Comment on Newsletter - re "Stability"

Stability is of course a common concern, and covered - but only in part - here by

Let’s first discuss the positives of this article. The instructor encourages all kayakers to find the “tipping point” of his kayak by actually tipping over (wearing a life jacket) and without equipment on board. This of course is extremely valuable, as it will (a) develop confidence, (b) help you find where your “edge” is, past which you will dump and © is good practice for reentry. He also demonsrates standing, yet another skill.

Now the negatives, and sadly they are rather significant. First of all, the instructor speaks of “stability” as though it were a singular and known thing. The truth: the notions of “primary stability” and “secondary stability” are very different and very important to understand - yet - they are not even mentioned.

A wide, flat bottomed kayak has high primary, and is what feels the most “stable” to a brand new kayaker, as it tends to stay level - reassuring to the noob. But though this may feel safer, is it really? Not really. Even in relatively calm water there are always passing motorboats. In active rivers or the flats or ocean, there are wind driven waves and wakes.

And what happens? This wide, flat bottomed kayak - instead of allowing the waves to roll under it (like a round bottomed kayak), will actually follow the contour of the wave, and be forced - yes forced - to tip by it. Such a design is not seaworthy in rough conditions, storms and high winds.

In contrast, a narrower, roundish bottomed kayak, which easily rocks from side to side for the noob, is actually MUCH more seaworthy. The waves and wakes will roll under it, and the rounded hull allows the kayak to stay much more upright (unlike the flat bottomed barge, which is forced to tip by the wave). The result: this latter design is MUCH safer in storms, high winds, oceans, or from wakes from the side.

What tends to happen is that the wide, flatter hull feels “stable” to a point, but then hits the edge and goes over - FAST and without much warning. The narrower, rounder hull will tend to stay more upright, and though it may feel more “rocky” has a more gradual transition to its edge - you can feel it coming, and you really have to almost force the kayak over.

Wide, standable designs are really designed for calm weather and close to flat conditions - hardly something you can guarantee. Yes, the author is right in that fishing yaks are getting wider, but that is simply marketing. They are becoming small boats - not kayaks - slow, filled with excessive gewgaws, attachments, low and reel destroying rod holders, you name it. Standing does have it’s place, but you don’t need 33 inches to do it, just a bit of practice.

Unfortunately the industry in its attempt to sell more kayaks to unknowing noobs, has convinced them that wider, overly equipped barges are somehow superior for kayak fishing. Look - if you want a boat, buy a nice skiff and be done with it. Now this is just my opinion - and considerable experience - that the best fishing experience will be in the best performing, most seaworthy kayak you can find, and they are few.

I speak of the OK Scupper Pro TW (or RTM Tempo), and perhaps the RTM Disco. The more water you can cover in kayak that will perform well (without the kitchen sink), the more fish you will catch, the more enjoyable your experience will be. I won’t get into this here, but its possible to make any kayak - even a narrow one - quite standable. You don’t need a floating dock to do it.


My logic is different than yours

– Last Updated: Jul-09-14 10:52 AM EST –

I don't see the industry working to convince newbies that wider boats are better for fishing. I see them offering wider fishing boats so that greater numbers of ordinary folks will buy them. They can't sell very many boats to people like you because not many people view kayaks the way you do. On the other hand, they can sell zillions of boats to people who know diddly about small boats but think it would be fun to have one for fishing.

Remember when road bikes became the rage back in the 70s? It turned out that it wasn't as much of a rage as it appeared on the surface, and it was a bad move in terms of overall sales. By making all bikes road bikes (actually, the more common term back then was "racing bikes" even if most were just cheap look-alikes), they essentially killed off a huge share of their potential market. Today, most bikes sold are "hybrids", which are the kayaking equivalent of "barges". They don't appeal to hard-core road bikers or to serious mountain bikers, but they DO appeal to the vast majority of people. Bike makers don't care what bicycle purists think of hybrid bikes. All that matters to them is that once they started selling hybrids, bikes sales skyrocketed.

Anyway, I don't think the author of that article committed any grave sin by simplifying the stability issue. Like the kayak makers who are targeting a specific fraction of the market, he is doing the same. He is addressing an audience that doesn't go paddling in rough water and doesn't care at all about high-performance boats. For that audience, rather than try to explain things they don't want or need to know, he simply gives them useful tips on how to become more comfortable in whatever boat they have.

I think the article
is poorly written in terms of leaning… If you look at the video the boat is being leant, or edged, The paddler is NOT leaning over the side of the boat.

It’s an important distinction. Once I told someone to lean… I meant the boat. She leaned she and got wet in a boat with excellent secondary stability.

My bad.

Your bike analogy
I disagree with your take on changes in bikes. There is no difference between now and the 1970s. In each decade bike manufacturers dictate to consumers what we “want.” They make no attempt to ask us what we want. In the 1970s we “wanted” racing bikes. Then we “wanted” mountain bikes if if we lived in a city, then hybrids, etc.

Here are the mistakes made by bike designers today that are still cutting out large market segments due to the failure to take the time to understand cyclists’ needs:

  1. The lack of truly wide-range gearing, even on hybrids. Millions of people live in hilly areas where they need full mountain gearing, even on a hybrid. Any cross-country cyclist will say, “Man, I sure could have used a 34-tooth rear cog in the Rockies.”

  2. Nonergonomic handlebars: It is very difficult to find a handlebar that follows the natural angle of the wrist. A flat handlebar will cause carpal tunnel syndrome in high-mileage cyclists.

  3. Terrible seats. What’s the most common question in bike forums? “I need to replace the seat that came with my new bike.”

  4. Terrible colors and matte finishes: gray, black, brown.

  5. Wrong tire size: 28mm is too harsh for some pavement riders. 35 mm is too heavy and unnecessary on pavement. You don’t see that many bikes with 32 mm tires, which would suit a lot of people.

    So you buy a bike and immediately change the handlebar, seat, tires, and gears. Then you realize that you also must change your derailleurs, maybe also your rims to fit the new parts. There goes $400 added to your new bike.

    This principle of dictating consumer needs rather than asking people what they need is true in many industries, especially the outdoor gear industry. Example: Big Agnes sleeping bags made for back sleepers, when the majority of people are side sleepers (they don’t reveal that fact in their advertising). Kayaks: lack of cockpits that fit the average American; some manufacturers stubbornly clinging to outdated kayak dimensions that don’t fit real people. Car industry: dearth of good hatchbacks until the last few years. Etc etc.

    It’s not about pleasing the most people. It’s about convincing the most people that they want what you feel like making.


– Last Updated: Jul-09-14 5:32 PM EST –

First of all, this is a thread about kayaking, not cycling, but since you raised it, your assertion that there is no difference between now and 1970 is just patently absurd. I started riding in the early 1980s, and the variety of models available now is exponentially more diverse. Yes, there is a certain amount of commonality between models, particularly at the lower price point, but that's easily explainable by the bike company's desire to make money through standardization, rather than some nefarious scheme to get us all riding one type of bike. Most bicycles are mass-market consumer products, so if you're expecting them to meet specialized needs that aren't of particular concern to the majority of casual cyclists, you're going to have to either pony up some dough, as you note, or avoid buying "off the rack."

With respect to your individual points:

1) gearing - most hybrids have a triple chain ring and relatively generous rear cog gearing given the normal riding habits of the majority of hybrid riders. Your point about cross-country cyclists doesn't really apply, insofar as such cyclists make up a tiny minority of bike purchasers.

2) handlebars. Again, you refer to high-mileage cyclists, but they aren't the ones buying the majority of hybrids. Get a touring/road bike with drop bars if you are going to be putting in significant miles on the road.

3) Seats. I agree with you on this one. Bike manufacturers have probably figured out that saddles are the most "individualized" piece of equipment on bicycles, and so simply throw on whatever they think they can get away with a particular price point, knowing that they are apt to be replaced.

4) Colors. Colors do seem, on average, to have gotten blander over the years. I suspect the bike manufacturers' thinking is that they're less apt to lose a sale to someone that thinks a color is a bit bland as opposed to someone who finds neon orange really off-putting.

5) Tires - I see plenty of bikes with 32mm tires. In fact, 32/35 seems to be the standard tire width for most hybrid type bikes these days.

Making choices

– Last Updated: Jul-09-14 5:49 PM EST –

My point was that in the 70s, very few middle-aged people bought bikes. The only ones you saw on "10-speed racers" were unusually fit individuals. The rest of them had no recourse but to ride three-speed bikes in traditional frame styles, which by that time was nearly the bottom of the barrel in terms of performance. I think that once the major advances in gear-changing came along (the fact is, most people never DID learn how to shift gears efficiently with the old style derailleurs), it was only natural for the bike makers to realize that the biggest age bracket in the country was aging-out of the racing-style bike, and combining new-style, no-brainer gear shifting with old-style frame shapes ensured that they could retain the aging baby boomers as customers. Non-performance riders, and older riders, tend to want the upright posture of traditional frames, and the hybrid models offered that.

Face it, there are far more people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s buying and riding bikes than was ever the case in the 70s, and the only reason is that the "rec-kayak" segment of the bike market is far more sophisticated now than it was then. Upright bikes are no longer a tiny, nearly-overlooked option in the bike market, and sales within that segment are way up.

"Terrible seats"? You must be kidding. How can you expect a bike to come with the right seat for everyone? Someone like me would want a performance seat to go with a performance body posture. Those preferring a hybrid with its upright body position would want a wider seat, but the wider the seat the poorer the efficiency - you simply can't have both. So how do you strike the right compromise for each person on an off-the-shelf bike? You can't.

Same goes for just about any other choice with bikes. The vast majority of non-serious riders don't make all these adjustments you speak of, and even if they did, all that tweaking would be far too individualized to be offered in off-the-shelf choices.

I was even surprised by what you said about Big Agnes sleeping bags as an example of forced choices dictated by manufacturers. I read the hype about their sleeping bag/pad combos (right here on p-net), but the moment I saw what it looked like, I knew it wouldn't work for a side-sleeper like me. You don't really think they need to "explain" that to anybody, right? It's not a style that's being forced upon us, any more so than hammocks (which are similarly targeted to a small segment of the market, but not "explained" that way) are being forced upon us. It's not like there aren't plenty of good choices out there for non-Big-Agnes (and non-hammock) customers. We have thousands of times as many choices and variety when it comes to this category of camping gear than was the case decades ago.

What I actually said:
"There is no difference between now and the 1970s. In each decade bike manufacturers dictate to consumers what we “want.’”

I didn’t say bikes hadn’t changed. I said marketing hasn’t changed.

Big Agnes
You must be smarter than me because I fell for the Big Agnes hype about the pad in the bag. I bought one of their bags based on the sales pitch of their own salesman. When I figured out that the bag doesn’t work for side sleepers I called Big Agnes and they admitted what they hadn’t said up front and don’t say anywhere: that these bags were designed for back sleepers. That’s deceptive marketing, when they know that most people are side sleepers. I no longer respect Big Agnes.

My point is that Big Agnes is telling us that we “want” to put our pad inside our bag so we don’t roll off the pad. They don’t mention the several drawbacks of that configuration. Their motive for this type of bag is that it allows them to cut weight from the bag, making it more competitive in terms of weight. That’s a purely financial strategy that has nothing to do with the actual needs of consumers.

Silly logic
And what he said is that the variety of choices is now greater than ever. When the bike makers are presenting the consumer with an immensely greater array of choices than ever before, with one particular category being specifically designed to provide quality bikes to non-serious riders for the first time ever, I don’t see how anyone can view it as proof that the bike makers are “dictating what the consumer wants”. The way to sell more bikes is to present more choices, and you see that as something negative. What an odd and twisted interpretation of things.

different kinds of stability
Stability depends on what you are doing in the boat. If you are in a sea kayak then stability means something different than than being in a fishing kayak. Among the differences are that you need to be able to stand up and cast in a fishing kayak. Don’t try that in a sea kayak. Landing a fish? Don’t try that in a sea kayak. The point is that a kayak designed for fishing has to take account of the typical motions and weight movements of fishing. That is very different from typical paddling concerns.

You are right about me, wrong about them

– Last Updated: Jul-09-14 11:01 PM EST –

I viewed their product as one option out of many, and I had no trouble seeing that A) I didn't need it, and B) that it wouldn't work for me. With a bunch of other bag makers out there, never for a moment did I believe they were "telling me what I needed". A good salesman can be quite subtle about this, but to blame him for being good at his job misses the point. It should be obvious to anyone that a sleeping bag that has a foam pad incorporated into the back side can only have the back surface toward the ground, and that when so oriented, it won't bend laterally on account of the attached pad. I'd suggest that you need to be somewhat observant and pay attention to what it is your are actually buying, but instead you had the nerve to complain to *them* because *you* didn't think this thing through (though naturally they were polite to you when you complained). And from there it becomes an example of how bad things are for us consumers. Sorry, but we as consumers have never had it better.

Preaching to the choir here, Capn’.

– Last Updated: Jul-10-14 7:54 AM EST –

I think most experienced kayakers who frequent Pnet(who know both SOTs and SINKS, and who don't hijack threads to blather on about things like bikes)would choose paddling performance over having just a barge-platform to fish from every time. (That is, uh, unless they're like really fat guys...Ahem.)

I don't think the average me-wanna-go-fishing-noob can fully grasp "secondary stability" as a concept, until they actually have their butts in the type hull where it has to "kick-in" to be fully appreciated. But the industry ain't headed that way, so it can only be found out through research/self-discovery.

The article-video was a good "public service announcement"(read-"Ad")for Wilderness Systems.
(Am I the only one who noticed that supposedly emptied "tipping point" demonstration boat, had an anchor tied to its bow?)

But of course, I'm biased: I've owned both a Scupper Pro and Disco myself for awhile--Do all my fishing from a Necky Manitou these days(with a drysuit from Oct-Apr, cause I live so far North. And no, I don't try to stand in it.) That is, when I'm not visiting the folks down in Florida, where Bro-In-Law graciously loans me back the ol' Scupper Pro to use while there;-

Let’s see now . . .
So far I’m silly, odd, twisted, not as smart as you, and unobservant. Anything else you want to add to that list? Why does it upset you so much that someone has a different point of view from yours?

Let’s re-phrase that a bit

– Last Updated: Jul-10-14 2:53 PM EST –

I realized after writing that post title that it could be construed that way. What I meant, was that you are correct that I looked at the product and could see it wasn't going to work, and it's quite apparent that you failed to do the same and are compelled to put the blame on someone else. Regarding my supposed lack of tolerance for an alternate viewpoint, I simply countered your idea that manufacturers have some "power" over what we want with the simple idea that it's market forces at work. My bike analogy (which I presented only to illustrate a simple point) has been often stated among bike enthusiasts and in bike magazines for years, and I don't see an obviously uninformed perspective regarding off-the-shelf features intended for the mass market being counter to that notion. Be offended if you want by my logic-oriented perspective, but countless businesses have gone bust trying to sell products that people don't want, while others have thrived by offering something attractive to the masses. The result isn't always good for those with a particular need, but it's a numbers game interpreted by the company's bean counters, and with that, I'm done trying to explain the obvious.

I have no problem with people thinking logically. But do you really need to demean others to get your points across? Now you judge me “obviously uninformed,” again because I don’t agree with your take on the bike market. Is it possible that someone could be well informed and still not share your viewpoint?? Your arrogance is illogical because it only allows for one set of experiences and interpretation of experience.

You know, many people must order gear sight unseen due to geographical reasons or items being unavailable in local stores. They rely on a company’s sales staff and marketing materials to honestly represent products to them. That doesn’t make them ignorant or irresponsible.

I do firmly believe that a major marketing strategy is to convince consumers that they need/want certain things and that they don’t need/want certain other things based on manufacturers’ calculations of relative profitability and their competition. For example, we don’t really need 16MB digital cameras, but somehow the camera companies make us think that we do.

I’m making a very simple statement as a consumer: that I feel that many industries are out of touch with consumer needs because they employ ivory-tower designers who aren’t talking directly with consumers.