First Degree Fitness Cambridge Challenge AR Fluid Rower

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FDF Cambridge

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300 lbs59 lbsWater,
4 levels

The Cambridge Challenge AR is one of the Azul Series fluid rowers from First Degree Fitness. Thus, it’s also referred to as the FDF Azul Cambridge. It’s a lot similar to the FDF Newport Challenge or the FDF Daytona Challenge, in terms of water tank, frame design and console. However, it features different colors.

Technical Details and Specifications

  • Assembled dimensions: 77.8″L x 20.9″W x 20.1″H (197L x 53W x 51H cm)
  • Assembled weight: 59 lbs (26.7 kg) w/o water; 97 (44 kg) with water
  • Weight capacity: 300 lbs (136 kg)
  • Frame: Aluminum / steel
  • Footrests: Adjustable, with straps
  • Resistance type: Water, adjustable (4 levels)
  • Fitness computer: Time, distance, strokes per minute, watts, calories/hour, 500m split time, HR capable, USB port
  • Warranty: Frame 5 years / Tank and seals 2 years / Mechanical 2 years / Wear parts 1 year

Frame construction & parts

The FDF Azul Cambridge fluid rower features a frame made of steel and aluminum main parts. Differently put, the front part that sustains the water tank is made of steel, while the rail on which the seat slides is made of aluminum. Of course, the machine also integrates several ABS and acrylic parts, but these don’t reduce the unit’s sturdiness.

Speaking of sturdiness, this First Degree Fitness fluid rower can support users up to 300 lbs (136 kg). It’s not sold as a commercial grade machine, but it’s pretty close to the construction and features of a light-commercial one.

The fully assembled unit isn’t extremely large as other rowers, such as the BodyCraft VR500, for example. However, it’s still approx. 77.8″ (197 cm) long, and 20.9″ (53 cm) wide; therefore, it may not fit well in a small room. Plus, it’s recommended to leave at least a two feet of clearance at the rear and on the sides of it for safe operation and access.

On the other hand, the unit can be stored vertically. The front part of the steel frame acts as a base for the unit when placed in a vertical position. Evidently, when stored vertically, its footprint becomes approx. 21″ x 20″ (53 x 51 cm). Also, the water can remain in the tank when the unit is stored vertically.

The machine is not extremely heavy. It weighs approx. 59 lbs (26.7 kg) without water, and approx. 97 lbs (44 kg) with the tank filled to the top level. This being said, its transport, unboxing, and assembly shouldn’t be a problem for one person. Plus, once it is assembled, its relocation and storage are facilitated by the small wheels on the front base.

The unit’s plus the user’s weight result in an excellent stability for the machine. Also, its bases are equipped with polygonal stabilizers which can rotate in order to provide maximum stability on any type of floor.

The seat is made of a highly-durable acrylic material, featuring a molded design, for maximum ergonomics. It glides on low friction, Delrin® rollers with precision bearings along a concealed track for safe and smooth operation. As we’ve mentioned above, the seat and its rail are sturdy enough to support users up to 300 lbs (136 kg).

The First Degree Fitness Cambridge Challenge AR features a set of adjustable footrests. Their adjustable part is made of acrylic material. They have heel guards and adjustable straps for enhanced foot stability. The steel plate to which they’re attached is non-adjustable, though. In other words, the footrests angle cannot be adjusted. However, it has an approximate angle of 45°, delivering an optimal foot placement.

The unit’s rowing handle features an ergonomic design as well. It is slightly curved towards the user, in order to prevent any strain on arms, hands, and wrists. It’s also covered with rubber foam material, for a solid grip, and to prevent blistering or any damage to your hands. The handlebar is attached to a highly-durable nylon strap, 1″ (2.5 cm) wide, but the pulling mechanism also features a sheated bungee cord for return.

One last aspect to mention here regards the unit’s paint finish. As opposed to the Daytona or the Pacific Challenge, the Azul Cambridge model features a blue paint finish for the front, steel frame, and the small rear foot stabilizer. The rail, though, has its natural aluminum finish, with the FDF logo sticker on the rear part.

Water tank & resistance system

The Azul Cambridge Challenge rower is equipped with a high-grade polycarbonate material tank. It’s basically the same 2-chamber water tank that many other First Degree Fitness fluid rowers have. It also has a dial on top which allows water to move between these chambers, depending on the resistance setting.

In terms of resistance adjustment, when you set the resistance to “MIN” on the dial, it will take about 10 strokes to fill the central (storage) tank, leaving only a minimum amount of water in the main (active) tank, resulting in less demanding strokes. As opposed to that, if you set the resistance to “MAX”, the water will pass into the active tank, providing the user with higher resistance. This is a pretty neat feature that other fluid rowers, such as the WaterRower Oxbridge for example, do not have.

There are 4 resistance settings specified on the tank. The lowest setting generates feather-light resistance, for a light cardio training, while the top setting provides Olympic sprint resistance.

The tank’s capacity is 17 liters (4.5 gal), and in order to be functional, it requires to hold a water quantity between 2.3 and 4.5 gal (9 – 17 liters). It is equipped with a 3-blade impeller, connected to a bungee cord which facilitates its recovery. The pulling handle is attached to a durable nylon strap, designed for many years of use.

With regards to the resistance generated and the rowing feel, the FDF Cambridge Challenge AR offers a dynamic response during rowing. Differently put, the fastest you pull, the more resistance the impeller will generate. This results in a sensation similar to rowing a real boat through water. Also, the impeller doesn’t generate a high level of noise when rotating into the tank. Most users have described the sound generated as being “soothing”.

one required by Olympic level athletes.

The rower’s water tank is made of heavy-duty polycarbonate material. It has a capacity of 4.5 gal (17 l). It’s recommended to be filled with a minimum of 2.3 gal (9 l) of water. It features a 3-blade impeller attached to a bungee cord which facilitates its recovery.

Like most rowing machines with a water resistance system, the FDF Pacific Challenge AR offers a dynamic response during rowing. In other words, the fastest you pull, the more resistance the impeller will generate. This results in a sensation similar to rowing a real boat through water. Also, the impeller doesn’t generate a high level of noise when rotating into the tank. Most users have described the sound generated as being “soothing”.

Fitness meter

The included fitness meter features a large LCD display which is divided into several sections, so you can see all the workout metrics at once. It indicates time, 500m/time, distance, strokes per minute, calories per hour, watts, and pulse.

The unit has four level settings so you can synchronize it with the resistance level selected on the water tank. For example, if the tank is set to level 3, you should also select level 3 on the console so that the estimation of the calories burned is more accurate.

The meter unit is telemetric. It can track your pulse via a wireless HR chest strap transmitter. However, an HR chest strap is not included.

For distance, the computer offers the possibility to add 1000m for each press of the larger button. Also, this button covers the unit’s reset function. By holding it down for 3 sec., the unit will reset. It’s powered by 2x AA batteries, which are included. Also, it auto-pauses 5 sec. after ceasing the activity on the rower. It also automatically shuts down after 5 minutes of inactivity, all the values being reset to zero.

The unit also has a USB function. Its USB port allows you to connect it to a PC via cable in order to work with various First Degree Fitness online apps. This way, you can track your progress online and even compete with other users.

Assembly & Maintenance

The FDF Azul Cambridge comes packaged in two boxes, one for the tank and several parts, and one for the rail. The water tank comes fully assembled and already attached to the front part of the frame. Thus, you only need to attach the rail, the seat, and the rear stabilizer. The whole assembly part shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. Also, all the tools necessary for the assembly are included.

For maintenance, it is recommended to treat the water inside the tank with chlorine pills. Several chlorine pills are included with the machine, which should suffice for several years of use. Other than this, it is recommended to periodically inspect the machine for loose bolts and parts.

The Pros

  • Sturdy frame – can support users up to 300 lbs (136 kg);
  • An aesthetic design which can be quite a motivation factor;
  • Space-saving unit – can be stored vertically;
  • The rail is long enough to accommodate users up to 6’7″ (201 cm);
  • Easy to handle and transport;
  • Adjustable footrests with straps and heel guards;
  • Ergonomic, curved handle to minimize stress on the wrists;
  • Water resistance system, providing the most natural rowing feel that you can get;
  • 2-chamber water tank with 4 available resistance level;
  • Contoured, padded, and ergonomically designed seat;
  • Delrin® low friction rollers on the seat for smooth gliding;
  • Advanced, 8-panel fitness computer, that tracks time, 500m/time, pulse, distance, strokes per minute, calories per hour and watts;
  • USB connection, for online workout data tracking, or competing with other rowers;
  • Smooth and quiet operation;
  • Little maintenance required;
  • Easy to assemble;
  • Excellent warranty package.

The Cons

  • The meter doesn’t have LED backlight;
  • The strap for pulse reading is not included.


The First Degree Fitness Cambridge Challenge AR is a fluid rowing machine featuring a 4-level water tank and a PC compatible console. It has a durable steel/aluminum construction being able to hold users up to 300 lbs. It’s equipped with a long rail for tall users and an ergonomic seat. It’s a great machine for a full-body cardio workout, muscle toning, stamina development, and weight loss. It’s a bit more expensive than the other similar FDF rowers but does offer an excellent value for the price.

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