High Tech Erging

By Avery Bleichfeld – Posted on October 21, 2019

In addition to being an unmatched celebration of rowing, the Head of the Charles is also America’s biggest rowing marketplace, and maybe the only place in America where a customer shopping for an erg, where the field is growing and the technology is changing faster than on an iPhone. Hyrdrow, WaterRower and RP3 Dynamic  and the venerable Concept 2 have been touting their wares all weekend long from their tents near the finish line, eager to show customers that their machine has the latest and the best.

They each have their own appeal. Concept2 advertises its durability and reliability; Hydrow touts an experience designed to make you feel as if you’re on the water; RP3 Dynamic points to the system that they claim can help users best feel how they should move on the water.

But for WaterRower, this year’s HOCR is not only a chance to advertise their design that they claim feels very natural. It also is an opportunity to advertise a new product, designed in partnership with Ergatta, a Brooklyn-based tech start-up, that Ryan Smith, the commercial sales manager for WaterRower, describes as a gamification of erging. Smith said it’s part of a new move for the company to increase integration with technology.

“We’ve always stood behind being authentic to the sport of rowing,” Smith said. “We really wanted to keep it grassroots, but technology is definitely something that people want. So, this year we’ve introduced a lot of that.”

Tom Aulet, the CEO and co-founder of Ergatta, said that the game is designed to bring more people to make draw more people to what they see as a great source of indoor activity.

“One thing is that indoor rowing is the best accessible form of indoor fitness that exists. If you have 20 minutes to work out and you’re a normal, mainstream fitness consumer that wants to get a good workout in, indoor rowing is the best thing that you can do,” Aulet said. “And the second thing is that software can make erging and using an indoor rowing machine more fun, more engaging, more competitive, such that you can actually forget that you’re working out.”

The system has many games, work outs and ways of the connecting to a broader community. Aulet said his favorite it the Ergattas Experience, a race experience that matches the user to similarly ranked rowers in an experience that Aulet said is “almost like Mario Kart.”

WaterRower isn’t alone in its growth toward technology. Peter Driessigacker, co-founder of Concept2, said that the simple design of their erg disguises a complex technological system.

Peter Driessigacker of Concept2 (Photos by Avery Bleichfeld)

“We’ve been doing the erg since 1981 and some people think that its simplicity signals that it’s a low-tech device, but actually the monitors are extremely smart and there’s an awful lot of work inside it,” Driessigacker said.

He said their move to more technology, and more open technology, was a conscious decision.

“A number of years ago we made the decision to put in Bluetooth and ANT output for it and have open access for other programmers to develop apps and other things like that to augment and supplement the entertainment value and information,” Driessigacker said. “So, there’s got to be 20 different apps that connect to the monitor that give people other information.”

For Hydrow, the use of technology is what gives their machines the realistic experience that they tout, said Bruce Smith, founder of Hydrow. Screens give users access to workouts filmed on locations like the Charles River. It also allows users to connect and row with teammates.

Bruce Smith of Hydrow

“We want to capture as much as that analog experience of rowing which is so great, which most people don’t have access to, and make it accessible, even if you don’t have time to drive to a boathouse, if there is a boathouse,” Smith said. “You can still have a little bit of that team, a little bit of that experience of being on the water before you start your day or at the end of the day.”

Carlos Dinares, the USA CEO for RP3 Dynamics, said that their system gives large amounts of feedback to help users know what they’re doing and how they can improve their fitness. Their erg doesn’t currently have a way to connect with other rowers, but Dinares said that kind of system a positive next step.

“I think it’s important because you motivate people,” Dinares said. “We’re competitors by nature, and we try to analyze ourselves by competing against others, and measurements like that are good. I think we’re excited to do that too, when it’s the right time.”

Technology in coordination with fitness isn’t limited to rowing, said Aulet, and it’s a good way to make staying active more engaging.

“Technology can make working out more stimulating, more engaging, less boring, more competitive, more social, such that people, in their homes, can work out in a hyper-convenient way that isn’t isolating and uninspiring,” Aulet said. “Hoping on an erg, in your basement, alone, without any type of community or software can be kind of uninspiring, kind of boring. If you wake up at seven in the morning, maybe you don’t do it, maybe you just hit snooze or hop in the shower or something.”

Smith said that what Hyrdrow aims to do with their technology is bring people together and keep up fitness.

“We really want to make people feel connected to other people and to feel healthier,” Smith said. “We think that’s what the world needs most.”