Do you feel like you need to spend more time at the gym? You're on the internet, of course you do. Why not let video games keep you motivated to exercise? Special accessories like the Wii's Balance Board or X-Box's Kinect let you burn a few calories while you play, but that only goes so far. To get a really strong cardio workout, gyms have installed full-size exercise bicycles that let you pedal around an imaginary track shown on a computer screen. At some point, however, the novelty of cycling through a virtual countryside will fade as well. What's the final tool to keep us returning to our game-enhanced exercise equipment? Competition and shame. Like so many other technologies, video gaming stationary bicycles are taking advantage of the social network to increase their appeal. Interactive Fitness Holdings' Expresso Bike not only lets you race against other people in your gym, it helps you share your scores on Facebook and Twitter. Few things may encourage you to pedal faster than receiving a smug tweet from your friend bragging about their latest time trial. The Expresso has hit upon a very powerful hook: when you can struggle against strangers, your friends, and yourself, you'll never run out of competition to keep you in the race.
Stationary bikes hooked up to video games are nothing new. Various forms of the Expresso have been selling for almost five years, and there are many other competing bike companies out there, not to mention the Wii Fit, EA Active, and other titles available on traditional video game consoles. "Exer-gaming" is a growing industry, and Expresso is just one of many products you could choose to help you have fun while getting in shape. That being said, the Expresso bike does have almost all of the cool features that exemplify the field. Many of which can be seen in the video below.
There are 30+ tracks, with more created every year. Music is built into the system so you can listen while you ride. The stationary bike has a steerable set of handlebars, allowing you to control where you go as well as how fast you get there. There is a gear-shifting control that varies resistance and gives you a mild mental challenge as you plan the best resistance for each terrain. Expresso also lets you play a variety of games, including chasing down moving targets, racing against a pace-setting virtual biker, or even riding alongside a 'ghost' that represents your position in a previous race. With the latest update to the Expresso software, you can now share all of these features with other riders in your social network. A "Ghost Challenge" lets your friends race against you even when they are miles away or arrive hours later to the gym.
The ability to play against opponents even when they aren't available is a really cool aspect of bringing exer-gaming to the social network. We all have our different schedules, and it's hard enough to get yourself to the gym, let alone coordinate with a partner. Asynchronous competition is a great tool that lets you benefit from the personal relationship (or all-out war) you have with a fitness buddy without their physical presence. I'm waiting for Expresso (or a competitor) to incorporate a microphone and audio recording so that you can taunt your opponents in real time or leave verbal encouragement for yourself later.
As cool as it is to see video game exercise bikes sharing through Facebook and Twitter, I have to admit that this is far from a real innovation. First, people have been able to share exercise states, dieting tips, and video game experiences over networks for years now. Second, including a social networking aspect into your company's product isn't visionary, it's just plain necessary. IF Holdings has a great exercise bike in Expresso, but letting users challenge each other across the internet seems like a really obvious choice.
Still, who really cares whether or not Expresso's move towards the social network is mind-blowing - it's what we need. More and more of our lives are becoming interactive and exciting. The internet is spoiling us - it's harder to pay attention to events that aren't fun, challenging, and connected to others. Let's face it, many of us find exercise boring and overly difficult. Why ride your bike for an hour when it's easier to troll YouTube? Exer-gaming is a great step towards making exercising as engaging as the digital world, but it's the social connectivity that really has the chance to make it a challenger to internet-fueled inactivity. Expect more gym equipment, full body video games, and virtual sports to jump on the social networking bandwagon in the future.