“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” -Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 1896
VirZOOM is a joyful, new form of human activity that takes place in VR that is at times exciting at others meditative but like biking is always conducive to better physical and mental health.
For activity in VR worlds VirZOOM relies on the humble stationary bike. VirZOOM is for human activity in VR in 2018 exactly as the two-wheeled bicycle was a new form of human activity in the real world in the 1870s. And as when the bicycle was first introduced then VirZOOM is today widely misunderstood by nearly everyone but those who use it.
Let’s see if we can clear that up.
Not long after bicycles were introduced — and I mean bicycles based on the 1885 Whippet safety bicycle from which all modern bikes are derived not the 1870s era high-wheel bicycle that was decidedly not safe — the main danger associated with bicycling had nothing to do with being hit by a car.
Instead, some late-19th-century doctors warned that — especially for women — using the newfangled contraption could lead to a terrifying medical condition: bicycle face.
“Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted BICYCLE FACE,” noted the Literary Digest in 1895. It went on to describe the condition: “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness.” Elsewhere, others said the condition was “characterized by a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes.”
That criticism had less to do with real dangers posed to women riding bikes than the early stirrings of the women’s suffrage movement and efforts to tamp it down. Within the movement bicycles represented a liberating form of transportation.
Generally the bicycle was criticized as wildly dangerous.
“Get a bicycle. You will certainly not regret it, if you live.”
-Mark Twain, Taming the Bicycle. 1884
The most common first reactions we get to the idea of VirZOOM are similarly prone to made-up or exaggerated negative projections.
“What about sweat? Can’t feel good to be wearing a VR headset when you’re working out and sweating. Health club members are going to share a sweaty headset worn by someone else while they were working out? Gross.”
The fallacy in this line of thinking is not that sweating while wearing a VR HMD can be uncomfortable or that sharing a headset that’s been used by someone else puts you in rather more intimate contact with others than is customary in Western society — try riding in a crowded train in Toyko in August if you want to know what real sweat sharing is about — its that putting up with these problems aren’t worth the benefits.
Whether we realize it or not everything we do requires a decision about trade-offs. We get in our cars every day to drive to work even though 11.4 out of 100,000 of us are going to die from it yearly. We do it anyway because driving has benefits that outweigh the risks. Early days of air travel before planes were pressurized and traveled in rough air at low altitudes around half the passengers and a sometimes the pilots could be expected to barf on any given trip. But how else were you going to get from Point A to Point B in the same amount of time time?
That’s what the critics of bicycles as dangerous failed then and continue to fail today to understand about bike riding.
“Man on a bicycle can go three or four times faster than the pedestrian, but uses five times less energy in the process. He carries one gram of his weight over a kilometer of flat road at an expense of only 0.15 calories. The bicycle is the perfect transducer to match man’s metabolic energy to the impedance of locomotion. Equipped with this tool, man outstrips the efficiency of not only all machines but all other animals as well.”
-Ivan Illich, Toward a History of Needs, 1978
The bicycle is nothing short of a miraculous machine for the amplification of human energy. It’s uniquely empowering.
Steve Job’s appreciation of this quality of the bicycle led him to frame the value proposition of personal computers in a way that produced very different results for Apple than Bill Gates’ conception produced for Microsoft.
“I think one of the things that really separates us from the high primates is that we’re tool builders. I read a study that measured the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the planet. The condor used the least energy to move a kilometer. And, humans came in with a rather unimpressive showing, about a third of the way down the list. It was not too proud a showing for the crown of creation. So, that didn’t look so good. But, then somebody at Scientific American had the insight to test the efficiency of locomotion for a man on a bicycle. And, a man on a bicycle, a human on a bicycle, blew the condor away, completely off the top of the charts.
“And that’s what a computer is to me. What a computer is to me is it’s the most remarkable tool that we’ve ever come up with, and it’s the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds.” -Steve Jobs
But this still doesn’t get to the heart of it. How does it make you feel when you amplify your body with this magical machine?
“Bicycling…is the nearest approximation I know to the flight of birds. The airplane simply carries a man on its back like an obedient Pegasus; it gives him no wings of his own. There are movements on a bicycle corresponding to almost all the variations in the flight of the larger birds. Plunging free downhill is like a hawk stooping. On the level stretches you may pedal with a steady rhythm like a heron flapping; or you may, like an accipitrine hawk, alternate rapid pedaling with gliding. If you want to test the force and direction of the wind, there is no better way than to circle, banked inward, like a turkey vulture. When you have the wind against you, headway is best made by yawing or wavering, like a crow flying upwind. I have climbed a steep hill by circling or spiraling, rising each time on the upturn with the momentum of the downturn, like any soaring bird. I have shot in and out of stalled traffic like a goshawk through the woods.”
-Birdwatching author Louis J Halle ‘Spring in Washington’, 1947/1957
“Meet the future; the future mode of transportation for this weary Western world. Now I’m not gonna make a lot of extravagant claims for this little machine. Sure, it’ll change your whole life for the better, but that’s all.”
-Bicycle salesman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969
For me it was love at first ride. This ode to bicycles resonates with me.
“One of the most important days of my life, was when I learned to ride a bicycle.”
I remember that day exactly.
It was late afternoon on a hot summer day on a sleepy road off that led to a cul-de-sac off the wooded street we lived on. My Dad repeatedly ran beside me, holding my shoulder, and tried to let go to launch me on my way. A physicist, he’d explained the theory of the machine to me: I needed to counter-steer. If I felt myself falling one way I needed to turn the handlebars in that direction to right myself. The instant these instructions began to work he let go and I began to wobbled down the street on my own. The sensation was freedom itself. I rode and rode, once crashing into a neighbor’s low stone fence. He ran over to see if I was okay. “Great!” I said, getting up to ride some more. I rode until it was too dark to see, my mother yelling from the house that dinner was getting cold. I didn’t care. Hooked for life.
I owe good physical health and no small measure of mental health to a lifetime of bike riding. All of my best ideas have come to me while on two wheels. But I’m well aware that not everyone experiences bikes as I do.
No question riding can be dangerous and more than a few dear friends have been involved in serious accidents. Fear is a common and rational cause for staying off bikes and bikes are by no means the only activity that delivers similar physical and mental health benefits.
My wife gets these from dance classes at the gym. My co-founder Eric Malafeew from tennis. Sadly a surprisingly large segment of the population has no activity at all that they like to do outdoors or indoors regularly that meets these essential needs.
I came at the VirZOOM project with the hope that the joys and benefits I find in riding a bike might be uniquely met in VR for others, including myself in winter when here in New England when I can’t ride outdoors.
The accounts of actual VirZOOM users may not be as prosaic as the odes to bicycles quoted above but nonetheless support the idea that VirZOOM is more than an improvement on indoor exercise machines, human gerbil wheels that torture us with repetitive activity without the stimulation needed to do it. Using a stationary bike without VirZOOM makes me feel badly for the poor caged gerbil who must surely be acutely desperate for a place to run.
A sample of the dozens of five star reviews (65%) that the consumer version of VirZOOM received on Amazon, below, edited for brevity.
This is ultimately the best exercise bike I’ve used to date
November 23, 2016
This is ultimately the best exercise bike I’ve used to date, I even quit cycling classes after two days of this, now don’t get me wrong, a VR headset is an absolute must, but (with one) you can bid your personal trainer a farewell, after 30 minutes of cardio with this I am sweating like crazy, buy it, you will not regret it, trust me this is an amazing experience…. looking forward to some motorcycle type arcadish fun in the future with this, since you can use your body to maneuver left and right this is simply amazing folks. I’d give it 10 stars if I could.
Exercising made fun!
February 15, 2018
Have had this for about a month now. This feels like it was the missing piece in my weekly exercise routine! I try to work out at least four times a week, but it can be hard to stick to it when exercising is a repetitive affair. I use a treadmill and a DDR mat as alternative exercises, but adding VR put a whole new spin on the exercise experience to help keep things fresh. 30 minutes to an hour passes in no time when using this bike!
This is the greatest thing ever invented
Bygumby757on April 18, 2018
This is the greatest thing ever invented. This is worth the money I swear to it I have lost so much weight and feel so much healthier and I have fun using it. If you like video games you would like this if you like cycling you would like this if you like being healthy you would like this if you like tanks, helicopters, and or giant mech robots that fire rockets, you’ll love this. If you have the money to buy this Buy It Now. If you don’t have the money to buy this go out and Panhandle change all week and you’ll have enough money to buy this and then buy it. Unless you have no interest in this then why would you have been reading this anyways I have no idea just by the amazing.
Not that every review is 100% positive. Not just any stationary bike will do. Here’s an example of a negative review.
Best bike to make you WANT to exercise but the seat will destroy your a$$
By Robon February 4, 2018
You’ll need a gaming system with virtual reality headset but this really makes exercise fun. The biggest problem is that the seat was designed by a “special” person so that it is extremely hard (even with a separately purchased 1–1/2'” thick gel cover). I planned to use it first time with the gel pad added for about just 10 minutes to see what I think, but the games are so exciting that I couldn’t stop for 48 minutes (until the ass pain got too much).
Those reviews are from customers who bought our portable folding VirZOOM Bike designed for cramped Asian apartments, unsuitable for full sized riders. To use the VirZOOM’s fitness content you had to buy a VR system if you didn’t already have it.
We needed to solve two problems to fully satisfy the market: eliminate the need to have or buy a VR system and also allow VirZOOM to work with the full range of stationary bikes that vary to meet the needs of a wide range of consumers — all of them. We created our new product VZfit. It includes a complete VR system and can be attached to any stationary bike.
A VZfit VR Fitness system that includes VR is a bit expensive for the average home, $2,995 plus a $995 per month annual digital services fee, but economical for a commercial fitness facility like a health club.
Today health club members enjoy the same joys that home buyers do but without the butt hurt or having to buy their own VR and set it up.
Telemetry data from VZfit at four YMCA clubs, in Cambridge, MA; Melbourne, Victoria; Cupertino, (CA); and Minneapolis, MN.
Turns out the ideal machine for amplifying your body in VR has a lot in common with the ideal machine for amplifying your body in the real world. It has pedals, handlebars and a seat. A stationary bike. Except in VR unlike in the real world you can pedal a Pegasus through the air or 40 ton tank in battle. If you don’t think that’s empowering, you gotta try it.
We get asked if we plan to create VR worlds and activites for elliptical and rowing machines. No. The stationary bike as a controller for VR activity outdoors while indoors can no more be improved on by turning it onto a rowing machine than the bicycle’s perfection as a machine to amplify human energy can be enhanced with a version that you sit in and row down the street.
VirZOOM is not about making boring fitness equipment — human gerbil wheels — fun. It’s an entirely new way to engage in entirely new outdoor activities while indoors that's a unique new fun activity. Stationary bike required.
We do plan to add new worlds and things you do in them. You can do anything in VR that capable designers can imagine, including a number things safely that will certainly get you killed in the real world. Pedal an Apache helicopter or warship into battle. Pedal a rocket to a distant planet to explore it. We have an SDK that 3rd parties use to create content ad infinitum.
Next story I’ll tell you what happens when you engage in activities in VR competitively with others. We call it vSports: Real Physical Competition in Virtual Reality™. VirZOOM is a new physical sport, too.
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