September 7, 2007 2:44 PM PDT

The exercise bike that races via the Web

Now, U.S. cyclists can get trounced by some of the best riders in Europe without leaving home.

With the Ergo Bike Premium 8i from Germany's Daum Electronics, riders from around the world compete against each other over virtual versions of some of the sport's storied race courses. Riders gather at a particular time, pick a course and go. In a ride I witnessed, riders from Germany and a few Americans went head-to-head on a simulated version of the bike segment of Hawaii's Ironman Triathlon.

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Video: Web-enabled exercise bike packed with tech
CNET's Michael Kanellos gives it a test ride at City Cycle in San Francisco.

Additionally, the bike--which closely mimics the feel of a real bike through a battery of sensors and processors--monitors the pulse rate, speed, distance and watts (a measure of current power output) of the riders and broadcasts these vital stats to each participant. The riders can also watch each other over video streams and speak over VoIP-enabled headsets, all so you can see who is about to crack.

In a sense, it's full-contact social networking.

"You can see him breathing. You can see his heart rate. That gets you motivated," said Kip Potter, one of the two partners behind InBikeSF, which recently started to import the bike to the U.S. "The problem with other stationary bikes is that they are boring."

A few thousand have been sold in Europe and South Africa over the past few years, but only about 20 have come to the U.S. so far. (If you live in the Bay Area, you can check one out at City Cycle in San Francisco.)

The bike is part of a wave of high-tech products hoping to ride the fitness boom. Although the globe is in the midst of an obesity epidemic, there's also probably a larger number of middle-aged people avidly competing in endurance sports than ever before.

Some of the latest must-have gadgets for fitness buffs have been the running and cycling computers from Garmin that plot an athlete's results. Nike, meanwhile, has experimented with MP3 players and iPod add-ons. Bike manufacturers now regularly roll out road racing machines that cost several thousand dollars.

Photos: Taking a spin on a networked exercise bike

At $3,500, the Ergo Bike Premium 8i is aimed largely at people with money, but not a lot of free time. The bike can give a weekend warrior a reasonably good workout during the middle of the week when getting away from the office during daylight hours may not be possible.

A lot of riders use it mostly for solo training. The onboard computer lets you keep track of your own results--how many watts was I putting out as I approached the final climb on Alpe d'Huez?--or analyze your own performance historically. A doctor recommended one to Potter after an injury. The experience prompted him to persuade Daum to let him import the bikes.

Other functions let you see how you perform against similar riders of the same age and weight. The data can then be downloaded to a laptop. Potter showed me a chart tracking one rider's heart rate and power output over several rides over a period of weeks.

CONTINUED: To motivate and entertain…
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Easier to Win

This is GREAT!!! All I have to do is hook up my electric drill to the speed sensor on the bike -- and I can WIN, without having to leave my keyboard.

I'll be just as 'juiced' as the real bike racers.

Watch for the YouTube video of me eating pizza and drinking beer while cleaning the opposition.
Posted by Camera.Ken (1 comment )
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So you'd pay $3500 for this bike plus the cost of hooking up the electric drill just to beat people working hard from their own fun. Why not just pretend to be handicapped and join the special olympics why you're at it?
Posted by Michael K. (19 comments )
Link Flag
6 year old news
Minoura and a bunch of others have been offering something quite similar since at least 2001.
Posted by Rants&Raves (199 comments )
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Agreed-this is old hat
I remember racing on an old Cateye version that did most of this in the early 90's. By the early 2000's multiple companies had video, power measurement/monitoring, designing your own course via GPS mapping or power meter recordings, and group ride functions. But most of them cost $2000 or less and have still failed to take off. What caught CNet's eye, VoIP? That's hardly an addition worth an extra $1500 when Skype is free.
Posted by summershoe (41 comments )
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Old news, get with it CNET
The article stated, "So why not put your road bike on one of the many commercially available trainers, where the back wheel turns a fly wheel? You can't ride a simulated climb through the Dolomites or compete against others. Racing against someone does make you ride more intensely, particularly when they can observe your performance."

Real-worlds simulators that allow you to race others via the Internet have been around for a while now.

<a class="jive-link-external" href=";estore_ID=1336" target="_newWindow">;estore_ID=1336</a>
Posted by tonyc666 (15 comments )
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