THE WASHINGTON POST, MARKETWATCH.COM, STEPHEN WILLIAMS: GOING PLACES ON A STATIONARY BIKE

October 4, 2005

Why ride an exercise bike and stare into space, when you can ride an exercise bike through outer space?

The Spark "virtual reality" exercise machine comes complete with a tour of the Alps, a scamper up the California coastline, a ride through the galaxy, and miles and miles of other terrain that riders tackle via the 17-inch color LCD screen mounted in front of the handlebars.

Pedaling a Spark, which is the product of a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based firm called Expresso Fitness, isn't much different, mechanically, from pedaling any stationary bike. But the ability to program nearly two dozen computer-generated courses and "drive" them alleviates the most common complaint of exercise bikers: boredom.

As in video games, crashes and spills on the virtual bike cause no bruises or sprains, the pace can be customized to suit a rider's stamina, and performance goals can be set. The rider can plug in headphones and listen to music; if vertigo sets in, the screen can be blacked out, or it doubles as a television.

To track progress, the screen displays graphs for elevation, heart rate and power, as well as the usual figures: time, calories burned and other stats.

The $4,800 bike may be coming soon to a health club near you. - STEPHEN WILLIAMS

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