Inflatables are vastly superior to ram airs.
I've summarised the reasons for the superiority of inflatables:
1: Lift to drag ration (L/D)
- The highest L/D ratio is not always optimal. A high L/D ratio is critical in large kites because they move slowly. Large kites output steady power but generally lose out in ability to turn suddenly and generate sudden upward pull.
- Because large rams (eg Warrior 16.5) have a HUGE "D" coefficient compared to inflatables, they are unable to generate the sudden upward power spikes.
- For this reason, large rams can pull steadily enough, but will ALWAYS lack the jumping ability of a large quality 2003 inflatable.
-Small kites move rapidly and therefore have large power spikes. These kites are INTENTIONALLY designed to move slower by ram and inflatable manufacturers. The lack or presence of a leading edge/ram cells is really irrelevant in the small sizes since SLOWNESS is a virtue in these sizes. The things to look for in these sizes are luff curve, chord, aspect ration for aerodynamic handling.
- Because large ram airs have a much larger mass of air in them (filling the pockets) their inertia is enormous. It is very difficult cranking this mass of air across the sky to generate sudden power spikes and therefore lift.
- Small inflatables are better than small rams because they have a semi-rigid structure. This improves consistency, stability of turning, and precision in handling. Kite makers like Naish and Flexifoil are actually moving to make their kites MORE rigid by joining the struts firmly to the leading edge.
4: Wing tips
- Far from being a hindrance, the tips of the inflatable act as rudders, enabling faster, more controlled turns (and therefore larger more controlled power spikes)
5: Foil shape
- Inflatables have a consistent foil shape because they are semi rigid. Rams deform and change their foil shape which causes an inconsistent aerodynamic profile.
6: Luff curve
- If you want a flat luff curve, choose an X2 or similar
- If you want a deep luff curve, choose a Rhino2 or similar
- If you want in-between, choose a Slingshot or similar
- Because rams sit further back in the window than equivalent inflatables (due to drag) they "feel" a bit like the R2, but without the other benefits of an inflatable.
- Ram lovers make a big issue of this. It isn't a big issue. Beginners find relaunching inflatables a cinch after a few sesssions. Just make sure you choose an inflatable that is easy to relaunch (eg Toro). Yes, rams can reverse launch, but so what? Rams can launch directly downwind in the water, but so what? This is dangerous for a beginner, if anything, because it increases the chances of being flung or carted.
- Inflatables are safer than ram airs because
-- Downwind launches are bloody SCARY for a beginner
-- Rams deform, twist, wineglass, explode in the middle of the power zone etc when they are downwind of obstacles, in rotors, and in VERY gusty conditions. This is VERY dangerous. Some of the most frightening kitemares I've seen have involved ram users walking along beaches in slightly offshore conditions - their kites have been virtually uncontrollable and have endangered both the rider and other beach users.
-- Wind dropouts and gear failure
--- You will invariably experience a few catastrophic gear failures (eg broken lines) and complete wind dropouts every year. If you are a fair way offshore, you can use the inflatable as a "sail" to sail back in. Alternatively you can use the inflatable structure to support your weight.
--- All ram airs become hopelessly waterlogged after 45 minutes - unlaunchable and certainly unable to support your body weight.
-- Surf conditions
---While it is always a gamble if your kite gets hammered by a wave, at least you've got a chance if it is an inflato. If it is a ram air, it's curtains.
-- Bridle tangles and failures - Scary (eg see thread: Flysurfer Warrior Exploding)
- Ram users struggle to pre-inflate their kites in a lot of situations eg slightly offshore conditions.
- Without pre-inflation, ram users find it very difficult to water launch. This skill is often required eg downwind of promontories.
- Contrary to the propaganda of the ram lovers, ram airs and inflatos have similar lifespans. The major determinant of a kites lifespan is obsolescence - in 2-3 years, whatever you're using now won't be worth much and will have been superseded.
You will find it easier and more rewarding to learn on an inflatable. Please do yourself a favour and avoid ram airs - they are dangerous and aerodynamically inferior.