One of many Greatest Names in House Health is Making a VR Train Bike

Games like Beat Saber and Creed: Rise to Glory are a great way to get your heart racing while you have fun. Having played some of these types of games nearly consistently since they came to VR headsets, I thought I was in decent shape to take on NordicTrack’s upcoming consumer exercise bike with VR headset integration. I haven’t been to the gym forever, but now I’m definitely reconsidering that decision.

The Vive demo area at CES 2019 hosted a number of games, apps, and brand engagement items that use the company’s new eye-tracking technology from Vive Pro and Vive Focus, the company’s standalone 6DOF headset. Among other things, the NordicTrack VR Bike was a new exercise bike that includes a steerable yoke with standard controller input buttons, control pad, triggers, etc.

Image courtesy of ICON, NordicTrack

Most importantly, the NordicTrack VR Bike is equipped with a Vive Focus and a series of playful workouts designed to motivate you. One such title demo, shown at CES today, was Aeronauts, a game that throws you into a pedal-powered steampunk glider that soars through a winding canyon.

The goal is to go as fast as you can, navigate the ring control points, and shoot down balloon targets by holding your gaze. It’s a pretty simple formula, but I have to admit that not only is it a visually polished game, it’s also engaging enough to take my mind off my rapidly diminishing peddling ability. It worked surprisingly well. I wanted to continue doing what a decent racing simulator demands. It was completely tied into my innate sense of competition and didn’t want to let the computer beat me.

So here I am, in linen pants and a buttoned shirt, ready to do a VR demo, interview some people, and then keep trudging around the CES exhibit space. I wasn’t ready to sweat. I wasn’t ready to go any further than I should have in polite company. But I wanted to win. I wanted to get the high score.

When I pulled out of the three minute race (only three minutes!) I was basically in ruins. I sucked down a bottle of water and continued what I thought on the outside, looked like a reasonable conversation about when the bike will land on the consumer’s doorstep, but I actually died inside (more than usual).

Photo captured by Road to VR

If I had to describe my body type, it would mean that I am deceptively thin. I haven’t shaken or lifted my dusty kettlebell for longer than I’d like to admit. However, I regularly play fitness-oriented VR games and from time to time increase my heart rate in the legendary “cardio zone” of my Fitbit, so that I’m not a total fool. After sweating it out on a bike, I now realize that the missing key to really grueling VR workout is resistance with a capital “R”, the kind of variable push-back home fitness equipment like the NordicTrack VR Provide bike. I pulled it off just like any other game. I didn’t want to lose and I really wanted to see that high score at the end. I’ve seen similar VR exercise bikes come and go in the more than two years since consumer VR was introduced, but nothing supposedly offers the level of immersion and polishing that NordicTrack and Vive Focus offer here.

Oh, here is my Fitbit data from today. Guess when I was showing off Aeronauts.

Image created by Road to VR

The full NordicTrack VR Bike package is slated for $ 2,000 in the summer of 2019, including a Vive Focus that comes with a range of specially designed practice games, plus a one-year membership to iFit, a staff-led online training program Trainer and the company’s technology that automatically adjusts the incline, slope and resistance of the bike to personal trainer commands. iFit also broadcasts “thousands of personal trainer-led workouts filmed in the studio or on location in beautiful locations around the world,” according to the company.

There is already a version of iFit specifically designed for standard format monitors. However, according to a NordicTrack spokesperson, a version is being created specifically for VR users. “We’re now offering full-body games and should have full immersion 3D iFit videos online by fall,” the company says.

This is one of the most expensive VR controllers I’ve heard of to date, but on the whole it pairs pretty well with the company’s other home exercise devices, widely touted for their high quality, and isn’t out of place with the growing Trend of high-end high-tech home exercise equipment such as peloton. The Vive Focus headset itself is $ 600, and a one-year membership to iFit is around $ 400, so the bike itself is effectively a few dollars over $ 1,000.

The real kicker here is whether the company can provide enough engaging content like the one I saw at Aeronauts today. If so, they may enter a market of VR curious users who are looking for a trusted exercise equipment brand to stud them down.

Update (January 11, 2019): An earlier version of this article stated that iFit, the personal trainer program, is unlikely to be available in VR-specific video formats. A NordicTrack spokesperson tells us that a VR-specific course is in progress and will start in autumn 2019. We made this correction in the body of the article.

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