BikeParts Wiki

The rowbike

A rowbike is an example of a rowed vehicle, hybrid fitness/transport machine that combines a bicycle, generally considered a recumbent bicycle, and a rowing machine. "Rowbike" is used as a generic term, but also refers to a specific manufacturer in the USA, the RowBike company. The RowBike company was founded by Scott Olson, the inventor of Rollerblades. "Rowling", a term attributed to Scott Olson, is a combination of rowing and rolling and is sometimes used in place of rowing when describing a rowbike.

A rowbike is differentiated from a handcycle in that a handcycle typically uses a circular motion as opposed to a back and forth, rowing motion. Handcycles are typically marketed to people who have lost the use of their legs, while rowbikes are marketed to people who want to include rowing in their exercise routine.

Although a rowbike could be classified as a human powered vehicle, as opposed to a fitness machine, rowbikes are used almost exclusively for exercise and fitness, rather than for transportation. Four wheel variants also exist, and like most bicycles, rowbikes can be used with a stand that permits use as a stationary bike or indoor rower.


While many of the parts to a RowBike are standard to normal bicycles or recumbent bicycles, there are many that are proprietary to the Rowbike, and can only be obtained from the RowBike company.[1]

  • Shock cord - This is a bungee cord with a loop at one end that permits the mounting, with a removable link, of a standard bicycle chain. The opposite end of the shock cord is normally knotted to prevent it from slipping into the power lever. The shock cord is located inside the power lever and is normally not visible unless the power lever is pulled all the way back. The shock cord loses its elasticity over time and needs to be replaced when this happens.
  • Power Lever - In the picture show it is the blue lever. The rider pulls back on the power lever to propel the Rowbike.
  • Swing arm - The swing arm is attached to the frame of the Rowbike in a manner that allows it to swing freely. The chain is then attached to the swing arm.
  • Dave Cam - The Dave cam is the pulley at the end of the power lever.
  • Seat Wing- The seat is mounted on the seat wings. The seat wings are brackets that have three rollers each, which permit the seat assembly to travel back and forth freely as the rider rows, the 6 rollers wear out and need to be replaced regularly.

Propulsion and steering[]

Steering, braking, shifting, and propulsion are accomplished through the handlebars. The brakes and brake levers are standard bicycle components. The handle bars are specific to the Rowbike and cannot be upgraded, although standard grips, bar ends, and other accessories can be mounted on them. The front fork is controlled (or steered) with cables in a manner similar to a recumbent bicycle. The gears on the rear wheel, the shifter, and the derailer are all standard bicycle equipment. Feet are on fixed foot rests, as opposed to moving pedals. The seat, which is specific to the RowBike, slides back and forth on rollers. Unlike a boat the rider faces forward. If the rider's stroke favors the left or right side, the rowbike will pull off course, as would be the case with a boat. Balancing on a two wheeled rowbike while rowing requires some practice, even for a skilled bicyclist.

Drive train[]

RowBikes transmit power from the rider to the wheels using a standard bicycle chain, rear gears, and derailleur. Both wheels are standard bicycle wheels, the rear wheel is fitted out with a standard freewheel. It should be noted that the chain on a Rowbike does not travel in a loop, as is the case with a standard bicycle. It moves back and forth over the rear cog in a sawing motion. The chain is connected at one end to the frame of the rowbike and to the shock cord (bungee cord) on the other. As the rower pulls back the chain engages the rear cog and the bungee cord, which is concealed in the power lever, is extended, and when the rower returns forward the bungee cord contracts, pulling the chain back and ensuring there is no slack in the chain. All Rowbikes have a rear derailleur, even single speeds, due to the need to keep proper tension in the chain.[2]

If the gears on the rear wheel are not optimal an ordinary bicycle has the possibility of changing the size of the gear on the crankset(the chainring). Unlike a bicycle a Rowbike does not have a crank set. To optimize the gearing a pulley called the "Dave Cam" was introduced in 2006. The Dave Cam doubles the amount of chain pulled with each stroke, as a larger chainring increases the amount of chain pulled with each revolution of the pedals.[1]


While the idea of a rowed bicycle is attractive there does not seem to be any evidence of a successful mass market design. At the present time it is very rare to see someone riding a RowBike, or any form of rowed bicycle. Scott Olsen is quoted as saying "the jury is still out on rowbike".[3] As with many bicycle related novelties, examples of rowed bicycles appear early in the development of bicycles.

A newsreel from 1937 clearly shows a rowed bicycle that is very similar to today's RowBike. It does not use a bungee cord to maintain tension, instead it has a circular chain case mounted where the derailer normally hangs. The case seems to have a spring mechanism that pulls excess chain links into the case, much the same way the shock cord pulls excess chain into the power lever. Like the first version of the RowBike the chain is connected to the end of the power lever, and there is no "Dave cam"[4]

See also[]


External links[]

Other row bikes, some in production some not [2]

Template:Human-powered vehicles

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