It's world bicycle day, which is absolutely a thing, apparently! To celebrate we want to take a long ride down virtual memory lane to remember the two-wheeled friends who have got us from checkpoint A to checkpoint B. That's right, it's the best bicycles in video games, baby!
Despite games accurately modelling the look, feel and tricky physics of more advanced vehicles like cars and planes already, the humble bike is often a little janky in video game world. That sometimes is part of the charm, but accuracy also isn't the end goal of a bike in a game.
As many kids' first vehicle, it's a symbol of freedom, of liberty and personal responsibility; the first tentative steps into adulthood are taken on the pedals of a BMX or handed down mountain bike. That's why we cherish games that offer a way to get around ever so slightly quicker than walking while embodying some of these ideals. So here are the best bikes in games, in celebration of their annual day.
The best bicycles in video games
GTA San Andreas BMX
The one true innovation of San Andreas over the neon-soaked streets of Vice City was CJ's ability to scream down a highway on a BMX before jumping straight off a cliff and railsliding into a pool. The addition of pedal bikes to GTA after the humdrum speed and stability of motorcycles brought some much needed levity to your exploits in an increasingly unserious series. That and the jet pack. But nothing topped spending hours in the storm drains using the banked walls as a makeshift half-pipe for accidentally on-purpose stunts.
Riding a bike in real life: tough, punishing work, uphill all the way, feel like you're practically standing still. Riding a bike attached to a Prop Cycle arcade cabinet: transcendent, life-changing, feel like you're flying although you are actually standing still. Namco's arcade take on Pilotwings was a staple in most movie theater lobbies and was almost always the highlight of any trip there, unless it was when you went to go and see the Pokémon movie and got that free limited edition trading card. Speaking of Pokémon...
Nothing captures the childhood freedoms of taking your first steps outside of Pallet Town, before working out how to scam the legally distinct pachinko parlor out of enough tickets to get yourself a bicycle. After that, walking through the long grass would forever feel like trudging through mud. The speed! The upbeat music! A joyous experience from handlebar basket to rear mudguard.
From symbols of freedom and whacky physics anomalies, to serious vehicles of speed pursuit. Indie game Descenders captures all the intensity of SSX and other extreme sports racing and applies it to downhill mountain biking. Jumps and turns need timing and lightning reflexes, there's less of the balance issue that's so difficult to master on slippery surfaces, but you can still take a hard tumble if you get in the tracks of your fellow riders.
On top of the wingsuiting and snowboarding, Ubisoft's open mountain extreme sports celebration also offers tightly focused mountain biking and road racing too. But the joy of heading out onto whichever part of the hill takes your fancy makes this a more laidback affair than Descenders. Similar to SSX 3's linked courses that you could freeride through to just enjoy your time in the saddle. There's a little more in the way of accurately modelled suspension here, too, and the first-person camera can give you a view you might be too scared to ever attempt in real life, but two wheels and a big hill is all you really need to enjoy the flow of biking. Some big jumps certainly don't hurt, either.