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Exercising in virtual reality with VirZoom's bike controller sounds fun, but isn't

Hayden Dingman | Dec. 21, 2015
Just like Lance Armstrong, probably

The experience

And when I say “I’m not sure,” it’s because I just don’t think VirZoom will catch on enough to get more developers on-board. This may come as a surprise, as I’m usually the “I’ll try anything for the sake of virtual reality,” guy. I’ve tried on haptic vests, haptic gloves, position-tracking bodysuits, rings (the jewelry kind) with embedded touch controls, neurosensors, and too many headsets to count. Hell, I tried running on the Virtuix Omni nearly three years ago.

The point is I’ve tried a lot of stuff—some of it great, some of it awful, most of it goofy.

A virtual reality bike seems like a decent idea: Get some exercise without dealing with the weather or (in San Francisco) getting hit by a car. Fantastic. And it’ll distract you a bit from the horrible exercise part of exercising.

I'm not sold, though. The problem is two-fold. First and foremost, I almost threw up the first time I went around a corner. As always, we encounter the same old discussions about virtual reality and simulator sickness—in this case, knowing how a regular ol’ bicycle works, I braced my body for centripetal force that never came. It’s a bit ironic because VirZoom pitched the bike to me as a way to counter-act problems with VR-induced nausea, but I fell prey to it from a different angle.


But there’s another, more fundamental problem with this concept: Heat.

The Oculus Rift gets uncomfortably warm even at the best of times. Think about your phone, and the way your phone heats up when you leave the screen on for a while. Then imagine holding that warm phone five inches from your face, in a box covered with foam. Just sitting in a chair watching a movie or playing Elite: Dangerous you’re liable to pull the Rift off your face and wipe sweat away.

Now imagine that, except you’re also exercising. It is hot. It is gross. I can’t imagine getting a serious workout while wearing a virtual reality headset. Or, at least, I can’t imagine doing it without wanting to burn the headset afterward. Beads of sweat trickling down past your eyes with no way to wipe them off. Soaking into the foam. The lenses slowly fogging up. One time long ago, my earbuds broke and I had to wear heavy faux-leather, over-ear headphones to the gym. Wearing the Rift while exercising is distressingly similar.

I don’t recommend it. Not with VR in its current form, at least. There are a million me-too VR peripherals out there right now, and I’m excited to see developers try all these things. I will literally strap on any stupid thing to see if it’s fun. I’ve done it for three years now and I’ll keep doing it for as long as VR stays relevant.

But biking? From now on I think I’ll take my chances in San Francisco traffic.


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