After several sweat-soaked weeks of enjoying Holodia’s Holofit with my Concept 2 rower, I have finally received my Bluetooth cadence sensor, enabling me to connect the software to my stationary bike. In this article, I’ll share my hands-on impressions of the Holofit’s bike mode. This is supplementary to my previous article, a Hands-On with Holodia’s Holofit – Bringing Your Rowing Machine Into Virtual Reality. There, I covered the product in considerable detail, and I’d definitely recommend reading that if you’re interested in learning more.
For those who just want the TL;DR version of that article, Holofit is a software subscription service that connects your PC VR or mobile VR headset to compatible rowing machines, ellipticals, and stationary bikes. I tested both the PC and Quest versions with my Concept 2 rower and was really impressed. In fact I absolutely love it. Indoor rowing has never benefited from the same technological geekery that indoor cycling has. There are no popular services like Peloton or Zwift making rowing more exciting and interactive so the arrival of the Holofit has been an incredible addition to my training program.
High-end rowers like Concept 2 or WaterRower represent serious financial investments however and it’s more likely that most potential consumers will be using an indoor bike. Indeed, VR biking is already experiencing a growth in popularity thanks to Virzoom’s excellent VZFit. Previously some consumers were put off trying the VZFit by its initial $100 dollar hardware cost, although, like Holodia’s Holofit it is now compatible with third-party cadence sensors. Holodia recommends the IGPSport C61 cadence sensor, which I picked up from eBay for only £16 delivered. Virzoom has also updated its software to work with this sensor as well. With such a modest initial outlay and free trials for both services, if you do own an exercise bike I highly recommend picking up a sensor to try both these apps for yourself.
So let’s take a deeper look at biking in virtual reality, with the Holofit.
Installation & Setup
To connect your mobile VR headset (Oculus Quest, Samsung Gear VR, or HTC Vive Focus) to a stationary bike you will need a Bluetooth cadence sensor that mounts to your bike pedal. Holodia lists the Garmin 2, Gemini 210 S3+, and Wahoo cadence sensor as being compatible but their recommendation is the IGPSport C61 cadence sensor (note there is also a C61 speed sensor, which will NOT work). It’s available to buy directly from their website but I found it a lot cheaper on eBay, although it was a three-week wait for delivery from China. As you’d expect the mobile version is completely wireless.
If you have a tethered PCVR headset however Bluetooth connectivity does not work. In this case, your bike will need to support either USB or cSafe output and connect directly to your PC via a cable. Just bear this in mind if you’re using the PC version, as even if you’re streaming the PC version wirelessly to your Quest via virtual desktop your bike (or rower/elliptical) will need to be close enough to your PC for a cable to reach.
As my PC is in the lounge and my bike in my bedroom I was unable to get the PC version working. I did try linking a 3-meter USB to USB and a 5 meter USB to USB cable together and plugging into my bike, but although my computer correctly identified my Tunturi e80 I couldn’t get Holodia to recognize it. At a later date, I may consider moving the bike to connect it directly with a single cable, but it might be due to the age of my bike. Although when I bought it, it was £800 and fairly high end, that was in 2007 and maybe it’s too old to work with Holodia’s software via USB or cSafe cable in 2020…
The Quest version was simple to set up, however. You insert the battery into the sensor and then use the included elastic straps to attach it to a bike pedal. To avoid your foot knocking it, it’s best to attach it on the inside of the pedal as my photo shows below.
Once attached the Holofit found it right away and it’s worked fine for me in the last couple weeks of use. One drawback of using an external Bluetooth sensor is that the sensor only detects cadence, not resistance, meaning there is no way for the Holofit to measure your bike’s power output. This is the same as Virzoom’s VZFit although both companies are developing integration with smart bikes, which will then allow for cadence and power to be measured.
With my Concept 2 having Bluetooth built into it, the Holofit captures data straight from the rower’s PM5 monitor so it can also record wattage output, not just stroke rate, giving you much more detailed and accurate workout feedback.
The Quest software is installed via Sidequest, whilst the PC version is downloaded directly from the Holodia website. The PC Version also requires Steam VR to be installed. On both Sidequest and the Holodia site, you download a trial version that can be upgraded if you decide to purchase a full license.
Prices are $9.99 for a month or $108 yearly. Each license can have up to five user-profiles so other family members can have their own accounts on the same license. You can get access to both the PC and mobile licenses with a single subscription. This means you and a partner could use Holofit separately on your bike at home, and then both take to a local gym to use on their elliptical and rower, all for a single $9.99 monthly price. This is a great value subscription and actively encourages you to try and use it on more than one piece of equipment.
Interface and Environments
The interface for the bike mode is identical to the rowing version so I’ll direct you back to that article where I went into detail on all the options.
Now instead of sitting in a rowing boat, you will be riding a bike. The quality of all the models in Holofit is top-notch. If you have a stationary upright bike like me that’s what your character will be riding. If you are using a recumbent bike however you can select a recumbent model for your virtual character too. As with the rowing avatar you have both virtual arms and legs, which gives a great sense of presence. The bike details will change to match the environment you are in.
If you’ve already watched my rowing videos I posted previously, the bike mode uses the same environments, but in quite creative ways.
Now the Antarctic sea and the snowy mountain lake have frozen over allowing you to cycle your way around the route. Meanwhile, in the tropical zone the waterways have dried up and the tide has gone out on the beach so you can race across the sand. Where the environment couldn’t be realistically altered, Cambridge Lake or Lac d’Aiguebelette, for example, you’ll be cycling on the water, but using a bike with giant inflatable wheels! It’s goofy, but a great way to still make use of tracks primarily made for rowing and also ensures that there’s plenty of variety in the look and feel of your workouts.
Currently there are two road tracks, made specifically for the bike and they are both outstanding. I’ve captured some video of the Paris and San Francisco tracks below which are a blast to cycle through. The Paris ride has you gatecrashing a heavy metal concert, narrowly avoiding car crashes and blitzing through a botanical garden. As Eddie Izzard would say, it’s all very French, with cheesy music, and all populated with a wonderful cast of native Parisian caricatures. Cycling is so much faster than rowing and you really zip through the streets at quite a pace, rewarded with different sights and sounds at every turn.
Meanwhile, San Francisco is a race along the Golden Gate bridge, featuring cheering spectators, car wrecks, plane, and zeppelin flybys and my personal favorite moment, a life-size Godzilla menacingly emerging from the ocean, towering over you like a, well a giant Godzilla! The Holofit rides are full of exciting moments and if you are cycling at a high pace, they become something akin to thrill rides.
It’s not all perfect. The Quest certainly struggles at times to process all the information, and I experienced some choppiness more in the bike mode than with the rower, presumably because you are traveling through the worlds so much faster. The resolution has also had to be lowered so there is some pixelation. If you are able to connect your bike via USB or cSafe to your PC you’ll be treated to much better visuals. When I’m rowing I use my Quest to stream the PC version via virtual desktop and it works beautifully. I wish I had a bike that could connect the same way so that I could do it here too, as the PC version is a real treat, and a huge visual upgrade all around.
As I explained in my previous article, the Holofit is based primarily around rowing machine integration into VR, a piece of cardio equipment that involves the use of the entire body, and necessitates concentration and good form. A stationary bike, by contrast, is almost exclusively a lower body only exercise, leaving your hands, and mind idle.
This means that the interactivity of the bike mode could be higher, and represents the main difference between Holodia’s Holofit and Virzoom’s VZFit. The VZFit is a specialized product developed just for Oculus standalone headsets for use with a stationary bike. It, therefore, has a much higher level of interactivity and gamification, with the ability to fly helicopters, drive tanks, and ride mythical flying horses. In all of these games, you can steer by tilting your head, and reverse or descend by pedaling backward. The Holofit can’t do any of this, it’s an entirely on-rails experience where you simply ride through each environment. On a rower, this is fine as both your arms and head are busy, but with a bike, I thought it might feel rather lacking. Therefore I expected the Holofit to be at its weakest in bike mode, and strongest with the rower.
I have to say though that my week spent using it so far on the bike has been thoroughly enjoyable. It’s a lot more workout focused than Virzoom’s set of games, included in VZFit Play. In Time Attack mode once you’ve completed a particular distance you can race against your best times. This gives you a target to chase as you cycle through the world and pushes you to work harder. Best of all there is a race mode where you compete in a 12 competitor race against the computer AI over distances varying from a 500-meter sprint up to a 13.1 mile half marathon. You can see below a 2000 meter race I won (barely) around a space station facility orbiting Saturn. It was a lot of fun and I am definitely going to complete more races like this.
Multiplayer is something Holodia is working on too, and they’ve already held a few online race events. The user base is small right now but as the product grows the ability to race directly against groups of other human players will be a fantastic additional motivator.
Overall, I actually find the Holofit worlds more exciting and fun to ride through than those in VZFit Play. Visually they are much more interesting to travel through and having my fastest times recorded and being able to challenge them again is a much bigger incentive for me than getting a high game score. I actually prefer the stripped-down, more workout focused design of the Holofit to the games in VZFit Play. Of course, VZFit Play is only one half of the VZFit package, the other being the Explorer app, which is less gamified and more workout orientated, with a trainer that can push you through interval or HIIT training. Explorer is by far my favorite of the two VZFit offerings for this reason.
The Holofit certainly surpassed my expectations in bike mode, the lack of steering didn’t bother me at all and the environments you travel through are engaging enough visually that I never once got bored. Over time you will be viewing the same dozen or so worlds a lot, but with so many different training modes each workout can still feel different.
Cadence sensor limitations
The one negative for me is that with the sensor only measuring cadence your speed is determined entirely by the number of pedal rotations, or RPM. There is no calculation of power so whether you are riding at 80 watts or 180 watts the only thing that counts is your RPM. As I said at the start of the article this is equally true of the VZFit too, although they are currently working on smart bike integration. Until this integration is in place it makes racing and timing your workouts much less meaningful. I was able to win a cycle race by cheating and lowering the resistance on my bike, whereas with the rower, with the data coming straight from my PM5 monitor power is being measured too, so you can’t cheat. Ergo, I’ll probably never win a race on that!
What this means, for both Holofit and VZfit when using a Bluetooth sensor is that currently, they can’t offer the kind of detailed user workout feedback that Zwift or a bike trainer can. As the VZFit is more about gaming or cycling the world in Explorer mode the lack of power measuring doesn’t matter to me so much. But with Holodia’s software being more workout focused with races and best times recorded, it’s an omission that really holds it back. I want to be able to measure my average watt output as that’s needed to track your real progress.
I should state this only applies to the use of a Bluetooth sensor with a bike. Power measurement is fully integrated into the rowing mode, which means your recorded best times are meaningful and accurate. This is definitely number one on my list of desired updates, and as soon as Holodia and Virzoom are fully compatible with smart bikes I’ll be laying down some serious cash on a top-end bike to take advantage. It’s possible we could then see automatic resistance adjustment at that stage to simulate hill climbing, which would make VR cycling even more immersive.
I feel this complaint will only matter to serious exercisers rather than the majority of VR consumers wanting to exercise in a more fun and immersive way. For most people it probably won’t be a concern. It’s worth stating I’ve been using the VZFit and been an active forum member for over six months now, and I’ve not seen anyone else bringing this up, so it’s seemingly not an issue for many people.
UPDATE – Just as this article went to publish the developers responded to my email about the lack of power measurement. If your bike can be connected to a PC via cSafe output it WILL also transfer the power data across. Some bikes will also transfer the data over USB, but not all, and they do not yet have a definitive list. Finally, if a bike supports FTMS Bluetooth natively, meaning it doesn’t require a cadence sensor, the power output will also be transferred when using the mobile Holofit version, i,e with the Oculus Quest. They have tested this as working well with Concept 2’s Bike Erg, and also with BodyBike. They are working on improving integration further in their next update. This is great news for workout enthusiasts with high-end cardio machines with an ergometer function who want that extra data. For the majority of users who just want fun virtual worlds to ride through as an encouragement to exercise more, this isn’t going to be an issue anyway.
Finally, if you’re looking for a direct comparison to the VZFit and wondering if the VZFit has been toppled, well no. At least as far as an Oculus Quest and bike pairing goes the VZFit remains the best pure cycling VR experience you can get, thanks mostly to its excellent Explorer app. Being able to plan and ride a route around an entire country, with full Stravia integration gives the VZFit the edge. But considering Holofit’s bike mode is just one-third of what it offers that’s not really a fair fight. After all the VZFit will not work with a rowing machine or elliptical, nor a PC VR headset at all.
If the VZFit’s biggest assets are its greater interactivity and the ability to ride through Google Streetview, the Holofit’s main strengths are its superb rowing implementation, the beautiful and varied environments, and it’s Jack of all trades approach which means whatever exercise equipment you have, and whatever headset you own you’ll likely be able to use the Holofit with your setup. And if calling it a Jack of all trades implies it’s a master of none, I would add a correction. It’s extremely competent in all modes I’ve tested and it’s definitely the undisputed master of one discipline; the rowing implementation is superb and it has done for my Concept 2 what VZFit Explorer has done for my bike. That is, to turn a piece of equipment that was gathering dust and that I was considering selling, into something I actively look forward to using.
Summary – The Holofit has something for everybody
I’ve been using the Holofit for around six weeks now and I can already say I am never giving this up. It’s a superb service that becomes more valuable the more equipment you have access to. The Holofit works best of all on the rower, or an FTMS enabled smart bike with its full wireless integration giving you access to precise workout data, that makes race and time attack modes more meaningful. If, as I imagine the majority will do, you are connecting to a bike via a cadence sensor then the data output is simplified so if you’re serious about measuring your progress you’ll likely want to continue using your bike’s computer to track that. But the environments are super fun and exciting to ride through and the workout modes challenging, and addictive. It will certainly enhance any workouts that you do.
If you do have an exercise bike at home that you’re not making use of I’d urge you to get a Cadence C61 sensor and give the Holofit a try. You may enjoy it so much you decide to invest in a Concept 2 or WaterRower to use it in its primary mode. Or take your Oculus Quest to a gym and use it there!