Best of the Rest
INTRO – RRD produce a range of six kites focussed on very different disciplines. So who better to kick-off the first in a series looking at the technical aspects of kite design? We begin with a look at the skeleton structure of the RRD range with their maestro, Roberto Ricci.
Let's begin by brushing through some quick material concerns as well as various elements that RRD's design team must bear in mind throughout production to stay on course to reach the desired balance in such a large product range.
The two main materials involved in a kite are 'canopy' - the classic kite material, weighing 60 gram/square metre made by Teijin, a Japanese company, used by roughly 95% of kite brands. Dacron material is made with a thicker, more compact thread, either by Teijin or Polyant based in Holland and weighs 175 gram/square metre. Kevlar Polyamid stripes protect stitching and Insignia is a thinner, woven Dacron with glue on the back and is used to protect areas like valves or logos or high stress zones such as where struts meet the leading edge to help protect against wear and bending.
Incidentally, most of the wear of your kite doesn't come from time on the water; it's from fluttering on the beach while you're on a tea break or grabbing lunch at the caf. So think about it the next time you leave your kite for hours on the beach in a force seven hooley!
The cutting, lining up and stitching technique of all these materials are crucial. If you look at a kite, you should always see the material lines are cut parallel with the leading or trailing edge. A 45 degree panel would stretch and form a bubble with the tension from the wing-tip or bridle, and is a mistake some manufacturers made in the past. So, when the panes are cut they usually form a mosaic around each other, causing as little waste as possible.
TOUCHES AND SIZES
All RRD 2012 kites have the logo worked into the actual design of the kite. Screened on logos can compromise the strength of the fabric through saturation, or cooking to a more brittle nature in the sun. Ink itself is also relatively heavy, so RRD's logos are glued and stitched without altering the physical properties of the material, providing resistance, too.
All of this is of course a lot of work for the designer. Every kite size has a different logo size in a different panel. It's not just a case of shrinking it down; proportionally it's different.
Smaller sizes usually have less panels than bigger kites. RRD shrink their panels, but keep the same distance between the panels. More panels mean more seam allowance, increasing the chance of mistakes. So they aim for a reasonable amount of panels rather than seams all over the place needing to be stitched together.
THICK OR THIN LEADING EDGES?
Thicker leading edges create more drag through the air so, without considering things like aspect-ratio, tend to fly lower and don't reach so far towards the edge of the window. Sometimes it's good to have a kite that hangs back and pulls in this part of the window, for downwind racing (not wanting it to stall when you loop it or to get to neutral too quickly), or to provide basic grunt for first timers getting up on the board for example. Wake-stylers also tend to like their kites to hang back a bit for tricks.
However, a race kite also needs to fly forward for upwind riding, so there are many things that need considering in terms of where to set your kite in the window. Generally a thicker leading edge will bring the kite backwards and a thinner thinner edge will track further forward. But now consider that a 12 metre C kite will usually have a leading edge five metres long, and a bridle kite more like 4.2 metres long. Less leading edge automatically allows the kite to fly further forward with a thicker leading edge. Thicker and shorter you still fly pretty much in the same area as a longer, thinner leading edge, but you'll get more twist in the latter, so the kite will turn better. You cannot just consider one parameter; you have to consider the complete kite; what it does and why it does it. It's a tricky game!
Although not the most basic performance kite in the range, RRD pitch their Vision as an all-terrain entry-level kite through price-point. It may have similar flying characteristics to the Religion wave kite, but is built more efficiently. Strut mounts, valve systems and less use of Dacron contribute to the economical build bill and the panel layout is more simple than the rest of the range. RRD apparently sacrifice their industrial margin to still be able to offer a high performance kite for the lowest cost possible.
The Vision however is still designed for a large range and riding approach. Easy to handle, it still has manoeuvrability, handling, relaunch and the all-important sportivity. Send the kite and the Vision reacts with impetus and instantly allows you change the RPM of the kite.
The Passion sits above the Vision in the line-up, not through superior performance, but because it's more exotically produced. Dacron features on the wing-tips and throughout the whole trailing edge. Some of the sportiness and high-revving RPM nature of the Vision has been reduced in the Passion which is slower, more predictable and with more bar pressure (second only in the RRD range to the Addiction race kite) from double pulleys on the tail end, tips and on the front bridle, giving you a very clear indication of where the kite is pulling in the sky. Whether low in the window, overhead or about to turn, it's very predictable. Back stalling in inexperienced hands is absolutely avoided thanks to the bridle position, something more evident in higher-performing models in the line-up. The Passion is all about delivering easy, progressive power and depower – more through sheeting in and out on the bar rather than flying the kite around the window. There's more grunt on demand, but it's also RRD's safest kite and aimed at people looking for that special purchase of their first proper luxury freeride kite with rewarding handling.
The Obsession has become RRD's icon; the model they are most recognised for. The mark one made its first appearance four years ago as a 'hybrid C shape'. Evolving from the Hyper-Type; a popular bridled hybrid, the game plan for the Obsession was to increase the sportiness in its handling and manoeuvrability but to maintain a huge boost capacity. Very fast handling is managed in a package that's still suitable for progressive intermediate fliers, with plenty of grunt and low end power through sheeting the bar. Deciding to release the Obsession Pro for 2012 has meant that RRD were free to continue making the Obsession a real boosting machine, without having to worry about upsetting more new school freeriders.
In 2012 as well as increasing Dacron usage and reinforcement, handling-wise the kite loops have more neutrality and the smaller sizes have been steadied in speed but somehow retain incredibly consistent manoeuvrability. The usual efforts have been made in the constant quest to speed up the bigger sizes and make smaller sizes more stable and steady. More torsion in the tips and a greater twisting effect makes kites quicker, so the tips were extended allowing the back line attachment points to be moved further back for increased effect. The more distance created between the back and front lines increases power and depowering potential as well as making for a larger pivoting angle between the front and back lines. The closer the attachment points, the less possibility to depower the kite and the more 'set' the kite is in the sky. The Obsession is very adaptable, rangey and aimed at 80% of freeriders/freestylers who want to do a bit of everything. It remains RRD's bread and butter product.
The Obsession is still pretty good for handle-passes but the desire of all RRD's freestyle team riders for a C kite was high. Always wanting to provide the most sporty kites possible, Roberto insisted they introduced the Obsession Pro.
You'll notice the graphics of the Obsession and the Obsession Pro are very similar, but they are very different kites. The theory behind the similar look is to allow the coverage of RRD's pro riders to still market the 'Obsession' brand, rather than specifically the Pro model, which isn't really suitable for most people. Unless you're a really good, new school freestyler, you won't appreciate all it's capable of, but as we all aspire to own the most high-performing products, it's a clever move that makes us feel good about actually buying the right kite with our head, rather than with our hearts.
The Pro is a full C-shaped kite with a much thinner and longer leading edge and is higher-aspect than the Obsession with shorter central struts. C shaped kites being released now are very different to the models of five or six years ago. RRD had experience of the shape with the Type 7, 8 and Type Wave C kites, but the Obsession Pro is loaded with more features taken from the recent extra years of experience in hybrid kite building technology, such as a pivoting attachment points on the front lines with a small bridle and pulleys allowing the kite to readapt itself in the air much more than the very rigid shapes of the past. Strut positioning has been improved and wing-tip designs are much wider. Panel layouts include much more Dacron and there's a double seam on the leading edge. Further experience gained in terms of industrial kite building techniques on hybrid kites since C kites were last in favour have helped vastly improve 2012 C shape models.
Bridled hybrid kites tend to have a shorter leading edge arc because they are sustained by the bridle. Lots of leading edge attachment points through a bridle mean that the arc of the kite is pre-set much better in the air. True C shapes with longer tips tend to have just one point of attachment at the front corner, meaning that the kite tends to deform more in the air and constantly has to readapt itself. Being thinner and longer it's a softer kite with more bar pressure as there's no bridle. All the pressure in the front lines is directly linked to where the back lines are set. On the Pro the distance is much shorter than any other kite in the range, so the kite turns more through twisting, rather than the pressure you put on the lines. A thinner leading edge makes this much easier and more responsive. The Pro puts you directly in touch with the wind and the kite in the sky, much more so than any other kite and feels as though it's set on stiffer suspension for more feedback.
OBSESSION PRO DIFFERENCES
The difference in diameter on the leading edges of the Obsession and Obsession Pro is quite remarkable. Two thirds of the way up the wing tip of the Obsession and it's already about 20% thicker than the Pro. A shorter, thicker leading edge needs to have more support from the bridle because the kite tends to want to have a preset power. Swinging a rigid kite around without much twist in the air will naturally give you a booming boost through just pulling down on the bar as the kite keeps its wide open shape. A C shaped kite works much more narrowly, so you need the increased manoeuvrability to create boost. Even just carrying these kites to the beach it's obvious which is stiffer and softer; why the boost technique is so different.
The attachment points are almost right on the corners of the Pro; on the Obsession they're much further back allowing a more preset power in control. The Obsession sets itself in the air much more automatically. There's very little bar pressure but you know where it is. The Pro tends to be a more 'I'll go with you' rather than 'you come with me' kind of riding experience. You tend to interact with the kite more naturally. That's why you have to be good!
IS A C SHAPE KITE FASTER?
In terms of manoeuvrability, yes. If you take a 12 metre C shape and a 12 metre bridled kite, unless you really adapt the bridle design, the C shape should be faster because of the increased twisting effect of the kite itself.
But you cannot really compare a C shaped kite to a bridle design. Roberto snorts that it's like comparing a motorcross bike with a city bike. There's still an engine and two wheels, but the design, body, RPM and all these different features are so different. In general you'll find shorter strut design and longer leading edge on bigger sizes, versus longer struts in relation to shorter leading edges on smaller sizes as they have to handle more wind and produce more stability. You will normally tend to have higher aspect kites for big sizes and lower aspect kites for smaller sizes. It's a natural development.
The Addiction is designed specifically for racing and this year has had great results, including the Italian Championship. RRD started developing a race kite four years ago when they were asked to develop race boards for team riders in San Francisco, USA. Requests soon followed for different kites specifically for racing. The Addiction is a high-performance, high-aspect bridled kite delivering a lot of power at the low end while maintaining high-end control when the power grows around the race course or throughout back-to-back races. The racer's requested the Addiction to be able to fly further and further through the window as the kite powered up and that it also charges forwards to the edge of the window on upwind legs. The difficulty is then adding an ability for the kite to be really fast on the downwind leg; so that you can pull on the bar getting it to drift back in the window without it stalling through slack lines and that it can be looped all over the window with one hand without too much surging power.
The Addiction's racing qualities lie in its neutrality and some of those qualities have been passed on to the Passion. The bar pressure, shape, bridle settings and leading edge are similar. The Addiction has a little more body shape, thicker leading edge and seven struts instead of five and overall is just more stable and able to handle more load on the body itself. It's specifically designed to be ridden with very little power as well as totally powered up. They believe it's a very special kite and the Addiction mark 3 will see an increase in production to five sizes, released in March 2012.
The secret to the Addiction's low end power is basically to do with the great distance between the back tip and front bridle point, allowing the kite to really pivot – opening and closing the leach to more extremes than on other kites. This type of angling and shape positioned not too far forward, but fairly central in the kite means that it doesn't stall in light wind and keeps its shape when loaded.
Swept-back, thin wing-tips allow the kite to twist for excellent steering. The Addiction's leading edge is longer than the Passion by about 35 centimetres. More wing-tip increases the steering capacity.
The Religion represents everything that kiting should be about to Roberto as he believes it's the most fun kite they produce. The mark one Religion wave kite spent two years in the market until the time came to tweak some specific sizes for 2012. When you're heading into your top turn the kite is usually high in the sky, so nicely loaded and reacts nicely, but getting it to respond really quickly when it's low down and less powered required much more bar input, so they worked to achieve more of a C kite twist with less input needed on the bar to get it to come back up after you come off-the-top and head into your bottom turn. Roberto refers to this as the 'recall' of the kite.
The idea behind the Religion has always been to produce a kite that really anticipates all your moves; reacting within a split second to input just before you make your movement on the board. The Religion is generally more instinctive although the mark two four and five metres remain virtually identical as it proved difficult to make them any better in conditions of 45 knots+. Leading edges were redefined and lengthened in the six and eight metre models for more reaction, twist, smoother handling and reduced back stalling in waves, especially the bigger sizes. The nine, ten and 11 metre models have been totally resigned for increased grunt, much more low end power and also less back stalling; all vital components of an excellent wave kite. Pull on the bar this year and it will stay sat right on top of you. The aim of all-round improvements to the kite hooked-in or unhooked for strapped or strapless riding have widely believed to have been met.
The thick leading edge remains with bigger tips but more sweep for stability when under or over-powered. Reinforcements have been resigned around a similar panel layout corresponding to load points, meaning that should you break the kite in the surf, damage is likely to be limited to one or two panels rather than from the leading edge to the trailing edge.
Got all that? Good, coz next issue we tied up in bridle configurations!
More at: www.robertoriccidesigns.com