VR Cycling Through History: A Feasible & Fascinating Idea

Virtual reality cycling is starting to catch on. While we wouldn’t quite call it mainstream yet, several early demos have made headlines online at sites devoted to VR news. Most recently, we learned that a VR cycling experience was on the way from one of the biggest names in home fitness. This speaks to what appears to be the main use of combining VR and cycling, which is, precisely, fitness. However, even if this is the purpose that drives innovation and generates popularity, VR cycling will also have more leisurely and entertaining applications.

There will always be an exercise component of course, but just as some applications might help people to race or go through specific training programs augmented by VR, others will simply provide people with immersive, interesting environments that they want to pedal through. And the interesting idea we’re touching on here is that those environments don’t necessarily have to be real. The beauty of VR is that it can essentially render any environment, which means we have just as much of a chance to wind up cycling through fictional or historical places as real routes and roads.

Taking this exciting idea into account, these are some of the places we can only imagine falling in love with via VR cycling programs….

The Great Wall of China

It’s a fanciful idea to cycle along the Great Wall even now, in person, though this is easier said than done. Even if you were able to set such a trip up, the Wall is not uniformly smooth and simple; several portions of it are actually quite treacherous, to say nothing of the occasional crowds along the top and other obstacles. In VR, however, and transported back in time, this could be a breathtaking cycling fantasy of sorts. Imagine instead of the modern tourist attraction, the Great Wall in all its former glory, at the height of its functional existence. The surroundings on all sides would be lush and inviting, the walkways would be populated not by tourists, but by silent sentinels (perhaps they’d wave or nod as you passed by), and you might glimpse a camp of marauding would-be invaders off in the distance now and then. On top of it all, the twists, turns, and ups and downs of the wall could make for a good simulated workout if a cycling machine could provide resistance accordingly.

The “New World”

We tend to think of the “New World” – the Americas in the Age of Exploration – as being full of untamed vegetation and wild lands. But where civilization was, it’s not as if there weren’t roads and paths. There’s actually some precedent for exploring areas like these in VR, albeit with a decidedly fictional tinge. “Gonzo’s Quest” is best known as a free game on the internet, enhancing a slot arcade with a rich theme of exploration in ancient Peru. The same game now exists in VR, and works such that as you play, you follow Gonzo deeper into ancient civilization and toward treasures and structures. The surroundings are what make the game unique though, and indicate that there’s interest in this general concept. A VR cycling app with a similar idea but a more realistic approach – such that you could cycle through jungles and ancient cities, and past members of the Incan, Aztec, or Mayan civilizations – could be an incredibly fun experience.

The Amber Road

The Great Wall is a fairly obvious choice for this discussion, and “New World” civilizations suggests vast areas to explore, with perhaps multiple roads and routes built into a single large program. But there are also specific roads from history that would make for fascinating VR cycling experiences, and while it’s difficult to choose from among them, the Amber Road might be one of the most interesting. Linking Russia with Italy, this was essentially a trade route by which amber was mined and traded between the Baltic region and the ancient civilizations near the Adriatic Sea. As with the two examples above, this would be made interesting not just by the route itself, but by the surroundings. You could essentially be cycling among the people from many centuries past, at least as we might imagine them, and get something approximating a realistic feel for what it might have been like to traverse such a route (but for the fact that you’ll have the benefit of a bicycle!).

The Silk Road

Dubbed the most famous trade route in the world in a fairly thorough write-up of ancient trade roads (and likely in a fair share of history textbooks as well), the Silk Road would be a different sort of option simply because it would have to be incredibly long. This would present a lot of challenges for a VR development team – perhaps like an “open world” video game in VR form – but done well, it could be endlessly fascinating. Essentially connecting China with the Roman Empire, the Silk Road stretched thousands of miles, meaning this experience could work with constant, saved progress. That is to say, you could start at one end or the other and cycle along such that every time you get back on your bike you begin where you last left off – ultimately seeing all sorts of beautiful lands, as well as people spanning much of the ancient world.

We could go on, but you get the idea, and in a way it’s fun to think up your own ideas and examples. Right now, it’s all fairly hypothetical – but it’s possible, and VR is only going to see more creativity moving forward. This is a general development we’d be all for.

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