Virtual Exercise

Bored with biking? StairMaster too static? Check out the next generation of gym equipment: VR ("virtual reality") machines from Tectrix. These bikes and climbers, found at the new Huntington Spa at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena and elsewhere, add a new level to your workout: immersive environments. It's not the full VR of headsets, but more arcade-game style, with sound effects in stereo, 19-inch color monitors and a pair of fans that blow air in your face at varying speeds to match your activity level.

The VR Bike, which sells for about $6,500, doesn't just sit upright like a stationary bike, it tilts as much as 25 degrees to either side as you steer to navigate the turns of whichever game you're playing. With "Aztec 2000," you're in an arena, complete with the sounds of a cheering crowd, racing against the machine to scoop up a ball and shoot it through a hoop. The challenge distracts from the drudgery of the actual pedaling, and is supposed to inspire you to ride faster and longer.

If this kind of game isn't your thing, the bike offers other choices. In "Sweeney Town," you pedal through a bucolic New England town and countryside. "Penguin Peak" transfers your pedaling power to a snowmobile, giving you the choice of a slalom course or ski jumps. And in "St. Benjamin Island," the setting is Caribbean, where you can ride the roads, the sand and even underwater.

StairMaster partisans can play "Aztec 2000" on the VR Climber, which sells for about $6,000. In "Rocky Vs. the Fire Bugs," you pilot a WWI biplane and either race against other planes or shoot balls of water at arsonists in hot air balloons (and shoot at a flying pink pig for bonus points). The climber has a light aircraft-style steering yoke, which you push or pull for altitude and turn to steer.

Are the VR machines worth it? Research conducted for Tectrix showed that people exercised longer and harder on VR equipment than on similar machines, inspired by the competitive nature of the games.

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