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Wearable Tech

NordicTrack's VR fitness bike wore me out at CES

Coming this summer for $1,999.

vr-bike-composite
NordicTrack

I'll never forget riding a flying horse in VR while pedaling a bicycle and nearly wanting to throw up. That happened years ago when I tried VirZoom, a low-cost stationary bike that worked with fitness games and both mobile and console VR headsets.

VR and fitness biking can be a rough mix. NordicTrack aims to do Virzoom one better with a far fancier machine, the NordicTrack VR Bike, coming this summer. I got to play with it in Las Vegas during CES 2019.

The bike works with HTC's Vive Focus mobile VR headset, playing several VR games that will sync with the bike's various motion-control features. The VR bike bundle will cost $1,999, which is a lot more expensive than VirZoom. But the NordicTrack VR Bike also has a lot more features than the pretty basic VirZoom ever had. It also comes with a Vive Focus headset (around $599) and a one-year iFit Personal Trainer subscription with workout programs ($396), so the bike only technically costs about $1,000.

Still, that's pretty lofty, and not far from the all-in cost of a Peloton (mid-$2,000s). (Peloton also has a lower-cost subscription fitness app that works on its own, but it's not as integrated a solution as the company's customized bike.)

NordicTrack's VR bike has fans for creating a feeling of motion (and ventilation), and the handlebars double as a movable 8-axis yoke for extra flexibility, and are studded with all the necessary game controller-like buttons and triggers to play. It supports Bluetooth audio, connects to the iFit fitness platform, and has varying levels of resistance when biking.

nordictrack-vr-bike

The handlebars, display and fan system up close.

Scott Stein/CNET

The bike also has position-sensing pedals, according to NordicTrack, that can recognize 16 pedal positions and sync with games (stomping or back-pedaling, perhaps). There's a built-in display, and the bike can adjust to 10 percent incline or decline to match elevation shifts in VR, too. Because, in VR, your exercise bike is often airborne.

The fitness game I tried, Aeronauts, is a steampunk sort of fly-through-the-rings race, much like some VirZoom games I played, or Nintendo's Pilotwings. Pedaling faster made me get to the rings quicker. I often needed to steer the yoke to tilt up or down. Extra bonus targets are around to shoot (for those, I needed to stare at the drone-like things, lock in, and fire away with handlebar triggers).

I got winded -- and nauseous. Sure, I tried the bike after hours of back-to-back VR demos in Vegas, I wasn't wearing proper workout clothes, and I was dehydrated -- and also, I'm out of shape. It felt like a workout! But I think, for VR, I'd prefer a more grounded experience like Beat Saber instead.

But I'm curious to give NordicTrack's VR Bike another go when it arrives this summer.

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