Doing some rough back-of-napkin math, it would take approximately 50 days to bike historic Route 66 end-to-end—and now you can do so without ever leaving your house.
That’s the promise of VZfit, releasing today on the Oculus Quest Platform. The latest app from veteran VR fitness team VirZOOM, VZfit enables players to explore the world via Google Street View (and a little behind-the-scenes technological wizardry) while working out. You can use your existing exercise equipment or ditch it for VZfit’s unique full-body “exerboard” workouts, created by a professional trainer.
Travel from the southern tip of Argentina to the shores of the Beaufort Sea, or follow the Tour de France’s route through the Pyrenees, or just recreate your own rides around town. The world is at your fingertips. There’s a seven-day free trial if you want to give VZfit a test ride, after which you can subscribe for $9.99 USD a month.
We sat down with VirZOOM co-founder and CTO Eric Malafeew to talk about how VZfit’s evolved over time, biking the (virtual) Oregon Trail, exercising sans equipment, and more.
VZfit is debuting on the Quest Platform today, but VirZOOM got involved with VR fitness early on, right? How have VZfit and VirZOOM evolved over time?
Eric Malafeew: Yes, we’ve been around since 2015 but the company has changed a few times along the way.
The company started when I—then chief games architect and programmer at Harmonix (behind some of the most popular games ever made, including Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central)—joined forces with Eric Janszen, ex-venture capitalist and fanatic cyclist, to create a virtual cycling experience.
VR wasn’t even that accessible in those days, but together we created a hardware and software platform where users purchased a VirZOOM bike that worked with a tethered VR headset. Because of the high cost and limited reach, we decided to shift focus towards commercial use in 2018, making our system available in gyms around the world.
But things changed for VR fitness with Oculus Go and Quest. Now we had headsets that were lightweight, standalone, and affordable. We jumped on the bandwagon and put our efforts and expertise into a software-only consumer offering, releasing fantastical fitness games that let you ride a Pegasus or pilot a tank.
We didn’t stop there either. Our goal all along has been to create experiences that are as versatile and accessible as possible. In June last year we made the leap to an open hardware platform so that anyone who owned Bluetooth-connected fitness machines or sensors could easily give our apps a try.
What sets VZfit apart from other VR fitness apps?
EM: VZfit is the first VR fitness app that taps into Google Street View to transport you to almost any location in the world, in 3D. We have over 10 million miles of roads to explore, so you never need to get tired of the same old routes!
Google Street View images are taken approximately three meters apart. We use the built-in depth data to map the images onto a 3D environment around you and then blend from one environment to the next as you travel between sets of 360-degree images.
So I can work out anywhere in the world?
EM: Yes - anywhere where there is Google Street View data. Whether it's a place you’ve always wanted to visit or a trip down memory lane, you get to live it while working out—no animation, all real-world images. One day you might explore the streets of Paris, the next maybe you’re cruising through the snow-capped Italian Alps or along the sun-kissed coast of Oahu.
The satisfaction of discovering new places and completing rides has been so powerful with our beta users that the exercise element almost becomes a side benefit rather than the main reason to use it. The world is literally at your fingertips. And aren’t we all just craving that escape more than ever right now?!
VZfit is also the first Oculus fitness app that works both with or without any cardio equipment, letting the growing number of Quest users access and enjoy a range of full body workout options, regardless of equipment ownership. Although we have a hugely active following with our existing apps, we anticipate that approximately 80% of new VZfit users will opt to work out without any equipment.
For a long time VZfit was synonymous with stationary bikes. How did you adapt or evolve the new Quest version to work without any equipment?
EM: We wanted to keep the motivation of moving through the world, so we needed some kind of virtual vehicle that would work with standing exercises. Initially we considered elliptical bicycles, roller skis, and rail carts but the limitation of doing just one body motion on each inspired us to create the exerboard, which is like a futuristic Segway you have room to move around on for full body workouts.
We engaged a professional trainer to develop 55 unique standing exercises, which a virtual trainer performs on an exerboard in front of you. These are randomly picked based on their intensity and according to the exercise program you’ve chosen. The power and speed of your head and hand movements push the exerboard forward at various velocities, and you can either follow along with the trainer or make up your own moves, adjusting the in-game difficulty to match your current fitness ability.
Can I still use VZfit with my old stationary bike if I want?
EM: Yes, that’s the beauty of it. We’ve made VZfit extremely versatile to suit your individual preferences, so you can work out where and how you choose. It basically works with anything that spins! VZfit will automatically connect with most modern smart bikes or resistance trainers but may need a $20 cadence sensor for some older cardio equipment. (Connecting a sensor is a simple process).
Can I work out with friends?
EM: Definitely! You can join a friend’s ride by clicking on "Ride with Others" in the menu bar. This gives you a list of people currently available to ride with. Once you join a ride you even have the option of full real-time voice chat. You can also track your friends’ rides or stats in the app leaderboard.
Do you have a favorite ride you like to repeat in VZfit? How about the community? Is there a particular location you’ve noticed is popular with riders?
EM: We have a hugely active and engaged community on Facebook who share ride info, snapshots and stats, enter events and compete via leaderboards. It’s so rewarding for us to see people challenge themselves to complete all sorts of grueling routes across the globe—and then achieve those goals. We have users who recently finished riding through Japan, across Ireland, and along the Oregon Trail. We’re giving them a sense of adventure and real achievement that may otherwise be unattainable, and being part of the community is a great way to encourage you to keep pushing yourself!
My personal favorite ride is one I created from real life experience, called Going-To-The-Sun Road in Montana. It's a road literally cut into a mountainside in Glacier National Park and offers the most stunning views I have ever seen. Aside from that I find that good motorcycle rides make good VZfit rides. I ride a motorcycle and so always want long stretches of farms or valleys with no traffic.
Any tips for managing sweat during a VR workout?
EM: The best way for me is to have a table or standing fan blowing on me during my ride. Not only does it cool me down and reduce sweat, but it gives my skin the tactile sensation of moving through the air, which increases virtual immersion.
What’s next for you? Any updates in the works?
EM: Yes, plenty! We’re constantly making updates based on feedback from our users. VZfit has plenty of new features to enjoy—like trained coaches to offer guided and personalized workouts where they track your effort levels and give live feedback and encouragement. You get to set workouts to your ability level, and we’ve added slope resistance control on compatible FTMS trainers. There’s also the option to customize your outfits, post snapshots along your route, auto-steer or follow the trainer, stream music, sync with Fitbit and Strava, and so much more!
We hope to soon add more options for multiplayer, and enable you to further customize your workouts based on preferred movements—for example, focusing on your glutes one day, your abs the next. We also want to give ride authors more tools for self-expression, such as signs and narration, to make routes more interesting and personal for riders.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
EM: I think the key point to note here is that VZfit has been created to suit anyone’s fitness needs. It's targeted principally at those looking to exercise for 20-30 minutes per day. A recent study we did with Brunel already showed that VR raises enjoyment levels for fitness by over 25%. We’re excited to see more users achieve their fitness goals once they start their VZfit journey. I can say it’s pretty addictive, even for those who don’t love to exercise. It’s hard to get bored with the whole world to explore!
VZfit is also designed for the whole family. You can have as many accounts as you want, as long as you share the same Oculus ID.
Finally, we’ve also made it so simple to get started with easy-to-follow tutorials to help you get the most out of all the options available to you. Give it a try for yourself—we’d love to hear what you think!
Already lacing up your shoes? You’ll find VZfit on the Quest Platform today. Give it a spin with the seven-day free trial or subscribe for $9.99 USD a month—and let us know some of your favorite routes!