Sunday, 16 February 2014

iFit - so good it's a surprise it hasn't been done before!

The NordicTrack GXR 4.2 I bought features a technology they call iFit. I've found this feature so special that I thought it worth writing about separately. The tech consists of a compatible piece of exercise equipment, a plug-in wifi module (at least on the level of equipment I'm looking at), and a web-based application.

The basic functionality allows the selection of a training session on the website, this is downloaded to the bike (it's also available on treadmills, etc), and then the user rides the session. The 'party trick' is that this session can be a 'real world' route. The session data is downloaded to the bike and the bike adjusts the riding resistance during the session to simulate the climbs and descents of the real world route. Whilst you are riding the route an internet connected device (laptop, tablet, computer) connected to the iFit site can show StreetView images of the route as you ride, sychronised to the speed you're riding...

The video below shows a simple Asus 7in tablet sitting on the console of the bike and showing the route (Central London) as I ride:

As you can see, it's a little more 'flick book' rather than full motion movie, but I'm finding it great entertainment riding routes in cities and locations that I'd otherwise never visit. It isn't unusual to for a route to have a little 'looking around' as this one does at the start but most every session I've used settles down and shows the road route. Sometimes it does show 'travelling against the traffic flow' which is disconcerting but I guess is either a problem with the route definition or simply a limitation of the available photographs in the Google StreetView database.

There is another class of iFit exercise sessions that don't have the StreetView feature, but the do follow a planned distance/time/gradient profile. And some even have trainer voiceovers to add encouragement to a session.

There are many collections of StreetView routes and/or videoless exerises sessions available on the iFit site. Some are free, others have a fee.

The final magic trick is that you can simply (and I've tried and it really is simple!) create your own exercise sessions by plotting a route on Google Maps via the iFit site. I did exactly that for a Christmas Day ride along the Craignure to Tobermory road, over looking the Sound of Mull. It just worked. Although the gradients were a bit of a shock at times!!!

So how well does it work?

To be honest, surprisingly well! The refresh speed of the StreetView images could, perhaps, be a little faster, but on many sessions I've forgotten it's a 'flip book' I'm watching. I guess because of the update rate and two-way data transfer across the internet the bike levels off 'at the top of the hill' but the images are still one or two off that location. Not really a problem, just a little disconcerting the first time it happens. It does provide a significantly more engaging view than just watching a 30 minute timer count down!

After riding a session your statistics are available to view back on the iFit site along with other riders who've previously ridden the route. I'm finding pushing my stats against others is increasingly becoming my motivation on some of the rides!

The whole system is occassionally a little clunky and has a little bit of a work-in-progress feel to it. Indeed, I've spotted problems, reported them and seen them fixed. It is reassuring that the application is under active development/improvement.

iFit membership for the first year is included with the purchase of the plug-in wifi unit, and with a little careful shopping that unit is sometimes included with a piece of exercise equipment - as was the case with my GXR 4.2. I'm sufficiently impressed both with the tech keeping me motivated and the results from having used the bike over the winter that I'll be renewing the membership when it becomes due.

I'm also sufficiently impressed the tech that I'm planning on adding an iFit-equipped treadmill to my home gym.

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