Friday, July 23, 2010

Cheap Kites VS. High End Expensive Kites

So obviously, I am not that prompt on keeping up with my blog posts.....for my own satisfaction I will say that I am concentrating on quality over quantity....yea....that may work for now. I will try to be more diligent on getting more blog posts up for all of you in the future...but I can't give you any guarantee right now. :)

Ok, so I get tons of questions asking what the real difference is between a "cheap" stunt kite and a high dollar stunt kite is. The reason the question is asked is because to the normal shopper, both kites appear to be made from the same materials, have basically the same shape and look to be built about the same way. Of course there are obvious differences such as the higher end kites already having things like Yo-Yo stoppers installed or more detail to the leading edges, nose and back of the kite to reduce snagging points....but other than that, what really makes those high dollar sport kites cost so darn much??

Well, hopefully after this blog post you will have a much better idea as to why this is so.

The biggest difference between a "cheap" kite and an expensive one is usually the materials that are used to produce it. Most high end kites are produced with Icarex or Ripstop Polyester material. These materials are quite expensive to purchase and run the cost of the kite up much more than say Toray or Chicara or even standard ripstop nylon. Also, different materials have different types of coating on them to help protect them against UV damage as well as being somewhat water repellent and the coatings also effect the amount of porosity (how much air can blow through the material). The higher end kites usually have much better coatings that allow the kites to fly better in different wind conditions. Also, the more expensive materials such as Ripstop Poly and Icarex PC31 allow nearly zero stretch so your sail will stay stiffer over longer periods of time and will have less tendency to stretch out which can effect the way the kite flies. It has also been mentioned that Icarex "slips" through the air easier with less drag....well, I haven't really had any solid evidence on this so take this bit of info for what its worth. Regardless, Icarex usually costs about 4-6 times more per square yard than Ripstop Nylon. As most of the kite is the sail, just making a standard kite will cost the maker over 4 times as much going to Icarex over ripstop nylon. Like pretty much everything, the nicer materials usually cost premium. Ripstop Polyester or Icarex aren't necessarily chosen because they cost more, truth be is that they are stronger than ripstop Nylon and lighter, meaning that the designer can build a larger kite that weighs a fraction of what a kite with Nylon would weigh. This allows the designer to move the weight of the kite around to where it needs to be to perform tricks better while not adversely effecting light wind performance.

The second and usually the most unrealized cost is the time that is put into producing a high end kite. With some kite manufacturers, they can spend up to two years or even longer fine tuning and perfecting a design before they are satisfied enough to put their name on it and sell it. The designer makes sure the kite is absolutely the best it can be in all areas. Each re-design and tweak can be as simple as moving a tow point, changing the bridle, swapping out rods, repositioning the stand offs or upper and lower spreaders, etc... - all that can usually be done on the same prototype. But other redesigns such as deeper sail, different aspect ratio, longer spreaders, different curvatures in the leading edges, etc... all mean that the maker has to sit down and re-build a whole new kite. Most of the time the new rebuild replaces the older design and the old design is trash canned and no good to anyone. As mentioned above about the cost of material, this can add up pretty quickly and start to get very expensive.

I know of some kite makers that have worked on a kite for over a year and a half and have gone through hundreds of re-designs, resulting in building the same kite (with new ideas) two or even three dozen times. When the finished design is finally ready to market, you are not just paying for that one kite but actually having to pay a portion of the 30 - 40 different kites that were needed to get to that one final design - not to mention the hundreds of hours it took to get the kite finished. Total cost of building one high end kite could be as much as $20,000.00 or more if you added up all the hours, all the materials, the packaging, shipping, marketing, labeling etc.... Divide that cost over 75 to 150 kites that will be sold over the next two or three years (hopefully more will be sold but that would be pushing it), you end up with a kite that costs the kite maker to build about 150.00 to 200.00 each. The one kite you are purchasing may only cost about 30-40 bucks in materials....but you aren't really paying for that one kite, but paying for the designer and builder to produce a kite that is absolutely a dream to fly which includes everything else listed above. With most high end sport kites costing around $250 to $300 from your local dealer, you can see there is very little profit in them for the actual builder. Most high end kite builders do it more for the love of flying than profits...and many of them still have to keep their day jobs to make normal everyday ends meet.

Another factor in cost is the frame materials. Most high end kites will use a hand wrapped carbon or even a tapered wrapped carbon frame. Tapered rods can be designed into the kite to give the kite much more response and stiffness in different ares over normal protruded carbon rods. Again, wrapped carbon costs about 10 times more to make and is usually made by hand. Tapered Wrapped Carbon...well, thats even more. And if that isn't enough, some manufacturers such as Skyshark will even go one step further with their Nitro rods which are Tapered Wrapped Carbon rods that are sanded smooth and then lacquered for the ultimate in sexyness. If you are going to purchase a high end kite, you may as well get the best looking rods in it. :) Most mass produced kites will use protruded carbon rods or even fiberglass rods which are not quite as nice as the wrapped carbon and not nearly as strong or as light. Protruded rods are all straight rods and can not be made tapered which is another drawback when choosing rods for a particular application. Most higher end kites will use a combination of wrapped and/or protruded carbon. Again these rods are not only stronger, but are much lighter allowing the designer to position the weight of the kite right where it is needed to perform the way they want the kite to perform.

Now a "cheap" kite takes about oh.....20 minutes to design and finalize. Plug it into a computer, cut a demo, take it out and if it goes up in the air then its ready to go into production. People who design "cheap or mass produced" kites usually don't care if the kite can do everything....or even care if it can do anything. As long as it goes up and looks pretty, its done. Not only is there no real R&D costs, but the materials are usually whatever is cheapest at the time.

As said before, when it comes to high end kites and "cheap" really do get what you pay for. Now I am not saying that if you purchase a high end kite such as a Skyburner or Blue Moon you will instantly become the next worlds best pilot and be able to do everything under the sun....but the high end kites will allow you to learn faster and be much easier and nicer to fly - and if you are working on tricks, the high end kites will do those tricks much easier and smoother. Some tricks just can't be done on a "cheap" kite. One thing is for sure though, if you can't do a trick on a high end kite, chances are it isn't the kite that is holding you back. :)

There are some really great kites that are inexpensive. I would not call these kites as "cheap" because these kites are actually made by some really good kite designers and are made from some really good quality materials - "cheap" to me means they are kinda junky kites. There are some very nice kites that are not junky or "cheap" but instead, very affordable. Some of these would be the Premier Nighthawk, Premier Wolf, Premier Jewel, Premier Addiction, Prism Quantum, Prism Nexus, Flying Wings Acrobatx, Flying Wings Silver Fox Series, Skydog Crossfire... and I am sure some others that I can't seem to recall right now. All of these kites are very capable of doing a majority of today's tricks and most of them can be purchased under or slightly more than $100.00 - and they also come with good quality lines and flying straps!!!

So an affordable and capable kite doesn't necessarily have to be a "cheap" kite that you can't grow with.

Hope that helps!

Till next time......