BackBone vs. Dropstitch Floor

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lee johnson
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BackBone vs. Dropstitch Floor

Post by lee johnson » Mon Oct 04, 2010 1:07 pm

The following observations on the DropStitch floor versus the BackBone are just one person's opinion. Your views may be different, and, if so, please post your impressions of this new product, the 7 lb. high-pressure drop-stitch floor (DS), which I will compare with the BackBone (BB). First, you need to know where I am coming from. Look, all AE kayaks are just fine as they are, without accessories. The low-pressure floor and the fixed aluminum forms in the bow and stern yield a very satisfying level of performance, especially if your inflatable kayak (IK) is used mainly in flatwater and calm conditions. Problems with the basic kayak may arise in extreme conditions, though, as large waves and winds at sea, for example, may produce "taco chipping," or folding of the kayak in the middle - and this may imperil the kayak's handling and stability (not to speak of the paddler's safety). I often am out on the bounding main, and even when paddling on large lakes, I love to take on wind and waves - but also am careful to remain as safe as possible (rough weather is great, btw, for using the new RapidUp sail, which works best in lively conditions, of course). In those cases, a BB or the new DS floor is, for me, not an accessory but a necessity. Not only are there essential benefits to one's safety in these accessories, but the BB and the DS improve the overall performance of the IK, although in somewhat different ways.

General Summary: Should you buy a DS? YES: if you prefer its convenience, light weight, and better performance compared to the heavier low-pressure "air mattress" floor that comes with the kayak. YES: if you have trouble clicking and unclicking the sections of the BB, which can be a bit of a challenge, particularly in freezing temperatures, as one's fingers refuse to find and push in those BB buttons. YES: especially if you have a Lagoon 2 or Advanced Frame Convertible (West Marine's AF 2), you will find the DS floor to increase your top speed by at least 50%. YES: if you take your current Advanced Frame kayak out on rivers and wish to preserve the ability to change direction quickly, as with the factory's low-pressure floor but with much improved protection against taco-chipping and swamping in white water. NO: if you already use a BB set-up, you would, in all likelihood, find the new DS floor to be redundant and, moreover, less efficient in its tracking and the effort required to paddle, since the V-shape the BB imparts to an IK seems to disperse "back-drag" better than the flat, stiff hull created by the DS. NO: if you find the cost of the DS to be prohibitive; drop-stitch technology is expensive, about twice the cost of an equivalent BB.

Detailed Remarks: One of my brothers and I tested the new DS in our Expeditions and compared it with the BB set-up we have been using over the past several years. Also, we were using "high-angle" paddles with rigid, large blades (Cannon "Waves" with carbon/fiber shafts, which provide a near-perfect "swing weight," which is the ratio of the weight of the blades to the weight of the shaft). If you use a "low-angle" paddle, which has a smaller and narrower blade, and mainly move along at slower speeds, the following observations may need to be modified accordingly. We tested the DS and BB set-ups at a fairly brisk cruising speed of 5 m.p.h., as well as top speeds attainable, measured with a GPS receiver. At top speeds around 6 m.p.h., there is not much difference between the DS and the BB: both work well. At top speeds and at the cruising speed just mentioned, however, it seems to take palpably more effort to keep things going with the DS floor. Perhaps there is greater "back-drag," especially at that pace, attributable to the stiff, flat shape of the hull with the DS. The V-shape in the hull created by the BB seems to attenuate the drag. At lower speeds in the 3 to 4 m.p.h. range, though, I doubt most paddlers would be able to notice any difference between the DS and the BB. Tracking and gliding also manifested differences. My brother felt that the differences were "radical" because the BB tracked and glided like an excellent hard-shell, whereas the DS quickly drifted, especially in a wind. I felt the differences were more subtle, although it is true that paddling in wind and waves highlights differences that tend to disappear in calm conditions. Perhaps my brother's familiarity with his BB in his EXP is also a factor in his decided preference for that set-up. Everything is a trade-off, though: the rock-solid tracking of a BB means less maneuverability, making the IK harder to turn (like a medium to long hard-shell); the DS, producing a flat hull, turns quickly and maneuvers in ways useful to a river-runner, who needs to avoid obstacles rapidly and safely. In a tandem, however, tracking and gliding and even turning are different from paddling solo. In that case, the distinction between the DS and the BB would be minimized; and the convenience of the simple set-up of the DS would make it a great option for a Lagoon 2 or an Advanced Frame Convertible (AF 2). Maybe the only difference in that case would be the state of the organic seating mechanism (the butt) after several hours of paddling: the softer "air mattress" floor that comes with the kayak may be kinder and gentler than the DS floor, which is impressively rigid and firm (but this may only reflect the loss of nether padding that tends, in my experience, to accompany age!).

AE seems always searching for new ways of solving problems, and the DS floor is only one of their latest great options for refining and fine-tuning one's enjoyment of AE kayaks. The DS floor is another arrow in the quiver of possibilities, one that is sure to win over fans who choose it as an accessory for the basic kayak they have bought. Such people will undoubtedly be delighted by their choice, especially if they have not already been using the BB. Even those who have the BB may be interested in the DS floor, particularly if they want more maneuverability, although tracking and gliding, in my opinion, will not be as good as the BB routinely provides; but the maneuverability of a DS floor will have the added strength of a hull, that, compared to the factory version, will resist taco-chipping on lively rivers.

dspid2404
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Post by dspid2404 » Mon Oct 04, 2010 7:26 pm

Thanks for the info Lee. In my case the backbone seems to be the way to go, especially since I already have one. I have a few comments / questions.

1. I wonder if it would be possible to have the Dropstitch floor designed with a "V" shaped bottom to give the better tracking performance.

2. Is the Dropstitch floor comfortable compared to the standard floor?

3. Does the seat slide around on the floor since it is so rigid?

4. How much effort is involved in inflating the Dropstitch floor? How many pumps of the double stroke pump, assuming you have one?

Thats it for now.

Don

lee johnson
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Post by lee johnson » Tue Oct 05, 2010 7:58 am

Don - I immediately thought the same thing: make a drop-stitch floor with a V-shape so that drag would be dispersed below and to the sides of the kayak and not just build up at the back of the stern, which seems to be the case with the flat hull created by the current DS floor. In fact, if you look at the design of the hull of Bic's Yakkair line, which also uses a high-pressure floor, there is, in addition, an inflatable, high-pressure keel that imparts the V-shape one seems to need to improve tracking. In other words, at this point, it does not seems possible to distribute high air pressures around drop-stitch floors with varying thicknesses. Airis kayaks also use high-pressure drop-stitch floors, and these SOTs are flat as paddleboards and use very large rudders to deal with tracking issues. I am told they are not fun to handle in windy conditions. My AF 1 and EXP (always with BBs in place) are, by comparison, real troopers in rough weather.

On my double-action hand pump, it takes about 20 pumps to reach the desired pressure on the DS floor. There is a gauge on the pump that goes up to 7 lbs., but I am never certain as to how accurate the gauge is. Back-pressure and a very hard floor result, in any event, implying that things are set up properly (it becomes almost impossible to pump further). The floor, when inflated, does not slide around at all. It is held in place very nicely by the main inflation chambers, as is the case with the factory low-pressure floor. So far as comfort goes, yes, the new DS floor is hard, compared to the "air mattress" floor that comes with the kayak from the factory. My ol' bottom is a tad more comfortable with the low-pressure floor over the BackBone than it is with the new high-pressure DS floor, but this is only an issue after a couple hours of paddling, or more. One final point: a really large person, such as my brother (in the 250-300 lb. range) can practically make an IK taco-chip a bit simply by sitting in it, even when a fully-inflated DS floor is in place. He needs the BB set-up just to keep an even keel!!

lee johnson
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Post by lee johnson » Tue Oct 05, 2010 11:35 am

It may be possible to weld, electronically, a high-pressure drop-stitch keel onto the existing DS floor. Say, a 4" X 4" square keel (100 mm X 100 mm) would probably be strong and supportive enough to create a V-shape in the hull. Of course, the cost of manufacturing such an addition might send the total price of an enhanced DS floor with keel to as much as three times the BB set-up. At that differential, most folks would probably be willing to learn how to click and unclick the sections of the BB (having done this hundreds of times, I do not even think about it any more), if achieving a V-shape to the hull is one's goal.

The advantages of the new DS floor are its simplicity, convenience, and light weight. Adding a high-pressure keel would compromise that simplicity and attractiveness. I think the choice between the DS floor and the BB remains what it is: it all depends on what kind of performance one wants, from set-up to take-down, with on-the-water action, in various conditions, as the most important determinant of one's choice.

gd.cocchi
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Post by gd.cocchi » Sat Oct 16, 2010 9:32 am

Just a simple question.
It's necessary remove every time the DS floor folding the kayak?
thanks

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Post by JCOOLEY » Mon Oct 18, 2010 8:18 am

No, it is not. It should fold up just like the floor that is already in the kayak.

Ryno
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Post by Ryno » Sun Apr 24, 2011 11:56 pm

What is the inflated thickness of the drop stitch floor vs the standard floor. Just wondering if it in any ways makes for more vertical leg room. Thanks.

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Post by Ryno » Tue May 24, 2011 9:34 am

Anyone have a response to my above question?

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Post by JCOOLEY » Wed May 25, 2011 3:01 pm

Thickness is about the same but the dropstitch is very stiff and does not have give like the default floor has. The default floor is softer and therefore your feet sink in it a little bit. You should have more vert with the default floor.

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MDO
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Improving keel shape

Post by MDO » Thu Aug 09, 2012 9:41 am

How about placing a 'noodle' underneath the DS floor (length-wise, to create a keel effect)???

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MDO
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Improving keel shape

Post by MDO » Thu Aug 09, 2012 9:48 am

How about placing a 'noodle' underneath the DS floor???

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Post by JCOOLEY » Thu Aug 09, 2012 10:13 am

You are just not going to have enough room to do both. A noodle is also larger around than the backbone and has no rigidity to it. More than likely it can move around with the water pushing it from underneath.

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Post by FrankP » Wed Aug 29, 2012 5:42 pm

I have had the BB and DS floor in together twice and the results aire great. Better tracking than with the DS only and more comfortable than with the BB and re.g. floor. We cut through nearly 2 ft choppy lake waves and a 15 mph headwind with no problem with progress and direction. Waves used to turn the bow easily with just the DS in place. There os plenty off room for my 260 lbs 6ft body and my wife in front. We have a Convertible with the conversion deck. There is also a pronounced "V" in the hull.
Try it if you have both.

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MDO
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ds floor + backbone

Post by MDO » Sat Sep 01, 2012 6:17 pm

Thanks so much for the idea - tried it today, it was awesome. The stiff ds floor seems to allow for a stiffer hull, the backbone distributes the weight along the whole kayak, and does create a better keel. Performance on my advanced rame, and on my husband's Exped were greatly improved.

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Post by FrankP » Sat Sep 01, 2012 7:18 pm

We went out again yesterday on a 2 mile lake. The wind was strong from the east. We paddled out to the middle into 2 ft waves and 15 plus mph winds. We had no trouble with tracking using the BB and DS floor. We popped up the Wind Paddle sail and sailed about a mile. We had to paddle back into the wind. There were white caps and waves over 2 ft high. We made our way back slower but never had tracking issues even though we were on a diagonal track into the wind. We did sail more after paddling back. I love this configuration with our AF Convertible. Also we like the deck conversion. I doubt we will ever use the kayak without this setup. BtW we don't feel we are sitting higher.

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