One of the best ways to really get to know a place is by cycling around it. But there are a lot of logistics involved in a cross-country ride, and you can’t do it in bits and pieces after work. So what about cycling the world’s great rides in virtual reality? A coder in the UK has built himself a system that syncs between his exercise bike and a Samsung Gear VR headset, and he’s now in the middle of the first long-distance virtual reality cycle tour.
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The setup is as rudimentary as it gets. Using Unity, he’s built an app that pulls in Google Street View panoramas and assembles them into a 3D space. His route is locked in – for his first ride, he’s covering the length of the UK, from Land’s End in the south to John O’Groats in the north.
Each Street View panorama is handily encoded with precise location details, meaning he’s able to build a model that has correct distances embedded. From there he uses cycling cadence data from his exercise bike to move through the model.
But even though this is a rudimentary hack, Puzey says it’s surprisingly immersive in the headset. “I get so sucked into the feeling of actually being somewhere that I keep trying to turn the handlebars and ride around.” And most importantly, it’s proving to be excellent motivation to get on his bike. He’s halfway through the 900-odd mile (1,450 km) journey, and finding plenty to entertain himself along the way.
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And to my mind, the concept is absolutely fantastic, and it’s going to be huge once it’s done properly. A proper 360-degree cadence-timed video feed of the world’s great cycling roads could turn an exercise bike into a travel experience. You could download a new ride every night, from the mountains of the Swiss alps to the great plains of Mongolia, the streets of New York City or an Icelandic moonscape. The weather would always be perfect, and there are no potholes or aggressive drivers to worry about.
Not to mention, road cycling has a lot of inconvenience and danger involved. A VR cycling tour might not be the same as the real thing, but it could certainly be much more entertaining and inspiring than an exercise bike and a bank of TVs with pop music videos and infomercials playing non-stop.