With humble beginnings, Ride Engine started in a garage on Santa Cruz’s Westside. Dissatisfied with a new harness he had just purchased, Coleman Buckley took a seam cutter and got to work on what would become the industry’s first custom fitted hard shell harness. Coleman’s following for the custom rigidframed harnesses grew, and in 2015, Ride Engine was acquired by 7 Nation, providing Coleman with the backend support and resources needed to refocus on innovation and product development. Coleman tells us about the production harnesses, spreader bar options and wetsuits available in the 2016 line.
For those that haven’t read the Ride Engine article in the fall issue of Tkb, what is the breakout concept behind the company’s original custom harnesses?
When I got into kiting a few years ago, I couldn’t find a harness that really worked for me. I tried all the major brands and all across the board, they were not very comfortable. They might feel good in the store, but after a bit of riding, they would get annoying and uncomfortable.
One day I was purchasing yet another ‘innovative’ harness when I noticed a tag on the inside that read ‘anatomical fit’. The harness was flat on the inside and in no way matched the curves of the human body. That was an aha moment for me; it got me thinking about how to make a harness that was truly ergonomic.
After a few years of tinkering, I found myself with a small business making custom tailored harnesses in my garage. Kiteboarding evolved out of windsurfing, and while the kites have evolved exponentially, the harnesses never really got a serious redesign. In kiting, there are much fiercer loads being exerted on the rider and the direction of these forces is from above, not laterally like in windsurfing. I set about designing a harness to address those factors, basing my design around a rigid carbon fiber shell that was custom molded to mirror the shape of a rider’s lower back. The shell offered the kind of support needed to counteract the pull of the kite, and as a result, the harness was much more comfortable and secure than a regular harness. They also looked pretty cool.
This is the first year Engine is selling a production version of the rigid harness. How does the product compare to the custom version and what are the key features of the new design?
To make the custom harnesses, I would take an impression of a customer’s lower back with a piece of plastic heated up in the oven, then use that as a mold for the carbon fiber shell. The plastic part didn’t end up in the finished harness, so after a couple of years, I had hundreds of these impressions of people’s backs lying around the garage. I ended up measuring key curves on all of them and putting that data into a spreadsheet that allowed me to get a really good idea of what shape I should make the production harnesses so that they would work for most people. Nothing is ever as good as a true custom fit, but I think we did a really good job on the production version. It’s going to blow other harnesses out of the water in a side-by-side comparison
The key feature is the shell. Several other brands are copying the concept, but in the feedback we’ve gotten from dealers and reviewers on 2016 products, nobody else has really gotten it right yet. Aside from the shell, the other standout features include really cushy foam (not the firm EVA most harnesses use), a super light, clip-free closure system, the industry’s first carbon fiber spreader bar and a belt system that succeeds at keeping the spreader bar low.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of the rigid harness design versus what has traditionally been available? Are they any drawbacks? For instance, what if the rigid frame just doesn’t match up to my back? Can it cause back problems?
First of all, traditional kite harnesses can cause all kinds of back problems. That was a key factor for wanting to create something different in the first place.
The first big advantage with the hard shell is that is takes the load off of pressure points on your hips and distributes it evenly over the whole surface of the harness for a much more comfortable ride. Secondly, because it’s so effective at spreading the load, the whole harness can be lower profile, allowing more freedom of movement and higher performance. Third, the lumbar curve of the shell keeps the harness locked into the small of the back and keeps it from riding up. Nine out of 10 people have a back shape that really fits the production shape well. Everyone is different, so a small minority of folks, particularly those with very little lumbar curve, won’t fit well in the harnesses and might want to wait until we re-introduce custom harnesses in the future. For most people though, the production ones are great and might even be as good as a custom in terms of fit. They really do seem to work well. I’ve had multiple people come to me with stories of back surgeries and other issues that put them into a seat harness, but after trying a Ride Engine, they were able to get back into a waist harness and enjoy the performance it offers without compromising their comfort or back health.
At Surf Expo, we learned that the production harness line is available in three different levels: The Hex, Team and Elite. What are the functional differences between the three lines and how would you recommend these harnesses for the various skill levels and disciplines of kiteboarding?
All of them are really nice; we are about ‘buy once, buy quality’, and we decided to skip making anything cheap and ‘entry level’ that would have a short lifespan. The main difference between the different lines is the stiffness of the shell and the weight. The Hex Core shells are made of fiberglass resin and are our most flexible model. The Team Series has more carbon and Kevlar in it, making it a little stiffer and lighter. The Elite series is all carbon and is lighter and stiffer than the other two.
What spreader bar options will be offered and how are they different from what is currently on the market?
We offer three styles of spreader bars in two sizes for a total of six bar options. The first style is a standard metal hook for freestyle riders who want to maintain the ability to unhook while riding. For all other riding, we have our signature sliding rope system that really highlights the strengths of the harness. One version is a metal spreader bar with rope and the upgrade is an all carbon bar with rope. With this system, the rider’s chicken loop connects directly to a rope that runs the length of the spreader bar. The benefits of this are amazing. Your torso has far more freedom of movement as the chicken loop slides smoothly along the rope. Not only does this have a huge impact on your riding (especially in the waves), but it eliminates the lever effect that a standard fixed hook bar has as the kite pulls up and works the harness up your waist in the process.
Ride Engine is also releasing a line of wetsuits later this year. Tell us a little about your materials and key construction features.
Our wetsuits are made from the highest quality limestone-based Japanese neoprene for a very light, stretchy and warm suit. We designed the layout for the minimal number of seams and fusion. They will be available this winter 2015.