The BodyCraft VR500 is the top of the four model range from this brand who also bring you some pretty impressive gym equipment. Unfortunately, we weren't too keen on their entry-level model, the VR100 (now hard to find anyway), but the VR500 is top-dog for a reason - it's a great rowing machine!
But it has to be at this price - around $1,500! This puts it in direct competition with the long-established market leader, the Concept2 Model E, and even up there among the commercial machines from the top brands First Degree - see below. In fact, the VR500 is several hundred dollars more than a number of rowers in the commercial/ top-end home market.
So what do you get for your money? Does it deserve the 'commercial' tag? In short, a lot and yes :0)
So let's get onto the nuts and bolts. Firstly, the rowing position is great. The high seat at 19" certainly gives it the feel of a gym-quality machine, and the smooth action of the seat up and down the beam makes it a pleasure to row. The seat at first look doesn't look as if it will be comfortable, but looks can be deceptive and it's actually a very well-designed seat.
The build-quality is excellent and you get the impression this is a machine that will go on for years. The maximum user weight of 350 pounds, and the generous warranty period, back up the makers faith in the lasting power of this model.
The VR500 uses a combination of air and magnets to provide the resistance. This combo gives the advantage of air - a realistic rowing feel of increasing resistance as you pull harder, with the functionality of a magnetic mechanism, that is, the ability for the computer to change the level of resistance - very useful for heart rate programs (see below).
Other innovative features include the buttons on the handle (see photo on the right) to change the resistance level. While 'remote' controls are common on treadmills, this is the first time we've come across this feature on a rowing machine. You still have to adjust your grip to use the buttons, but at least you don't have to stop mid-workout if you feel like pushing yourself harder, or letting up if you're getting tired. Of course, many rowers have this sort of function with pre-set programs that control resistance - but this has the added advantage of doing it during any session.
But beware, the VR500 is a monster - it's huge and heavy, and takes up an awful lot of space. This is great if you're tall or on the large side - it will suit anyone up to 6' 6" and support a user up to 350 lbs. One of our reviewers has a 37" inseam and still has room to spare at the end of the stroke! But if you're short on room in your home you'll need to think twice. Be sure to check out the footprint dimensions below. To date, at 99" long, this is the second longest rowing machine we've tried after the jaw-dropping 105" long BH FItness LK580.
But note, the chest strap to measure your heart rate is not included - seems a but disappointing that it couldn't be included when you look at the prices.
There's also the option of goal programs where you can set time and distance targets and row your butt off to achieve it :0) While it may look a little complicated it's actually quite easy to use with it's one-touch buttons and selectors.
The BodyCraft VR500 has some great features and innovations. It has that distinctive feel of a commercial rower and is a solid machine that will give you very challenging workouts, but is also suitable for a beginner who is serious about getting fit with a rower. The great selection of pre-set programs will help to prevent boredom with its variation. Our only beef is the price - perhaps at a few hundred dollars less it would be a very difficult model to beat.
But don't let this put you off - for the current price you get a fantastic machine that would easily get the whole family fit. The last time we checked it was going for $1,599 on Amazon, but it does change on a regular basis.