The overall rowing experience encompasses pulley, seat, and — of course — resistance. Air and water have very distinct qualities, making them impossible to compare but interesting to contrast. Air stores inertia, which feeds into intense, constant effort during a goal-oriented workout. Water’s more sluggish drag makes for demanding exercise, but one that’s less consistent.
The frame is beyond durable and is designed for absorbing sound and vibration. There’s no creaking or other sounds that you might expect from wood components. It has a low center of gravity that keeps the rower in place while exerting full rowing power. The polycarbonate water tank is equally durable and practically indestructible. The Classic Rower doesn’t have any moving parts that can wear out, or belts and pulleys that need to be maintained.
Unlike most other non-combat sports, rowing has a special weight category called lightweight (Lwt for short). According to FISA, this weight category was introduced "to encourage more universality in the sport especially among nations with less statuesque people". The first lightweight events were held at the World Championships in 1974 for men and 1985 for women. Lightweight rowing was added to the Olympics in 1996.
Outside of resistance type, we found the number-one arbiter of ride feel to be cord quality. Water ergometers tend to employ nylon cords, while air ergometers feature metal chains — a durability factor we anticipated would result in our favoring air. But while all three water rowers aced our expectation of smooth, high-tension strokes, perfecting the chain seems to be more difficult: Some tug with just a slight rumble, others feature bouncy, grinding chains that are incredibly loud, something akin to angry snoring. As for nylon, the best wind and unwind like elastic silk — no slack, no sound, no catching, just perfectly even tension throughout the stroke.