Virtual biking in Breckenridge
BRECKENRIDGE ” Sweat glistened on the forehead of the panting cyclist as he started to climb. Less than halfway through the hilly course, he could see several bikes up ahead and he increased his intensity in order to catch them, ignoring the green scenery on either side of the road.
This was no ordinary ride, though. Despite all that effort, Breckenridge resident Eric Mamula didn’t actually move an inch from his spot on the second floor of the Breckenridge Recreation Center. Mamula’s Thursday afternoon cycling workout was taking place on one of the center’s recently acquired Expresso fitness bikes.
With its video screen and interactive features, the Expresso bike uses computer technology to add verisimilitude to indoor biking. Exercisers can choose one of dozens of virtual rides, create pacing bikes, track their own progress, and race each other in real time.
“It adds an element of challenge that I wouldn’t get on a spinning bike,” Mamula said. “This forces me to ride at a more difficult level.”
Rec Center manager Jenise Jensen wasn’t sure how the newfangled bikes would be received when she ordered them last fall.
“I saw them for the first time two years ago, and I thought they were the coolest thing,” she said. Reluctant to invest in brand new technology, Jensen waited a year before buying two of the $5,000 machines.
“I took the plunge and got them, and they’ve been hugely popular with our customers,” she said.
So popular, in fact, the Rec Center staff had to add a sign-up sheet for the bikes, and Expresso enthusiasts like Mamula had to learn to be selective about their workout times.
“The only problem (with them) is if you show up anytime after 5, you have to wait,” he said.
The virtual experience
The interactive bike ” first marketed by a Sunnyvale, Calif., company last October ” is part of a “virtual” exercise trend that includes the growing Wii phenomenon. A video game with remote motion detector and wireless controller, the Nintendo Wii offers its users the sensory experience of a variety of virtual athletic activities ” without ever leaving the living room.
Breck Rec fitness and facilities supervisor Justin Perdue agreed computer technology might be the wave of the future for fitness equipment.
“It’s really growing,” he said. “A lot of it is making it not as boring for people ” especially the cardiac machines.”
And exercising on an Expresso bike is anything but boring. Riders on the machine can turn the handlebars and change gears just like on an actual bike. Resistance is synchronized with the program running on the 17-inch screen, so that when the road on the screen climbs, the resistance gets more difficult. Downhills feel like downhills and turns feel like turns.
Other interactive features include a yellow-jerseyed pacer bike whose speed the user can preset, and graphics displaying a variety of data such as ongoing power output, percent grade, overall progress on the course, and heart rate.
Because users can set up free accounts on the Internet-interfaced system, workout history can be saved, and it’s possible to race one’s previous time on the same course. The Internet connection also allows two riders starting the same program side-by-side to race each other. Cumulative exercise totals for each account are also saved.
Mamula has high praise for the benefits of the bike’s computer technology.
“I think it has more connection to actual biking (than standard stationary bikes),” he said.
Having trained on the Expresso throughout this year’s long winter, Mamula credits the machine’s unique features with helping him prepare for the summer mountain bike season.
“I’m way ahead of where I normally am in the spring,” he said.
For exercisers who have no interest in real outdoor biking, the machine also includes a more traditional video game, complete with floating dragons, pagodas, and brightly colored coins. Participants can select how many minutes they want to play, and peddle like crazy to score points.
Perhaps the Expresso bike, and other computer interface exercise products such as Wii, will eventually get the American nation of couch potatoes up and moving. Two years ago, Jensen didn’t know any other gym in Colorado with interactive bikes. As of now, a club in Cherry Creek has them and the Flatiron Athletic Club in Boulder just installed two this week.
“So far, every response has been positive,” Flatiron general manager Nick Boshinski said.
If budget constraints allow, Jensen said she’s ready to buy more units this year, despite their hefty price tag ” nearly double that of a traditional stationary bike.
And as for Mamula, he’d change only one feature of the Expresso. In the existing program, when the user overtakes another a computer-simulated rider on the screen, the virtual competitor simply vanishes into thin air.
“It’d be better if you could force the other riders off the road,” he said with a smile.
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