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Sean Kelly's virtual reality ride

7 Sep 2016

Ace new experience allows riders to unleash their inner pro at this year's Tour of Britain.

Thanks to turbo trainers, Zwift, and a whole host of other digital devices, cyclists these days can take on all sorts of bike-related challenges often without leaving home. Chain Reaction Cycles has now taken this idea one step further and has created a virtual reality (VR) experience where you can ride as the legendary Sean Kelly on a particularly tough bit of this year’s Tour of Britain route in the wilds of north Wales. It was here that Sean and the Chain Reaction team headed recently to film a 360-degree video, using high-tech sports cameras of the Irish sprint hero hammering out some hard miles. 

When we caught up with Sean after his day in the Welsh hills he seemed pretty chipper about the whole thing and excited about what we can expect. ‘It’s a spectacular route with great views and we got some amazing pictures,’ he told us. ‘With the VR experience you’re going have a wonderful view of the countryside and the route we rode.’ 

The route in question makes up Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain on Wednesday 7th September, as it sweeps through Wales from Denbigh in the north to Builth Wells in the south. The video allows riders to take on the fast descent off of the day’s second King of the Mountain contest between Bala and Llangynog. ‘The descent we filmed on (KOM 2) was a rapid descent and it’s going to be super fast for riders on the day,’ grinned Sean. ‘You can easily reach 70-80kmh!’ Not something the fainthearted would want to try in real life, but in virtual reality? All day long! 

So how does it work? We asked the project’s videographer Andy Yoong to break it down for us. ‘We used a custom mount with seven individual cameras on the front of Sean’s bike. We then imported the footage onto a computer and stitched the seven files together to create one 360-degree video. It took an age to edit! With this process, if just one of your cameras fails or you get a bit of rain on one of the lenses, the entire shoot is useless. You need all seven to be working for the entirety of the run,’ Yoong told us. 

Punters will be able to experience this virtual reality ride for free at any of the eight stages of the Tour of Britain, which starts in Glasgow on 4th September and finishes in London on 11th September. All you need to do is turn up to the stage finish, visit the Chain Reaction tent and have a go. There’s no need to book and you won’t need any special gear. Once inside pop yourself on a static bike, don the Oculus Rift headset, and through the witchcraft of modern technology you’ll get a Sean-Kelly-eye view of a windswept Welsh hillside taken at speed! 

And because it’s a VR experience, it’s great for everyone from hardcore cyclists to newbies. Kelly agrees: ‘It’s great for people who’re just beginning or for experienced riders who can’t get out into the countryside so easily. For them I’m sure this will be a big hitter,’ he promised. 

If you can’t get to any of the Tour of Britain stages, you can still watch the video below. We’ll definitely be getting along to have a go though. It’ll be the closest we’ve ever got to going 80kmh on a bike – well, while still being in control!

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