Openergo - a self-build open-source rowing machine

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The ergometer (rowing machine) shown in the photographs above is the latest in a series of designs developed by people who have become involved in the project. This one is made from plywood, other models are made from solid timber, angle iron - and even bamboo. All of the instructions for making them are available free by contacting me, Jim Flood at

To see a short video of me being interviewed by the BBC sports reporter John Inverdale, go to

 The idea for this project originated during a rowing coaching course I ran in Uganda. See:

The aim is to develop a low-cost rowing machine that will be accessible to countries, organisations, clubs or individuals who cannot afford the machines that are commercially available. A further aim is to encourage youth organisations, vocational training schools and young entrepreneurs to make and sell these.

Rowing machines are now an essential part of the equipment used to develop rowing. They are used for developing good technique, for fitness and for use when conditions on the water make rowing risky. Indoor Rowing, that is using rowing machines for competitions is now a sport in its own right with thousands competing at national events and over the Internet. See:

The cheapest machines available commercially cost around £150 and the best around £1200. The aim of this project is to develop a design that can be made using basic DIY skills for a cost of £25. The aim is NOT to replace the Concept II but to provide an entry level machine that can used for fitness and competition.

The design principles will be based on those of Appropriate Technology, that is the construction, material and skills required are limited to what is available locally. In this case the specification is limited to what is available locally in Kampala, Uganda.

The title Openergo reflects the Open Source software movement. This provides software that is freely available for use, but also to be modified and improved. The best Open Source software now rivals the best commercially available software. For example, I'm using the  Ubunto operating system on my PC, not Microsoft Windows 7, Vista or XP.

These ideas for rowing machines are freely available with the aim that contributors will build prototypes, improve the design and share their ideas - and develop a rowing machine to rival the best.

One interesting development should be the development of a low-cost FES rowing machine. These are machines adapted to be used by people with spinal injuries. 

This project should be of interest to you if want a rowing machine for your own use, you would like to have more available for your own club or you are a DIY enthusiast or engineer who is keen to use your skills to help others.How about getting a group together to build and test one?

Links to videos contributed by builders of Openergos:      (slotted angle iron version)  (the bamboo special by David and Sharon Filbeck who are based in Thailand)  (A belt drive model by Tim Abbott) (Build by Jack Owako of Kenya who had the brilliant idea of using bicycle hubs as rollers for the seat) (Alex Romero)  (by German Delucca of Argentina (a TV interview in French by Alan McCullagh)  (a video of the rope drive system)  (a video of the belt drive system)

Bicycle computers can be used to give a comparative read out of speed and distance. For a discussion on developing this further, go to:

All of the designs are available in Google Sketchup. These 3D models can be rotated, zoomed in on, accurate measurements taken - and orthographic drawings made. Sketchup files can also be converted to most CAD formats. All the Sketchup files can be obtained on request.

For any further information and copies of the instructions or Sketchup files, contact me at

If you have found this project interesting, to have a look at a similar one to make a boat click on this link 

Biographical notes

I'm a former lecturer in the Department of Design and Technology at Loughborough University, and Sub Dean of the Faculty of Technology at the UK Open University.

Currently I'm a FISA Development Coach and British Rowing Coach Educator.

Publications related to rowing:

Know the Game: Rowing, A C Black, 2007 

The Complete Guide to Indoor Rowing (with Charlie Simpson), Bloomsbury 

Advanced Rowing: Perspectives on High Perforance Rowing (with Charlie Simpson) due for publication 2016 

Free E-booklets

Coaching: achieving the best results possible, Rowperfect, 2009 

Coaching balance, Rowperfect, 2010 

The Ergonomics of Rowing, Rowperfect , 2011 

A Manifesto To Improve Club Rowing For Beginners, 2015 

Why Slow the Boat When You Can Make It Go Faster 2015