The BodyCraft VR500 Commercial Pro Rowing Machine is the top-of-the-line model in a series that also features the highly rated VR100 and VR400, but how does it measure up to designs like the Concept2 and WaterRower?
In this review we’re going to be making some important comparisons between these three rowing machines, as well as taking a closer look at the design features, console functions, workout programs, and assembly process.
Ergonomic design features
One of the most striking features of the VR500’s design is the Heavy Duty I-Beam Mono-Rail, which has been specifically designed with stability and ease-of-use in mind.
Raised 19 inches off the ground, this makes it much easier to get on and off the machine. As well as being a major advantage if you have any issues with mobility, it’s also well suited to anyone looking for a more natural seated position when rowing.
The seat itself is larger than the ones found on most home rowing machines, due in part to its commercial style and focus on comfortable ergonomic design. Contours in the padding also help to prevent any unwanted movement when gliding along the rail on top of the heavy duty roller bearings.
Moving on to the handle, and if you’re going to be doing any amount of distance training, or rowing on a regular basis, then a handle that’s comfortable to grip and doesn’t twist in your hands is a must-have.
38 inches of seat travel is enough to support user heights up to 6’6″
The Correct Comfort Grip Aluminum Handlebar is easy to hold onto during high intensity workouts, while at the same time providing you with built-in controls for adjusting the resistance to any one of the 30 preset levels.
When you combine the Premium Nylon Belt with a system that utilises both air and eddy current magnetic resistance, as has been done with the VR500, the result is an incredibly smooth rowing stroke and very little noise. This is ideal for anyone that likes to listen to music or watch TV while they workout.
One final design feature worth mentioning before we look at the display console is the foot straps. The deluxe adjustable heel rests and straps can be quickly adapted to provide a comfortable yet secure grip for all shoe sizes.
BodyCraft VR500 – Features Summary
- Easy to Read Black Mask LCD w/LED Backlit Display and Keys.
- Electronically Controlled Air and Eddy Current Magnetic Resistance.
- Ergonomically Correct Comfort Grip Aluminum Handlebar with Remote Resistance Controls.
- Deluxe Adjustable Heel Rest with Quick Adjust Foot Straps.
- Easy Fold and Roll System. Heavy Duty I-Beam Mono-Rail made with High Strength T13 Aluminum.
- Built-in Programs: 12
- Heart Rate Monitor
Folding and transport
Taking the length of the monorail into account, rowing machines are probably ranked as the longest pieces of fitness equipment available. So unless you have ample space to permanently allocate to a new machine, you’re probably going to want a folding design.
For the VR500 this means lifting the center leg and rotating a lever that’s positioned near the front of the machine for several rotations until the main rail can be moved freely. It can then be lifted into the vertical position and locked into place.
While the space it saves is certainly useful (length reduced from 98.5″ to 58.5″), the user manual itself describes this as a two person job, which isn’t always practical if you’re going to be working out alone at home most of the time.
If you have someone else to assist you or are happy to lift the rail yourself then it’s probably not a big deal, but certainly seems a little more complex than the simple lift that’s required for the WaterRower (which also has one of the smallest folded footprints we’ve seen at 22″D x 22″W).
Lowering the rail isn’t as much of an issue, and there are transport wheels attached to the front stabilizer if you do need to move it around once assembled.
Display console design
Despite being a fairly common feature amongst high-end ellipticals, recumbent bikes, and treadmills, user profiles are a surprisingly rare feature for a rowing machine.
The VR500 has four of these profiles to choose from, making it ideal for family environments, and giving you the option to store basic information that will increase the accuracy of the heart rate and calories burned feedback.
Although you can’t view force curves and some of the more technical rowing data that you can with the Concept2 PM4/PM5 and the WaterRower Series 4, the console does provide feedback for a number of useful metrics. This includes your time, distance, calories burned, strokes per minute, watts, and current resistance level.
The adjustable monitor arm and backlit display combine to make the information displayed on the widescreen monitor much easier to read, even in low light conditions.
Preset workout programs
The workout programs is another of the reasons we like the VR500, as it marks a considerable improvement over their earlier VR100 model, but also offers greater variety than most other machines in this price range.
Not only can you choose from goal setting programs, where you work towards a target duration, watts level, or distance, but you can also choose from 12 preset training profiles designed to help you achieve specific fitness goals.
These include 4 race programs where you row against a virtual competitor, 4 heart rate control, 2 interval, 1 custom, and the manual program.
The four Heart Rate Control (HRC) programs are designed to keep you working at different intensity levels, with 55%, 75%, 90% and custom being the options available.
A fitness test in the form of a Recovery program is also available when using a telemetry chest strap to transmit your heart rate. At the end of your workout, this can be used to measure how quickly your heart rate returns to normal after strenuous exercise. A score will then be assigned which can be used as a way of measuring how much your fitness improves over time.
The Bodycraft VR500 was recently rated the top rowing machine over $1500, featuring alongside the WaterRower Natural and Concept2 in their own respective price categories.
That’s why we thought it would be useful to provide some comparisons between the VR500 and these two machines, to find useful insights such as which rower has the best warranty and which has the best technical analysis of rowing performance.
Compared to the Concept2
Monorail length is something that should be thought of in a similar way to how running area length can influence the suitability of a treadmill to different user heights.
Unless you find a rowing machine with a monorail long enough to support full leg extension, then you will struggle to find an effective, natural rowing stroke.
The Concept2 is perhaps better suited to very tall users, as its monorail length is an impressive 54 inches, supporting an inseam of 38 inches. There’s even an extra-long version available if you contact Concept2 directly.
Looking at the monorail on the Bodycraft VR500, although it can support a slightly longer inseam length than the Concept2, you don’t have that extra-long rail in reserve. In terms of how this equates to user height, a 38″ inseam roughly equates to 6’6″ user height. Provided you are less than 6’6″ tall, then both models will be suitable. Any taller and we would recommend giving Concept2 a call and checking the availability of the extra-long monorail.
Warranty coverage is another area where the two machines differ. Whereas the Concept2 Model D and Model E rowers are available with 5 years on frame parts and 2 years on all other parts, the VR500 actually has a residential warranty that’s lifetime on the frame and 5 years on parts.
One final comparison we wanted to make was between the consoles and related software. Unfortunately it feels like a similar situation to the WaterRower, where the VR500 doesn’t quite live up to the features and feedback available on the Concept2 PM4 and PM5 consoles.
Although the BodyCraft model does an excellent job of providing clear feedback and offering a good variation of preset and goal setting workout programs, you don’t have the same advanced metrics as the Conceppt2 models can provide. Feedback such as split times and force curve profiles, and their online logbook for tracking workout performance.
Compared to the WaterRower
There are many different types of WaterRower which makes it difficult to know which model makes the best comparison.
On the one hand, you have the high rail height which makes it easier to get on and off the machine. On WaterRower’s M1 HiRise this measures 20 inches, compared to a 19 inch height for the VR500.
In terms of how easily you can adjust the resistance, there are few machines that can beat the VR500, purely because it uses a combination of magnetic and air resistance. With controls built into the handle, this means resistance can be adjusted mid-stroke with no change to your pace.
The next feature we wanted to compare was the console. With the WaterRower models you have their Series4, which offers a wide variety of feedback such as split time distances (500m and 2km) and advanced heart rate analysis. You can also set goal workouts based on either a target duration or target distance, setup an interval workout, and configure a target zone for stroke rate, heart rate, or intensity.
In comparison, the Bodycraft VR100 doesn’t offer quite the same number of feedback metrics, but does have a slightly wider variety of preset workout programs. Visibility in low light is slightly better on the Bodycraft VR500 console due to the backlit display and Easy Tilt adjustable monitor arm for better positioning.
So in summary, the VR500 is slightly better on the number of preset workouts and screen visibility, but the WaterRower provides more advanced feedback and the option to race against competitors using their online software.
Ease of assembly / Maintenance required
One of the great benefits of rowing machines is that, when it comes down to it, their frames are all fairly simple to put together. Certainly when compared to an elliptical trainer, you don’t have to worry about moving arms, ramp assemblies, adjustable stride lengths, or heavy base frames.
The Bodycraft VR500 also arrives with the center leg, air magnetic resistance system, and drive strap already assembled, making it much easier to complete the remaining steps without assistance.
Being able to setup a new fitness machine without needing to call customer service or resort to premium assembly services is important for many people, which is something Bodycraft have taken into account when writing the user manual.
Many of the steps at the start make good use of the box as a supportive platform while you attach the base stabilizer to the main frame.
Once this is done, the even weight distribution means the rower can stand upright unassisted, allowing you to build and attach the seat, seat carriage, and foot pedals.
Aside from some last minute adjustments like the foot straps, heel rests, and angle of the console bracket, that’s really all that’s required.
With a lighter frame weight than the WaterRower and less assembly and monitor configuration needed compared to the Concept2, the total assembly time is slightly shorter.
From unpacking all the parts to starting your first workout shouldn’t take much longer than 25 minutes.
Although the BodyCraft rowing machines don’t tend to have the same quantity of reviews as the WaterRower or Concept2 models, there’s still no shortage of 5 star ratings.
Also, the customer reviews that we did find for the VR500 were extremely thorough in their analysis of its features, and a certainly another useful source of information we would recommend reading.
If you don’t have time to search around the various ecommerce sites trying to aggregate all the reviews into a unique selection of pros and cons don’t worry, we’ve done it all for you with the lists below.
- Seat rail is long enough to support legs fully extended to a 36″+ inseam
- Compatible with Polar heart rate chest belts
- Resistance levels can be changed directly via buttons on the handle, similar to high-end elliptical trainers
- Uses a combination of air and magnetic resistance
- Folds to a more compact footprint
- Quicker to make adjustments to resistance mid-workout compared to models that rely on dampers or fan adjustment
- Higher seat than most rowers and comparable to the HiRise designs from WaterRower
- Large, comfortable seat
- Magnetic resistance reduces the noise made by the rowing stroke
- Excellent customer service
- Challenging resistance settings make it suitable for all fitness levels
- Not as much technical feedback displayed on the console compared to the Concept2 and WaterRower
- Not as widely reviewed as the models mentioned above
- At 101 lbs, it’s heavier than the WaterRower Natural* (66.5 lbs) and Concept2 Model D (57 lb), yet has a lower maximum weight capacity (350 lbs compared to 500 lbs for Concept2 and 1000 lbs for WaterRower)
* 66.5 lbs is the weight of the WaterRower Natural with an empty tank. Depending on the amount of water you use, this could increase the weight of the rower up to 103.5 lbs, which is actually higher than the Bodycraft VR500
What’s covered by the warranty?
- Residential Warranty: Lifetime Frame, 5 years parts, 1 year wear items, 2 years labor
- Light Commercial warranty: 10 years frame, 2 years parts, 1 year wear items, 90 days labor. This is based on 5 hours or less of daily use.
As with most fitness equipment companies, the Bodycraft VR500 Pro Warranty only applies if you are the original owner. If you decide to look for a used model online, then you won’t be covered.