LAS VEGAS—Exercise and video games normally don’t go hand in hand, but with NordicTrack’s new VR bike it suddenly doesn’t seem like such a strange concept. How does it work exactly? Well, the bike acts as your controller, an HTC Vive Focus VR headset provides the content, and the only way to start playing is by exercising.
At CES here, we had a brief workout session of our own using the NordicTrack VR Bike. Let’s take a closer look.
At first glance, the NordicTrack VR Bike looks similar to the other stationary bikes in its lineup. There’s a padded saddle, foot pedals, and a 5-inch display to view stats like resistance, calories burned, and the amount of time spent on the bike during a session.
But when you step closer, you’ll notice the bike handles are actually a gaming yoke that feature left and right hand controls. It’s similar to the controllers you’d use with a console, but since the handlebars are like those on a regular stationary bike, I still found it easy to access and use the controllers even though my vision was blocked by a VR headset.
As for the HTC Vive Focus, you’re not tethered to any wires or extra controllers. All I had to do was put it on, tighten it to a comfortable position, and I was ready to go. I also didn’t have to worry about whether or not it was compatible with my glasses, so those who don’t like to wear contacts (like me) won’t have to worry about being able to actually see the content clearly.
It’s lightweight too, which is a plus—I didn’t feel like it was weighing me down throughout the workout. NordicTrack teamed up with iFit—a company that creates personal trainer-led workouts for users to stream at home—to help create the experience. iFit also has a patented technology that can adjust the resistance, incline, and decline on a bike depending on a personal trainer’s commands.
Playing With the NordicTrack VR Bike
During the demo, I played Aeronauts, which essentially consists of flying what looks like a blimp past cascading waterfalls over the ocean. To move, you pedal the bike—the only way to reach “Game Over” is by crashing into the mountains or the water.
Throughout the game, you’re supposed to fly through these large, golden rings while simultaneously firing shots at hot air balloons floating around you via the trigger on the back of the controller. Warning: you might also find yourself flying around simply to enjoy the nice scenery.
Here’s where iFit’s technology comes in. Depending on which way you move while playing the game, the bike’s 10 percent incline and decline pushes you upwards or downward. For example, when I was headed straight for the water while playing, the bike moved downward. But with the VR headset on, it felt more like I was falling slightly forward. Each time that happened, I could also feel my stomach drop, the way it would on a roller coaster, because all I could see and feel in that moment was that I was heading straight for the water.
Clearly, it’s easy to forget you’re working out on this thing. It also helps that there’s a built-in fan that increases and decreases depending on your speed, which gave me real Arctic Thunder vibes from back in the day.
Of course, riding the bike wasn’t a breeze the entire time; there were moments when I could feel my legs getting a little sore. As the incline moved upwards, I found myself having to pedal harder to fly toward the sky because of the resistance. Taking off the headset, I definitely wiped a few beads of sweat off my forehead.
While the experience was fun, I definitely got a little motion sickness. It could have been from the French Toast I shouldn’t have eaten right before the demo, but the combination of being surrounded by moving graphics, having to pedal a bike, and sometimes being gently nudged around up and down definitely made me feel a little woozy. I’m also someone who gets motion sickness quite easily, so the experience will vary for everyone.
But for someone who finds it difficult to stay loyal to a particular workout, the gaming aspect of the NordicTrack VR would keep me coming back for more. Running is the only type of exercise I’ve ever truly found is an escape for me, but pushing beyond that has always been a struggle. I’m instead focused on how much longer until it’s over.
On the NordicTrack VR, I didn’t feel that way at all. I was so focused on improving my gameplay, I didn’t obsess over how many calories I’d burned or how tired I was getting. I could see it becoming addictive.
In the future, users will also be able to participate in a multi-player gaming mode. That way, if your friend owns a NordicTrack VR bike, you can challenge them to a game, which could possibly create some competition and extra motivation.
At $2,000, the NordicTrack VR Bike is a bit pricey, but you’re paying for more than just the bike. Sold as a bundle, you’ll also get the HTC Vive Focus VR headset and a free one-year membership to iFit for gaming and fitness content. The NordicTrack VR Bike is slated for a summer release.