With the premier of Spielberg’s Ready Player One this week, The Hub is looking back at how the humble (read: magnificent) bicycle has been depicted in the world of video gaming throughout the years.
The special effects-spectacle, Ready Player One, is odds-on to blockbust when it hits cinemas this weekend. Exploring the influence of popular culture on near-future generations, the movie centres on a virtual world called The Oasis in which computer gaming culture, old and new, plays a significant part.
So how has the two-wheeled machine been depicted in video games over the years, and what does it tell us about how the world views the king of self-propulsion sports?
It turns out the bike, with all its health benefits and personal development through individual effort stuff, hasn’t been particularly inspiring for the average game designer.
Still, it has had a few outings on the circuit boards of the masses, some more successful than others.
Here’s a look at the cycle’s story in silicon.
Platform: Arcades, various consoles and home computers
Influence on popular culture: Cyclists like to break stuff, especially windows
Paperboy is the bike’s most significant digital debut. The iconic game required you to toss rolled-up newspapers into the mailboxes of subscribers to The Daily Sun, while using your missive missiles to smash the windows of residents who were yet to come round to the idea of buying your paper. Apparently, teenage cycling bikers in the 80s were all vandals…Play it now in your web browser here.
Platform: Amiga, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, MSX, ZX Spectrum
Influence on popular culture: BMX riding is dangerous
BMX Simulator, better known for its sequel, was a top-down ‘simulator’ in which daring riders sped around a pretty tiny track. Any impact between your BMXer and, well, anything, sent you soaring through the air and presumably sustaining a horrific injury. Have a go in your browser here.
Platform: Sega Master System
Influence on popular culture: Cyclists like exploring and punching other cyclists
In 1997, the BMX found itself in a starring role as the vehicle of choice for Alex Kidd. In BMX Trial, players used a new type of paddle control (soon to become obsolete) to manoeuvre Alex around forest and desert trails. The game required you to sustain punches from opponents, perform wheelies and jumps, and avoid obstacles. It was originally only launched in Japan, but you can play a port of it in your browser here.
Platform: ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit family, MSX, and Amstrad CPC
Influence on popular culture: Cyclists are vulnerable
In 1987, the road cyclist got his shot at onscreen glory with the multi-platform release of Milk Race. Based on the international Milk Race event – now the Tour of Britain – the game asked you to collect milk for energy while avoiding other cyclists, cars, potholes and the kerb. Any impact, no matter how slight, resulted in a crash, while getting back on the bike was just as treacherous as cycling at full speed, as you can see in the pretty funny video of the game above.
Release date: 1994
Influence on popular culture: Downhill riders are thugs, but also fit
As bad as Mountain Bike Rally looks now, it has proven to be way ahead of its time. It was the first game to support the Life Fitness Entertainment Systeman exercise bike that could be plugged into the Super Nintendo. Pre-dating Zwift by over 20 years, the system allowed your real life pedalling to control your speed on-screen. Meanwhile, to keep you entertained while pedalling, you had to punch the living softshell out of your opponents. A strange combination of fitness and ultra-violence.
Release date: 1998
Influence on popular culture: Couriers are vermin
More repetitive than rewinding a cassette with a pencil only to find you’ve wound the wrong side, Courier Crisis painted the hard-working cycling courier as a poorly pixelated social drop-out. Filled with humour more misguided than the aimless control system, this game was a stinker, painting cyclists in a worse light than its glitching polygons. Again, punching and kicking returns as a theme, while a major part of the game play involved kicking dogs in the face. Yes. Dogs. Kicking them. In the face.
Influence on popular culture: Downhill mountain biking is exciting
Probably one of the most popular cycling computer games, No Fear Downhill Mountain Biking involved careering down rollercoaster-style trails while performing a spectacular array of dirt jumping tricks. Its ‘cool’ (for the 90s) characters and attention to detail – allowing you to customise frames, tyres, brakes, suspension, and even gear ratios – inspired many a young MTB rider to give it a go on the trails.
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Playstation
Influence on popular culture: The Tour de France is highly strategic
Pro Cycling Manager asks you to manage the success of professional cycling teams in the Tour de France. Put together the best team possible, assemble their kit, and analyse their tactics to win the Tour. It’s a cycling nerd’s dream, with the 2017 version allowing you granular control of your racers.
Release date: 2004
Platform: Xbox, Playstation 2
Influence on popular culture: BMX is gangsta’
Out of all the 250 available vehicles in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, the bicycle is the one that sticks most in the memory. It’s the first mode of transport our hero CJ encounters, as you ride around the suburbs of Los Santos, getting mixed up in some gansta’ s***.
Not a cycling game per say, but players of this legendary title probably spent more time aimlessly riding around on the game’s bike, doing tricks and outrunning the law, than they did on all the other dedicated bike games combined. The ground-breaking GTA V, meanwhile, deserves special mention for its particular attention to detail in the inclusion of several sweet two-wheel rides, such as the Scorcher mountain bike complete with disc brakes, front derailleur, and Rock Shocks-clone front forks.
Release date: 2003
Platform: Playstation 2
Influence on popular culture: Downhill riders are thugs
This violence-studded downhill MTB game was a combination of classic motorcycle beat-em-up Road Rash and No Fear Downhill MTB. It’s inclusion of real bikes and parts was a source of particular excitement, while the action was fast and furious, if a little frustrating. Not a bad effort, but the focus on punching and kicking again made the downhill scene into a theatre of constant brawling.
Release date: 2014
Platform: PC and iOS
Influence on popular culture: Cycling is social
Zwift has really been the game cycling lovers have been waiting for. Combining the sport’s competitive side with the community benefits of massive online multiplayer platforms it has become a monumental success story. There are over 550,000 registered accounts (as of January 2018) and numbers are growing exponentially. A game that pays homage to the ideals of cycling, Zwift is quite the game-changer.
So, what have we learned? According to our digital depictions, cyclists are hyper competitive, punch-happy social outcasts that like to get together in big groups to test their skills.
If the story of Ready Player One turns out to be as prescient as some think, then cycling’s video-gaming legacy is really only now coming of age.
Cycling was an option in this 1999 Playstation title that tanked harder than the annexation of Crimea.
A 200m velodrome section of the Men’s Kierin was included in this homage to the London Olympics. It looked good, but lacked any significant depth.
CRC Pro cycling
Chain Reaction Cycles released its very own game on Android in 2012. Sail through a range of different road stages with customisation options and real-world kit.
Probably the strangest attempt at a bike game ever released, BMX XXX is what you get when your marketing strategy hasn’t matured past “include hot naked chicks”. This cycling flesh-fest allowed you to customise the male and female riders, with USP that you could remove their tops. Endless swearing, ‘deliver the hookers’ tasks, and naff game-play helped it receive multiple bans and censorship around the world. It currently enjoys a particularly warm residence in the dumpster fire of history.