The Finest Rowing Experience out of the Water
At Matrix, we believe that good is the enemy of great. So when we looked at our rower in 2012 and found that it was merely good, we went to work with the goal to create an unparalleled rowing experience. We knew that rowing had evolved in nearly 20 years since the launch of our original stationary rower, moving into multi-modality circuits, health club cardio floors, specialized rowing classes and elite athletic training facilities. It was up to our design team — a mix of industrial designers, engineers and product specialists — to create a rower that served all of these different activities without compromise.
Listen, learn, experience
We began by plunging headfirst into the multi-faceted experience of modern rowing, interacting with users, interviewing club owners, working with instructors and observing indoor rowing in a wide variety of venues. One of our product specialists even earned her rowing instructor certification. We immediately discovered that classes with fleets of fan-resistance rowers operating in unison could be extremely loud. While the darkened class environments provided a signature exercise experience, it also made consoles hard to read. In multi-modality circuits, it seemed that most rowers weren’t built tough or smart enough for a steady stream of users moving through with speed and intensity. Out on general cardio floors, larger users struggled to fully extend their legs or find a comfortable grip on the handle. We even visited a local university and got into the same water tanks collegiate athletes use to understand their training needs and capture a feel that was closer to real rowing than anything else. Once our design team was fully immersed in the experience of rowing, something very special started to come to life.
Reimagined from the floor up
We began by re-engineering the frame, steadfastly refusing to cut even the smallest corner — it had to be a full-steel build. Only a foundation of premium solid steel could reduce vibrations, accommodate larger users and stand up to the intensity of multi-modality circuits and serious athletic training. Next, our design team cast aside the ideas of a noisy fan resistance system or a leak-prone water resistance system that couldn’t be adjusted. Instead, they developed a brushed aluminum flywheel with a cutting-edge magnetic resistance system that was whisper-quiet, durable and precisely adjustable to make resistance progression instant and easy. Eliminating the fan also meant that our rower could have a smaller footprint without sacrificing performance, and it could even be tilted up and rolled for easy rearranging in circuits and on the cardio floor. For the seat — perhaps the most important interface between the user and the machine — our industrial designers ran through numerous sketches and renderings and a variety of materials. In time, they discovered the ideal ergonomic shape and seat height to accommodate a great diversity in human form while still making getting in and out smooth and stable.
Delight is in the details
From these robust beginnings, the design team went on to thoughtfully refine every detail that makes our rower a joy to use. The console had to be self-powered with no more than a small back-up battery so that clubs and studios could fit the rower in anywhere, and our team added a back-lit display that was easy to see in darkened class environments. They also created an intuitive system of program quick keys that make it a snap to access sprinting, distance rowing and high-intensity interval training programs. Our industrial designers then explored multiple iterations of the handle until they found the perfect combination: wide enough, so users of any size could get a comfortable grip; strong enough, to stand up to hard use; and yet still light enough, so that if it snapped back during an intense training session, it wouldn’t damage the rower console. They hit all of these marks and again exceeded expectations by making our new handle reverse compatible with our original rower as well. For the magnetic resistance system, we began with 15 resistance settings and refined to just 10 when our product specialist observed that some of the lower levels didn’t provide a fluid, consistent feel, while some of the higher levels would put too much strain on the lower back . Though it may seem like the smallest of things, our team enhanced the shape of the resistance selection knob and added easy-to-read numbers for on-the-fly adjustment. They even paid special attention to the heel cups, developing smarter straps and colour-coding that would streamline getting in and out in multi-modality circuits. Still, our design team did not stop there, they redesigned the shroud for easy service access; they added stainless steel strips to the aluminum monorail for easy cleaning and durability; and they refined every line until our rower looked just as welcoming to new users as it did professional-grade to seasoned rowers.
Validating good design
When our sleek new design was nearly complete, our team went above and beyond expectations by developing unique diagnostic machines to test our rower. The rower had to do more than simply “feel” right, and engineers discovered new ways to quantify previously intangible aspects of indoor rowing. When we were finally satisfied with every smooth, fluid, whisper-quiet movement, our design team stepped back and saw that they had done it. They had created a rower that could serve every need on the cardio floor, in specialized classes, as part of a multi-modality circuit and in elite athletic training environments. Perhaps best of all, our new design was both functional and durable enough to serve all of these different needs, day in and day, out for years to come.