Source: The Kiteboarder Magazine
F-One has a long history as a company focused on simple and clean product lines with excellent feel and performance. The Bandit has been the milestone of the F-One product family and has always been designed with the intention of putting it in the center of freeride category, maximizing its balance between multiple disciplines and attempting to create one of the largest spectrums of use with a single kite. Straddling the needs of surfing, generalist freeride and big air/mega looping freeride with one quiver of kites works for most people, but for other more niche focused kiteboarders the ‘one kite does it all’ approach forces implicit compromises between performance values.
While competitors were developing very specific targeted products that offered the advantage of specialization and hyper focus, last year, the F-One team decided they had pushed the single kite concept as far as it could go, and instead, the F-One R&D department built two different versions of the Bandit (the Bandit-S and the Bandit 2020) to cover the full range of surf/freeride kiteboarding. This means that historical Bandit fans will have to make a choice between two different kites, but it also means that the Bandit feel now has a discipline-specific fine-tuned option for every style of riding.
As I sat with F-One owner and head of the R&D program, Raphael Salles, he explained how the team conceptualizes the kiteboarding landscape with a series of Venn diagrams that logically order discipline with performance and feel. With a pen and paper, Raphael penned three concentric circles that represent performance freeride/hang time/mega loop on the left, in the center, freeride/comfort, and on the right, surfing/strapless/foiling. This diagram then describes turning style, turning speed, depower style, stability and lateral pull. This visualized schematic of user style and kite performance led the F-One team to offer two Bandit model options. The Bandit-S for surf/foil and the Bandit 2020 for hang time/mega loop, and for those freeriders that crossover or fall between, they can move in either direction.
F-One’s new dual kite strategy comes from a diversification strategy that was already built into the Bandit. Last year the smaller sizes were surf oriented, middle sizes freeride oriented and larger sizes hang time oriented. Coming from this targeted single line approach, F-One didn’t want to produce a wave kite with a different name, and it’s probably for two reasons. First, because true surfing kites only hold true in smaller kite sizes – once you get to 10m or larger, the lower wind threshold makes a surf specific kite less discipline specific (now you’re talking about light wind specific) and the other implicit motivation might be that the Bandit was already a highly-recognized surf and freeride kite – so to rebrand a new model as a surf or freeride kite would leave longtime Bandit fans out in the cold.
The end result is two new kites, the same legendary name, but each with sub-labels to indicate a slight lean towards discipline with a hybrid concept based on overlapping kite size offerings. It might be a bit confusing, but to help break it down, we lined up with the F-One team and tested new against old, with back-to-back test runs on last year’s 2019 Bandit, and this year’s new kites: the Bandit-S and Bandit 2020.
Before getting into specific product attributes, what we found was that the 2019 Bandit and 2020 versions are all very different models, evidenced when ridden back to back. When you put the kites on the beach, you find visual differences in leading edge arc, wingtip length, wingtip angle and bridle arrangement. On the whole, we found the differences between testing the Bandit 2020 and the Bandit-S back to back are very clear; while the differences between the 2019 and the newer versions don’t scream out at you quite so much, yet the discipline-specific improvements are discernable over last year.
The first thing we noticed about the Bandit-S is the steering dynamics stark contrast to the Bandit 2020. The bar pressure on the Bandit-S rings in at light to medium bar pressure and when compared to the 2019 and 2020, the Bandit-S has the lightest bar pressure of them all. The Bandit-S features a very tight turn, with a smaller radius steering path that is really pivoting off the center of the kite. The steering response felt really crisp and seemed to be the quickest of the lot (faster than 2019 and the Bandit 2020). The Bandit-S has a longer depower stroke, meaning that the bar travels a great distance over the bar’s throw, but it also offers 100% depower at the end of the stroke. Compared to the 2019/2020, the Bandit-S really gives you a progressive and smooth depower and it seems as if the Bandit-S offers a bit more depower at the end of the stroke than the Bandit 2019. F-One likes to talk about the concept of ‘lateral pull’ and when you compare the Bandit-S and Bandit 2020 you’ll find that the Bandit-S deals with the pulling power a bit differently. When you hit a gust on the Model S, if the kite is placed a little deeper in the window, it will load up that power and will pull hard if you hold the bar sheeted in. Let the bar out, and the Bandit-S releases all that pull and hovers deep in the window. The power delivery is finely tuned to the bar’s sheeting position. Unlike the 2019/2020, the Bandit-S can’t be pushed to the edge of the window by edging your board, it will continue to pull until you release the bar.
This is what makes it an excellent high-depower surf kite; it sits deep in the window and power is controlled with your bar for when you need it and when you don’t. The lightning quick steering response and tight turning radius helps you keep the kite in proper position and allows you to strategically ride the wave without having to over-focus on kite location. The drift is really good with its deeper position and stability, which also makes this kite an excellent choice for foilboarding.
The Bandit-S is offered in sizes 4m through 10m because these are the sizes where F-One believes wave-specific design is most important. If you need bigger than 10m, the Bandit 2020 is available in 11m and up, or you might go with the lighter canopy of the single strut Breeze model. While the hybrid sizing might be a bit confusing, it takes into account what most experienced surf kiters will tell you, riding waves in 12m conditions is not optimal. It also attempts to bring one quiver to the multi-discipline rider who can go with the surf model in smaller sizes and big air in the bigger sizes.
The Bandit 2020
The performance freeride version is labeled the Bandit 2020. We would have preferred an ‘F’ designation instead of just the year, nonetheless, it is a distinct step forwards in the hangtime and megaloop game over the Bandit 2019. The first thing we noticed about the Bandit 2020 is its broader steering arc compared to the 2019 and Model S. The Bandit 2020 steers with a larger steering radius that generates more power as the kite moves through the turn, presumably a key component of its big air lift and kite looping design pedigree. The steering response is crisp but doesn’t feel quite as fast as the Model S, that may be because it has a seemingly slower turning speed, which may be a function of its wider steering arc, yet with the additional bar pressure, you get more feedback from the kite. You can immediately feel that the depower stroke is significantly different from the Bandit 2019 and Bandit-S.