Virtual Bike Rides Hit Road To Fitness Clubs

By Jesse Noyes Monday, October 10, 2005
A California company is hoping to spark a fitness revolution in the Boston area with its latest virtual reality exercise bikes.
Expresso Fitness recently debuted its ``Spark'' cardio bikes at Global Fitness Center in Stow. The bikes put the feeling of an arcade video game into a normal day's exercise.
``The cyclists love them,'' said Dave Bundy owner of Global Fitness. ``They're just a lot of fun.''
The Spark combines a number of technologies, including a virtual reality-style engine, an LCD screen and GPS mapping systems to simulate the feel of a real ride. Since users can steer, shift gears and even race friends, the Spark is designed to feel more like a day at the arcade than a day at the gym.
In fact, the popularity of video and arcade games spurred the concept of Expresso's newest line of interactive workout equipment.
``People find, almost universally, working out to be boring,'' said Expresso Chief Executive Brian Button. ``But people almost universally find games and game technology to be fun and engrossing.''
The bikes are connected via the Internet, allowing Expresso to check in on their use, right down to the most popular course.
``I think in five years (interactive equipment) will change (people's) attitude toward fitness,'' Button said. ``I don't see this being anyway but up and to the right.''
So far, Expresso has installed just 35 of the bikes, which cost $4,795, though the company has a backlog of orders. Sparks are heading to gyms throughout California, New York and even Amsterdam.
More bikes are expected to hit Boston in coming weeks, with a tryout run scheduled at the Beacon Hill Athletic Club in early November.
But many riders want a full contact version of the Spark that would allow competing riders to crash into each other on the virtual courses, Button said, adding the company will update the feature in the future.
Expresso is also developing an eliptical machine using the same Spark concept.
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