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WaterRower Oxbridge Review: Beautiful, Durable, And All That

Image: WaterRower

Have you seen “House of Cards” lately? If you have, you might have been intrigued by the exercise machine that Frank Underwood had been venting out his frustrations on when his political schemes didn’t turn out as planned.

The WaterRower Oxbridge may have been around for quite a while now, but this beautiful piece of exercise equipment has gained a rise in popularity thanks to Netflix’s award-winning political drama.

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Kevin Spacey playing the duplicitous representative from South Carolina has become the world’s most popular rower, and has encouraged the rise of a new generation of rowing enthusiasts who are only starting to realize the benefits of exercising on the ergometer (that’s another name for indoor rower).

If Mr. Spacey had you sold, then you’re probably here because you’re seriously considering a WaterRower Oxbridge for your home. You’ve come to the right place.

In this review, we’re going to take the most comprehensive look at this rowing machine to help you understand if you’ll get your money’s worth with it. The WaterRower Oxbridge is no cheap piece of equipment, so it’s important that you know exactly what you’re getting before you take out some cash.

First, we’re going to look at cherry wood, the material that’s used to build the rowing machine, and whether it is a durable wood for an exercise machine. We’re also going to discuss resistance on the WaterRower Oxbridge and how to adjust intensity levels. At the end of this review, you’ll hopefully gain more understanding about the common myths and misconceptions about water resistance.

We will also talk about design elements and ergonomic details. For instance, is the seat strong, sturdy, and comfortable? Does it glide smoothly enough, and does it glide on a flat rail or an inclined rail? Are the handles and footpads comfortable enough? You’ll find that, often, these are the questions whose answers you need to know to make or break a deal.

Lastly, we’re also going to discuss your buying options and the best places to find great deals and discounts on the WaterRower Oxbridge. It’s not a product that most people can buy at a whim, so it’s always best if you can find good discounts for this machine.

If you’re in a hurry, the best place to buy the WaterRower Oxbridge is on Amazon. Amazon provides amazing prices on this rowing machine, as well as on the other WaterRower models.

If you’d like to skip ahead to the more specific sections of this review, you can also check out the Table of Contents below and click the link to the particular part that you are interested in. Otherwise, let’s go ahead full steam with this review.

WaterRower Oxbridge in Cherry Wood

The WaterRower Oxbridge is one of WaterRower’s designer wood models. In most aspects, it is essentially similar to the WaterRower Natural and the WaterRower Club. The main difference, however, is that the WaterRower Oxbridge is made from the premium hardwood cherry wood.

Cherry wood is most distinguished by its color, which ranges from a deep red to rich brown with reddish hints. If left alone in a sunlit area, the wood will develop a dark red patina over time, a characteristic that makes it more expensive than other types of wood. The grains are extremely fine and straight, giving it a smooth, silky texture that adds to the luxury of this wood.

WaterRower also chose cherry wood for this model because of its ability to absorb noise and vibration. Wood, especially cherry wood, is far more able to absorb all kinds of sounds and vibrations than metal ever will be. It is also pliable and flexible, making it easy to work with, yet highly resistant to fungi and insects, so you can be sure that your WaterRower Oxbridge will last a good, long time.

On top of the wood are three coats of Danish oil, a wood finish that gives the machine a natural, light sheen. The finish also gives an extra layer of protection, making the rower resistant against dirt and water, yet allowing it to “breathe” to prevent the growth of mold inside.

But don’t take our word for it. If you take a quick look at some Craigslist listings, you’ll find some secondhand WaterRowers being sold by owners who had them since the 1990s! If taken care of really well, a brand new WaterRower Oxbridge will surely last for years and even decades to come.

The level of quality is not that surprising, really. The WaterRower Oxbridge and all other WaterRower models are some of the very few exercise machines sourced and manufactured in the United States. The cherry wood is harvested from sustainable forests in the Appalachian region, which is really nice to know that the company isn’t taking down forests just to make money off them.

And the machines themselves are hand-built and crafted by people who have been doing it for many years in WaterRower’s facilities in Warren, a small river-side town in Rhode Island.

The durability of the material, coupled with the exacting eye for detail of the machine’s hand-crafters, gives the WaterRower Oxbridge maximum strength to carry up to 700 lbs. in user weight. It’s the strongest indoor rower we’ve seen. Even the Concept2 Model D can only carry up to 500 lbs. (350 lbs. in other circles, so be careful when you’re around that weight and shopping around for a rower).

WaterRower Oxbridge Water Resistance

Image: WaterRower

Like all of the models in the WaterRower line, the WaterRower Oxbridge uses water resistance to increase or decrease the difficulty level of your exercise. The water is enclosed in a polycarbonate clamshell tank to provide you smooth, quiet, self-regulated resistance.

We say self-regulated because you set your own resistance with your own power. There are no levers to pull or settings to adjust on this rowing machine. Contrary to popular belief (there are many believers on Amazon), you can’t change the resistance levels by changing the water levels.

Instead, you simply increase or decrease resistance by increasing or decreasing your own power. It’s similar to rowing in real water. When you row harder and faster, resistance increases. And when you slacken your pace and row slower, resistance decreases.

The resistance comes from the inertia of the water as you pull the handle and move the blades. The more force you exert, the faster the water moves around the spinning paddles, and the higher the intensity becomes.

Now, as for the common but nonetheless inaccurate piece of knowledge that you can change resistance by filling or draining the water tank… it’s simply not true. You can’t change the levels of intensity by changing the levels of water. Besides, it would have been extremely inconvenient for you to be pumping water in and out of the tank every time another user with a different fitness level uses the WaterRower Oxbridge.

Water level doesn’t indicate resistance level. What it does indicate, however, is what would have been the weight of your boat and crew had you been rowing on a boat in the great outdoors.

If the water level is low, it’s just like you’re rowing on a narrow racing shell. It’s sleek, narrow, and will require you to make a lot of easy strokes to move the boat forward. If water level is high, it’s like you’re rowing a huge, bulky barge. It’s heavy, massive, and if you want to move it forward, you’ll need all the power you can recruit from your muscles (and perhaps from the muscles of your crew).

One common mistake we find beginners making is filling their WaterRower tanks up to the maximum level of 19 liters. They think they can get the best workout from that. What most people don’t know is rowing with the highest water level (similar to rowing on the highest damper setting for the Concept2 rowers) will stress out your muscles too early into your workout. And when that happens, you get tired too soon that you don’t even get to enjoy the cardio benefits of indoor rowing anymore.

When filling you water tank, be sure not to go over level 19. It’s not good for your muscles, and it’s not good for the tank as well. Experts recommend that you start at a low level of of 15 to 17 liters, and then work your way up to 19 liters once you feel your muscles get stronger.

If you still don’t feel any resistance, the problem could be more with your technique than anything else. Even long-time exercisers who are new to rowing may think they’re not getting enough of a workout from the WaterRower Oxbridge, only to find out later they’ve been doing it wrong.

One of the major components of the exercise is your leg work. Your legs have the biggest muscles in your body and must provide 60% of power during the drive to help you feel like you’re actually working instead of just sitting there. The remaining 40% of power are recruited from the core and arms, which share the load equally.

You might want to check your drive-to-recovery ratio as well. The ideal is a ratio of 1:2, meaning your recovery takes two times as much time as your drive. This allows you to drive back with as much power from your legs, while giving you more time to rest at the recovery. (You know it’s called recovery when it gives you time to actually, um, recover.)

Lastly, stay in touch with your split time. On the WaterRower’s S4 monitor, this is called intensity and is shown in minutes/500 meters. If your split time is low, it means you’re rowing a distance of 500 meters at less time. You’re working more since you’re overcoming more drag as you go. And the more work you do, the faster you row. And the faster you row, the lower your split time goes.

WaterRower Oxbridge Comfort and Ergonomics

Image: WaterRower

The seat of the WaterRower sits on top of the flat, wooden dual rails, which are better on the knees. Some rowers have inclined rails, like the Stamina Avari. This gives the legs an even more taxing workout than a flat-rail rower, but it can be too much on the knees for older people or people with injuries. 

The rails are lengthy enough for most people. To check if your legs are going to comfortably fit on the rails, measure the length of your legs from the crotch of your pants to your feet. This is called the inseam measurement and it should be no more than 37 inches for you to fit on the WaterRower Oxbridge. If your inseam is longer, WaterRower offers an XL rail accessory, which gives you an extra 4 inches to work with.

On top of the rails is the sturdy, stable seat, which has four ball bearings, so you don’t feel any wobbling as it moves along the plastic-covered rails smoothly and quietly. The seat is also padded for protection, certainly more comfortable for your tush than the hard seat of the Concept2. If you’re still having problems with seat comfort, however, WaterRower offers a seat pad designed especially for its indoor rowers.

One possible issue you may have to contend with, however, is that the seat on the WaterRower Oxbridge is slightly tilted backwards. This means, it will be easier for you to hinge from the hips at the release, but you will have to do a little bit more work when you pivot forward at the recovery and the catch.

Now, while this won’t be an issue with most people, you’ll have to pay close attention if you have lower back problems, or if you’re prone to having them. The slight backward tilt of the seat could put too much pressure on your lower back, making it too hard for you just to stay upright.

Also, the low placement of the seat could be another source of problems for people with mobility issues. The low center of gravity does contribute to the rower’s stability, but because the rail is just a foot off the floor, people with bad knees, for instance, or people on wheelchairs, will have a hard time getting on and off the rower.

If that’s not going to derail you from buying a WaterRower Oxbridge, however, you might want to consider the HiRise attachment. It’s a leg extender that raises that seat of the rower by 8 inches, bumping the height up to 20 inches. This is around the same height as a regular chair, eliminating possible mobility problems.

WaterRower Oxbridge Design

One thing that has always proven to be a winner is the high-strength nylon strap of the WaterRower. Unlike the Concept2, which uses a nickel-plated metal chain, the WaterRower produces a smooth and quiet pull thanks to its nylon strap.

Some users have reported noticing a little bit of slip in the strap, but only when you pull very, very slowly. That means it’s not very likely that you’re ever going to be bothered by this slight slip in the strap, since you’ll want to be pulling harder to get a good level of exercise. The strap is connected to a pair of oblong-shaped handles covered in soft-touch material that encourages a good, loose grip and prevent blisters.

The nylon strap also contributes to the overall quietness of the machine. Since there are no metal chains sawing loudly over metal cogs, you're free to relax and enjoy the Zen-like experience of hearing nothing else but the meditative sounds of water splashing inside the tank.

If you’re not a fan of New Age-y concepts like that, though, you can always watch TV or listen to a podcast or music on your smartphone while you exercise on the WaterRower Oxbridge.

The lack of noise it makes definitely makes it one of the best indoor rowers for the home. It also has a small footprint, requiring around only 7 ft. x 2 ft. of space when in use. Mr. Underwood’s rowing machine is especially a great choice if you live in an apartment and wouldn’t like to bother your neighbors with the sound of you exercising, or if you live with someone who doesn’t tolerate a lot of noise.

However, one thing we think WaterRower needs to pay attention to is the foot strap system of its rowing machine. All in all, the footboard seems sturdy enough to last as long as the rest of the frame, but it doesn’t provide the same amount of comfort and the same luxury feeling as the rest of the machine.

The foot rests feel a bit cheap and plasticky, and you'll do well to wear shoes  while you row. Rowing barefoot isn’t an option here, unless you want to develop ugly blisters on your heels since they’ll be rubbing up against the hard heel rests. Thankfully, it’s much easier to adjust the foot rests to the size of your feet. There’s a button you push that allows you to move the heel rests up and down until you’re comfortable where they are.

One more thing about the footboard. The footrests are placed close to each other. It’s not going to be an issue for most people, but we could imagine a few people trying to row with slightly bowlegged knees on the WaterRower and banging their knees against each other. You do have different options if you want wider foot rests, but the WaterRower Oxbridge won’t probably be one of them.

WaterRower Oxbridge S4 Monitor

Some find the S4 Monitor on the WaterRower Oxbridge quite a deal-breaker. There are really no advanced features such as force curve display or Bluetooth connectivity to lure the high-tech, top-performing athlete crowd around the WaterRower.

However, most people do find the S4 Monitor as more than adequate for their needs. The mounted rowing computer measures all the most important metrics, including your speed (or, more accurately, split time), number of strokes per minute, total distance rowed, total time rowed, and an option to measure your heart rate.

If you would like to take advantage of this last feature, you’ll need to have your own wireless heart rate monitoring system with a chest strap. You can check out the various options on Amazon for that. WaterRower sells its own heart rate monitors: one which uses Polar and another which uses the more advanced technology ANT+. (Your heart rate monitor will have to be compatible with either Polar or ANT+ so you can use it with the WaterRower Oxbridge).

Take note that the S4 monitor doesn’t count your calories. It does have an average Kcal display, but that is different from your number of calories burned. You can take the average Kcal number and convert it to total calories using an online calculator, or you can simply forget about it, since, as we discussed in this article, the calorie count doesn’t matter very much anyway.

One nice thing about the S4 monitor is the Zone Bar, a feature that allows you to keep track of whether you are in a certain Zone of intensity or not. For example, you can program the Zone Bar to keep you at a target heart rate of 70% your resting rate. The Zone Bar will monitor your heart rate measurements to ensure that you’re within that desired intensity. It also works with other settings, including split time and stroke rate.

The S4 monitor also allows you to do duration workouts, distance workouts, and even interval workouts. You can set the desired duration or distance you want to row, and the monitor will let you know when you’re done. There are no pre-programmed workouts on the S4 monitor, which could be a setback if you’re just starting out and have no idea what to do during your workouts. Once you’re a little well-versed and you have a few favorite workouts up your sleeve, you can program nine of them into the monitor.

Another possible problem is the lack of room for individual user profiles. This means you only get to save one profile on the S4 monitor, which is unacceptable for families sharing a rowing machine.

You can transfer your rowing stats to your PC or Mac, though, but you’ll still have to sort them out by user if there are more than one of you using the machine. The WaterRower Oxbridge comes with a USB cable so you can connect the monitor to a computer. After that, transferring becomes quite a breeze.

It should be here that we mention that this is where the S4 monitor ends in terms of connectivity. There are zero options if you want wireless transmission of your data, or if you want the monitor to sync with an app on your smartphone. We imagine it will be a long time before WaterRower starts making its monitor compatible with fitness bands such as the Fitbit Blaze or the Apple Watch (You can check them out on Amazon here and here).

But people who use fitness trackers are still few and far between, and most people are not really obsessed about getting hold of their exercise stats down to the last decimal. For most people, the goal is to get a whopping good cardio and strength workout, and that’s what you’re going to get from the WaterRower Oxbridge.

Some other minor details we decided to nitpick about. The screen doesn’t have a backlight. What electronic gadget with a screen doesn’t have a backlight in this day and age? Well, the S4 monitor, apparently. But, again, this is like the fitness band issue, which is, at this stage, essentially a non-issue for most people.

Lastly, if you’re looking about for a good racing software, there aren’t a lot of options right now. WaterRower is developing its own software called We-Row, which it promises to provide training with real-time stats and online races with other users. It is also working on WaterCoach F.I.T., which is in beta right now. If you don’t mind testing out laggy, buggy virtual racing software, you can check out WaterCoach F.I.T. and sign up to become a tester.

So far, the best racing software we’ve found for the WaterRower Oxbridge is Netathlon. Netathlon is a third-party software that provides pretty graphics and allows you to join races with other people. You can also compete against yourself, if that’s your kind of thing. The biggest downside to Netathlon is that it costs another $270, which goes on top of your WaterRower purchase.

WaterRower Oxbridge Assembly

Unlike other types of exercise equipment, the WaterRower Oxbridge is pretty easy to assemble. Even people with little experience putting together machines will have a fairly easy time assembling this exercise machine. If you’ve ever assembled furniture from Ikea before, you’ll go through this in a breeze. All of the major components are pre-drilled and pre-assembled. You only need to put them together and fill the tank with water.

The WaterRower Oxbridge ships in two boxes, both totaling in 86 lbs. of weight. If you’re not strong enough to lift, you might need the help of someone else to take the boxes inside. Afterwards, it’s easy to do everything by yourself. You also won’t need to take out tools from the garage since your shipment comes with a 5mm allen wrench and all the appropriate screws, the only thing you need to put the machine together.

A note on screws before starting: Make sure no nuts and bolts or small metal pieces have fallen into the polycarbonate tank. Although polycarbonate is one of the toughest kinds of plastic out there, it is still plastic, and metal nuts and bolts can cause scratches in it. There’s little risk of that with that WaterRower’s packaging, but better safe than sorry.

If you do find scratches or dents anywhere, contact customer support right away. The company’s customer service department is well-known for its excellent performance, and you’ll have no problems dealing with them.

That said, you probably won’t need to contact them so soon. Assembling the WaterRower Oxbridge is very easy, and you have clear, detailed instructions with pictures that go with them.

You’ll first need to put the rails together, then place the seat on top of them. Next, position the tank in front of the rails, followed by the smaller pieces: the footboard, the footpad, and the wheels in front of the unit. You’ll then have to pull the machine upright so you can hook the recoil belt to the bungee, then put it back down so you can fill the tank with water.

Remember, when you put the pieces together, it’s a good thing not to turn the screws fully into place. Keep them loose for a while so you can properly align all the pieces together. When you’re sure everything is in its exact place, use the allen wrench to tighten the bolts fully but not too much. Over-tightening could damage the wooden pieces and could lead to a void warranty if you’re not careful.

The last thing you need to do is to fill the tank with water. This is where it gets a just a tiny bit unwieldy because you have to take a bucket, fill it with water, and place it on top of the machine. Using the plastic siphon that WaterRower provides, you’ll have to pump water out of the bucket into the tank and wait for gravity to do the rest.

WaterRower recommends using municipal water for your rower. Municipal water has antifungal and anti-algal treatments that help keep your water looking clean and clear for a long time, so you don’t have to fill or drain the tank every so often. WaterRower also provides purification tablets to aid in this process.

WaterRower Oxbridge Maintenance

Image: WaterRower

Keeping your WaterRower Oxbridge in good condition is simple and easy. There are a few things you need to remember regularly but not often so that you don’t run into problems in the future.

One of these is making sure the water inside the tank is clear and mold-free. You don’t have to replace the water every day, or even every week, or every month. WaterRower provides purification tablets to make sure the water looks clear all the time. You need to drop one or two of these tablets every six to 12 months, depending on how the water looks to you. A WaterRower that’s exposed to more sunlight will need to be purified more often.

Make sure you use only the purification tablets you get from WaterRower and not ordinary chlorine tablets you use for your swimming pool. You don’t know what’s in your pool chlorine, and you don’t want to risk damaging your task by using it for your WaterRower.

The next thing you need to do is to wipe down your WaterRower to prevent dust and dirt from gathering on the seat and rails. You’ll need nothing more than a soft cloth for this, and the cleaning time depends on you. You can wipe the machine after every use for optimal maintenance, or you can do so every week. Make sure the rails and the seat rollers get a good cleaning, since they are most exposed and most prone to damage. 

Every few months or so, you can also check the inner components, such as the clutch and drive belt, to see if they need cleaning. To get dust off these parts, you’ll have to take out the vacuum cleaner.

By all means, avoid using ammonia-based cleaners for all parts of your machine. Also avoid bleach, chlorates, and methylated spirits such as alcohol to clean your rower. All of these contain chemicals that are damaging to wood.

To take care of the wood, you might also want to give it a few coats of Danish oil at least once a year. Over time, your WaterRower Oxbridge will develop a lovely dark red patina if exposed to light, and you might not want to do anything with it. If you’re meticulous, however, a little bit of oiling will give a natural, low sheen and will add some protection for the aging cherry wood.

If you’ve only received your rower, though, you might find that the wood is only starting to adjust to the sunlight and humidity levels where you live. That’s fine and perfectly natural. One way to find this out is if you hear some creaking or squeaking in certain parts of the rower. Often, it’s not a sign of poor craftsmanship, but one that the wood is still adjusting and you might need to readjust some nuts and bolts.

You might also need to check the bungee cord and retighten it. You’ll know you have to do this when the handle no longer goes all the way back to the front of the rower. You’ll have to pull the machine upright and move the buckle on the bungee cord to do this. Then put the machine back down and see if the handle goes all the way.

Lastly, if you have wood floors, you might want to use some extra protection. While the WaterRower Oxbridge is stable and won’t skid across your floors, it’s always best to be cautious and use a mat under it. We recommend the Supermats Solid PVC Mat, which you can check out on Amazon right here.

WaterRower Oxbridge Storage

Image: WaterRower

The WaterRower leaves a small footprint, whether in use or when stored. Putting this away will not be much of a problem, even if you live in a small place. You also won’t need to dis-assemble the machine to put it in place.

To store the WaterRower Oxbridge, simply pull it upright by the rear and roll it forward or backward on its front wheels. Weight won’t be much of a problem here, even though the machine weighs 103 lbs. with water, since you’re pulling by the rear and creating a long lever. The front wheels also make it easy to move around.

Once stored, the machine won’t take up much of room. Standing upright, it measures 7 feet high and 2 feet wide. In other words, it’ll take up only as much space as a regular dining chair.

If you’re lazy and you have some space for it in your living room or home office, you won’t even have to put the WaterRower away. You can just let it stay there since it blends so well with the rest of your furniture. Some people won’t even think it’s an exercise machine at all!

WaterRower Oxbridge Buying Options

Image: WaterRower

Before you purchase a WaterRower Oxbridge, we recommend that you check it out personally for yourself. The best way to do this is to go to your nearest fitness center and check out their rowing machines. Most gyms have their own indoor rowers, which is hugely thanks to Mr. Underwood making them so popular again.

You can also check out WaterRower’s rental service, which charges you around $40 for a month of renting a WaterRower Oxbridge. Truth be told, we don't really recommend renting a WaterRower to test it if you’re serious about owning one yourself. It’s more of a hassle to go through the paperwork than check out the machine at the gym for around the same price as the rental fee.

Often, Amazon offers the best prices for exercise machines, not to mention the reliability of buying from there. If you buy from Amazon, you’ll get a 1-year warranty for your WaterRower Oxbridge. However, if you register your purchase with WaterRower within the first year, the warranty will be upgraded to five years for the frame and three years for the components.

The Verdict: Is the WaterRower Oxbridge Right for You?

The WaterRower Oxbridge is a great rowing machine that fits the needs and preferences of many people. The handcrafted wooden frame and the water tank is a unique combination that makes exercising on this indoor rower a different kind of experience. The quality is superb and is matched by the excellent customer service that you get with your purchase.

If you live in a small apartment, or if you live with other people who cannot tolerate the noise coming from a conventional exercise machine made of metal, the WaterRower Oxbridge – or any of the WaterRower wooden models for that matter – is exactly what you’re looking for. No other exercise machine can provide a great full-body workout without making it seem like you’re on an exercise machine.

Even people with joint problems or people with injuries will benefit greatly from this machine, since the exercise you get provides practically zero impact on your joints. However, if you have lower back issues or you think you may have a weak back, the design of the WaterRower’s rail may make it more difficult for you and could even possibly increase the chances of an injury.

If you have concerns about your lower back, we recommend checking with your health care provider to see if it’s okay to use the WaterRower Oxbridge.

The S4 monitor is also a good addition to an otherwise already exceptional exercise machine. It helps you track, evaluate, and improve your performance so you can get the most out of the rower as you become stronger and fitter. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the Concept2 PM5, but a lot of people will certainly find the S4 monitor more than enough for their needs.

All in all, the WaterRower Oxbridge is one of the best investments you can make for a healthier life. You won’t regret buying this rowing machine, and if some room for remorse ever opens up, the rock star customer service team will help you with that.

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