Feeling the Scenic Burn With VZfit

I’ve always wanted to explore more of Scotland. It isn’t that far away and I’ve only visited as far north as Glasgow, so there’s a whole Highlands adventure to be had. The need to get out and about has never weighed heavier than it has recently and I‘m sure many of you have already decided on where you’d want to travel first. But what about right now? And what if you could explore far-flung places whilst you get healthier at the same time? That’s been the goal of VirZOOM for the last few years, and with the recent arrival of its VZfit app for Oculus Quest making it easier than ever, now seemed as good a time as any to get back on the bike.

If you’ve not heard of VirZOOM before the company originally started out in VR hardware, launching a virtual reality (VR) bike controller in 2016 in combination with two apps VZfit Play and VZfit Explore. The first featured a bunch of basic mini-games such as riding horseback whilst lassoing people or piloting a helicopter through a canyon. But it was the latter VZfit Explore that really caught people’s attention, using Google Maps’ Street View imagery so you could cycle through Rome or the Alaskan mountains.

On your bike…

And it’s that experience that has been refined into VZfit, enabling you to cycle almost anywhere in the world, without leaving your living room. It’s this sole feature that sets VZfit apart from every other VR fitness app on the Quest platform. Whilst all the rest focus on rhythm action elements here you can simply enjoy the open road – and it certainly helps the whole illusion having a desk fan on nearby wafting a gentle breeze.

Opening up VZfit you’re presented with two options, continue with or without a bike. Without and you’ll hop onto the virtual ‘exerboard’ (more on that later), or with and you can connect a cadence sensor to use a normal exercise bike. VirZOOM has now moved to just being a software company so it doesn’t make the bike controllers anymore – which VRFocus was using – instead, opening up its software so that adding a $20 sensor to an exercise bike you already own removes a lot of the friction.

It can still be a little fiddly, to begin with, however, as you still need the Oculus controllers whilst sat on the bike to go through the options and get yourself set up. The quickest way was to dive straight into a pre-set course like the nice long roads of Colorado. There’s a wealth of options to tailor and refine your cycling experience, selecting a nice leisurely 10-mile cycle or going for a gruelling 50+ miles. Once on a ride, it’s best to delve into the in-game options as you can adjust what information is shown like distance and time, comfort options and crucially…turning.

This is essentially a cycling title after all so you can choose to steer around corners by physically leaning, aiding that immersive aspect. It does feel a little weird leaning left and right on a stationary bike yet after a few miles that natural feeling does kick in. You can always select auto turn if it isn’t to your liking.

Street View in VR

What you really want to know is how well Google Maps’ Street View imagery translates into VR, taking flat 2D images and dropping you in the centre. Good, to a point. Now let’s be clear here, the method doesn’t offer a seamless journey through picturesque countryside because each image is taken a few metres apart. So a long open US road with distant mountains works very well, whilst a tight, winding road in Europe doesn’t fair as well. Also, the fewer cars the better, it does break reality somewhat when there are too many flat cars in view.

Google’s imagery can also be a little erratic so certain parts of the road may jump between different parts of the day for example. Thankfully, these moments weren’t too often. One option VZfit gives you is the ability to make your own route, pinning an A point and B point on a map to cycle. I set up a route around Lock Ness – part of my Scottish adventure – and there were no real issues, just a pleasant ride around the loch. The only downside was not being able to actually stop, jump off the bike and take in the view.

Most importantly, it sure as hell beats staring at the four walls of my living room whilst providing some much-needed motivation. I quite quickly forgave the occasional janky imagery as it was refreshing to cycle somewhere new. Even more so when it came to mountainous regions which my fitness level is nowhere near achieving in the real world. Plus you can always adjust the tension on the bike for an increased workout.

No bike required

So what if you don’t have an exercise bike, don’t want one or simply don’t have space for one? As mentioned, that’s where the exerboard comes in and where VZfit really adds value for money. As the screenshots showcase, think of the exerboard as a circular exercise mat on wheels, the more you move the faster it’ll go – not too fast mind you.

You can still head out on all the same routes, no difference there, but you’re not on your own as there’s a trainer with you. They’ll be up in front encouraging you to keep moving with a bunch of workout routines for you to copy. These range from jogging on the spot to lunges, knee raises and loads more, about 50 at the moment, making you work muscles you’d forgotten about.

Because this option provided a full-body workout with less hassle than grabbing the bike from the corner of the room, using the exerboard soon became my go-to choice in VZfit. Being able to grab the Oculus Quest, open up the app and continue a route from where I left off was faultless, and fun. There’s even a basic radio offering a selection of genres if you need some music – use this Spotify trick if you have a premium account. You can also take a selfie next to a famous monument should the mood take you.

I could walk 500 miles…

VZfit is part of this new slate of VR titles for Oculus Quest which offer a subscription model. Rather than a one-off videogame price you sign-up for a monthly membership – like a gym but without all the mirrors and having to, you know, leave the house – which is $9.99. You can download the app and try it out for seven days before deciding on a membership to see if it’s right for you.

Signing up for a subscription is always a personal choice, weighing up finances, value for money and whether the service is good enough against rivals. As I like to travel, for me VZfit ticks both mental and physical wellness boxes. My body’s getting the workout it needs and my mind has room to breathe and discover new places. So I don’t see the monthly admission cost as too much of a sting to cycle the fjords of Iceland.  

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