LeanGP offers home gamers a motorcycle simulator with lean-to-steer capability – and potentially wheelies ©LeanGP
We are living through the achingly slow dawn of virtual reality gaming. Live multiplayer events like the astonishing Zero Latency games are pushing the tech forward on a commercial scale, and a range of different consumer products are bringing VR into the lounge room.
Anyone who loves car racing games has a wealth of options open to them. Grab a VR headset, fire up a good racing game and there are controllers available to suit just about any budget, from a simple steering wheel and pedal setup to full-on motion rigs that attempt to replicate the feel of acceleration, braking, loss of traction and bumps.
Motorcyclists, on the other hand, have no such luck. While there are simulators available, they're prohibitively expensive for home gamers. As a result, they're more or less relegated to video game arcades, motorcycle training centers and the like. But a team of Spanish bike enthusiasts is trying to change that, with a lounge room-grade bike simulator that gives you the ability to lean to steer for under US$1,500.
LeanGP is a simple, skeletal motorcycle body including a rudimentary frame, tank, subframe and handlebar setup. It plugs into a gaming system via USB, working with PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo and Windows systems.
With throttle and brakes that are designed to feel as natural as possible, the bike comes with a dash that gives you critical information right in front of you (if you don't have a headset on) and the bike leans to steer by way of a tilt system that can be adjusted to suit the weight of the rider.
It's important to note that purely leaning a bike isn't exactly how turning works on a live motorcycle; the complexities of countersteering change with speed, and balance itself is a complex phenomenon.
Not only that, when you throw a real bike on its side in a corner, there's a force that pushes you toward the outside of the corner that effectively lets you totally relax your body, even at high lean angles. On a simulator like this, if you leaned over as far as the bikes on screen did, you'd flat out fall off. So LeanGP has decided to limit the degree of tilt to something that won't drop the rider off, or stress the frame any more than is necessary.
As difficult as car physics are to emulate, motorcycles will be exponentially harder. Any decent rider will be aware how much body English, weight transfer and tiny bits of tactile feedback through the pedals and levers feed into your decision making. There's no way to simulate what the wind feels like as you go down the 'chute at a fast racetrack, and pop up into the airstream to use your body as an air brake.
But LeanGP is giving it a go. It's up on Kickstarter now, with earlybird prices starting at €899 (US$1,107). The only game that currently supports VR for the full riding experience is GPBikes, but LeanGP's developers are tugging the sleeves of other game developers to include first-person VR modes in future releases. The LeanGP controller will work with a range of other games, as long as they're on a screen.
The team has already hit its €20,000 (US$24,625) crowdfunding goal, and if it hits €1.25 million (US$1.5 million), the team is going to add in motor-actuated wheelies and stoppies. I sincerely hope it gets there, because frankly a motorcycle simulator that doesn't pop mad wheelies would be a sad, sterile experience for me. Other stretch goals include things like fuller, bigger fairings to make it look cooler in your living room.