I keep pedaling. I'm heading towards the cowboys. Pulling the right trigger, I lasso them. Leaning makes me feel like I'm falling off the stationary bike. It gets worse when I'm on a flying horse.
The VirZoom is an exercise bike, and it's a VR game controller. After a year of being teased and shown at game conventions, it's being shipped in about a month.
I got a chance to try out the near-final version with the final set of games that will be available. Do you see yourself cycling in place while enjoying virtual reality? This is what the experience is all about.
So, this is...an exercise bike?
Yep. A stationary, folding bike. It's about 38 pounds (17 kg).
How does this work with VR, exactly?
It's like a game controller. Pedaling moves you forward. Leaning, while wearing a VR headset with position tracking like the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, lets you steer (it feels like you might fall off the bike, but I learned to not lean too much). Buttons and triggers on each handlebar work to do other things. The VirZoom comes with its own set of five arcade-like mini games, but it can theoretically work with other games -- if and when other developers enable support for the VirZoom. A few undisclosed games will be compatible at launch.
What are these mini games?
The VirZoom comes with five games included, and they all feel a little like Sega arcade games teleported into VR. Cowboy is a round-up-the-bad-guys horse-racing game. Tank is a multiplayer all-terrain game where you ride around, turn your turret and blast enemies. Pegasus is a fly-a-horse game, playing like a bike-riding Pilotwings. River Run is like Tank but in a helicopter over a river, and feels a bit like the old game Thunder Blade. Race Car (yes, that's its name) is an F1 racing game, where you are...a puppy. In a race car. I don't know why.
How do you track fitness?
The VirZoom logs activity sessions and calorie burn, but it also hooks into Strava, the popular cycling and fitness app, and Google Fit. You should be able to sync your sessions automatically (though I haven't yet tried this).
A real exercise bike?
Yes. It has eight resistance settings, and (according to VirZoom's founder) these units were sourced from China and converted to add its game controller features. So it's really a basic folding stationary bike, plus extras. It runs for a year on two AA batteries (according to the company), and handles Bluetooth as well as controller functions.
What does it work with?
The VirZoom supports the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR (which I tested it with), and promises future support for "mobile VR." For now, consider a gaming PC or a PlayStation 4 to be a requirement.
How much does it cost?
Funny question. The preorder price is $399 (converting roughly to £280 or AU$550), but there will also be a required subscription service to access games and new features. Early pre-orders get a "lifetime subscription" free. Otherwise, you'll get 3 months of free access, then pay: $9.95 per month, $59.95 per year, $89.95 for two years, or $199.95 for lifetime. In the UK, these prices roughly convert to £7, £40, £60 and £140 respectively. In Australia, memberships would roughly be AU$15, AU$80, AU$125 and AU$275.
What the hell, why is it so expensive?
The VirZoom aims to put itself up against high-end spin classes and exercise bikes with subscriptions, like Peloton, but that's a stretch. It's not clear at all how good the VirZoom bike is, and similar-looking stationary bikes can be found on Amazon for as little as $150. You're paying for the hook-in to VR game compatibility, and the promise of future services. VirZoom claims the games will be playable without a subscription, but that subscription model alone is a dealbreaker for me because the bike by itself isn't cheap. (Neither is a VR gaming system, either.)
When is it available?
The VirZoom should be shipping in June.
Will this make you fit?
Well, the VirZoom is an exercise bike, so yes. But the routines and games don't seem to clearly be set up as training sessions, although you'll be able to keep track of how long you've been active. I broke a sweat over half an hour pedaling a tank, a puppy race car and flying my horse around the mountains. I liked the distractions and challenges of bike gaming, too. But I didn't like steering at all. Leaning made me borderline nauseous, and took getting used to.
In fact, in some ways, I'd prefer a biking game that just used a TV instead of a VR helmet. Sweat and VR helmets do not mix nicely at all.