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Bodycraft VR500 Review: Why You Should Choose It Over Concept2

When we talk about indoor rowers, the first name that comes to mind is Concept2. Undoubtedly, this brand is the platinum standard for rowing machines. But it doesn’t mean it’s the only one out there that’s worth checking out.

We’ve discussed the wooden WaterRowers, which are a huge hit for their exquisite appearance and high-quality craftsmanship. And there is also the Bodycraft VR500 Pro Rowing Machine, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

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Although the Concept2 Model D leads the competition among indoor rowers, BodyCraft (the company) has gone ahead and positioned itself as a “premium among premium” brands. Its top-of-the-line rowing machine is pegged at a much higher price point than both the Model D and the WaterRower Natural.

Is this move justified? Is BodyCraft correct in selling a pricier, less popular product? And lastly, why should people buy the more expensive Bodycraft rower when other, more well-known models offer the same level of quality and durability?

In This Review, You’ll Get…

The questions above are what we’ll tackle in this article. As you go further down, you’ll realize that Bodycraft rowing machines are purposefully designed for users with specific preferences. What those preferences are we’ll talk about in more detail below.

First, and most important of all, we’re going to talk about the resistance type of the VR500. This machine uses a combination of air and magnetic resistance, which is a whole lot different from the air resistance of the Concept2 and the water resistance of the WaterRower.

Ergonomic design details also come into play when you’re selecting a rower. These are important and, for many people, could prove to be deal-breakers. We’ll discuss these things, including seat comfort, rail length, and grip comfort. The performance monitor on this rower is also important. We’ll see how well (or poorly) it matches up to the fancy PM5 on the Concept2.

Lastly, we’ll look at things such as assembly, storage, and maintenance. These can seem like trivial things when you’re trying to understand difficult concepts such as magnetic resistance. However, storing your VR500 and making sure it’s up to snuff and working well all the time are important to pay attention to as well.

If you’re in a hurry and would like to read about a certain aspect of the VR500, check out the Table of Contents below and click on the link that goes to the section you’re interested in.

Bodycraft VR500 Eddy Current Technology

The Bodycraft VR500 uses a combination of air and magnetic resistance to provide intensity. Just like the Concept2 Model D and Model E, it uses an air flywheel to provide resistance. However, unlike the former, the VR500’s flywheel becomes more difficult to spin when the blades slow down.

How do they slow down? They do that thanks to magnetic resistance. The rower has electromagnets attached to the blades that act as a braking system. When this happens, you are forced to use greater effort to keep the flywheel spinning as fast as it used to. That’s how you increase resistance in the VR500.

All this uses what BodyCraft calls eddy currents. This is the same technology used in the braking systems of high-speed trains and rollercoasters. I’m not an electrical engineer, so bear with me while I attempt to explain this concept.

The electromagnets on the flywheel create a magnetic field. When you change the resistance by pressing a button on the rower’s handlebar, the rower generates eddy currents (swirling currents) that interact with the magnetic field. This causes the blades to slow down.

The faster the blades are spinning (meaning the less resistance you use), the stronger the effect of the interaction becomes. So when the flywheel starts to slow down, the braking force also slows down. In practical terms, this leads to a smooth, fluid transition from one resistance level to the next.

Bodycraft VR500 Air and Magnetic Resistance

So what does this all mean for the person who doesn’t have a degree in engineering? The most important lesson here is this: On the Bodycraft VR500, the resistance will always remain the same.

It will not increase when you pull harder nor decrease when you slacken your pace. Your body is always subjected to a consistent level of resistance all throughout your workout, unless you decide to take it up or down a notch. Other rowers, such as the Stamina Avari, have also taken the route of magnetic resistance instead of following in Concept2's footsteps. 

There are 32 levels of resistance on the VR500. To go up and down on those levels, you simply have to press some buttons on the handlebar. This will create the eddy currents that will interact with the magnetic field to slow the flywheel down.

So, is this better than self-regulated resistance? Not necessarily, but it isn’t necessarily worse either. For one thing, the 32 levels of resistance on the VR500 are not really comparable to the resistance of self-regulated machines.

On the latter, you control your resistance in every single stroke. You can go as low as a Level 1 to a Level 60 or Level 600, which both don’t exist on the VR500, though I imagine most people won’t ever need to go beyond a resistance level of 32.

The fixed resistance levels have their advantages, too. Since your body is subjected to the same intensity level all throughout the exercise, you’re not forced to consciously check the resistance all the time. This means there is practically no room for momentum to take over. That tends to happen on a self-regulated rower, but not on the VR500.

This will force you to keep your form and technique in tiptop shape all of the time. On other rowers, you could find that momentum soon gets some of the work done and it’s too easy for you to pull with your arms more than your legs. As we’ve discussed in this article, that’s not a good thing because you want to drive with 60% of your power coming from your legs, where the biggest muscles in the body are.

On the other hand, self-regulated resistance rowers can enhance your mental focus, since you have to constantly remind yourself to drive back with the same intensity and proper form. In this regard, I wouldn’t call one rower better than the other. The VR500 can offer you a similarly grueling full-body workout even though resistance is not the same.

What may be a turn-off for some, though, is that the VR500 is nowhere near mimicking the feel of rowing on real water, despite BodyCraft’s claims of such. Such a consistency of resistance found in the VR500 will never have its counterpart in nature.

But then again, it’s because of the combination of air and magnetic resistance that makes this rower whisper quiet. It’s so silent you practically won’t hear a thing coming from the flywheel. If you like to watch TV, listen to music, or have conversations while exercising, or if you simply live with people who can't be bothered with noise coming from an exercise machine, the VR500 won’t be a hindrance at all.

Bodycraft VR500 Design and Ergonomics

The Bodycraft VR500 has a heavy-duty I-beam monorail that makes it ideal for heavy home use and light commercial use.

The rail itself has 56 inches in length, allowing most people to be able to fully extend their legs on the rowing machine. This translates to a maximum in-seam of 39 inches. This is the average in-seam for people who are 6 ft., 6 in. in height. Unfortunately, if you’re taller than that, there’s no option to buy an extra-long rail for the VR500. 

On top of the rail is the signature seat of the rower. For many fans of BodyCraft, this is what separates the VR500 from the rest. If you’re not a fan of the hard, uncomfortable seats of other rowers – and the ugly blisters and callouses that will inevitably develop in the most horrific places – the VR500 is what you’re looking for.

It has a huge, contoured seat that keeps your butt in place. This prevents it from rubbing up and down or sideways on the seat as you move forward and back during the stroke. The steadiness is what prevents you from getting blisters.

Underneath the seat is a set of heavy-duty roller bearings larger than those on the Concept2. These contribute heavily to the butter-smooth, quiet operation of the VR500, aside from the nylon drive strap that makes no clanging sounds that a metal chain would.

The nylon strap has just enough spring tension to give your hamstrings a lot of work when you’re moving forward at the recovery. Over the drive strap is a lightweight handlebar made of aluminum. The handles are tilted slightly downwards for a more natural wrist position – straight, even at the end of the drive.

The handlebar also houses the remote control for resistance, which lets you change the resistance level even in mid-stroke. When you’re using the rower, keep in mind to always place the handlebar on the handle holder once you stop using it. Letting go of the handles while in mid-air can damage the nylon strap and will very possibly void your warranty as well.

Below the handlebar, you can find the heel rests. These are adjustable with up to six settings, each of them able to accommodate a variety of foot sizes. The foot straps go over the ball of your feet. They have buckles that you can move to adjust the tightness around your feet.

Bodycraft VR500 Durability and Quality

The I-beam monorail of the VR500 is constructed from T13 aluminum. That’s a high-strength aluminum alloy that’s also used in making wheels for different kinds of trailers – from trailers that carry boats to pop-up campers. That sounds like a pretty sturdy material for me. On top of the rail is finish powder coated steel, which adds an extra layer of protection.

The nylon strap is made from industrial-grade webbing, similar to those used in race car driver seat belts and military backpacks. For this particular application, the strap has gone through rigorous testing via pulling with 287 lbs. of stress a million times.

It is because of this that the VR500 can accommodate up to 350 lbs. of maximum user weight. It’s a pretty good limit, but the WaterRower can accommodate up to 700 lbs., making it a better choice for extremely obese people who are looking to start incorporating a low-impact exercise into their lifestyle (with the recommendation of a physician, of course).

Nonetheless, the VR500 is still a viable option for most people, and even those who have mobility issues. If you’re beset with knee problems, for instance, you won’t have qualms about bending down too low to sit on this rower, since the seat is placed 19 inches above the floor. It’s just like sitting on a regular chair. Plus, it’s only an inch lower than the seat of the Concept2 Model E and the HiRise option of the WaterRower, which is available on Amazon here.

Lastly, as if to fully stand behind the quality of this product, BodyCraft offers an immensely good warranty for this rower. If you plan to use it at home, you’ll receive a lifetime warranty for the frame, plus five years on other parts, one year on smaller components and two years for labor. That’s a super warranty you got there, and I’m guessing that’s what you’re paying for with the VR500’s expensive price.

For light commercial use, which means five hours of usage every day, the warranty is 10 years for the frame, two years for other parts, one year for smaller components, and 90 days for labor.

Bodycraft VR500 Performance Monitor

The Bodycraft VR500 performance monitor tracks your workout stats and displays them on a nifty-looking console that thankfully looks like it was made in the age of computers. The LCD display and LED-backlit keys make it look like it is an actual modern gadget. And you can tilt the monitor and its arm for easier viewing.

More important than its looks, though, are functions that are robust enough for most people’s needs. True enough, the Concept2 PM5 will always be the gold standard against which all other monitors will be tested. In this sense, the VR500 cannot match up to its rival, especially if you’re looking for advanced features such as force curve display and online racing.

However, if you’re more of an average Joe or Jane who doesn’t mind not tracking their stats like an Olympic rower and are content with not joining virtual races, the VR500’s performance monitor will more than meet your needs.

Here’s what the monitor can do.

It can track your split time, that is your pace for a certain distance (typically shown in minutes/500 meters), elapsed time, distance in meters, strokes per minute, calories burned, watts (power expended per stroke), and heart rate.

The last one you can only track if you have a separate Polar heart rate monitor, which can be used with an optional telemetry chest strap that you can buy with the machine for an additional price.

If you’re planning to share the rower with other people, such as if you’re looking to buy for the entire family, a big plus on this monitor is its ability to store up to four user profiles. Each profile allows the user to save their own data and design custom workout programs for their fitness levels, separate from the data and programs of the others.

If you’re new to rowing and you’re not up to creating your own workout programs yet, you can take advantage of the 12 program profiles that are preset in the monitor. There are four race programs, two interval programs, and four programs where you strive to keep your heart rate at a certain level. You can work at 55%, 75%, 90%, and at a custom level. The other two profiles are a custom program and a manual program.

Bodycraft VR500 Assembly

The nice thing about indoor rowers is that they’re pretty simple to assemble. They don’t require a lot of guesswork and elbow grease to put them together. Thankfully, the VR500 is a rower, and you won’t take forever to set up.

However, you’ll need a good amount of space to lay those huge parts on and attach them to one another. BodyCraft recommends a workspace of at least 6.5 ft. by 8.5 ft. to provide room for the unassembled machine, although the shipping box itself is relatively slim and light at 71.5 in. x 30 in. x 10 in. and 116 lbs.

You’d be surprised at the components of the box. Inside is the main frame (comprising the air and magnetic resistance system, center leg, and drive strap) already pre-assembled. What you’ll need to do is attach the front leg, the aluminum monorail (with the seat), and the foot rests. Once the VR500 is fully assembled, it will take up considerable room, specifically 98.5 in. x 38.5 in. x 20 in. of space.

Be careful not to throw the boxes away right away. You’ll need them as a protective platform when you’re putting the parts together. It’s also a good idea not to remove the component packaging while you’re still attaching the parts to one another. This protects them from scuffs and cracks if they fall unexpectedly.

One last tip before you assemble the VR500. Do not overtighten the nuts and bolts, or else you could damage your brand new machine. You’d do well to keep them slightly loose until all parts are properly aligned. Once everything is in place, tighten the screws firmly but not excessively.

Bodycraft VR500 Storage and Maintenance

Storing the VR500 is a bit unwieldy compared to the WaterRower, which only requires that you pull the equipment upright and roll it into place.

That said, storage is simple enough. You’ll need to remove the safety pin first so you can fold the machine into two. Once the pin is removed, you’ll need someone else to press down the lever with their foot while you lift the monorail into a vertical position. Check out the video above to see exactly how it's done. 

Once the machine is folded, reinsert the safety pin to make sure children won’t go about messing with the rower. If you would like to move the machine somewhere else, such as in a storage cabinet, for instance, the front legs have wheels on them so you can easily roll it into place.

Fortunately, the VR500 is extremely low-maintenance. You’ll need to do little keeping it clean and in good working condition. The only thing you really need to do is wipe the seat rollers and aluminum beam after every use. These parts are the most susceptible to damage, since they’re most exposed to your sweat, dust, and dirt.

Other than that, you only need to periodically check the nylon strap for signs of wear and tear (nicks, cuts, frays, etc.) and make sure the nuts and bolts are screwed firmly into place.

The Verdict

bodycraft vr500 review

Image: BodyCraft

In many ways, the Bodycraft VR500 is an excellent rowing machine for the home. Its biggest advantage is the excellent quality and overall durability of the machine that is backed up by a lifetime warranty on the frame. None of its competitors can top that.

You’ll especially sing praises for the huge, contoured seat that offers superior comfort compared to the un-padded seat of other rowers. Plus, the unchanging resistance level leaves virtually zero room for momentum to take over, thus forcing you to use the same amount of effort for every stroke.

Admittedly, there are a few weaknesses. The performance monitor is a bit lacking, especially for the price of the rower. However, since almost everyone who buys a rowing machine will not really need the bells and whistles of the Concept2 monitor, the VR500 console is more than adequate for most people’s needs.

The footprint is also large. It’s slightly larger than both the Concept2 and the WaterRower. Even when folded, the VR500 takes up a good amount of space. If you live in a small apartment, you might want to look at other options. Other than that, there’s really nothing that can go wrong with a VR500.

Although it doesn’t feel like rowing on real water, this machine is, for all intents and purposes, an excellent indoor rowing machine that can give you all the health and fitness benefits you can get from exercising with it.

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