Health: A Great Workout for Gamers

When we heard about the Expresso Bike, the new virtual-reality cardio system hitting Philly’s gyms that claims to realistically shed pounds and liven up dull workouts, we were skeptical. But the futuristic lure was too much to pass up. Here’s what you need to know about the city’s newest way to kick your butt.

What it is: A bike that looks like something Geroge Jetson would have used. Mounted behind the handlebars sits a 17-inch LCD monitor, outfitted for sharp visualizations and Internet connectivity, which serves as a window to your new virtual-reality workout.

What it does: Puts you on a virtual trail. The attractive scenery — think hills, trees, meandering turns and other life-like bikers — alone provides enough eye candy to keep you wondering what you’ll see in the next mile. (We nearly ran into other bikers watching a flock of virtual birds fly overhead.) It’ll also distract you from your workout — in a good way. Navigate realistically with steerable handlebars, gradient-determined pedal resistance and manual gear shifting. A side-scrolling terrain map allows you to pace yourself for the road ahead, and an Internet hookup lets you bring all of your vital stats (like times and calorie counts) with you to other bikes.

How it feels: Like a real bike. While traditional stationary bikes let you set the pace, this bike forces you up killer hills and over long distances. The day we tried it out, even personal trainers were making use of the bike’s serious cardio blast (it’s called “Expresso” for a reason). You may forget you’re burning calories as you check out the landscape, but bikers beware: Your pedals will lock unless you downshift on those uphills.

Who’s it for: People who work out or people who veg out. Perfect for competitive gym regulars who want to shake up their workout. Bike through more than 20 paved and dirt trail tours. (Eat your heart out, E.T.: Along with paved paths and rural dirt trails, bikers can try pedaling through space.) Also good for gamers who need to peel themselves off the couch and shed some flab: Untraditional games — like the semi-lame “FIND A GREEN DRAGON,” where you find and bike-down slithering creatures — give even videogame junkies reason to keep biking.

What we love: The cool extras. Try tracking your progress and reducing your time by racing your “Ghost” self, recorded from previous trials. Or, call up your buddies and plan a race—even if they’re on the opposite coast. Thanks to the Internet connetion, you can race bikers even if you’re miles apart.

Where to try it: The Sporting Club at the Bellevue. With six bikes recently installed, the Bellevue is your best bet for trying out the Expresso Bike’s side-by-side group-race feature. Expect to see the Expresso Fitness Recumbent bike later this year at this Center City gym. 220-224 S. Broad Street, 215-985-9876, sportingclubbellevue.com. Sweat, Queen Village. Though Queen Village only has a few systems, look for these already-popular Expresso Bikes in other Sweat locations throughout the city as traditional models are replaced. 700 Passyunk Avenue, 215-627-5600, sweatfitness.com

Grade: B+. This solid workout with serious visuals is hampered only by an awkward shifting mechanism and a few lazy virtual competitors.