Oculus Go and an Exercise Bike

Recently I purchased a Oculus Go, and I’ve been trying different things with it.

Today was exercise time. Although in the time of Covid19 lock-down we are allowed out for exercise, I think it’s often safer to stay at home, if you can. And then there’s my better half who isn’t allowed out at all for for at least several months.

So how best to keep fit?

We have a rather simple exercise bike that gets used infrequently sitting in our second bedroom. This is great for a quick physical session, but somewhat limited in the mental well-being.

Enter the Oculus Go. Let’s try a few things.

Now I’m sat on my exercise bike, windows wide open and the Oculus over my eyes.

First I opened the Alcove app. This is is a home simulator (a future review coming) which has what they have called a “Travel Room”. Essentially it’s a space that links to different kinds of videos showing places around the world. I clicked on the Tour Bus and selected “Paris Bus Tour”. This opens up a 360° degree views of Paris.

I began to cycle.

I was seated in a virtual bus and someone was delivering an audio tour, pointing out land marks. The bus moves a little down each street, but often cuts out and jumps to other places around Paris. Even those this was a seamless transfer it was quite jarring at times. The bus would also stop and start, and even completely disappear at times, for instance I was suddenly stuck in an open square surrounded by pigeons, and not moving. While it was interesting to see some of the famous landmarks of Paris (partly because I resisted many places I’d been to just a few months ago) it wasn’t a good “cycling experience”.

For the second part of the experiment I opened the Oculus YouTube app. I first tried a high def (4K) cycle ride along a road in Los Angeles with nice sea views.

While this was a nice picture, it wasn’t a 360° video, it was only displayed in front of me, albeit on a very large window. Although this made it hard to feel like you were actually there, the video remained looking forward no matter what the rider who recorded it was doing – it will no doubt work for people who may experience motion sickness.

The third experiment and second video I tried was a true 360° one. A couple of people where cycling along busy roads in the middle of Honolulu, Hawaii.

The video is not particularly high-def, but it was good enough for me to want to look around while I was cycling. In fact there was a lot to see. It definitely gave the sense of exploring somewhere by bike.

One thing to note in this video (and others) is that the “forward” position on the video does not constantly align with the forward motion of the bike. Initially this felt awful but then I remembered the YouTube app allows you to rotate the view. So, while I biked I held the controller in one hand and rotated the video when either the bike cornered or turned onto another road – this actually worked very well, and gave me a sense of actually choosing to turn the bike, I didn’t feel any kind of motion sickness when I was doing this.

It was also nice to be able to have a breather whenever the biker reached junctions – I did try to keep my peddling in time to the video. One problem with this stopping and starting, the rider recording the video would lean sidewards (presumably to put his feet down) and this felt very alarming in VR, like you were suddenly toppling over. However, these were not very common, and you grew to expect them.

It was also found it quite engaging to be following someone else. And this also gave warnings of imminent stops.

There was also no sounds on this video, but I didn’t feel like I missed it, possibly because the sound of my exercise bike was making enough sound to compensate.

The third video was from North Shields in the UK.

It follows a fairly busy road, eventually getting to the sea front.

This had a static 3D camera so always faced forward along the bike, and fairly low down looking over the rider. I found this produced quite jerky motions which made it hard to not get motion sickness. And at one particular point (at about 6:23) the bike is lifted up over a curve and moved sidewards in a very alarming manner in VR – so much that I had to take the head set off.

The final video I tried was one biking along Pismo Beach in California. This was my favourite.

This follow a couple biking along a beach front for some time.

The camera is positioned on the helmet of the rider, which gives an almost completely unobscured view of the beach. It’s pointing in the same direction as the riders head, so occasionally it will move around as they look at something, but this still worked suprisingly well. There was no discomfort from the head turning.

It is also mostly an uninterrupted cycle in a straight line along the flat front of the sea shore. This is particularly useful as there is hardly any change in speed or direction which can cause some motion sickness.

It is likely recorded late in the day as the Sun appears to be setting (it could be raising…) but this produced nice long shadows of the bikers, which (in combination with the camera position) really added to the feeling that it was you who was cycling along the beach.

Again there is someone cycling along with you, which definitely improves the experience.

There audio here has been replaced with a nice mix of relaxing music, which really enhanced the video and made exercising quite an enjoyable experience. A guess it’s similar to having earphones in.

This was by far my favourite as it was a beautiful beach setting, a rather smooth ride, and quite an engaging video.


Some tips for producing a 360 bike video for use in VR

  • Place a camera high up. On a helmet works quite well.
  • Have the camera by default face the direction of motion.
  • Limit large speed changes, and starting and stopping.
  • The worst movement is titling sideways. Best to cut these out.
  • Sound is less important. But a good music track can really help.
  • Bike shadows really add to the realism.
  • Another biker adds to the realism.

Over all I think this experiment went really well, and I did find that I enjoyed the cycling more with the sense of exploration it brought. I’d highly recommend giving these types of videos a try. If you find some good ones don’t hesitate to pass them on.

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