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Virtual reality spinning: New fitness craze?
02:48 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Hong Kong gym has world's first virtual reality spin class

Gym spent $400,000 on technology

Hong Kong CNN  — 

I’m cycling down a narrow, winding road at midnight. The full moon overhead casts an eerie glow on the craggy terrain around me.

The only way out is just ahead: a dauntingly steep climb over a mountain pass.

It looks like there’s ice and snow in the distance, but right now, I’m working so hard, sweat is pouring off my body.

And while it’s breathtaking, the scenery isn’t real. I’m nowhere near the Himalayas. Instead, I’m in an air-conditioned gym on the 14th floor of a Hong Kong skyscraper.

It’s not my first time in an indoor cycling class, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like this. Instead of staring at a mirror or trying to avoid comparing my form to that of clearly more experienced cyclists, I’m riding into a massive projector screen covered with landscapes.

In true spinning style, the music is blaring and the instructors are pushing the class to the limit.

“Are we ready? Hyperdrive!” they shout as we accelerate to what feels as close as you can get to warp speed on a bike.

When virtual reality meets spin class

It’s called “Immersive Fitness.” And it’s the first indoor gym studio with a 270-degree virtual-reality screen in the world.

The concept is a partnership between Hong Kong-based Pure Fitness, and New Zealand fitness giant Les Mills, which designs and provides the content.

The aim: to leave reality behind and become fully immersed in animation and music to achieve a better workout.

Other gyms have been trialing similar technology. And companies have been experimenting with Facebook’s Oculus Rift virtual headset, to allow riders to cycle around the world, all without leaving the comfort of home.

But back at the gym, we’re riding “The Trip,” a 35-minute journey through remote reaches of the galaxy. Parts of it look a lot like a retro video game. And that seems to be exactly the point.

“What this technology is going to do is open up exercise to maybe a younger crowd,” says Colin Grant, the CEO of Pure Group, which spent more than $400,000 building the studio.

We’re on a racetrack through a city of the future with glimmering skyscrapers towering overhead. There is competition here, of the virtual sort: cycling avatars on the screen that seem much better equipped than us for the three rigorous laps ahead.

The starting line lights flash to green. I crank up my resistance dial and accelerate to racing speed. When the road rises, I stand and pedal harder. When it banks to the right, the entire class, without realizing it, leans into the curve. “Faster, faster, faster!” the instructors scream.

Halfway through the second lap, my head starts playing tricks on me. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster. The hills, the drops and especially the turns, feel real. And for a moment, I forget where I am.

Maybe this is why the class starts with a motion sickness disclaimer.

More experiments?

I’ve seen people lose their lunch in cycling class before, but somehow, we all make it through to the last track unscathed.

That’s when the darkness of outer space opens up, and suddenly, we’re riding across the ocean into the sunset.

Soon, we’re joined by a flock of Canadian geese.

It sounds cheesy, but it puts a smile on my face.

My cycling mate, Rebecca Schrage, looks at me and laughs.

“That was pretty tough,” she says. “I love 3-D movies…that’s exactly what it was like.”

Grant says the technology is only in its infancy, but he says there is huge growth potential, because the opportunities are limitless.

“You could be following a jet ski…they could add scent. They could add mist,” he says.

There are also plans to expand the content to other classes including yoga.

Sun salutations on the summit of Mount Everest anyone?

It seems like a big experiment, and an expensive one at that.

And while it may take a while to see if pedaling in front of a projector can turn a profit, this new trend has more than its share of fitness fans.

“I’ll do it again,” Schrage says. “That was pretty good. I’m impressed.”