Just don’t think about it, I kept telling myself as I wobbled through the parking lot. That was the key. Start thinking and you start doubting—wondering why your head says one thing and your eyes say another—and you are sure to end up with a nice asphalt hickey.

Training wheels would have helped. Instead all I’ve got is a damn selfie stick trapped on the back of my bike, camera way up high streaming to a cardboard so that I can ride about in the third person. Well ain’t this future! Like the year 1997 and I’m four years old again.

Made it maybe ten feet on the first shove off. I’d thought it would be easy. Just keep the handlebars centered and I’d be good to go. Nope!

I could see well enough. That wasn’t the problem. There was me down front and center like a regular CJ, only a few curbs and the occasional lamp pole to avoid.

But when my feet left the ground it was like I’d never ridden a bike before in my life. I wasn’t even seated and I felt that I was falling, and the hell if I knew what to do about that. I wasn’t event sure which way the handlebars were facing.

The second try was more successful. The next a little farther. Before I knew it I was tackling turns and hitting a blistering 10mph on the straightaways.

An early attempt

Yet without fail the same thing would happen every time. I’d be cruising along just fine when a little thought would pop in. Just the littlest, most innocent of thoughts, say a, I feel like I’m leaning a little far to the right, maybe I should…” and that’d be the end of it. Game over man! It was like my brain would suddenly forget where my body was. I’d think the handlebars were straight only to watch myself go veering off to the side. And the effect would keep compounding. Corrections led to overcorrections which led to more overcorrections. The longest I ever made it was around three minutes.

I’d experienced this phenomenon plenty of times before in my various modded reality experiments. At some level you just have to trust what you see. And that can be really scary, like being taken when you are still aware enough to realize what is going on. And no matter how much you want to fully give in to that world beyond, some part of you resists. Maybe the technology is not convincing enough, or maybe it’s because at some level your brain remembers that if you die in modded reality you die in normal reality too.

So the key is to not think. Just go with the flow. Not so different from base reality come to think of it. Like riding a bike.

What was different this time though is that there was almost no recovery time. You gotta keep riding. You want to keep riding. But even the briefest lapses in immersion instantly became crises that sent me reaching for the brakes.

I also tried mounting the camera to the handlebars of the bike thinking this would make riding easier. Wrong again! At least the chase-cam remained relatively fixed. Now imagine a view that turns along with the handlebars. Not good. And while you’d think there’d be some skill transfer from the chase-cam experience, it was actually like starting fresh once again.

The handlebar view was not a good idea

The handlebar view was not a good idea

What’s really strange though is just how badly thirty minutes of riding messed up reality for the rest of the day. The effect was much longer lasting than anything I’d experienced before, and I’m not sure why. Why did third person biking break my sense of reality so much more than walking about using a selfie stick or holding my eyes in my hands? Maybe it has something to do with a handsfree camera moving through the environment with you. I’m not sure.

But don’t get me wrong. After getting over those few minutes of riding about while fully immersed were magical. For such low-tech hardware, the effect is almost scarily good, as in, “everyone needs to experience this!” good (or perhaps, “this would totally be a great Black Mirror” good).

Funny how these stupid, quick projects often turn out to be the most fun. And it could be fun trying out some other sports in the third person. Driving even? Next time perhaps.