Games like Beat Saber and Creed: Rise to Glory are a great way to get your heart pumping while having a blast, and after having played a number of these types of games at a near constant since they came to VR headsets, I thought I was in decent enough shape to take on NordicTrack’s upcoming consumer exercise bike with VR headset integration. I haven’t been to the gym in forever, but now I’m definitely rethinking that (in)decision.

The Vive demo space at CES 2019 played host to a number of games, apps, and brand engagement pieces using Vive Pro’s new eye-tracking tech and Vive Focus, the company’s standalone 6DOF headset. Among the lot was the NordicTrack VR Bike, an upcoming exercise bike which includes a steerable yoke replete with standard controller input buttons, directional pad, triggers, etc.

Image courtesy ICON, NordicTrack

Most importantly, the NordicTrack VR Bike comes with a Vive Focus and a number of gamified workouts designed to motivate you. One such title demoing today at CES was Aeronauts, a game that tosses you into a steampunk pedal-powered glider flying through a twisting canyon.

The objective is to go fast as possible, navigate through the ring checkpoints, and shoot down balloon targets by locking on with your gaze. It’s a pretty basic formula, but I have to admit it’s not only a visually polished game, but also engaging enough to take my mind off my rapidly declining ability to peddle. It worked surprisingly well. I wanted to keep pushing onward in the same way any decent racing simulator demands; it totally hooked into my innate sense of competition and not wanting to let the computer beat me.

So here I am, in canvas slacks and a button-up shirt ready to do a VR demo, interview some people, and then continue to stomp around the CES show floor. I wasn’t ready to sweat. I wasn’t ready to push myself farther than I should have in polite company. But I wanted to win. I wanted to get the high score.

By the time I got out of the three-minute race (just three minutes!), I was basically in shambles. I sucked down a bottle of water and carried on what I thought from the outside looked like a reasonable conversation about when the bike will land on consumer doorsteps, but I was actually dying inside (more so than usual).

Photo captured by Road to VR

If I had to describe my body type, it would say I’m deceptively skinny-fat. I haven’t jogged or lifted my dusty kettlebell in longer than I care to admit. I do play fitness-focused VR games on the regular though, and get my heart rate up into my Fitbit’s fabled ‘cardio zone’ from time to time, so I’m not a total slouch. After sweating it out on the bike, it’s clear to me now the missing key to a truly tiring VR workout is resistance with a capital ‘R’, the sort of variable push-back at-home gym equipment like the NordicTrack VR Bike aims to provide. I pushed through it the same way I would any game. I didn’t want to lose, and I desperately wanted to see that high score at the end. I’ve seen similar VR exercise bikes come and go in the 2+ years since consumer VR launched, but nothing ostensibly providing the level of immersion and polish that NordicTrack and Vive Focus do here.

Oh, here’s my Fitbit data from today. Guess when I demoed Aeronauts.

Image created by Road to VR

The full NordicTrack VR Bike package is slated to arrive in Summer 2019 at the $2,000 mark, including a Vive Focus outfitted with a number of purpose-built exercise games, and also a one-year membership to iFit, an online workout regime led by personal trainers and the company’s tech that automatically adjusts the bike’s incline, decline and resistance in response to personal trainer commands. iFit also streams what the company says will be “thousands of personal trainer-led workouts shot in studio or on location in beautiful settings all over the world.”

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VR Health & Exercise Institute Finds Many VR Games Are Better Exercise Than a Treadmill

There is a version of iFit already in existence, which was created specifically for standard format monitors. A version is being made specifically for VR users however, a NordicTrack spokesperson tells us. “We offer total body gaming now and should have full immersion 3D iFit videos coming online by fall,” the company says.

That’s one of the most expensive VR ‘controllers’ I’ve heard of to date, but in the grand scheme of things it fits pretty much in line with the company’s other at-home exercise equipment, which generally touted for its high quality, and isn’t out of place with the growing trend of high-end, high-tech at-home exercise equipment like Peloton. The Vive Focus headset itself costs $600, and a one-year membership to iFit costs around $400, making the bike itself effectively a few dollars over $1,000.

The real clincher here is whether the company can provide enough engaging content like I saw today with Aeronauts. If so, they might just tap into a market of VR-curious users looking for a trusted name brand in exercise equipment to shoe them in.

Update (January 11th, 2019): A previous version of this article stated that iFit, the personal trainer program, likely wouldn’t be available in VR-specific video formats. A NordicTrack spokesperson tells us however a VR-specific course is in the works, and will launch in Fall 2019. We’ve made this correction in the body of the article.

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  • Jan Ciger

    Hmm, that exercise bike … We have tried this some time ago because a client had a similar idea too. It was rapidly abandoned because if the idea is to simulate bike riding, then this doesn’t work – it is extremely disconcerting when you can’t lean on the bike to steer (one doesn’t steer a bike by turning the handlebars/”yoke” but mostly by leaning). People even fell off the rigid bike. We were also using one of the Tacx home trainers and whenever someone tried to lean they were risking breaking both the bike and the trainer.

    And the second part of it – having to wear an HMD stuck to your sweating face, with the lenses fogging up and your sweat pouring down is both very unpleasant and not very healthy for the HMD – sweat is very corrosive.

    So this works as a novelty but I haven’t seen anyone wanting to try it more than once.

    • plrr

      It might have utility as a substitute for a (omnidirectional) treadmill. Of course, one might prefer an ordinary treadmill as a substitute instead.

    • Tom Szaw

      the sweating might kill it. I think maybe AR in the future would work, with more open construction on face, just glasses.

      • Jan Ciger

        Just use a screen instead. Either a large TV or a projector. That is exactly what e.g. Tacx sells with their trainers and what you will find in a lot of gyms. It is more than sufficient because you don’t really need stereoscopy (you are fairly far away from the decor to perceive the stereo disparity anyway) and spend most of the time looking straight ahead anyway (craning one’s neck to look around on a bike is a good way to crash).

    • Kevin White

      it is extremely disconcerting when you can’t lean on the bike to steer
      (one doesn’t steer a bike by turning the handlebars/”yoke” but mostly
      by leaning).

      This is true. Even more so for a motorcycle and why you can’t easily simulate motorcycle riding. Check THIS out (1:30 to 1:45). Your inputs initiate lean, they do not really move the handlebar / facing of the front wheel beyond a subtle amount. It’s called countersteering.

    • disviq

      Sweating? Just use washable face inserts. Lens don’t fog up if the HMD is properly warmed up.

      • Jan Ciger

        You are missing the point. Washable inserts help with maintaining hygiene of the headset but do nothing about the feeling of having a clammy rag stuck to your face while you are sweating on the bike. It is just not comfortable.

        And even a warmed up headset will fog up once you start to seriously
        sweat – I am not talking casual use, I am speaking about actually using
        that exercise bike as intended. That makes a big difference.

        The sweat will also creep into the insides of the HMD over time (none of the HMDs is sufficiently sealed inside), most likely shortening its life quite considerably (corrosion, etc.).

  • Nicholas

    This thing will break in no time thanks to the humidity inside the vr headset, once things get rough on the virtual road.

  • nebošlo

    Current VR headsets are not sweat friendly, so this is a non-starter, I’m afraid. HMDs need to be super light weight for this to actually happen and be useful, further than a gimmick.

    • plrr

      Maybe intense or prolonged exercise is not an option right now. But the equivalent of other VR experiences should work…

  • gothicvillas

    If they want me to part from 2 grand, then the bike must be leanable as a normal bike

  • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

    “If so, they might just tap into a market of VR-curious users looking for a trusted name brand in exercise equipment to shoe them in.”

    The VR-curious won’t spend that kind of money Scott. Not only that, strapping on an hmd to exercise really isn’t a good idea.

    It seems like every other day some new vr tech is announced. Where the hell are the games? VR needs an exclusive game that will just make people want to buy an headset. Not some bloody $1,000 exercise bike and a $400 iFit membership.

  • Rudl Za Vedno

    This is super stupid idea. I sweat like a pig on my Giant+Tacx trainer combo wearing only shorts. I literally have to wipe my sweat off the floor after only one hour of indoor cycling. I can’t image having headset clued to my face. I would probably not see a thing inside headset and cooked my face after 10 minutes of spinning.

    • gothicvillas

      I dont think they want to replace your existing training gear. This is more for casual users to play games and in the same time get some exercise in. I sweat in Beat Saber too but thats moderate and short sessions prevent any sweat to accumulate.

      • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

        Casual gamers won’t spend that kind of money goth.

        • gothicvillas

          oh absolutely. I aint defending this damn thing, this project is another one of those startups who die 12 months later.
          Im just curious who the hell is the target customer.. If pro and casual is out of the picture, all i can think of are businesses. I can see some LA gym getting these bikes as a novelty for people to mess around…

    • Ryan DeLuca

      I’ve done hardcore resistance training in VR over 300 times over the last few years. Sweat has never been an issue. Never had it fog up and never had an HMD break. It’s simple. Use a VR Cover and a headband. Add a fan in the play area to reduce sweat.

      • Jan Ciger

        Don’t forget that not everyone has your training level. If you are fit, you obviously sweat much less than someone like me would, even if your load is much higher than I would be able to handle.

        And then there are also physiological differences. Some people sweat like pigs even without exerting any effort.

        • Robert Sharp

          that truly shows your ignorance. someone that is highly trained will typically sweat more. the difference is meaningless though and it is asinine to even worry about who will sweat more. the point is that anymore that is actually putting a real effort in will be sweating. no way in hell I would want an HMD on me while exercising.

    • After spending hours getting fit in INTENSE VR Fitness experiences that not only utilize HIIT principles but also added weight, I’ve never had sweat be an issue. Using simple fans, a VR Cover and bandana do the trick for me. Still have my first HTC Vive and it is still working after 2+ years of serious weekly use in these fitness experiences. Note: I regularly reach over 80% MHR in said experiences. I think the biggest hurdle is the same any video game has in that it needs to create engaging content based on solid behavioral principles to keep people coming back. Wishing the team at NordicTrack success.

  • DigitalJackson

    I’ve been using a VirZoom VR bike with my Vive consistently for over a year… at least 30 minutes 4 times a week. It’s a great way to workout as I tend to forget I’m sitting on the bike. I would normally be bored out of my mind after 10-15 minutes on a stationary bike. I’ve had plenty of workouts that went over 60 minutes on the VirZoom. Sadly, VirZoom has exited the home market, so yeah, happy to see Nordic Trac offering this bike. The price is pretty steep, but if the bike is high quality and content is good, then I’m probably on board. One concern is, if I understand correctly, you can’t lean to turn on this bike? You turn by leaning on the VirZoom bike and it works very well. Turning a handlebar sounds like a poor solution. Also, anyone concerned about sweat – I use a fan pointed at my face while working out… really keeps me from sweating into the headset while on the bike.

  • Albert Hartman

    It was a nice early demo, but still has lots of work to do. The multi-axis steering handlebars were omni-directional (yaw+pitch) which made heavy pedaling difficult since you needed lots of wrist strength to stabilize the handlebar orientation while pulling hard. Also, the turning rates weren’t proportional – you got zero turning rate when going straight and then immediately jumped to another fixed turning rate when turning, nothing in-between. The turning rate jumps were disorienting after awhile. The video game they had of trying to pedal through hoops and shooting down balloons was ok for a demo but not commercial quality. Also the bike hardware was very consumer, not sturdy enough for commercial gyms. The $2K price for bike plus Vive Focus is great. I’m undecided on whether the inside-out tracking was good enough versus the lighthouse method.