It’s January which means, in the UK, it’s freezing. Every day I wake up, take a look outside the window and say: “This is the day I will go for a run.” Then I move one toe out from under the covers and realize that was a lie. I wouldn’t dare brave the frosty outdoors in this arctic weather in the name of fitness, but Aaron Puzey did. In fact, he cycled the entire length of the UK over the course of this dreary, dismal winter season and beyond.
Well, he sort of did.
Puzey was attempting to cycle the entire length of the UK, from Land’s End in the South Western corner of England all the way up to John O’Groats at the North Eastern tip of Scotland, all from the comfort of his own home. To do this, he was using an inexpensive bluetooth cadence monitor paired with his exercise bike and Samsung’s Gear VR, running his own app named CycleVR.
Now, Puzey says he has actually done it. That’s about 900 miles with 50,000 calories burned, taking him through sites like the city of Bristol and the hilly Lake District (I would say mountainous but if you’re reading this from anywhere else in the world chances are you’ll scoff).
Rather than live 360-degree video of a bike ride to follow along to, or a full virtual environment to ride through, CycleVR pulled data from Google Streetview, which had photographed the entire route Puzey took in 360 degrees. Floating cubes lined the path he needed to follow. The developer wrote it in his spare time and continued to improve it as he pressed on with his travels.
“I got it just enough working to begin with, and it improved as I went along,” he says.
I talk to Puzey a week or so after the end of his journey over Skype, having already watched some footage of his journey. I hesitate for a moment when I’m trying to describe what the experience looks like. “Go on, you can say it,” he jokes.
“Janky,” I reply.
It’s true; Streetview uses several 360 images that users hop between as they travel down a path. As you pedal, CycleVR moves you through one of these images, then jumps to the next one, and it doesn’t look natural. Still, Puzey takes the comment surprisingly well, no doubt fueled by how much he’s already been able to improve the app. Like many, he easily suffers from simulation sickness, which makes his journey seem all the more insane. In the early days, he struggled with the app automatically moving his perspective “CycleVR was doing this every time you go around a sharp corner. It would jerk the camera quite sharply.”
The solution, then, was to code the software to look further ahead and not react to each turn as they appeared but instead prepare for them from five meters away. The app ends up doing a bit of strafing, Puzey says, “but that’s much easier on the stomach.”
But what of the awkward, jumpy environments that pop and morph around you, often at strange, sharp angles? Jumping from one image to the next comes with this unfortunate side effect but, in the developer’s mind, it is worth the trade-off of cycling anywhere in the world, rather than a set path. “It becomes your new normal,” he says, trying to reassure that users adapt while admitting the app is “at the mercy of whatever data Google’s maps serves up.”
I suggest that maybe Google itself might be able to help now that Streetview itself is a Daydream VR app, and he notes that he’s hoping to talk to the team.
Besides, it wasn’t enough to stop Puzey in achieving his goal. He recalls fond memories of cycling over Bristol’s suspension bridge early on in the journey, and he saw plenty of strange and hilarious sights, like two men squaring up for a fight (which, evidently, the Google team didn’t try to stop).
He also exhaustively recalls the number of times he’d cycle through a small, featureless town or field. This is the UK, after all, we sort of specialize in those.
With his journey over, Puzey is already planning to undergo his next virtual adventure. It’s all in effort to promote CycleVR, for which he’s considering a Kickstarter campaign, but the developer is also insistent this isn’t just a publicity stunt; he said this is an app he wants to make more use of and thinks others could too. Are riders prepared to put up with the app’s shortcomings for the ability to easily ride anywhere in the world?
Puzey is taking suggestions for where he should virtually ride through next on CycleVR‘s official site.