Performance and Comfort
Too often one has to be sacrificed to achieve the other, especially when it comes to setting up a hard boot and plate binding system. Proper set up will allow you to carve solid lines and do so in total comfort. A friend, who was ready to sell his board because he couldn’t get it wired, won’t part with it now after having it tailored to his needs. That’s the good news. The bad news is that most bindings currently available do not easily allow for the delicate set up required to achieve these goals.
Generally, the stiffer your boots and bindings are, the more critical it is to have the canting and lifting set up properly. Each year the equipment has gotten stiffer but little has been done to inform riders about how to get it all together for maximum enjoyment. Certainly there are personal preferences involved but there are also some general trends emerging and we’ll let you in on the secrets of how they affect your riding.
Since most modern alpine/race board widths are quite narrow, binding angles in the range of 50-60 degrees plus are a necessity. The idea is to use a binding angle that allows uniform performance in both toe and heel turns. Too high an angle and you lose power in your toe turns. Oppositely, too low an angle and you lose your heel turn. What are the magic numbers? Like everything else its a personal thing but 55-60 degrees on your front foot and your rear foot 3-5 degrees less, will be a good starting point.
Most bindings allow for some sort of stance width adjustment, this is good. Taller riders will usually have a wider stance than smaller riders. The trend is to go wider than in previous years, this gives more front / back stability and lets you gain more control over your board through added leverage. Widths are generally around 18″ for smaller boards (160 cm range) and go up to 19″-20″ for longer G/S type boards. Some racers are using 20″-21″ on their longer race boards. Since this is usually an easy adjustment to make, experiment and find out what’s right for you.
This is where things start getting tricky. The front foot usually has toe lift while the rear foot has heel lift. Doing this allows you to use a wider stance while still maintaining a lower position while riding. By changing the amount of toe vs. heel lift you can shift your weight forward or back as required. More toe, less heel – weight shifts back. More heel, less toe – weight shifts forward.
The lifting also affects your edging, especially if you take it to the extremes. Too much toe lift on your front foot and entering a heel turn becomes difficult. Too much heel lift on your rear foot and exiting a toe turn becomes difficult.
If you have very stiff boots or would like to ride in a lower position, more heel lift will allow you to bend your rear knee and get lower. Also check your boots for forward lean adjustment. In a natural riding position your front leg should be more upright and your rear leg slightly more bent. These adjustments will aid in achieving this more natural position when used in combination with toe / heel lifts.
Canting requirements vary depending on two reasons:
1: Binding angles
2: Personal body structure
In days of old when boards were substantially wider, this allowed for lower binding angles where you would stand more across the board than you can on the more modern narrow designs. What happens when you rotate your feet and hips more forward is that the angle at which your legs meet your hips diminishes the farther forward you go. The farther you go, the lower the angle and less canting that is required.
The other factor to allow for is personal body structure. To figure this out you need to check if you are straight legged, bow legged or knock kneed. To do this simply place your bare ankles together and stand straight up. If your knees don’t touch, you’re bowed. If your knees and ankles touch, you’re straight and if you can’t get your ankles together you’re knock-kneed.
So again what are the magic numbers? Assuming that the bindings are in the mid 50-60 degree range the canting should be as follows.
• Knock Kneed: You will need 1-2 degrees of inward canting. Leave one binding flat and cant the other one inward.
• Straight legged: You lucky devils, you can usually get by with no canting. Just ride both bindings flat.
• Bow legged: You suffer the most, if you can put 2 or 3 fingers between your knees when you’re ankles are touching you will need 1-2 degrees of negative canting. Leave one binding flat and cant the other one outward.
While riding, you can tell if you’re canting is correct by feeling the pressure in the tops of you’re boots. If you feel excessive pressure on the outsides of you’re legs (common on bow legs) you should remove the canting or try negative canting. If the pressure is on the insides of your legs (common for knock kneed) you need to cant slightly more inwards. Don’t forget to check you’re boots, they may have a canting adjustment and this might be all you need to get balanced.
Having all this knowledge is great, but how do you adjust you’re bindings accordingly. This is the really tricky part. As mentioned previously, most bindings do not allow for these delicate adjustments and the available canting plates you can add, don’t even get you in the ballpark most of the time. If you’re buying new bindings try to get ones that allow for these adjustments. If you can’t find any or want to do something with your old bindings, the good news is that almost anything can be customized. This usually involves installing some type of plastic blocks (high density polyethylene works well) under some part of the binding and installing longer screws. Since there are such a wide array of bindings and no kits readily available, you’re pretty much on your own. Find a friend with a bandsaw, drill and lots of spare time and see if you can work something out.
The final words: IT’S WORTH THE EFFORT! Everyone who’s been set up properly has been amazed at the increase of comfort and performance. It could well be that if you’re not totally satisfied with you’re current gear a little knowledge and effort to set things up properly may be all you need to attain the next level of performance.
Look at it this way, even if it takes a couple of hours to get it done right, you’ll be able to enjoy it every day you ride for the rest of your life – and that’s an investment that’s hard to beat!
– Bruce Varsava, COILER COMPOSITES