Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Race Kite Prices - Why are they so expensive?

If you have looked into a high performance race kite, then you have obviously discovered that they are not cheap! Many people ask how come a Vapor or Yakuza GT costs nearly double the price of the same size power kite of a different model? For the most part, they are made from the same manufacturer, the same materials, similar bag.... Why the huge increase in price?

Well, I have asked these same questions to our manufacturers because I too was wondering why the huge swing in prices. Here is a summary of what I have learned over the years with kites and kite design.

One thing that many probably don't realize is that a vast majority of the power kites on the market are designed with one single kite and basic kite design. Take the Beamer or the Hornet just as an example. The designers usually make one physical kite, usually in the 3 or 4 meter sizes, design it on their cad system, work out all of the details as best as possible, then go to the cutting room and hand cut / hand sew / hand build / hand bridle that one kite. Then it goes into the field for real life testing and flying. The errors are found, and then the kite goes back into the cutting room, ripped apart, re-cut / re-sewn / re-bridled and then tested again. Once that kite seems to be decent, it is passed on to many other pilots who spend as many hours as possible on that kite to once again work out any defects or issues.

Once the kite has proven itself worthy of getting the logo of the manufacturer stamped onto it, it then goes into production. They take the final design and then simply scale it up and/or down for all the different sizes.
Larger kites may get a re-design if the performance is not up to par, usually this is very minor and will only result in the addition of a few more cells and/or sometimes the bridles will be tweaked on the larger sizes. Even with these small mods, the kite is still based off of the same original main design. All of this effort can take thousands of man hours and a year or even longer to get a final design. Once the final design is done, they are produced in mass numbers and shipped out all over the world. They may even take that same basic design and do minor changes/tweaks/adjustments/improvements and use it for several years of kite models. The major expense of the initial design and R&D is a one time expense.

Race kites such as the Yakuza GT, Prodigy and the Vapor are not produced this way. Instead, every single size is produced by itself and is it's own design. It is not just scaled up or down from a single basic initial kite. By scaling the initial kite, the larger sized kites end up with thicker profiles, fatter leading edges and wider cells. To keep the race kites performing as fast and as powerful as the original size, the development process above is literally followed for every individual size in the entire lineup. Because of the severe competition levels that these kites will be put against, it just doesn't work to have one size that is optimally refined while all the other sizes are acceptable. Every size must be personally designed, tweaked, the profiles are all different, the width of each wing size will be configured at it's optimum performance and the size and number of cells will be perfectly selected for each size kite so that every size kite is at it's optimum performance level. If it takes one year or even longer to produce basic power kites, it could take 4-5 years or even longer to produce each individual size of a true high performance race kite. This is also the reason that many models will be upgraded each year or every other year while race kites seem to stick around for 4-5 years before seeing a new model or major overhaul.

All of the R&D done on race kites are done at the extreme racing level, which also takes much more time to refine and develop than just flying the kite at the local park and seeing if it will drag you around without collapsing or overflying. When testing, the weather has to be cooperate which we all know can be very frustrating by itself, add that to having to have qualified skilled pilots who can push these kites at their fastest and most extreme edge. Limited testing time makes production even harder and more time consuming. Not only that, but its not good enough to just be able to fly back and forth through the window, the R&D to get a kite to perform at its maximum power while being at the furthest edge of the window is beyond time consuming and exceptionally difficult. Then to have to do that for every individual size... the time involved is astronomical.

Last, you have to figure in the amount of sales compared to the amount of investment and cost. Lets face it, race kites don't sell nearly as much as the other models; partly because of the cost, partly because of the expertise needed to handle them and where/how they are going to be used. Race kites are usually only purchased by people who are at the top of their skills and/or are competing. Because of the small amount of race kites sold, compared to the huge amount of cost to produce the product - you end up with a kite that is exceptionally expensive to buy. The performance of these high end racing machines is incredible and every size performs at it's optimum level. They are a true work of art.

Is a race kite worth it to you? Well, only you will be able to reply to that question. Be warned though, once you fly one of these high performance machines it is hard to go back to the others. Especially in the buggy on long runs. The race kites have so much more performance that it is hard to not justify having at least one in your arsenal of power kites.

Hope this helps shed some light on how kites are priced and what goes into them.

Till next time....