2018 Dynamic Rowing Machine Review

A review of the professional grade dynamic rowing machines available in 2018.

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Over the past few years, the rowing machine market has seen quite a number of new entrants. I thought it would be time to start an updated discussion about and review of the dynamic rowing machines available in 2018. I know that there have been reviews before, and many quite systematically but what I want to encourage here is a sharing of as many users as possible. Full disclosure, I have no interest in the companies that manufacture these machines. I have individually used or have purchased each model in search of the best. These are all air resistance machines which in my personal view provide a better feel as well as a wider range of resistance settings. Let’s not make it a marketing or ideology discussion but instead an exchange of experiences. I have all the respect in the world for both the incumbent leaders in the field and the courage and efforts of the new entrants.

Surprisingly, I found that the best dynamic machines are not made by the major manufacturers but rather smaller companies that specialize and are dedicated to building the best rowing machine possible, which has to include the dynamic movement.

I have also posted a brief video on Youtube www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx7jNJyCFeg. FYI, I am a 51-year old master’s rower with more than 40 years of rowing experience. This video is not meant for you to slaughter my rowing style, e.g. breaking the knees a bit too early on the recovery, a habit that is not critical on land and comes from a tendency unconsciously protecting my injured left knee. By the way, this is easily corrected when using a mirror while erging, which I often do.

Concept 2 Model D (no slides)

The most commonly used rowing machine in many homes, gyms and rowing clubs worldwide. An excellent product manufactured by Concept 2, the Model D sets the standards for modern rowing machine in terms of reliability and durability, electronics and ease of use. Although the Model D is a stationary rowing machine, I have mentioned this machine as a reference although I prefer rowing dynamic setups instead.

I still use the C2 machine sometimes when traveling for work but I don’t think it produces anywhere near as good a rowing-feel as particularly the Oartec DX or RP3 dynamic machines, plus it makes my knees and lower back sore.

Price: $900 USD (all pricing excludes shipping)

Pros:

  • Very solid and excellent build.
  • PM5 workout monitor
  • Online logbook and community

Cons:

  • Excessive loading on body and joints
  • Heavy rowing feel.
  • Can be quite jerky at catch

Concept 2 Model D on Slides

Two sets of tracks placed under the legs of the Model D that convert the Model D from a stationary to a dynamic rowing machine. Improves the rowing feel considerably and you get the best of the Model D features, but it really only goes half-way to providing the same feel as the pure dynamics like the Oartec DX or RP3. I believe it is really because the combined moving weight of the Model D on slides system is the heaviest of them all at 70lbs. It also has a massive footprint at 12ft, so you need quite a lot of room to fit it in and the tracks lying on the floor make it awkward to get onto the machine and can easily be kicked out of alignment. However, if you already own a Model D and want to make the change to dynamic this would be your cheapest option at about $290 for a set of new or less for used slides (if you can find a used pair without too much wear and tear (check condition of wheels and bungee)) then I would recommend this system over sticking with the stationary machine. However, this setup did not cut it for me and I decided to invest in a true dynamic machine.

Price: $1,190 USD (Model D $900 plus Slides $290 a pair)

Pros:

  • PM5 workout monitor
  • Cheaply converts the Model D into a dynamic machine

Cons:

  • Heaviest dynamic system
  • Relies on bungee cords to return the machine
  • Takes up a lot of room (12ft in length).
  • Have to step over tracks to get to the machine
  • Need to regularly set and check alignment of tracks

Concept 2 Dynamic

Designed by Concept 2 in response to new model dynamic machines coming onto the market in 2010. I believe this machine is based an old experimental design C2 had stored in a barn since the 80’s and in 2010 modernised it with common parts from the Model D. I give Peter and Dick Dreissigacker heaps of credit for their never-ending experimentation, innovation, and enthusiasm which have resulted in invaluable contributions to the sport of rowing and general fitness. Regrettably, I believe with all respect that the C2 Dynamic doesn’t quite meet the mark like their other machines in terms of satisfactory levels of performance and durability. The design is a total departure from the moving head type machines such as the original Rowperfect (RP3) where you have a total moving mass close to the equivalent weight of a single scull and oars.

The C2 Dynamic while it does achieve the smallest footprint of all the dynamics, it feels like it compromises the rowing action by not having enough mass to move through the stroke cycle, with just the footplate that moves. Because of this, I find it challenging to get a good rhythm and full leg compression at the catch. The machine has a “Dyneema” rope cord that then connects to a chain via a number of linkages and is prone to wear. I had also to replace the larger rollers of the footplate frame after only about 400KM. Now, in my case, this was because I am always unconsciously protecting my left knee and therefore do not have a perfect load balance between the left and right leg when rowing on land. Actually, very few people really have perfectly even loads between both legs. The folks from BAT Logic or Shimano will provide you with data in case you are interested. If you are able to score a C2 dynamic cheaply and don’t really care about a true rowing feel for your training then consider it, but I would look for used Model D and slides first if you are working within a tight budget and have the space to place it.

Price: $1,250 USD (was originally $1495)

Pros:

  • PM3/4/5 workout monitor
  • Smallest footprint of all dynamic machine in the market

Cons:

  • Manufactured feel – difficult to get full length and good rhythm
  • Dyneema cord prone to wear and replacement
  • Footplate wheels/rollers wear quickly and jam
  • Bungee cord restricts the seat movement

Oartec Slider / SliderDynamic

Released in 2010, the Oartec Slider was the first dynamic machine I bought for my home training. It is a very solidly built machine and I have done many hours of training on it without any issue. Because it has the feet together inside the rails I was able to change the foot stretcher setup to shoes and to a closeness similar to the setup in my rowing single.

The Slider has a similar feel to the Model D on slides though it is smoother and feels substantially lighter than that system, particularly during the recovery phase. When directly comparing it with the DX or RP3 however, it feels heavier and less responsive. Overall, at 10ft in length, it is 2ft shorter than the Model D on slides but it still requires a lot of space to fit in the room. The monitor, while it has most of the basic functions you need, is not as sophisticated as the other performance monitors. It doesn’t store any workouts in memory but does give the final results for you to manually record if necessary. You can display your heart rate by using a plug-in ANT + dongle in the back of the monitor that automatically pairs to your chest belt. The Oartec Slider is now sold exclusively by WaterRower (RI) as the SliderDynamic. Same machine, same price but no longer an Oartec product.

Price: $1,295 USD

Pros:

  • Good rhythm and feel
  • Solid construction
  • Feet closeness adjustment possible (with some DIY work) to a set up similar to a boat

Cons:

  • Only very basic workout monitor
  • Overall footprint still quite large
  • Not the same responsive boat feel as the DX or the RP3.

RP3

Manufactured in Europe and also stocked in the US (Seattle, Washington) by a group affiliated with the original inventor of the dynamic rowing machine and the Rowperfect/RP3, Cas Rekers. This is a rowing machine designed for elite rowers with an excellent software program that gives a lot of technical feedback such as force curve and power. It mimics the feel of rowing in a single scull and is responsive to changes in technique and power. In early 2016 I got a used RP3 and row on it regularly but mainly for technique in the winter or on bad weather days. This machine has perhaps the largest following of any dynamic machine amongst Elite/Olympic-rowers and programs.

The RP3 looks and feels a bit rougher than its competitors. Some like the look and call it “industrial.” The machine is definitely on the louder side of any erg in the market and you feel the sprockets and/or chain when pulling but this is by no means uncomfortable. The software allows me to work on correcting specific elements of my stroke, particularly, the front end “hang” and the leg and hip sequencing. The bend in the rail allows for centering of the seat but one has still to be careful to have a somewhat horizontal setup. I am curious how a less bent or straight rail would perform and if it would allow for even more technical rowing.

Price: approx. $3,200 USD

Pros:

  • Very solid industrial grade construction
  • Proven to be very durable if wiped down after usage
  • Very closely resembles boat-like pick-up and consistent force profile throughout
  • Excellent software on tablet
  • New Croker seat for 2017/18
  • New built-in basic monitor for 2017/18

Cons:

  • Louder flywheel
  • Some roughness likely from the sprocket or chain
  • Tablet requires frequent charging

Rowperfect Indoor Sculler

Somewhat similar design and pricing to RP3 but manufactured in Australia however, with less than satisfactory electronics and little to no service outside of Australia and Western Canada.

Oartec DX

Designed by a former Australian national team rower, released in 2017 and assembled and stocked in the US (Ferndale, Washington) you can tell that a lot of thought has gone into the design of the Oartec DX, even though a hasty look may call it a blend of the strengths of the Slider, RP3 and Concept 2 machines. The DX however has it’s own unique rail system that provides, in my opinion, the smoothest and most stable dynamic set up of them all.

Like the previous Oartec Slider model it is solidly built but has a much smaller overall footprint than the Concept Model D on Slides and the Slider, and in maximum length is only fractionally longer than the stationary Model D. The smaller footprint will see it more easily fit into a home and or into less spacious gyms. The DX is also easy to use and doesn’t have the same annoying occasional consequences of banging back and forth from end to end when you get out of sync technically on the Slider or the Model D on Slides. The DX has a limited travel seat which has a curved base so it is self-centering and but is also free to move during the stroke.

I bought a demo machine after seeing it at the Head of the Charles and have to say that I really like it. The force profile feels initially slightly different from the RP3 in such a way that it does not have the same chain and sprocket friction. It also feels lighter at the pick-up, so the damper needs to be adjusted. However, the pick-up also makes/requires the power application to be a bit more actively controlled throughout the stroke. The product is currently being used by a number of elite and recreational athletes in Australia North America.

Price: $1,895 USD

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality and performance
  • Very smooth, quiet and stable boat-like dynamic movement
  • Self-centring limited seat travel
  • Very comfortable seat
  • Solid construction
  • Compact storability

Cons:

  • Good new monitor but not yet the PM5 (although I heard that some people have already retrofitted the PM5 monitor to the DX)
  • A slightly wider than boat like foot stance (similar to Concept2)

Summary

If I were to rank these machines in order it would be:

  1. Oartec DX and RP3 come out at a tie with the DX winning on smoothness, design, and affordability, while the RP3 wins on the additional software features provided with the tablet application and a proven track record
  2. Oartec Slider/Slider Dynamic
  3. Model D on Slides
  4. C2 Dynamic

Final verdict:

I like both the RP3 and the DX for different reasons. For my regular training I use the DX because it is smoother and quieter than the RP3, but still, use the RP3 for technical feedback sessions using the power curves. I know it’s a luxury to have both but I really rely on erging on the dynamics to get through winter and keep me in touch with my sculling. The Oartec DX and RP3 are both top of the range rowing machines however the price difference being nearly double for the RP3 may make the DX the more obvious choice, particularly if you don’t row on the water and are just using it for training and fitness purposes.

I do strongly recommend that you consider switching from the stationary machine to a dynamic machine. Dynamic rowing machines give the best rowing training feel and have much less impact on your body, particularly the lower back and knees. I firmly believe it is worth the extra investment both for the enjoyment and for the physical conditioning using a safer system.

A very final word for those who think that they have to stick with the stationary machine for testing purposes…please do not! If you are worried then switch back to the stationary machine once a week. FYI, I am not seeing my steady state or peak test scores on a stationary machine drop because I train on a dynamic machine. If at all, I would say it is the other way around.

 

 

 

Author: Passionate Rower

I am a 51-year old master’s rower with more than 40 years of rowing experience including national team appearances what seems (was) ages ago! I still love rowing in the pursued of "the perfect stroke".

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