, established in early 2018. Here, Perrey says, the music is “100 percent at the core” of her signature intense cardio workout. Each class feels like a “big dance party on the bike,” as one devotee put it. To Madeline’s right, Polaroid snapshots celebrate Sobba disciple milestones: 50 rides, 100 rides, 200, 300.

Perrey sits down behind the glass-topped desk in her chilly office to meet a visitor. Even after the heart-pounding session, Perrey, 25, is antsy with energy, fiddling with everything within reach on her desk as she chats.

“HER FANS, SHE GIVES THEM THEIR MONEY’S WORTH, AND THAT’S WHY THEY LOVE HER.”

On the wall hangs a racing jersey owned by her late father, David, an orthopedic surgeon and mountain athlete who loved to participate in charity events like the RATPOD cycling ride. Stowed in the corner of the room, there’s a vintage gold Schwinn Airdyne stationary bike, which Perrey found at the Soroptimist Thrift Haus—a fabulous Instagram prop. A hokey desk plaque reads “Eye Roll Expert.”

For this studio, Perrey cultivated a confident and charismatic brand personality. She aimed for a metropolitan feel, offering clients an “urban, arts, culture, modern” experience. One local client says the studio’s fresh, hip atmosphere makes it feel like “the cool kid’s corner” of the Flathead. Perrey explains, “I do not want it to feel ‘Montana.’” In her opinion, “Whitefish could use a little more spunk, not just the same old ski town vibe. And that vibe is magical—keep it going—but there’s room.”

After roughly one year in operation, Perrey heard about a new retail development in downtown Missoula, a block from The Wilma theater. She nabbed the last space, opening her second Sobba Cycle location in November 2019. Counting every person in every class in both studios, the business saw more than 25,000 rides in its first three years. About 3,400 unique clients have walked through Perrey’s doors.

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“None of her success surprises me,” says Delia Buckmaster, one of the Flathead’s longest-standing group fitness professionals, who has known Perrey her whole life. “She’s always had a very high work ethic and an entrepreneurial mind. She constantly wanted to become better, and the best at what she was doing… She’s a machine.”

PERREY WAS BORN THE YEAR before David and Beth Sobba moved to Whitefish from a small town on Washington’s Puget Sound. She made her grand entrance into this world on the 4th of July.

“Which is very consistent with her personality. She’s always loved excitement and parties and holidays and celebrations with fanfare,” says Beth, who works as a manual physical therapist. Her office is three blocks south of Sobba Cycle on Baker Avenue.
Perrey, who grew up a skier, also spent more than a decade of her early life figure skating competitively, traveling regionally and nationally to train and compete. Beth views this as a formative experience for her daughter—it was the arena where Perrey learned athletic discipline, competition, and composure.

“That’s where she fell in love with clothes and fashion and putting together a whole package before stepping on the ice,” Beth says. “I look at [her fitness career] as another form of performing. Her fans, she gives them their money’s worth, and that’s why they love her.”
Back in 2002, Perrey’s father, David, was diagnosed with lymphoma. He viewed his cancer as a blessing, a powerful catalyst for his spiritual and personal growth. He passed away, on January 26, 2013, surrounded by friends and family in the Whitefish home where Perrey grew up. It was a tough time for her then-18-year-old daughter, Beth recalls, but that experience is “why she is who she is.”

Perrey says, “I knew his death was always going to come, and on some level, when it finally happened, there was a sense of emotional relief. My coping mechanism when things are really shitty is just like, ‘I am fine, I will be fine, I have to be fine, even if it doesn’t have to be okay right now.’”

Preparing for college, Perrey felt like she needed to get the hell out of small-town Montana, so she moved to Massachusetts to study biochemistry at Boston College, in hopes of becoming a cosmetic surgeon. She says the driving force behind her trajectory was her desire to become her own boss when she grew up.
But it was harder to be far from home than she’d expected. “I wasn’t finding my place,” she says. Then Boston introduced her to high-intensity, endurance-level spin training. “I fell in love… It was a cardio-heavy workout that was both fun and extremely challenging,” she says. “I always left class sweaty and exhausted, but hungry for more.” First she went to classes at Flywheel, a metrics-focused franchise, and then to a training program at a boutique studio in Cambridge called Turnstyle. When Perrey came home over winter break, she thought, “Whitefish needs something like this.”

Midway through school, Perrey took time off and traveled in Europe. She says she couldn’t make herself return to classes, so she dropped out and moved back home, even though she worried this would make her a quitter, Beth remembers. To buy herself some time to figure out a game plan, Perrey enrolled in a pilates certification training course at Delia’s studio, which at the time was called Exhale Pilates. Teaching group classes at Exhale, Perrey learned a lot, but before long, she chafed at working for somebody else.

Motivated by the sheer need to do something on her own, she resolved to open a pilates studio in Kalispell. When she found a suitable turnkey spot near the Blue Cow Car Wash, she typed up a lengthy business proposal and sent it to her family. “She’s a natural-born executive,” Beth says. “She’s the Bill Gates, the Jeff Bezos.” A few months later, in January 2017, Perrey opened the doors of Space Pilates. The studio was simply designed, with white walls and a string of rainbow pom-poms for decoration. It was also simply operated: Perrey wore all of the hats.

It wasn’t six months later that an unclaimed storefront under construction next to Whitefish’s new city hall on the corner of Baker and 1st Avenue caught her eye—a dream location for her dream cycling studio. With the wind in her sails from one successful launch, she pounced. Perrey opened on January 22, 2018. The timing marked five years since her father’s passing. “I feel proud to carry on his legacy,” she said that month.

Many people close to Perrey have said that she has inherited her father’s indefatigable drive and work ethic. When she opened Sobba Cycle, Perrey had nine instructors, all of whom she trained herself. Before the pandemic shutdowns, she employed 23 people, counting both cycling studios, and was in the process of training another cohort. Earlier this year, she finally shuttered Space, closing the chapter on her stepping stone to Sobba Cycle.

“As Perrey evolved, Sobba is the next iteration,” says Lauren Oscilowski, managing partner of Spotted Bear Spirits in Whitefish. She’s known Perrey since the Exhale days, and is a Sobba veteran, with 308 rides under her belt. “Space was softer,” she explains. “Sobba is a little more powerful and energetic. I think she has refined and polished things. It’s an extension of who she is, the loud beats, the bright colors, the high energy… she’s like Billie Eilish meets I don’t even know—and in Whitefish, Montana, which is not the norm.”

Delia, who has witnessed an explosion of options for consumers in the high-end fitness market during her 20-year career in Whitefish, found that “you have to constantly reinvent yourself” to stay relevant in this small market. The landscape of the industry feels much more competitive than when she opened her first studio.

“She has a definite plan, she organized her business and set it up for success,” Delia says. “Perrey is a 25-year-old spreading her wings. Probably her style and persona will change over the years, but she knows her target audience, and her social media reflects that, her merchandise reflects that, and her brand reflects that. She has her attitude of ‘this is who I am.’ It might not have worked in Whitefish 20 years ago, but it works in this day and age.”

THIS YEAR’S STRESSFUL TIMES REMIND PERREY A LITTLE OF HOW SHE FELT AFTER HER DAD DIED. “IT’S A BIT OF A BLUR.”

In mid-March, Perrey closed down both Sobba Cycle locations, 10 days before Governor Steve Bullock issued a stay-at-home order. “I don’t know if it was pride, but I wanted to make my own decision that I felt was in the best interest of our community,” she says. “When we closed, we just sat still for three days, didn’t do anything.”

Perrey cut her staff down to just two managers, essentially eliminating the business’s overhead. She wondered if she should just hibernate until the pandemic was over, but within a week, she kicked into high gear. She says this year’s stressful times remind her a little of how she felt after her dad died. “It’s a bit of a blur,” she explains. “There’s no other option but to be fine. That’s what I’m trying to lean into.”

First, she rented out her 36 bikes and offered a subscription to class videos featuring herself and senior instructor Marlow Schulz, a childhood friend. They also uploaded à la carte videos for sale, with themes like “Rap Friday,” a Sobba standard, as well as soundtracks like the evolution of pop rock singer Adam Levine. On Instagram, she shared Spotify playlists, motivational posts, and TikTok-inspired dance sequences on the bike. In early May, both Sobba studios hosted pop-up shopping events to bring in customers while minding the pandemic restrictions. On June 1, Sobba reopened with a lineup of classes themed around canceled music festivals: Coachella, Lollapallooza, Glastonbury.

At 6 a.m. on March 17—the final class before the shutdown—a full class of riders, mostly Sobba regulars, filed into the studio. Perrey put on a brooding playlist, turned the lights off, and clipped into her bike. The sun wasn’t up yet, and the studio was dark, but she remembers how palpable the group’s presence felt.

“I don’t normally say a lot before class, but this time, I did say, ‘I challenge you guys to take this next hour to be fully present, soak in the energy of the people around you, the energy of this room, and hold that with you,’” she recalled in late April. “There were some tears. I can’t wait to be back in the room and feel that body heat.”

sobbacycle.com and their Facebook and Instagram.

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