Inflatables are vastly superior to ram airs. I've summarised the reasons for the superiority of inflatables:
1: Lift to drag ration (L/D)
- Rams have a HUGE drag ("D") coefficient compared to inflatables, making them more inefficient. This is reflected in their poorer jumping ability and inability to fly as close to the window's edge as inflatables. Large rams can pull steadily enough, but will ALWAYS lack the jumping ability of a large, quality inflatables.
- Because large ram airs contain a much larger mass of air compared to inflatables (within their pockets), their inertia is HUGE. It is very difficult to move this mass of air across the sky to generate sudden power spikes and therefore lift. Apart from poor jumping, the inertia and slow turning makes kiteloops unnecessarily difficult. Large ram air kites contain OVER 11kg of air in their cells vs 2-3 kg for inflatables.
3: Rigidity & Stability
- Semi-rigidity improves consistency, stability, turning, and precision in handling. It also enables these kites to withstand gusty conditions. Kite makers are always looking for ways to make kites more internally rigid, eg by joining the struts firmly to the leading edge, adding fifth lines, and bridles.
- For stability problems in ram airs stemming from lack of internal rigidity, see: http://www.foilzone.com/phpBB2/viewtopi
- Far from being a hindrance, the tips of inflatable act as rudders, enabling faster, more controlled turns (and therefore larger more controlled power spikes)
- Rigidity facilitates turning. Bar input TWISTS the WHOLE kite, causing a rudder effect at the wing tips to accelerate turns. Lack of internal rigidity means that rams can't twist as aerodynamically as inflatos, meaning their turning and feedback is sloppier and less precise.
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
- Luff curves vary extensively. Inflatables with flat luff curves sit forward in the window whereas inflatables with deeper luff curves sit further back in the window. It is the same principle as sailing: If you want more "bottom" end with a sail, you deepen the luff curve (eg letting out the outhaul on a sailboard). If you want more "high" end, you make the luff curve shallower (eg sheeting in the outhaul on a sailboard). There is a lot of difference amongst luff curves on kites; this determines a lot of handling differences. It's a matter of trying different inflatables until you find one you like.
- The excessive drag and inertia of ram airs causes them to sit further back in the window compared to inflatables. Hence, there is less scope for ram designers to modify the luff curve.
- Because of the semi-rigid structure inherent to inflatables the luff curve is much easier to standardise and maintain. Semi rigidity actually enables variables like the luff curve to be really optimised. Ram airs don't have this capacity.
- Ram lovers make a big issue of this. It isn't a big issue. Beginners find relaunching inflatables easy after a few sesssions. Yes, some rams can reverse launch, but so what... a lot of inflatables can reverse launch. Rams can launch directly downwind in the water, but so what... so can a lot of inflatables. Anyway, downwind launches are dangerous for beginners because of the risk of being flung or carted downwind. For intermediates and above, relaunching should not even be considered in the equation because a) they won't be dropping the kite much anyway and b) Relaunching inflatables is EASY. Commonly, ram airs will not relaunch properly because of twisting, bridle tangles, or waterlogging. These aren't such big problems with inflatables.
Inflatables are safer than ram airs because:
a) Downwind launches are bloody SCARY for a beginner
b) Because they lack internal rigidity, rams deform, twist, wineglass, and jellfish 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 seen have involved ram users walking along beaches in cross-offshore conditions - their kites have been virtually uncontrollable and have endangered both the rider and other beach users.
c) Wind dropouts and gear failure
--Everyone invariably experience a few 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 get back in. Alternatively you can just 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. viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2346569
d) Surf conditions
-- While it is always a gamble if your kite gets caught by a wave, at least you've got a fighting chance if it is an inflatable. If it is a ram air, it's all over.
e) Bridle tangles and failures
-- These occur surprisingly frequently. They can be expensive (US $500 plus) (eg see the thread titled "Flysurfer Warrior Exploding:" phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=4612 ) They can be very dangerous; a number of riders have reported how their ram airs caught seaweed in their bridles, causing their kites to wineglass and spin out of control.
9: Bridle tangles
Bridle tangles are disturbingly common with ram airs. Check this thread viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2354115&start=30
In particular, note the statement by "schmoe" that goes: "A bridle tangle on flysurfer can mean that you do not go out... For me I had many lost hours where the wind is cranking because of the bridles. I rather inflate 5 tubes and know that the setup time is exactly 10 minutes, no more no less, than have setup time that is 70% 5 minutes and 30% an hour. And now with one pump, the setup time of a tube is less, so it is not an advantage of the foil anymore."
- Ram users struggle to pre-inflate their kites in a lot of situations eg cross- offshore conditions. I once witnessed a Flysurfer lover trying to launch at a point break in cross offshore conditions. He had to get a friend (inflatable rider) to grab one tip while he grabbed the other tip and they both ran up and down the narrow strip of beach, trying to pre-inflate - to no avail. He had to pack up and go home while the inflatable riders were able to do drift launches. Without pre-inflation, ram users find it very difficult to drift launch. This skill is often required eg Promontory/headland launches.
- Contrary to the propaganda of ram lovers, ram airs and inflatos have similar lifespans. The major determinant of lifespan is obsolescence. In 2-3 years, whatever you're using now won't be worth much and will have been superseded.
- Ram air repairs are generally a LOT more expensive. For example, this guy phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=4612 required a PARACHUTE repairer to fix his kite, costing well over $1000. It is interesting to note that Flysurfer refused to honor their warranty, even though the kite was less than a year old.
Ram lovers frequently make ridiculous claims about upcoming competitions that they will "dominate." They then go on to get blown out of the water. For example, they said that various kites from Flysurfer (Psycho, Silver Arrow, Warrior, Voodoo, Titan, Insert Name Here..... etc) would dominate the pro kitesurfing circuit. It hasn't happened. No ram riders have ever made it into the top 20 on the PKRA. Ram lovers said ram airs would dominate the Cabo Verde Wave event... They didn't. They said ram airs would dominate the "low-wind" showdown in San Diego - They didn't. The top pro riders ALL ride inflatables because of their superior aerodynamic properties. It's interesting that ALL the world records in hang-time, as well as unofficial records like Eric Eck's crazy jump, are held by inflatables. Ram airs aren't even on the same page.
14: Land and Snow
Check out this thread viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2355153 Not only are inflatables superior on water (because of better aerodynamic performance, jumping, stability, and safety), they are also superior on snow and land for the same reasons.
15: Light Winds
Ram airs are inferior light wind kites because they:
1 Have excessive drag (bridles, lack of internal rigidity), compromising the Lift/Drag ratio
2 Turn VERY slowly
3 Have incredible inertia. The Speed 2 19 contains over 11kg of air in its pockets, compared to about 3kg in the largest inflatables.
4 Have problems with bridle failure and tangling
5: In wind dropouts, you're much better off with an inflatable. If you choose to go out in light winds, you will occasionally experience full dropouts. No kite, inflato or ram, will stay up in these conditions. It is better to have an inflatable in drop-outs because at least you can support your weight and try to get back to the beach. All ram airs become hopelessly waterlogged and unwieldy after about 45mins and absolutely impossible to water relaunch. Ram airs are just plain dangerous in wind dropouts.
Despite what anybody tells you, you won't really have fun on any kite (ram air OR inflatable) unless the wind is over about 8 knots. This is the starting point for BOTH ram airs and inflatables, but because of the reasons I've outlined above, inflatables are vastly superior. And this is just the starting point. You won't really be having fun until it hits about 10 knots on an inflatable OR a ram air.
A variety of kites were tested in light wind conditions in San Diego a few years ago viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2319439&hilit=ram+airs+crash+in+san+diego . Despite the ridiculous over-hyped claims from Flysurfer reps like Ted Bautista, Flysurfer ram air kites crashed and burned in Kiteboarder Mag's light-wind showdown in San Diego. The overall consensus was that Flysurfer ram air kites are ok in light wind, but they turn VERY SLOWLY. The overall impression was that there are much better inflatables. It's interesting that a lot of the ram air guys who were excited about this showdown were remarkably SILENT afterwards, in particular, Ted Bautista, the U.S. rep for Flysurfer. His alpha-male chest-beating rants in the lead up to this showdown almost defied belief.
For an example of the LIES that ram lovers tell about their kites, checkout viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2350141&p=539227#p539227
16: Geeks and Cameraderie
Amongst inflatable riders, there is a certain amount of collegiality. Inflatable riders tend to hang out together and help each other on the beach and on the water. If you fly a ram air, you'll always be a bit on the outside; regarded as a bit weird and not really part of the group. Part of this is because you will always be in a minority on the beach, part of it is because ram airs are so rare that inflatable riders are a scared/unsure of ram airs, and part of it is because, as a group, ram rides ARE a bit weird/nerdy. Anyway, one of the problems with being part of a weird minority on the beach is that it can be very difficult to find people to help launch and land your kite, eg http://www.seabreeze.com.au/forums/topi
Ignore the ram air propaganda. Ignore the lies. Ram airs are aerodynamically inferior to LEIs and nothing can change this.