First Degree Fitness Fluid Rower Monaco Challenge

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FDF Monaco

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330 lbs78 lbsWater,
4 levels
Frame: 5 years
Tank: 3 years
Mechanical: 2 years
Wear: 1 year

The Monaco Challenge fluid rowing machine from First Degree Fitness shares many similarities with the Apollo Pro II rower. It’s essentially the same rower, however, it has metallic side rails rather than wooden-made. It’s a dual rail rower with a commercial construction, even though it’s not advertised as a commercial model. It’s a highly durable fitness machine that offers a wide array of workout possibilities, also being equipped with an advanced fitness computer.

Technical Details and Specifications

  • Assembled dimensions: 81.5L x 20.5W x 23H inches (207L x 52W x 58H cm)
  • Assembled weight: 78 lbs (35.3 kg) w/o water; 115 lb (52 kg) w/ water
  • Supported weight: 330 lbs (150 kg)
  • Frame: Steel
  • Footrests: Adjustable, with straps
  • Resistance: 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 & seals 3 years / Mechanical 2 years / Wear parts 1 year

Frame construction and parts

The First Degree Fitness Monaco Challenge fluid rower has a frame built mostly from steel parts, featuring a very sturdy and durable construction. Since it’s a dual rail rower, it offers superior stability. It’s not equipped with adjustable stabilizers but does feature a set of four rubber pads which improve its stability. 

The fully assembled rower, with water in the tank, is fairly heavy. It weighs over 100 lbs. Most of the weight is situated at the front where the tank is, but the front of the machine also has a set of transport wheels. These wheels considerably facilitate its handling and transport once it is assembled. By leaning the frame forward onto its wheels you will basically handle less than half of its total weight.

This First Degree Fitness rowing machine doesn’t fold as the LifeCore R100, for example. However, the structure of the water tank’s metallic casing makes the vertical storage possible. When stored vertically, the machine’s footprint becomes 23″L x 20.5″W (58 x 52 cm). Also, you don’t have to remove the water from the tank for the rower to be stored vertically.

In operating position, the rower is rather large, especially lengthwise. It is 81.5″L x 20.5″W (207 x 52 cm) and requires at least two feet of clearance all around it for ease of use. However, this length is also a plus, as the machine can accommodate the tallest users, promoting a complete and adequate leg extension.

The FDF Monaco Challenge water resistance rower is equipped with a contoured and wide seat which integrates a layer of padding in order to provide optimal comfort for all workouts. The seat’s frame glides on four low friction Delrin® rollers for a cleaner and smoother operation. They incorporate stainless steel precision bearings for a prolonged lifespan. The top of the seat is positioned at “office chair” height, for ease of exit and entry. Differently put, its top stands at approx. 16″ (40 cm) above floor level.

The footrests are attached to the front upper metallic frame. They are adjustable, being able to accommodate feet of all sizes. Each footrest has a heel guard and an adjustable strap in order to ensure maximum foot stability during workouts.

The footrests do not pivot, though, as for the Sunny SF-RW5624 for example. But they’re set at a standard angle of approx. 60°, providing a natural positioning of the feet during exercising on the machine.

The pulling handle is slightly curved to promote a more natural grip and reduce some of the stress on the wrists. It’s covered by a sheet of rubber foam for a comfortable and secure grip. It’s attached to a heavy-duty nylon strap, designed to last for many years of use.

Last but not least, all the metallic components in the frame construction feature a corrosion resistant powder coating. The colors used are red for the frame part that guards the water tank and black for the rails.

Water tank and resistance system

The First Degree Fitness Monaco Challenge is a fluid rower. It generates resistance by spinning a 3-blade impeller inside its water tank. Just as any other rowing machine with water resistance, this model provides a dynamic response during rowing. In other words, the resistance varies from a stroke to another, depending on how fast you pull. The impeller delivers an instant catch, consistent resistance and no dead spots, similar to the rowing of a real boat.

This rowing machine comes basically with the same water tank as the Apollo Pro II rower. It’s a heavy-duty polycarbonate water tank, with a capacity of 4.5 gal (17 liters).

The tank is split into two chambers, the “storage” chamber and the “active” chamber. There is a dial on top of the tank which allows you to quickly add or remove water from the “active” chamber, in order to adjust the machine’s overall resistance. Therefore, if you have all the water in the “active” chamber, the machine will generate maximum resistance, making available an Olympic challenge workout. Conversely, if you set the dial to the minimum level, 3/4 of the water will pass into the “storage” chamber, and the machine will generate 3/4 less resistance.

The machine’s resistance system also involves a transmission belt, which doesn’t require any lubrication and doesn’t generate any extra noise. In fact, the operation of the machine generates a very little amount of noise compared to an air rowing machine. Most users also find the sound of the spinning impeller inside the water tank soothing.

The water tank is easy to fill up. It has a small hole on top, sealed by a rubber plug. A small pump is included with the rower, which allows the filling or emptying the tank.

Fitness computer

This First Degree Fitness rower is equipped with a fitness computer that has much more to offer than a basic unit. To begin with, you can adjust its level to the selected water tank resistance level, in order to benefit from a more accurate calorie reading, aspect that other units do not offer.

The unit features a multi-panel LCD display, which shows all the workout metrics at once, so you won’t have to use a SCAN function to alternate them. It indicates time, 500M time, strokes per minute, distance, pulse, watts, and calories per hour. For distance, the meter unit 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.

But maybe one of the best aspects of this meter unit is the USB port feature which allows its connection to a PC via USB cable. This way you can record your workouts, save your workout data and use various rowing apps, such as the “NetAthlon 2 XF for Rowers” which lets you race with other Internet connected rowers in a Virtual Reality 3D environment or train solo.

As we’ve mentioned above, the unit can read your pulse. But in order to make this function available, you will need an optional receiver and an HR chest strap transmitter, which are not included.

The console unit is battery powered. It uses 2x AA batteries which are included.

Assembly and Maintenance

The water tank with the impeller and the other elements of the resistance system is pre-assembled. Therefore, the assembly requires you to connect the two side rails via the rear brace, add the transport wheels, mount the water tank with the console on top of them, connect the bungee cord to the brake and place the seat on top of the rails. This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes. The included manual provides very concise assembly instructions and the tools for assembly are also included.

Maintenance requires the periodic inspection for loose bolts and parts, and for the integrity of the bungee cord and rowing strap. Also, the water in the tank may require chlorine treatment.

The Pros

  • Sturdy frame able to support users up to 330 lbs (150 kg);
  • Elegant, aesthetic design;
  • Dual rail construction for extra stability;
  • Can be stored vertically to save space;
  • Easy to handle and transport;
  • Water resistance system, delivering a dynamic response and a natural rowing feel;
  • Dual-chamber water tank, with 4 distinctive water resistance levels;
  • Contoured, padded and large seat for superior comfort; 
  • Seat top has an “office seat” height, for ease of entry and exit;
  • Exercise meter with a multi-panel LCD display, showing time, 500m time, pulse, distance, strokes per minute, calories per hour and watts simultaneously;
  • USB connection, for online workout data tracking, or using online apps;
  • Smooth and quiet operation;
  • Rowing machine for users of all levels;
  • Little maintenance required;
  • Easy to assemble;
  • Excellent warranty.

The Cons

  • HR chest strap transmitter is not included.


The FDF Monaco Challenge is a fluid rowing machine, featuring adjustable resistance, a dual rail construction and a multi-function console with online connectivity. Although it’s not advertised as a commercial rower, it’s definitely in the range of features of commercial models. It offers workouts possibilities from light to Olympic level, being perfect for users of all levels of fitness. And finally, it’s not exactly one of the most affordable fitness machines, but it definitely offers an outstanding value for the price.

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