The hardest part for most people in getting into exercising is the fact that it’s not a lot of fun. You’re putting your body through all sorts of things it’s not used to doing (especially if you’re most gamers), and mentally there isn’t much there for you other than the thought that you’re getting into better shape. Compared to spending time gaming, to most of us, physical fitness comes in a distant second place, or even maybe further back than that. Since the release of the Wii, “exergaming” has become a hot topic. Many nutritionist and personal trainers (including my own) are building some of these types of exercises into personal exercise plans. This rise in mindshare for exercise related controllers is something that 3D Innovations is taking advantage of with the release of the PCGamerBike Mini.
What I found most fascinating when I first got a look at the Mini at CES was that it really doesn’t look anything like a bike. It’s merely a small (less than 2 feet tall) stand with feet, a USB connector, a digital display, and a set of pedals. When I got my demo unit, I was surprised at the weight. While it’s not exactly light at 22 pounds, it isn’t so heavy that it can’t be easily moved when necessary. The frame, legs, and pedal mechanism are made of steel with the outer shell, pedals, and feet made of high quality plastic. Some assembly is required, and 3D Innovations include a nice wrench-like tool to attach the pedals to the stand, with total setup time taking about 5 minutes.
With the design of the unit, obviously there isn’t a place to sit on it. Instead, you use it with any chair to build a recumbent exercise bike. The back legs extend through use of a tension screw, which allows for increased balance for the unit if additional floor space is available in back of where the unit is to be used.
Connectivity for the unit is very easy. The only cord is the USB connector, and a single ‘AA’ battery is all that’s needed to power the digital readout unit. Once the unit is plugged in, getting the PCGamerBike Mini up and running is a snap. Simply install and launch the “PCGamerBike Configurator”. Once in the Configurator there are a lot of options, but the only ones that will matter to most gamers are the 2 key mapping fields. For whatever you’re going to play, you simply map the pedaling motion (forward or backwards) to the appropriate keyboard key (or any of the 3 primary mouse buttons) for forward or backwards motion in the game. This process takes all of 10 seconds, and doesn’t require any pedaling to configure. Plus, once you have a game mapping set up, you can reuse it at any time, and there’s no limit to the number of mappings you can create.
The real appeal of the Mini is that you can use it with almost any game. From the 3D Innovations web site, “Strictly speaking, the PCGamerBike can be used to play any PC game that uses a keyboard for input.” There is an entire page on the PCGamerBike Mini site dedicated to using the bike with World of Warcraft. (With 8 Million worldwide WoW players, who can blame them for a little targeted marketing?) While clearly, I had no way to verify the scope of that statement, I did my best to put the unit through its paces, having logged over 60 hours on the bike, playing a myriad of games, including The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Lego Star Wars II, Battlefield II, and the Mini’s “pack in” game, Island Worlds.
It was a little strange at first, not using the keyboard to control the primary motion in the game. During my first combat in Oblivion, I found myself running into my opponent as I adjusted to moving around by combining the side to side movement controlled by my hands with the forward and backwards movement of my feet. What was surprising was how fast this control scheme felt completely natural. By the time I came upon my second random encounter, I was fully capable of moving quite easily during combat, and found I was able to hit and run rather easily. Lego Star Wars II and Battlefield II also both made for good tests of the Mini, especially in Battlefield II where quick movement can be the key to not getting killed. It was during my time playing Oblivion that the advantages of both health and game play with the Mini stood out. Covering the long distances between important areas of the game, which can take a lot of the fun out of the primary quests became a lot more enjoyable. Instead of hunching over the keyboard, you can simply line yourself up for a straight walk, sit back, and start pedaling. I found it very rewarding to move through the game in this manner, and definitely won’t be going back to the old way of doing things anytime soon.
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