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I’ll admit I’m a big fan of Born Kites. I first heard about them from watching a video by John Holgate about the NASA Star 2 kites a few years back. I bought some, and have been a Born-kite fan ever since. I also own 4 of Longstar 2’s, which I like a lot.
I was waiting with some anticipation for the RaceStars. And when they were released I decided to get one pretty much straight away. But which size? I debated for about 24 hours with myself, and then, being cash-rich and self control poor, decided to just avoid any hard decision making and buy a full quiver.
The kites arrived and sat there taunting me as I had injured my back and could hardly walk, let alone fly - until a few weeks ago at the 24th annual Blue Balls Buggy Bash at Port Waikato in New Zealand.
The RaceStars are designed to be a buggy race kite. To go fast on a nice flat, hard pack beach. So in true kiwi style, we tested them in the dunes at port Waikato, because anyone can fly on the flat, but it’s in the dunes where kites and men are truly tested.
As usual with Born-kites, the construction is top notch. Like many single skins, the leading edge contains small flexible battens to keep the edge in shape. The sail is pretty much flat, except for a few small triangular ribs that spread the load in places of high stress. This means that unlike most other single skins, the RaceStars are pretty much flat with no "ribs" running down the wing.
The biggest difference with the RaceStar over previous Born-Kites is in the bridling. There is much, much less of it than with the longstar2’s and it’s made from a proprietary coated line developed exclusively by Born-kite. Less bridling reduces drag obviously but also makes for a much more pleasant experience when you crash in grass or on a beach with that horrible dry razor sharp weed - no more spending 20 minutes getting that dry seaweed out of the bridles. Born-kites are looking at using this new bridle line on the longstar3 as well.
I ordered my kites fitted with the FAS (front area safety). This an optional fifth line safety that essentially folds the kite like a taco. I was intending to use a fifth line setup, but have since changed my mind, as I use an Ozone bar with front line flag out. (Several people asked what that extra line hanging off the kite was until I bundled it up and locked it into its retaining loop) I will probably end up removing it.
Shortly after I ordered mine, I received an email from Steffen with a diagram showing that the RaceStars worked best with a 31cm extension on the steering lines. I made some pigtails up and took them with me to the meet.
I hooked the 5m RaceStar up to a brand new ozone bar, on 25meter lines and launched it. The kite was responsive but a little twitchy in the air and was suffering a little from some back-stalling. Still quite flyable, but “not quite right”. I’m still fairly new to de-power kites, and still working out what to adjust when things don't feel right. Plummet was keen for a go, so I handed it over. He quickly confirmed that it wasn’t right and reckoned it needed a bit more backline. So we landed and added the recommended 31 cm extensions I’d made to the backline leaders, and relaunched. It was a different kite. No more tendency for back-stalling, much better de-power range, and just really nice to fly. And fly it does, fast, with a nice smooth power build up.
Plummet hooked up the 7 and took off into dunes with it. He’s been known to have strong opinions about born-kites in the past, and as a very experienced kiter I respect his judgement, so when he got back pronounced the Racestars “Good. I’d definitely have one of those.” and then went on to give it a good review. I was quite pleased.
I had a brief session with the 7 which was fantastic, but most of the weekend the 5 suited the conditions for me. The kite is awesome to fly, the 5 is incredibly fast to turn, which can make powered turns in the buggy a little hard as it tends to pivot around its centre, I think with a little practice fully powered turns would be fine. After a couple of hours tearing around the dunes I really got the feel for the kite and started getting some nice fast runs. The power comes on smooth and fast, but very controlled. As I said upwind performance is fantastic, Plummet says not quite as good as his Chrono, but it’s not far off. I certainly was able to go upwind better than any other kite I own and there were very few times I had to tack to get where I wanted to go.
The kite was super stable in the air with no tendency to tip tuck and sat nicely in the window. As Plummet pointed out in his review, it would just drift back into the window when slack-lined and not wad itself into a ball and fall out of the sky.
All single skins have a tendency to ‘flap’ (Aka “shopping bagging”) and the race star will if you are de-powered, but when even minimally powered up, the wing pops into shape is very stable with no flapping at all. I only mention it in the Negatives summary because - well - you have to put something in there.
The RaceStars two-tone colour scheme with the black looks stunning in the air. There is something about the fabric or dye’s Born-Kite use that gives their kites a vibrancy of colour that other kites just don’t seem to have.
I also spent some time with the 7 meter last weekend on a nice stretch of flat beach. And it was a blast. However, I was flying on a 50cm bar, and the kite definitely needs a bigger bar as turning was a bit sluggish unless I tent-poled the floats to give it a bit of extra leverage. But that’s not a kite issue, just something to be aware of when matching your bar up.
I haven’t flown the 9 or 11 yet, but I am looking forward to it.
So are the RaceStars any good? Hell yes! Fast, responsive, superb upwind, less bridling, and look good. Low bar pressure makes long sessions a breeze. Light and small pack up compared to a high aspect foil. And, as we discovered on the last day of the Blue Balls, fast to pack up when you have lightning storms approaching.
If you are buying kite only, just make sure you add the extensions to your rear leaders to give that 31cm extra on the steering lines.
I think Born-Kite are a great company who are competing in a tough market by doing innovative things - they haven’t always got it right <cough>longstar1<cough> but sometimes, when a company is trying to innovate, instead of just flog a yearly upgrade, it doesn’t quite work out. But they clearly learn from any mistakes and are committed to designing and producing top notch kites that get better and better. The RaceStars are definitely an example of their innovation and skill in the single skin space.
So If you are looking for a buggy engine with serious get up and go, great upwind performance that looks great in the air, buy one - or four, you won’t regret it.
If you lay the longstar 2 next to the longstar 1, the first thing you will notice is that they're two very different kites. Aside from both being single skin and having lots of bridles, version 2 is a completely separate design. Flies quite differently too. The V1 longstar took me a few hours to come to grips with. If you've flown depower kites then V2 will be immediately familiar as soon as it's in the air.
Longstar v2 uses a series of ribs and stiff nylon lines to hold a round nose profile and the rest of the kite is held in place by lots of bridling. A look through some of the photos will show how accurate the bridles are, resulting in a uniform and smooth profile.
You can buy the longstar. V2 with a bar or as a kite only. I was supplied with kite and bar for the purpose of the review and it came in a compact nylon bag. Being a single skin kite, it folds up very compact and you could easily fit several kites and a bar in a std kite bag.
The material feels quite light but of excellent quality and all stitching and seams are straight and accurate as have been all the kites from Born-kite that I've flown.
There's no denying that there's a lot of bridles on the longstar2 so it always pays to check for any hang ups and give them a good shake when laying out the kite. The kite launches easily whether straight downwind or side launch. It makes power pretty quick too and builds quickly with apparent wind. This is a grunty kite. I was able to buggy in 5 knots up and down the beach - admittedly, I had to work the kite so I think 6-7 knots would be your minimum park and ride wind speed for the 5.5m.
Letting the bar out to depower the kite results in a change in the AOA as well as a flattening of the nose-to-trailing-edge profile. You can see the belly of the kite losing tension and becoming slack. It doesn't actually get to the point of being 'flappy' unless you have the bar out and the cam cleat fully sheeted in - something I only did once just to see if I could get the kite to make some noise! Depower range seemed perfectly adequate - whenever I was overpowered, a quick sheet out of the bar and the drama was over.
Here you can see what the kite looks like when depowered...
Turn speed was a good compromise - not too quick or nervous and neither was it sluggish. The kite is very stable even in gusty conditions. In the air it feels quite 'sporty' and almost aggressive. It wants to be actively flown unlike, say, the NASA star 3 which is happy for you to sit back and cruise whilst almost ignoring the kite. It also feels relatively 'high aspect' in the air - coming out of a turn for instance, you need to let the bar out a little to get the kite up to speed in the new direction. Hold the bar in too much and the kite can 'choke' and begin to stall.
It is a very well behaved kite - over five or six hours of flying both static and bugging, only once did the kite end up on the ground unintended - and that was a complete lull in the wind. The nose folded over a couple times in light and gusty conditions but recovery was immediate with a tug on the bar. Same if I wasn't paying attention and choked the kite - let the bar out and business immediately resumed as normal.
Upwind performance was good for this type of kite, you won't be catching a vapor but you'll get there. Downwind performance is very good as was top speed. While flying in a cross onshore wind of around 14 knots, Trevor managed a 62kph on a downwind run with the Longstar2. Bar pressure was light to moderate proving to be no dramas keeping the bar held in for long periods.
This is not a lifty kite which is good news for buggy pilots not wanting to get unintentionally lofted but perhaps bad news for land boarders wanting some freestyle.
Pull the brakes and the longstar 2 reverses out of the sky without fuss. Similarly reverse launch is fuss free. But what I really like is the ability of the longstar2 to sit on its side at the edge of the window with the bar out and hands off. It just slowly bobs up and down while you stretch your legs, eat, adjust harness, talk, take photos etc. I also used this method to hand the kite over to Trevor and to land on a couple of occasions- I just dropped the chicken loop over a foot peg and walked over to the kite. I know this is not unique to the longstar2 but it is extremely handy.
The kite has a front line safety - a simple push of the chicken loop sends the bar and lines up the line to the splice flagging out the kite on a single front line. This brought the kite down without dramas and was easy enough to reset. There is also now an option to get the kite with an FAS (front area safety) that causes the leading edge of the kite to 'scrunch' up when activated
Overall the kite impressed me greatly and was a pleasure to buggy with. It was a well behaved, stable and versatile kite with excellent all round performance and I will certainly be saving my pennies to add a few to my quiver. I can't see any reason it wouldn't also make a great first depower as an alternative to the usual suspects.
The bar supplied with the longstar2 had a comfy grip, a large opening for the power lines which did not bind when turning, a push away chicken loop, cam cleat adjuster on the power lines and the fifth line terminated next to the chicken loop in a ring which you attach your leash to. It also has a double ball and ring setup for limiting bar travel or using to hold the bar in place. Both Trevor and myself found this just a little too stiff and complicated to use easily. It is something I would try to improve or tweak if it was my bar but also not something I would lose sleep over or blow an extra hundred bucks on for a better bar. Bar pressure is not such that it's a big issue, but it would be nice to have a simpler, easier to use system. Each of the brake leaders joined the main lines via a stainless steel ring which provided a handy place to insert a kite stake when landing.
Rings at end of brake leaders - a handy spot to drop the kite stake.
Now I would much rather judge a kite on its own merits rather than compare it to another manufacturers product......having said that, the most asked question I've heard about the longstar2 is 'how does it compare to a Peak2'? So, for a couple of hours, both Trevor and myself flew the 5.5m longstar2 and the 6m Peak2 swapping kites on a number of occasions. Here's what we found. The longstar2 was better downwind- faster and holding its shape better. The Peak 2 went upwind a little easier with the longstar2 requiring more work and being a couple kph slower. The longstar2 feels more aggressive and sporty to fly, I also think it's a bit faster as I've flown the P2 a lot but never matched Trevor's 62kph that he did with the LS2. Perhaps the P2 has a little more depower but this is at the expense of a fair bit of flapping and noise. The LS2's depower range never left us feeling like we wanted more. The LS2 seemed a bit more stable and easier to handle on the ground. Turn speed was much the same. I think the P2 may have an extra knot of grunt in the bottom end with the LS2 having a bit more 'go' and power in the top end. The P2 clearly has a much better (and more expensive) bar and more bar pressure at speed. Shape-wise the LS2 holds a much more uniform profile.
Is one kite 'better' than the other? No, I honestly couldn't say that. For me, they are both excellent buggy engines. They feel different to fly but both kites achieve the desired goal - aoxomoxoa!! The LS2 represents excellent value for money (at least in Australian retail pricing) and as such certainly deserves your consideration. Born-kite has produced a well rounded, versatile depower kite that should give the competition a run for the money.
A big thanks to Trevor who helped me out over many hours on several occasions while we tested, posed and photographed the kites.