It's the question many of us ask when buying something new - do you spend big or go for the cheap option? If you've already started your search for a rowing machine, you'll have noticed the huge price range. You can pay anything from around $80 to well over $2,000 - that's some gap!
So what do you get for $80? Well let's be honest here - not a lot. And I'm sure you wouldn't expect much for spending so little. The odd rower in this price bracket isn't really what we'd call a rowing machine - more a contraption that will let you do an activity that loosely resembles rowing that may help you get fit, but only if you're doing other forms of exercise. So we don't really class this sort of equipment as a 'rowing machine' as such.
Of course you could go for a used model and get a bargain for around $150 - $200. But the disadvantage is that you rarely know the history of what you're buying - it could have been slammed at a gym - and you won't benefit from the warranty. You can read more about buying a used rower here. On this page we'll focus on the budget end of the market.
What counts as a budget rower?
While there's no specific category, we think anything under $350 is a budget rowing machine. Once you start to pay more than this, then we think you#re entitled to expect a little more.... and then more still from your machine as the price rises. However, as you can see from our reviews, paying more doesn't always guarantee quality.
Things to consider before you pay less:-
If you're planning to use a rowing machine more than 4 times a week, or you and your partner/ or family members of friends will also use it, or you see rowing as a way of life - you really should NOT go for anything at the bottom end. It will let you down within a few months if the feedback from the people we know is anything to go by.
Yet, a budget model is worth it if you only see yourself using it for 3 times a week for around 20 minutes at a time. With less use, a budget model can often last for several years before parts start to fail. But note, most budget models use hydraulic pistons (see types of rowers here), and these can often start to leak with age. They can be replaced, but once you start to pay to replace parts, you start to lose the benefit of going budget in the first instance. You can read more on maintenance here.
If you've never tried a rower before, an entry-level model is a good idea as it lets you get used to rowing. If you enjoy it and see the benefits, you may eventually decide to spend more and upgrade to get something that will last for years.
One key factor in spending low is reliability. Many of the users we speak too complain about breakdowns or parts failing after six months or more. While many manufacturers are quick to send replacements (always check the conditions of the warranty), others can be very slow and suddenly you find you're unable to row for weeks on end as you wait for the parts.
This is rarely a problem with the higher-priced models, as
This leads us onto the warranty periods. On budget models you'll usually see anything from 3 months up to one year mentioned. However, the headline longest period mentioned will usually only refer to the frame - something that should last for many years. Check the parts section and often it's only 3 to 6 months. These include everything else on the machine such as the pedals, chain or belt, pistons, fans and rollers under the seat. It's these parts that take all the strain of regular use and will break or wear down quicker.
When you spend more, you'll start to see 3 years on parts and even 5 or a lifetime on the frame. The parts are made of more durable materials and the design is superior - that's why you pay more!
One other consideration is the extra features and functions you get when you pay more. The displays and control panels are better and will usually have pre-set programs such as time trials, heart rate programs etc that are great for keeping you motivated. Some also have the race boat programs that let you race a little boat on your display!
If your machine has none of these, are you more likely to get bored? If you like technical stuff and gadgets you'll like the features on the higher end models - many allow you to download your workout data to a PC so you can see your progress. Of course you can always do this for yourself, but many prefer the convenience that the functions of top models provide.
So the final decision!
Think about why you're buying a rowing machine. If you really want to get fit, lose weight, take up a new interest, or you're recovering from an illness/ injury, you're most likely to need to spend above $500 in our view. If you get several years of benefits and enjoyment it works out at less than a dollar a day!
If you're looking for something to complement another form of exercise for just a few sessions a week, then hey - a budget rower is probably all you need.
Good luck with your rower!
Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.