The Zwift we dreamed of: You can now ride your bike in Grand Theft Auto
Step aside Zwift, there’s a new contender in the virtual cycling space.
Why do your indoor workouts in Watopia and other upstart virtual worlds when you can saddle up and train in perhaps the most immersive virtual world ever created, Los Santos?
“Los Santos?” I hear you ask. Yes: Los Santos. It’s a fictionalised version of Los Angeles, a virtual sandbox that acts as the backdrop for Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V), one of the greatest videogames of all time.
Released way back in September 2013, GTA V is an open-world action-adventure game where you take on the role of several members of Los Santos’ criminal underbelly. The game focuses mainly on building your underworld empire, via all manner of questionable activities (yes, like stealing cars), but there are plenty of other distractions available throughout, including cycling.
Various bikes are available to ride throughout Los Santos and, just like in real life, getting out for a spin can be a fun way to decompress after a hard day spent gun-slinging, cleaning out a jewelry store, or being chased by half the city’s police department.
Ok, maybe not ‘just like in real life’, but you get my point.
Which brings us back to our new Zwift challenger: GTBikeV. This new third-party, fan-made PC mod for GTA V is seriously cool.
To quote the mod’s creator, “Makinolo”, “GTBikeV is a mod for GTA V that turns a smart bike trainer, or turbo trainer, into the game controller, making your game time actual training time. You’ll have a cycling workout inmersed (sic.) in the GTA V world environment.”
The mod is compatible with any smart trainer that uses ANT+ FE-C — so virtually all of the big-name trainers on the market.
Once you’ve got GTBikeV installed and configured, your in-game character will instantly don cycling gear and be perched upon a road bike. And then, just as with any other virtual cycling platform, the harder you ride on your trainer in the real world, the faster your in-game avatar will go.
The mod adds a virtual cycling computer to the bottom right of your screen, showing a range of cycling metrics, including power output. According to Makinolo, the mod “also measures the incline of the terrain, the roughness of the ground, and the wind in the game and sends all that information to the smart trainer so it can reproduce the hardness of the terrain you’re riding.”
Impressively, the mod automatically generates a .FIT file from your ride, with fake, real-world GPS coordinates, similar to what Zwift does (fun fact: the real-world islands that Watopia corresponds with — Teanu and Naunonga — are just a few thousand kilometres away from Niue, the island nation that Los Santos seems to be overlaid upon).
So what sort of riding can you do in Los Santos with this mod? Well, you’ve got some options.
Follow a course: The mod comes with three pre-made courses which you can load up and just start riding. There’s the Tour of Los Santos, a rolling route of around 30 km; Los Santos Hills, roughly 16 km of hilly terrain; and the Alamo Sea route, which is around 10 km and mostly flat, but does feature some gravel.
Turn on the “Auto Drive” feature and you can forget about having to navigate or steer — just pedal and, like in Zwift, your avatar will follow the predetermined path.
Manual waypoints: Another option is to set waypoints via the in-game GPS, turn on Auto Drive, and let the game navigate to your destination while you focus on pedalling.
Free roam, no steering: If you don’t select a course, but you have Auto Drive turned on, your character will “roam freely around the map” as you pedal. Makinolo offers a warning about this mode though: “Other [drivers use] the best driving skill level available in the game so you’re not likely to hit anything, but you still can be run over when riding the freeways with heavy traffic. Be safe out there!” Good advice indeed.
Full freedom: If you don’t select a course and you have Auto Drive turned off, well, the virtual world is your oyster. Using the computer keyboard or a controller you can steer your avatar as you would in the game normally, riding anywhere that you’d like in Los Santos and its surrounds.
It’s this final mode that’s perhaps most exciting. Zwift’s virtual worlds look nice and everything, but Los Santos is another level entirely. This is one of the most immersive, and detail-rich virtual worlds ever created, built at a cost of US$130 million by one of the biggest videogame development houses on the planet. Diving into that world and exploring as a gamer is captivating enough as it is — doing that from the seat of your bike, while getting in a good workout? Sign me up.
The highest point in Los Santos is Mount Chiliad, an imposing peak that reaches some 800 metres above sea level. Ever since the game hit screens nearly seven years ago, players have been venturing up Mount Chiliad, to get a glimpse of the great views, to throw a vehicle or themselves from the summit, or just for the sense of achievement. For gamers who are also cyclists, Mount Chiliad has even greater appeal. The first time I played the game I found myself wondering: is it possible to ride a bike up there? What would it be like? Which way would you go up?
It is actually possible to ride a bike up Mount Chiliad in GTA V — it’s just a little cumbersome and involves little more than pressing the up key on your keyboard and steering every once in a while. Sure, the achievement of getting to the top has some appeal, but with GTBikeV, you can now ride up Mount Chiliad for real.
Check out the video below from YouTuber Richard Slaughter (great name) who recorded himself testing out GTBikeV. At 13:30 he creates a GPS route from sea level to the top of Mount Chiliad and then spends the next 18 minutes or so riding gravel roads, farm roads, paved roads, and super-steep sandy trails to the top of the mountain (or at least as far as the GPS will let him go).
The game doesn’t take him via the most direct route, and riding the freeway like his avatar does certainly isn’t the wisest option, but it’s hard not to get excited about the potential here.
That’s a solid climb of nearly 20 minutes, pushing numbers of above 250 W for most of the climb. Is this the start of the battle for the Mount Chiliad KOM?
As you’ll note from the video above, the mod certainly isn’t perfect. The in-game character used here, Franklin, appears legless while riding a bike (as opposed to a different kind of legless). Thankfully an update has since fixed this issue.
There are also the aforementioned quirks with routing — the early sections of the route up Mount Chiliad don’t make much sense — and the “Gaming” GPS device shows gradients of over 100%, which don’t correspond with what’s on screen. To be fair to Makinolo though, these issues appear to stem from GTA V itself, not the mod.
The same can be said of the way the rider “interacts” with other in-game characters when following a GPS track. The poor hiker at 21:30 in the video above never stood a chance. Indeed, his demise was more than a little reminiscent of this classic Austin Powers moment:
So, should Zwift be worried about GTBikeV? Well, no, not at this early stage at least.
Sure, Los Santos has the potential to be a far more immersive, more open, and more exciting world to ride in, but that’s only part of the equation. GTBikeV only works in GTA V’s single-player story mode, meaning it has none of the multiplayer, competitive, or social elements that make Zwift the powerhouse it is. GTBikeV is also limited in the structured training (e.g. workouts) that it offers — at the moment you’ve just got a handful of pre-designed courses (although you can create your own with a little bit of effort).
On the plus side for GTBikeV though, it is free once you own GTA V, in contrast with Zwift’s monthly membership fee.
Should you cancel your Zwift subscription on the basis of this? Probably not, but if you are looking for a way to spice up your indoor riding, then this could well be worth a look. Most impressively, this mod is less than a week old and has been built by one guy in his spare time, around a full-time job. Hopefully he sticks at it and develops GTBikeV even further.
Oh, and since you’re probably wondering, yes you can make your in-game character fire a gun while riding with GTBikeV – it’s just not particularly easy.
“You can use the mouse and keyboard but it’s not convenient while holding the handlebars,” wrote Makinolo on Reddit. “So yes, you can right click and start shooting but the aiming won’t be easy to control.”