Originally published in The Ottawa Citizen December 19, 2003
Original Title: Cycling the virtual highway
WARNING: Before you read any further, I have to confess that I am a cycle nut. Forgive my indulgence in sharing my love of this world with you in one column.
The exercise, scenery, skill and exhilaration one experiences while on their road or mountain bike is one of the joys of life. Some of them are works of art and a testament to the beauty of engineering. However, with the arrival of winter, save for a few diehards, we bring our machines into the house. Some will hang them up for the season; others will mount their bike onto a stand in front of the TV turning it into a stationary bike.
I tried the TV thing but it just did not provide the same workout experience. One of the frustrations of many cyclists is the potential to lose some if not all their training and fitness gained throughout the summer months. Indeed, there are gyms that offer various aerobic machines including bikes but it remains a second cousin to the real deal.
My Christmas gift suggestion for this year will appeal to the cyclist on many levels. If you love technology, computers and music in addition to your bike, these gifts are the cure for cycling withdrawal syndrome (I have no financial stake in these company’s products nor have I been asked to review them).
Tacx (www.tacx.nl), a Netherlands company, has created the T1900 I-Magic Virtual Reality Trainer that transports you into a fully functional 3-D world. The I-Magic comes with a mounting stand that accommodates any road bike or mountain bike with a front fork. It has a steering attachment that allows you to go off-road in the virtual world before you.
The rear wheel abuts against a silver electronic roller that responds to the virtual terrain. Climb a hill and the resistance increases, catch a draft from a cyclist in front of you and the resistance decreases. A small sensor unit attached to the front handlebars records your heart rate data, cadence and speed. The sensor unit attaches via a USB connection to your computer.
The Analyzer software provides a second-by-second review of your cadence, power, speed and heart rate. The Tacx website’s BikeNet page allows you to share your time trials and courses with others by uploading your data. Conversely, you can download another cyclist’s course and time into your program. Once downloaded, your competitor will appear on the screen; the race is on!
You can change your camera angle from a first-person perspective to an overhead helicopter view to just behind your rider. A collision option adds to the realism. Obstacles and other riders can knock you off your bike.
A virtual reality cycling league (www.i-magicleague.com) now has 100 members competing in nine rounds of courses ranging from a cycling oval to mountainous terrain. Ambient sounds of the country including the mooing cows pipe through as you ride.
Fitcentric (www.fitcentric.com) sells NetAthlon, a software package that includes both real and imaginary world bike terrains. These terrains are also available for runners. If you ever wanted to cycle the 2000 Olympic Sydney triathlon cycle course, the 112 mile Hawaiian Iron Man Kailua Pier Kona, the Colorado Springs Olympic Velodrome, the banks of the Charles River in Boston, the Boston Marathon course, BMX courses, eco-adventures and alpine trails, now is your chance. Pop in your MP3’s, point your summer fan at your face and you have an indoor cycling experience that cannot be beat.
You can create other virtual cyclists to join you as a pacer for your workout.
Fitcentric offers an online site where cyclists can meet and compete in real time against one another. The software accommodates a headset allowing you to talk to your virtual cycling partner as you ride. The GameSpy website (www.gamespy.com) also offers the means to compete against others if you both share the same courses.
Fitcentric also offers courses for treadmills and the latest versions of the Concept rowing machines.
The I-magic’s list price was $999 this summer. Rebec and Kroes on Bank Street sells the unit. The Fitcentric software sells for about $80 US for three courses. Additional courses run between $10 to $25 US each.
The minimum computer specifications are a 500 MHz Pentium 3 with 128 MB of RAM and USB and a 32MB Nvidia GeForce or ATI Radeon graphics card.
After buying it and using it for over three months, I can unequivocally state that it will provide even the most experienced cyclist with as much of a challenge and workout as they desire.
Cycling through Hawaii or Sydney, Australia in the dead of winter has a certain appeal and you maintain your fitness to boot! All the best on this holiday season and a Happy New Year.