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Ding (far left in a Coach 1941 jacket and J12 XS ceramic watch with diamonds, Chanel Fine Jewellery) is an all-Cali girl who loves the beach, cafe culture and fitness, as seen in her business as well as personal photos.

A lot of people experience homesickness at some point or another. Most have fond memories of a particular place or time. Not many, however, translate all that into a fitness enterprise that’s gained a reputation as a stylish trailblazer.

“My siblings and I loved the fitness lifestyle in Los Angeles, so we really wanted to bring back something that inspired us and share it,” says Valerie Ding, the 30-year-old co-founder of Crucycle, one of Singapore’s earliest specialist indoor cycling studios.

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Though Ding and her younger siblings, Calvin and Beatrice, grew up in Singapore, much of their school holidays were spent in LA where their parents had a house. There, they soaked up the Cali lifestyle and all the exercise fads, health diets and great outdoors that come with it.

So when the eldest Ding returned to join the family’s real estate business after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles, she brought along a love for the fun, communal workouts that were a regular part of her LA life. That passion would lead to the then-risky opening of Crucycle.

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“When we started Crucycle three years ago, spinning was already a huge thing in LA, but it was just starting up here. Also, there were plenty of gyms, but boutique fitness studios weren’t as popular as they are now,” she says.

Through sheer grit (think 6 am starts, 16-hour days and DIY everything), savvy marketing (Crucycle’s catchy slogan: “Ride with the pack”), and a unique spinning programme that’s effective yet highly enjoyable, she and her siblings have since shaped the business into one of the hippest fitness joints around with a growing fan base. Good luck trying to book a slot on short notice these days.

“I love being able to create a fun studio environment where people would want to join a class and meet up with friends,” she says. “It’s basically a social experience and, on top of that, a great workout. It’s not a traditional gym where you walk in, put on your headphones, do your own thing, and don’t know anyone.”

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Pulling no punches

The success of Crucycle convinced Ding to expand the business. Inspired by the growing popularity of boxing particularly among women, Crubox opened on West Hollywood’s trendy Melrose Avenue last October.

“As with Crucycle, Crubox is a boxing programme that’s choreographed to music. Every jab and cross follows the beat,” Ding explains. Not only is it high-intensity exercise, it also fuses elements of real boxing – from the stances and moves to the instructions. “Everything in the class is what professional fighters are being taught. You’re learning real boxing techniques.”

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Ding with her pet huskies, now mascots for the fitness brands she co-owns with her siblings

Created jointly with a professional trainer who coaches big league fighters, the Crubox programme took a year to perfect. “There’s a mental aspect to boxing and it involves a lot more concentration than spinning. That’s why Crubox took a much longer time to set up, from designing the programme to training the trainers,” says Ding.

Instructors were chosen via auditions. “You need characters, performers, people who can lift your classes, and make them fun and engaging. The people we hire must have some sort of spark,” she says.

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Bringing new meaning to logo merch: the custom-designed gloves, apparel and water bottles at Crubox in LA

Then there are all the elements necessary to draw a millennial crowd today. The Insta-friendly studio, chic merchandise like black-and-gold boxing gloves and logo sweaters (all designed in-house), and what’s made Crucycle here a hit: classes taught in groups of up to 25 in a darkened room, set to high-energy music meant to get one moving.

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Ding and younger sister Beatrice at Crubox (in LA), which will soon open here

Next stop: Singapore

Since its launch, the response to Crubox in LA has largely been all glowing reviews, strong word of mouth, and patronage by high-profile influencers that’s generated even greater media buzz. Now, the plan is to open Crubox in Singapore by mid-year, and Ding is optimistic about it.

“It really helps relieve aggression and stress when you’re punching something,” she says. “There’s also mental stimulation. When you’re concentrating on your moves, you don’t have time to think of anything else, or you’ll get hit.”

A good dose of girl power certainly adds to the appeal. “For females, boxing gives a good sense of empowerment, especially with the attention now on sexual assault. It gives women a feeling of ‘you can’t mess with me’,” she adds.

Ding herself is no stranger to toughness. “In this past year, there have been a million times when I wonder why I’m even doing this – dealing with people, with construction, and so on in one of the most competitive fitness markets in the world,” she says.

“But waking up every day with the chance to build something successful keeps me going. I’m blessed and grateful to have a lot of tools that give me an advantage, so that further fuels my fire. It’s the best feeling knowing that you’ve succeeded in bringing something to people, and that they like it.”

Profile Photo Frenchescar Lim Art Direction Adeline Eng Hair Sha Shamsi, using Keune Makeup Laea Hidayah, using YSL Beaute

This story first appeared in Female’s February 2018 issue.

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