What role does Virtual Reality have for bicycle tourism?
Can virtual reality (VR) help more people experience the joys of adventure cycling and bicycle tourism?
We've all seen the rising popularity of e-bikes across all modes of cycling experience - active transport, recreation and bicycle tourism; and in the realms of mountain bikes, road bikes, city cruisers and more. And we think it fair to say that the jury is most definitely 'in' regarding their positive ability to introduce new audiences, and grow existing audiences, to the joys and benefits of cycling.
But what about virtual reality? Is this the next frontier, or is it the ultimate juxtaposition to the whole notion of getting outdoors, exploring, adventuring, breathing fresh air, enjoying quality time with others, and experiencing a place - its people, culture, cuisine and environment?
Popular VR programs like Zwift have certainly made a mark for training purposes among a growing cohort of cyclists and triathletes and, one could argue, creates its own social connections and online, global community. And then of course there's Strava and other online gamification programs, providing social connections, rewards, goals and personal tracking of performance over time.
VR is increasingly finding its way into many industries. As a result, it's encroaching more and more into our everyday lives. We're able to experience things we might never have even imagined through this technology, and various applications and better headsets are making it more convenient than ever to do so.
Some popular applications of VR right now include:
- Education - The technology can give students an immersive learning experience, and allow them to take virtual field trips to places and even time periods they're studying in classes. In fact, it can even allow a student in a given science course to experience plant life on a microscopic level, or explore the human body first hand. Wow, right?!
- Gaming - Perhaps the "main" application for modern VR is gaming, or gamification. Gamification is being increasingly introduced across all genres, and we can expect to see more explosive growth right around the corner.
- Exercise - Surprisingly, the sports industry took a comparatively long time to get going in the VR space, but all of a sudden we're seeing a lot of applications and demos here. VR exercise has an ability to completely alter long hours spent on a treadmill or stationary trainer. It's allowing people to run trails and ride routes they're not actually on, climb rock faces that don't actually exist, and even practice artificial sports with accompanying equipment designed for workouts.
But is it at odds with the benefits of actually getting outdoors and 'experiencing' a place - either locally or when travelling? What role does, will and should VR play for adventure cycling and bicycle tourism?
Are there benefits to be gained in encouraging a starting point for those less confident to build some initial fitness? What about skills development?
Some companies have already debuted technology that would simulate a real mountain biking experience during a workout in your home gym. Cyculus is one of these companies, making use of an award-winning design to provide an immersive and realistic experience. While using this advanced stationary bike, users also wear VR goggles that provide the sensory illusion of mountain biking. What's really neat about this invention, though, is that the stationary bike and VR goggles interact with each other, giving users a really unique experience. This means that, for example, if the user sees a rock in his or her path but doesn't swerve to avoid it, a bump will be felt.
Innovations such as this one could also bring access to adventure cycling to people who live in areas without great trails, or with environments less conducive to get outdoors year-round (air quality or temperature related), and hopefully inspire them to take up what we all know is such an awesome hobby, in person when they're able to. And with the resurgent trendiness of cycling as a fitness routine through companies from SoulCycle to Peloton, VR could play a significant role here.
For those of us who have already know the love of cycling outdoors, VR may help us with consistency and training - effectively making us better athletes, and more able to enjoy our time exploring because we've built stronger muscles, greater fitness and greater endurance. To prepare for competitions or group tours, we can practice on the most complex paths, or the ones that best simulate the competition route. We might also find it easier to avoid and recover from injuries, as VR training will allow us to take breaks or adjust our trails more easily than the real deal. They will even allow us to conduct easy experimentation with different routes and terrains and our approaches to them, building confidence for the real outdoors.
Even through all of this, we may only just be touching on VR's potential impact for adventure cyclists. What are your thoughts?
Hopefully this overview has made it clear that the technology has exciting potential, from its ability to introduce new people into the sport, as e-bikes are doing, to its applications for serious training routines.
Virtual Reality for cycling vacations and bicycle tourism - good, bad or indifferent? Let us know in the comments below.
Image credits: https://panache.github.io/cyculus/main.html