Review: Bike-O-Vision Series of Virtual Reality DVDs for the Trainer

Skeptical? I was too.

Screen shot from Bike-O-Vision's DVD from California Coast
Screen shot from Bike-O-Vision's DVD from California Coast.

When I looked at the list of top selling bike movies on Amazon, I was very surprised to see that eight of the top 25 were from Bike-O-Vision, a company I had never heard of. It turns out that their DVDs aim to give you the feeling of riding outside as you pedal a trainer or exercise bike.

I'll tell you straight up that I find riding a trainer or exercise bike to be dreadfully boring, and it seemed to me that the only thing worse would be having to watch videos showing outdoor scenery at the same time. The whole thing seemed hokey from the start, but hey, they're killing it on Amazon, so I figured I'd check it out.

Bike-O-Vision DVDs improve the indoor cycling experience

So I popped in the DVD and started watching. Generally how the Bike-O-Vision DVDs work is that the producers take a section of landscape and just let the camera roll as you "ride" from one point to another, with segments roughly broken up into chunks of 8-12 minutes split by landmarks along the way that break up the ride.

The DVDs -- mostly filmed in the U.S., but some elsewhere -- give the impression of you "traveling" along a road through these places. Maybe you're pedaling along through California wine country, maybe riding on the Big Island of Hawaii or the mountains of Europe. You see the road stretching out in front of you as it rolls smoothly under your wheels. Occasionally, you'll glance to the side and check out the scenery passing next to you. And with the landmarks that help divide the footage, when you reach them, it's almost like you park your bike and go walking around and through them as the camera tours you through the most significant spots along the way. You're still pedaling at home, of course, but it feels like you've taken a break.

Despite my initial skepticism, these videos certainly make the time on the exercise bike more tolerable, in fact, almost enjoyable. They certainly improve the experience at least 100%. I have a buddy who rides the trainer every day during the winter, 30 minutes at a time like he's serving a prison sentence. I gave him two of these DVDs to check out. He told me that he found himself doing 45 minutes or more with the Bike-O-Vision DVDs, simply because they made the time interesting and pass by that much more quickly.

Specific Observations about the Bike-O-Vision DVDs

Several things I noticed in reviewing the Bike-O-Vision DVDS. First, the sensation of riding caused by watching the video is much more realistic than I expected. For instance, incorporating the various landmarks noted natural formations, dominant historical features, etc., in the film is a nice touch. I found that as I pedaled, I was constantly looking off into the distance of the film, watching the approaching landmarks, which gave a sense of expectation, movement, and ultimately accomplishment of travel.

Secondly, "riding" on actual roads with real traffic was effective too at holding my attention and giving the sensation of actually riding. I would become alert when vehicles approached from a side street. I found myself also looking slightly ahead at the road on the screen, watching for gravel, glass, pot holes, etc., just like you'd do in riding a real bike. It's realistic enough that a reader contacted the company last year after watching the Puerto Rico journey. He had so gotten into the video, he said, riding down jungle roads, that at one point in the film when a dog appears and barks from the roadside, he immediately swerved and almost fell off his bike.

Third, the varying terrain was effective in changing the pace on the trainer. Many of the DVDs feature big hills and I found myself coming out of the saddle to pedal harder, just as if I was climbing a real hill. And the presence of road signs and other landmarks was effective too, in offering intermediate milestones to motivate effort. For instance, seeing a sign in the distance and sprinting until reaching it.

Effective Camera Approach Makes This Work

One other aspect of the Bike-O-Vision films that make this work is several effective techniques used in filming. First, the video footage itself is terrific. The Bike-O-Vision DVDs take you through some of the most beautiful scenery for cyclists, and the views themselves really help and in fact, I found made me want to take some cross-country trips to these places. The company selects journeys by listening to customer suggestions as well as considering places they’ve wanted to cycle themselves.

Second, the film itself is slightly speeded up, so you're riding "faster" than you would in real life. And this is good for a couple of reasons. First, you feel like you have to be more alert for things around you, including turns, road conditions, other vehicles, etc., since you're humming along pretty good. Second, it allows the film to cover more physical space in a shorter time. Third, it helps keep things, in general, more interesting. If you've ever watched somebody's handlebar camera when they are plodding down the road at ho-hum 14 mph for even ten minutes, you know it can get boring pretty quick.

The goal in filming, according to Liz Hunter, who owns the company with her husband, Jan, is to achieve the feeling of being “in the zone”, gliding along the road with no undue attention on the road itself, only the landscape ahead.

A final nice touch to comment on is the background music used by the producers. In general, it complements scenery and helps with the film with getting annoying or burdensome in its own right.

Bike-O-Vision DVDs - Help Make the Trainer More Tolerable

Bike-O-Vision came about when the Hunters, owners of the company, were living in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was during that time that Jan Hunter’s grandfather survived a heart attack and as part of his rehabilitation therapy was directed to exercise on his indoor cycler. But he wouldn't stick with it simply because it was too boring to endure. That’s when the Hunters came up with the idea of video taping down-the-road tours through the islands for him to watch. To their delight, he loved them and began cycling daily. Jan's grandfather was so enthusiastic that he encouraged the Hunters to put the videos on the market for others who cycle indoors but get bored. So they did.

And, reading this far, you can tell that I'm now a convert too. Though I'll never pick an exercise bike over riding outdoors, I'll say that the videos in the Bike-O-Vision DVD series -- now numbering more than 25 -- certainly make the trainer more enjoyable. They allow you to "ride" places around the world that you may never actually visit and the Bike-O-Vision DVDs definitely add a lot to the indoor cycling experience.

The standard DVDs generally run $16.95 with regular pricing; high definition Blu-ray is going to be roughly double that. Substantial savings can be found buying a four- or six-pack of the DVDs, or even the whole series.

Disclosure: Two review copies of Bike-O-Vision DVDs were provided by the publisher for the purpose of writing this article. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.