Kit reviews…NOW O_Drive bindings & Jones Carbon Flagship 168W

kit that works!

I’ve been getting  a lot of questions about the kit that I’m using at the moment so here’s a little info on what I’m using, why and what I think of it…

Kit that works?

I’m a bit picky when it comes to the kit that I use. I’m riding everyday, 9 till 4, usually in the Backcountry trying to find the best turns that I can, but I’m riding all conditions all of the time, so basically I need kit that works and that I can rely on.

It’s very rare to get a day when everyday is just perfect top to bottom all day long and so my kit has to be able to handle it all and give me the confidence to charge hard in all conditions.

Most of the time I’ll also be loaded up with a heavy Pack full of BC essentials both for myself and the team I’m riding with and this also places extra pressure on the kit that I ride.

A lot of kit these days isn’t made to last the test of time and I’m always modifying things to make them it work better (especially with Splitboard kit).

Anyway, here’s some info on some of the kit that I’ve been riding and which I had questions about recently.

At the moment I’m riding the NOW O-drive bindings…

I tried the NOW bindings last season but found the high backs a little small and wasn’t totally convinced with the whole ‘pivot like a skateboard’ concept. I did find them super comfy though and they seemed to work, but when I eventually went back to my tried and trusted Cartels I did notice a big difference in the support and effort I needed, especially balancing on my heelside turns, which was like having a holiday back on the cartels.

After a while though I started to feel that I’d actually gained a better feeling from the NOW bindings, which I was now lacking on the Cartels.

The Cartels did the job, no questions asked, but ‘there did seem to be a bit more edge feel, edge power and flare to riding on the NOW set up’…

My interest was raised!

I’m all about using my feet to flex and bend the board so that it turns by design rather than rotating it by force (I know there’s a time and place for both, but I try to flow in arcs whenever possible and flow with the terrain rather than against it). My whole concept of using focused pressure to bend and steer the board stems around tiny movements of the feet.

As such I wasn’t convinced by the concept of the binding ‘pivoting toe to heel’ on the deck of the board, understanding that any movement between my foot and the board is surplus to what I need to control and steer the thing.

I understood the theory, that once pivoted towards the edge, I might get a stronger lock and more pressure, but the delay in the movement of the board from edge to edge due to the pivot action did cause me some concern!

The NOW website explains the system as such…

The ‘Hanger’ powerfully transfers energy input from the straps to the bushings and onto the edges of your board. The Kingpin acts as a fulcrum, magnifying this energy through leverage. Traditional bindings diminish energy transfer by the flexing and bending of their baseplate, forcing you to crank your straps down harder, ride with more forward lean, or run taller and stiffer highbacks. This all leads to more foot fatigue and pain. NOW bindings bypass the middle of the snowboard and direct your energy right onto the board’s edges.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed that the cartel binding was flexing in the base plate probably about as much as the NOW binding with the pivot system and at least the NOW binding was designed to do it? With the Cartel it seemed that my heel was just lifting the binding from the board, where as with the now system my foot was actually staying flat and the binding ‘hanger’ was moving with the boot…interesting!

I tried the NOW bindings again and straight away found them super comfy and once I’d adapted and accepted a little more balancing work due to the smaller highjack they began to feel nice and worked really well…

The flare was back!

So, actually the footpad under your boot doesn’t move, it is the the binding around your foot that moves with your ankle movement, and so if you keep a sold feeling through your foot you get a very precise feel and ride with no toe or heel lift or base plate flex.

In effect, your heel isn’t actually lifting as it can do with the flex of a conventional binding, it is the ‘hanger’ that moves with the flex of your ankle and boot, actually the toe and heel stay pretty much locked to the footpad and the board giving you a pretty precise feel.

This is an interesting concept…maybe the guys are onto something after all?

I rode the bindings a good deal last season, but struggled a little when fully loaded with all my BC Guiding kit due to the lack of support from the spoiler…

So anyway, this year, (after saying you don’t need a taller highjack or more forward lean on the website) the O Drive came out with a higher stiffer Spoiler with a greater forward lean option.

Immediately, my interest was raised…Could this just be the answer to my problems and offer both the performance and support I need when riding fully loaded.

Fortunately, before I could ask, the guys at Nidecker/NOW sent me a pair in the post.

Nice…Not only does this binding look the bomb in all carbon, it has the measurements to go with it in terms of performance,

The new highjack is made from Carbon and shaped really well with a slight curve to catch for and aft pressure on the heel side edge. The Spoiler is stiff, high enough and yet still comfortable, even with full forward lean.

The NOW binding sells itself as being one of these bindings that you can ride with out Highbacks, but this is maybe for smaller guys who ride from 10 until 2 with out 20KG on their backs day in day out? Although I have ridden the system with out a highjack or forward lean, I find this a lot harder work when it comes to riding choppy changeable conditions when fully loaded and so personally I prefer to have the support of a high Spoiler and the new design on the O-drive is very nicely shaped and very supportive.

The forward lean adjustment is very good but needs some attention when you’re setting it up.

After riding with what I thought was the maximum lean, which wasn’t much, I worked out that you need to take it to bits, (fortunately the bindings also come with a really nice little multi tool and a handy measuring tape) you then turn things over and re build it to get the real maximum forward lean.

Once I’d done this, the bindings started to feel super nice and the force was back with me.

The hanger of the bindings pivots on a central axis toe to heel. You get to choose how much it does this by changing the pads that fit under each corner of the binding, heel and toe side. I use the hard pads to reduce the movement and lock in strong edge pressure.

For the most part you’re not going to notice the movement at all, but you may well notice stronger edge pressure and a smoother edge lock in carves.

The foot pad under your boot is super comfy with a nice curve up to the toe pad and a nice solid supportive feel under your heel.

The binding is well shaped and your boot feels snug and solid in the binding.

The binding is solid feeling and doesn’t flex apart from through the pivot, the heel cup is a nice height (really high) and supports the boot and highback really well (a high heel cup is also good if you’re into the no spoiler movement). I’m a big fan of a high heel cup, it just adds so much of a solid feel to the binding and gives you total heel lock down.

The straps are very nice. the heel strap can be flipped to offer more lock down in the ankle or instep.

For Freeride I flip it to lock down the ankle.

The toe strap is a standard around the toe affair, but is nice and strong and super effective. The toe strap adds efficiency in heel side turns giving a solid lock down. You can feel your foot stay locked to the baseplate even if you pull up on your toes to increase the heel edge.

The buckles/clips are super nice… for about the first week or two.

The solid sound and the click they make when you first get them is a joy to your eyes, ears and feet, they give a superb lockdown.

Probably some of the best buckles you’ll find…

For about a week or so anyway!

After about a week, the springs in all my NOW buckles started to fail and on the heel strap the buckles actually bent out of alignment.

Spring failure isn’t uncommon and they will still work but will have that floppy open look to them.

The bent buckles however started to show signs of metal fatigue pretty quickly and looked like they were about to snap and fail.

When I took them off to have a look, I saw that it is actually the axel across the ratchet pivot that has bent and so the whole thing has failed due to this part. Eventually I had to replace the heel buckles with Burton ones, but had to file down the little tooth that pushes into the strap in front of the screw as it a smaller non standard size on the NOW buckle.
Quite handy to know, if you’re carrying spares that are not ‘NOW’ brand as they might not fit!

The NOW buckle is way nicer and gets you a super sold feel from the straps than the Burton buckle, but it failed and so that was the end of that.

I see on the web site that you can order replacement buckles and I hope that in the future they give them a little work as so far this is the only gripe I have with the NOW O-Drive Binding.

I’m still not totally convinced by the whole pivot action thing that’s going on, I’m not sure how much sense it makes to have surplus movement between my binding and the board, but I can understand the increase in pressure and it seems to give a nice ride and they do feel nice…so I’m going to just go with it for now.

I’d like to try a set of O-Drive’s that don’t pivot just so that I can get a compare! Or maybe a thicker hard pad set to cope with the force of a bigger rider with a heavy load.

Anyway to conclude…This is a very nice, comfortable and solid binding that definitely gives your ride a little ‘something else’.

Tweak the forward lean to your liking, adjust the heel strap, crank them up and away you go…

Just watch how you treat the buckles…they’re so nice when they are new, if only they could stay like this?

If you read this JF and Alex…stiffen the axel in the buckles, improve the springs and you have a winning product all-round!

carbon-flagship

My next review is on the Jones Carbon Flagship 168W which I have been riding a lot recently, since the snow started to get a bit deeper and covered up the rocks.

Up until now, my go to board has always been the regular Flagship 168W.

I’m a size 10 uk or 45 euro boot. I could get away with riding the regular width board, but at 5mm wider I get all the benefits of zero toe/heel overhang. There’s bit of a myth when it comes to wide boards, that they’re slower edge to edge. In actual fact, it’s all relative to your foot size and how much edge overhang you get. Not enough and you’ll have to move more and work your foot more to get strong edge pressure, too much and you’ll over kill the edge, get touch down and slide out. Choose the width of board relative to the size of your foot and if you’re UK 9.5 or bigger you should seriously consider getting a wider board.

Anyway, back to the Flagship!

I’ve been riding the Carbon Flag 163W, but not the 168W, simply because Mr Jones didn’t have any to spare!

The 163W carbon, is a little short for me, but on mixed days when the conditions are tight, I’ve been quite happy riding it. I’ve also used it quite a bit for piste riding, training and coaching the art of carving or for just playing around in the type of terrain, and at a speed, when a shorter board is a benefit.

In comparison to the normal Flag 168W I’ve always found the carbon 163W a lot stiffer, slightly harder work but more manoeuvrable, as you’d expect.

It’s definitely harder to bend into a carve than its bigger non carbon brother, but this also means that although its shorter, I can get away with riding it without fear of bending it to much or getting spat out the front in powder or chop.

Obviousley, I widened the stance to accommodate my 68cm squat, setting the holes back rather than forwards to keep the nose length at a maximum.

In effect, my C163W rides more like a stiff Hovercraft than any other Flagship that I’ve ridden, which is actually quite nice in tight conditions.

All in all I really liked the carbon 163W but when it came down to picking a go to board for general Freeriding, especially when fully loaded for BC Guiding, I’d have to say that the regular non carbon, but bigger brother was winning in the polls.

And so this year, I received a full Carbon shake down to my quiver.

Introducing the Flagship Carbon 168W, the carbon Solution 168W and the Ultra Craft…(The Ultra craft looked a little light and thin for me, so I immediately swapped it for the Flagship 172, which I will report on at a later date.)

So onto the Flagship Carbon 168W…

As it says on the Jones Snowboards website, the carbon Flagship shouldn’t be underestimated. These boards are a lot stiffer than their non carbon brothers…I repeat…A lot stiffer!

If you understand that a board should be flexed and bent in order for it to turn by design, then you’ll also understand both the benefits and disadvantages of a board that is very stiff in design.

For those that don’t understand this concept, you’re in for a bit of a shocker and a ‘Wow, this board is fast!’ sort of experience…Simply because you won’t be able to turn the f**ker.

Having ridden the Carbon 163W and found it a full on ‘better be on it, powerful’ sort of ride, I was a little intrigued and almost anxious to get out on the 168W carbon.

Early season the conditions weren’t good and I couldn’t face that feeling of rock tug to Ptex base or even worse, destroyed edge, to my new posh looking stick.

I sent it off to get drilled up for my wider 68cm stance (as I do with all my boards), putting two more holes fore and aft of the standard pattern (why they don’t come wider I don’t know? Does anyone ride the inner hole pattern on a board over 150 in length? My girls are already on the maximum hole patterns on their 110cm and 130cm board!)…comments from those in the many industry please??

Anyway, once prepped I put it to one side, its time would come with the fresh snow…I hoped.

Eventually the snow came…It came and it came and with so much snow, I bypassed the 168W carbon and got out on the bigger Flagship 172 instead…(review to follow at a later date…but you can guess how this rides?).

Finally the time felt right and the Carbon Flagship 168W ‘left the building’!

The board looks sharp, it looks powerful and with the carbon NOW O-drive bindings on, it is an all carbon affair and looks high performance.

After riding the 163 Carbon, I expected the C168W to be almost too stiff…

But I was pleasantly surprised to find that it just f**king charged!

I really thought that this board was going to be almost to much to handle. I’m not sure if its softer this year because its been lightened as I’ve not ridden the previous models, but for me this ride seemed about perfect right from the off. Maybe if I’d started out on earlier in the season it might have felt stiffer but after a month or so of power in the legs it felt just right.

Immediately gone was the nose vibration and chatter that I sometimes get on the regular Flagship.

In tighter dynamic carves and changeable terrain, I also noticed that any fear of overloading and over flexing the nose was completely gone, I’ve been saved from the over the nose experience on more than one occasion when riding at speed in flat light in choppy powder and mixed terrain.

The tail feels lively, there’s definitely more power back there, more to work with and the edge just feels clean and solid…You can totally crank the end of your turns getting maximum snap and rebound without any fear of wash out.

You have to be more on top of your game for sure, but if you know where to put the pressure and how to bend and flex a board the C168W gives you everything you need and more.

Since I started riding this dream ship, its been hard to go back to my other boards. I rode the Flag 168W on a choppy changeable conditions day, thinking that it would be easier to bend into the flow of changeable terrain, but spent all day backing off the nose and over flexing the tail…something was definitely missing…It’s amazing what a layer of carbon can do!

The only problem I have with the Carbon Flagship is my fear of what my life will be like if I brake it or damage it beyond repair and can’t ride it anymore?

It’s one of those boards that you just want to look after, I de-burr the edges as soon as I hear a rock snatch and wax it every weekend…Something I rarely do with other boards!

Never before have I felt the connection that I have with this board, it just feels so clean to ride, so responsive, it gives back what you give it and make no mistake it has lots to give.

Should you get one?

I can’t answer that one, but I thought it was going to be a special board for special occasions, days when I felt strong, on top of the game or in steep and deep.

In actual fact, this is now my go to board for all my riding, I find it difficult to not want to ride it, the only thing stopping me taking it out everyday is my fear of damaging it (Jeremy…send me a spare asap!?!)…Or because I’m going Splitting!

But now on Splitting days…I have the carbon Solution 168W (I’ll comment on the Carbon Solution in a later blog)…is my life complete?

So, I have nothing negative to say about the C168W, nothing to add (except the wider stance!) so if you’re feeling on top of your game and in need of that little extra, maybe, just maybe ‘this is the board you’re looking for’!

Hope you find this interesting, thats it for now…

Neil.