Courtesy of Virzoom.

Last month Virzoom announced they were to stop selling their VZFit hardware sensor and controller in order to focus exclusively on the development of their Play and Explorer apps. Previously, access to Virzoom’s apps required the purchase of their $99 propriety VZFit hardware, a considerable expenditure for most people, and obviously a barrier for many otherwise interested consumers. However, interest in indoor cycling is currently at an all-time high, amply demonstrated by the take-off of services such as Zwift and Peloton. Services like these have encouraged more and more people to connect both their indoor and road bikes (via a trainer) up to these interactive services and as a result there now exists a host of hardware companies manufacturing third party cadence sensors designed to connect up to these systems. Virzoom tested the water by initially releasing a software update that allowed connectivity between their VZFit software and third-party sensors, and the response was both positive and immediate. New customers loved the change, as compatible third-party sensors start from around only $20, significantly reducing the cost of entry to the Virzoom platform. More importantly, through their own playtesting as well as customer feedback Virzoom now has increased confidence that these third party sensors offer both solid and reliable performance, meaning they no longer need to manufacture their own hardware.

I’ve been using VZFit with its own proprietary hardware since October last year and am very familiar with how it performs. When they announced they were opening up support for third party sensors I decided to test one out in order to put together a guide for VRFI.

In this hands-on guide, I’ll help you get set up with VZFit, give advice on what sensor to buy, and also talk about how a third party sensor compares with Virzoom’s original hardware.

Let’s begin!

Getting started – What you need

Any bike will do

The great news is that Virzoom’s VZFit software will work with any stationary bike, both upright and recumbent models. You can also use your road bike with a trainer, but you will want to make sure it’s securely mounted as movement and turning in-game is done by tilting your body and head.

Works on the Go but you’ll probably want an Oculus Quest

Then of course you’ll need a VR headset. VZFit supports both Oculus Quest and Oculus Go, however, Oculus has just retired the Go and announced that it will cease to receive updates beyond December 2020. Virzoom has published a statement, in which they have pledged to support the Oculus Go for as long as they can, but from the end of 2020, they will not be able to add any further updates. If you currently own a Go it’s fine to get started, but if you’re in the market for a mobile headset for VR biking, then the Quest is the way to go to ensure you’re future-proofing your VZFit experience.

Lots of excellent third-party sensor choices

Finally, to connect your bike and VR headset together so that they can use the VZFit software you will need a Bluetooth cadence sensor. You have a plethora of options here. In theory, any Bluetooth cadence sensor that supports Bluetooth 4.0 should work but Virzoom officially recommends the following below.

Tip – All links below lead to Amazon.com but you may be able to find them cheaper on eBay.

CooSpoor Speed Cadence Sensor  This is Virzoom’s official partner and therefore their top recommendation, well tested, and known to perform well.

Magene S3+ Cadence sensor Virzoom report this one is very responsive and has worked well in testing.

IGPSport Cadence sensor This is the model I used for this test and I can confirm it works great. This is also Holodia’s recommendation for their Holofit software.

Wahoo Cadence Also officially tested and approved by Virzoom, this one is a little more pricey than those listed above.

Garmin cadence – This is the final cadence sensor that has been officially tested and verified suitable by Virzoom.

Virzoom also lists the following as compatible on their website but notes they have not been fully tested;

Wahoo Speed, XOSS Cadence, Polar Speed/cadence

For a full discussion on compatibility visit Virzoom’s site. If you’re unsure of anything be sure to ask any questions either on their forum or Facebook group page. The developers and community members alike are a really helpful bunch and will be happy to help you with any setup or technical questions.

Sensor installation and setup

In this guide, I am using the IGPSport C61 cadence sensor which I purchased on eBay for £16 delivered.

Now you’ve got all the equipment sorted you’ll need to go to Virzoom and sign up for an account. Note VZFit offers both a premium subscription service and a free model.

Tip – On signing up you will initially need to provide credit card details but you can cancel your trial immediately and no money will be taken from your account. That way you can try the free mode before you commit to spending any cash.

Free mode offers one Play game on rotation each month. This will match the organized event game for that month meaning you can compete against premium members for the highest monthly score. You’ll also get access to one Explorer ride each month.

The full premium subscription costs $9.99 monthly or $99.99 annually. You will get access to all VZFit Play games as well as unlimited access to VZFit Explorer. Explorer uses Google’s StreetView technology to allow you to cycle all over the world. Millions of miles of roads are at your disposal, starting right from the front door of your own house!

Once you’ve registered an account you will be asked to provide Virzoom with your Oculus email address, which is the email address associated with your Oculus account. This is because the Play and Explorer apps are not visible by default on the Oculus Quest or Go stores. Once you’ve emailed them your Oculus email address they will send you the links to the apps so you can download them both.

Now all that’s left is to connect your sensor to your bike. It’s dead easy, just hook it around one of your pedals using the supplied band.

Tip -As you can see in my picture below it’s best to attach the sensor on the inside of the pedal so that your foot doesn’t knock it.

Controller button – Do you need one?

The official VZFit hardware came with both the propriety sensor and a media button controller that clips on to your bike handlebars. It’s a simple but handy device that allows you to select menu options, adjust the volume, and activate a fire button for games.

Virzoom does list some compatible media controllers that you can purchase to do the job but I’d strongly recommend waiting until you’ve used the VZFit software with just the cadence sensor first. The Oculus Touch controller can faithfully duplicate all the functions of the media button and so you lose no functionality in not purchasing one.

Now depending on your setup and what games you like to play you may find holding a Touch controller for long periods to be annoying, or it may not bother you at all. Honestly, for me, I found playing the games on VZFit Play a little less enjoyable having to hold on to the controller, as I’d rather just grip my handlebars whilst I ride, however, I don’t use VZFit Play anyway as I’m not interested in gamifying my workouts. Instead, I use VZFit Explorer exclusively and once you’ve set up a ride and begun, there’s no really need to use the controller anyway so you can put it down.

Tip – It’s actually fairly easy to loop the controller around a handlebar anyway so you can let go of it when not in use in which case a media button wouldn’t be needed at all.

I do appreciate the VZFit media button, which you can see in the photo below, but I could easily live without it if needed. If you do want to explore media button options I’d again recommend posting in their forum or in their Facebook group to get other user feedback on what works well. One problem with some third party buttons is that they go to sleep after 20 or 30 seconds which could be annoying if you’re playing something that only sporadically requires you to button press, so bear that in mind if you do decide to purchase one.

The VZFit media button is certainly a more elegant and refined solution but the Touch Controller looped on the handlebar does the same job performance-wise!

 

IGPSport C61 Sensor Hands-On Performance

Solid performance

Connecting the IGPSport sensor was a breeze, I didn’t even need to use my phone to discover Bluetooth I just started pedaling and the VZfit software detected it. A great start.

It also seemed to have absolutely no problems measuring cadence or pedal rotations during the week I was using it. I never lost connection or suffered any latency errors, overall the performance was very solid. I’ve also been using the IGPSport sensor with Holodia’s Holofit software as well, and I didn’t have any issues with connectivity to either. This is great as it makes sense if you’re going to try one cycling service to try the other as well and using this sensor you’ll have no problem switching between the two.

But not quite as refined. No reverse ability.

Although the sensor performs well it isn’t quite as polished an experience as using VZFit’s hardware, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, for third party sensors, connecting to Zwift or Pelaton there is no need for you to be able to pedal backward. So most sensors, including the IGPSport won’t detect reverse pedaling at all. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be relevant but with VZFit Play, you can choose to drive a tank, and being able to reverse it is important. The VZFit sensor allows you to manually pedal backward to reverse the tank, whereas most third-party sensors will not

Tip – to reverse if needed you can do so by pressing the B button on the Touch controller

As you can see in my video below of playing Winterstan, VZFit Play’s tank battle game I was still able to reverse and play the game perfectly well, I just had to press B on the controller to do so. Given that I have no interest in playing the games anyway when there is a whole planet to explore on Explorer this isn’t a big deal to me. However, if you really get into the mini-games of VZFit Play you may prefer the extra immersion of being able to manually reverse, and therefore trying to buy the official VZFit hardware before they run out of stock is worth considering.

As I mentioned earlier I also prefer playing the games without needing to hold the Touch controller all the time, so if your preference is strongly tilted towards the mini-games of VZfit Play you might prefer the official VZFit hardware.

In the video below I’m riding Pegasus in another VZFit play mini-game, and here too I experienced no functionality problems at all. The game plays just as well as with the VZFit hardware, albeit holding a controller rather than using the media button on my handlebar.

Sensor start delay

Another slight drawback to using the IGPSport sensor is that it requires you to make a few initial pedal rotations before it starts registering movement. Once initiated it performs as well as the VZFit sensor but you will always need to pedal for a second or two at the start of each race, game, or ride before the movement is picked up. This could be annoying if you like to race in VZFit Play as you will need to start pedaling whilst the lights are on red as if you wait until the green light you’ll be left for dust on the start line! Once you’re aware of this it’s simple enough to just start pedaling a second or two earlier, but its another indication of the superior refinement of the VZFit sensor over a cheap third-party one.

You can see the slight delay in the Cali Rally video below, but once up and running performance is excellent.

These niggles disappear with Explorer

The two slight drawbacks listed above will likely prove consequential only if you heavily prefer the mini-games of VZFit Play and want the best experience possible. When using with VZFit Explorer these issues just fade into irrelevance. I wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference from using the VZFit sensor versus a third party one when doing Explorer rides. You’ll only be cycling forwards and it’s not a race so you don’t need a split second start. Furthermore, once a route is set up you can complete the ride without needing to press any buttons so you can put that Touch controller down. If VZFit Explorer is your major interest for using VZFit then a third party sensor will save you a significant chunk of money and provide a virtually identical level of performance.

Below you can see a 30-minute ride I completed through Colorado’s route 128 using the IGPSport sensor. The experience was indistinguishable from using the VZFit sensor.

VZFit Hardware versus Third Party Sensor Summary

Overall the third party sensor performed admirably, for a fraction of the cost of the VZFit hardware and clearly represents a big value for money win. If you’re thinking of getting VZFit for the Explorer app, (and you really should, it’s incredible!) then a third party sensor will do the job perfectly.

If you’re more of a gamer and want to engage in tank and helicopter battles, or race formula one cars on VZFit Play then the lack of a manual reverse function, the delayed latency when starting and the clunkiness of having to hold an Oculus Touch controller might mean the extra money for the VZFit hardware, whilst it’s still available, is worth shelling out for, especially if you live in the US and Canada where you won’t incur customs charges.

Third-party sensor benefits

  • Much more affordable
  • Will also work with Zwift, Holofit, and other cycling apps
  • Retains all core functionality of the VZfit sensor and media controller hardware
  • No problems with either reliability and accuracy

Third-party sensor negatives

  • Not as refined, holding a Touch controller is a little clunky
  • Lack of manual reverse ability not as elegant as the VZfit sensor
  • Slight input delay with pedal detection annoying if you’re racing or competing in a timed event.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve already forked out on the VZFit hardware I don’t think you need to feel too aggrieved. Firstly, Virzoom has pledged to make sure all future updates work with their official sensor hardware, so just because they will no longer be selling them does not mean they won’t continue to be supported. They are also keeping a certain number of units back so that they can honor any warranty replacements or repairs.

Secondly, the VZFit hardware performance is definitely more refined than the third-party versions. The additional refinement reminds me in some ways of the differences between using the Oculus Quest via Link or Virtual Desktop to connect to PCVR titles, versus using the Rift S. The Quest does a brilliant job and if you own one it hardly makes sense to buy a Rift S as well. However, the Rift S is more comfortable, has slightly better tracking, and a marginal refresh rate bump. For active, exercise orientated titles it’s the Quest all day for me, but if I want to immerse myself for hours in a high-quality PCVR experience I’ll choose my Rift S every time, for the increased comfort the headset gives me.

So it is with using VZFit’s official hardware versus a third-party sensor. The third-party sensor and Touch controller combo does a perfectly serviceable job and will allow you fully enjoy and experience everything that VZFit Play and Explorer offer. It’s a no brainer to spend a mere $20 and get set up with a very playable experience.

Yet as I own the official VZFit hardware as well, I’ve gone back to using that. Like the extra comfort of my Rift S headset, the VZfit sensor’s ability to manually reverse and its snappy initial pedal detection make it feel slightly more refined. Of greater significance, to me, the media button on my handlebar is simply more elegant than having to hold my Touch controller. If you’re yet to use VZfit these refinements won’t matter to you as you won’t know any different, but if you have recently invested in the hardware and feel you’ve paid over the odds, hopefully, the recognition that your sensor/media button combo is still a bit better will stop you feeling hard done by.

Overall I’m delighted with how well the third-party sensor performed, but happy that I still own the original hardware.

 

 

 


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