Bell laminate options

I have really wanted a Bell Magic or Merlin 2 in BlackGold for quite a few years now. I now have an opportunity for either presented to me that is almost too good to resist, but neither are BlackGold, they’re Kevcrystal (now replaced by KevLight). What do you guys think about this older lay-up compared to the BlackGold?

Most of my paddling is on flatwater, but I occasionally dabble in Class 2. Despite this, I am leaning towards the Magic, even though I also paddle a lot of twisty steams. This particular Magic has wood gunwales, which is my preference and the Merlin has the aluminum ones. I paddle about 40 days a year and I feel I have good control with just about any canoe. Your 2 cents would be appreciated, as I’d like to digest this before making my decision.

I’m off for the weekend to paddle in the Adk’s.

Bell layups
When I was shopping for my Prospector, it seemed that there was a more or less smooth tradeoff in the Royalex/BlackGold/KevLite progression. At each step, you get lightness and give up robustness on rocks, flying off the roof rack, etc.

My goal was extending my career by a couple of years, still being able to travel without worrying too much about destroying the boat.

I picked the BG and so far, so good, but I haven’t really gotten it pinned or rammed anything with it yet either.

I know. Not much help. But it’s the best I can offer.


I know the KC isn’t as durable as the BG, but I’m looking at this particular canoe since it would save me almost $1000 over a BG one. Would like to hear if anyone has anything good to say about KC.

It’s fine for flatwater, but I don’t think I’d use it on class 2. My personal choice would be whitegold for those conditions, but I don’t like paying unnecessary $ for a boat that’s going to get banged around.

If you paddle twisty stuff, you might want to take the MerlinII. It’s enough more maneuverable than the Magic that it might be the better boat for those conditions.

If you’re headed up to the Adirondacks, you could always check the Mountain Man Outdoors website. I think they have some Bells discounted a little bit.

kev crystal sturdiness
The benefit is light weight - only - as far as I can tell. Light weight is wonderful and you’ll appreciate it every time you use the boat. But the Bell solos are usually pretty easy to handle in any of their lay-ups.

Sometimes the lightweight lay-ups feel like jelly. There’s quite a bit of boat to boat variation. I paddle with a woman that had the return a Kev Crystal Bell Morningstar because it was like jelly. I had a Swift lightweight kevlar boat and also expedition kevlar and I never get the lightweight pay-up again.

My black/gold Merlin II is super strong and stiff and strong and has slammed so many rocks that I’ve lost count.

I had a Magic. I prefer the Merlin big time. Merlin is far more maneuverable than a Magic (Magic stuboorn to turn…Merlin turns reasonably well but still nowhere near a Wildfire) and cruising speed seems very similar…and the effort is lower in the Merlin.

It might depend on the load you’ll carry. I much prefer my Merlin with my dog…a solid 260 pounds total, versus alone…maybe 185. The weight gives it glide and gives up acceleration but it has so much acceleration you can give some up easily.

I’d say push on the hull to see how flexible it is…if it strikes you as being flexible, you may be disappointed if you buy it. If you can test paddle it you should.

Just my two cents

…the other advice was pretty good. I’ve only paddled the KevlarCrystal once, a Wildfire…the first Bell I had ever paddled. I can’t remember any serious issues with the bottom floor’s ruggedness…I think it may be more of the same decision as with Wenonah’s Flexcore-VS-UltraLight…where the difference is mainly above the waterline. Had a BG Magic for three yrs…had to sell->downsized & had to move to work,…have heard the same opinions on efficiency with the MerlinII as Weenie expressed and I wouldn’t doubt it. The Magic’s hull wasn’t the fastest…but could rock & roll with everything short of high breakers…loved it for that, but I’d go with the MerlinII… You really should get outside, find a boat in both materials, and demo em’…even $500 is too much to spend on something that you won’t fully appreciate and feel free to go wherever you wanna go…


I agree with all above
I’m just not a fan of the Magic. Sure it’s fast and handles most flatwater conditions well, bu tI just feel too hemmed in by the close gunnels and the low seat. I’ts pretty impossible to kneel in a Magic, the chines are too close together and too rounded, and the seat is too low. If you raise the seat to fit your feet under then you lose the stabilty when you are sitting. I much prefer a more all-around canoe such as the Merlin II or the Swift Osprey. For the uses you’ve described I’d vote for the Merlin II. That’s just my preference, of course. As for the Kev Crystal, I had a Bell Morningstar and a Northstar both in Kev Crystal, and both were 2004 models before Bell went to the Kev Lightening. The Kev Crystal has a clear gel coat, and the Lightening doesn’t, and according to Bell, Lightening is tougher than the former Kev Crystal. The clear gel coat adds about 4-6 pounds to the weight, and it scratches easily. Since you’re getting $1000 off it looks like you’re getting a Kevlar canoe at Royalex prices, so you may not give a hoot if the bottom gets scratched. I know I wouldn’t, but that’s just me. Good luck with your purchase. It would be really good if you could paddle both before deciding.

No Class II for my Merlin
I’ve the Merlin II in the Kev Light and will never again take it on class II. I tried it and wound up with a few deep scratches and some bruising. I love it’s performance on flat water and I love the light carry to the water, but I just don’t think the lay-up is quite beefy enough to handle banging rocks. For me it’s just too much of a downside to risk losing my flat water cruiser.


I’m back from a killer trip in the Adks, only to find some great replies to my question.

I figured the KevCrystal might have some flex, but now I question hull design. I should say that I’m probably going to hold on to the Yellowstone Solo for CII and the twisties, so my goal with this latest purchase would be SPEED while carrying a load. I do plan on test paddling them both, but would you say the Merlin is as fast as the Magic? My thoughts would be that the Magic has the edge.

I’d say Magic
I have paddled both side by side, and I’d give the Magic the edge. I’ve seen the Magic or Merlin II question a couple times and frankly I’m not sure there is a fair comparison. The Merlin is shorter, has more rocker and the arch is different. When comparing the two upside down the Magic presents itself as a straightline boat and the Merlin as a good river tripper.

Also had a chance to paddle with and pick the mind of the designer of both boats. If I remember right the Magic was designed with a racing heritage.

Both are competant boats so and can do open water travel equally well, so I’d advise look at your weight and intended use and pick from there. My buddy (150 lbs) has the Merlin and loves it. I (190 lbs) have the Magic and love it. We have paddled eachothers boats and agree they are both nice.

Good luck. I don’t think either way you’ll be dissatisfied.


BTW Mine is the KevCrystal/KevLight and I have found no hull flex and plan to do water entry (no shore ramming). Though in testament to the durability I got my on deal because it came off the trailer at full speed on the way to a store. Resulting damage is a couple scratches and a bent gunwale. Pretty sure it will take a couple rocks at the Boundary Waters.